Friday, October 17, 2008

Abraham's Lineage

On reading a recent book by Ravi Zacharias about Isaac and Rebekah, I was brought across some new thoughts concerning the family's generational line that struck me considerably.  


This family's amazing spiritual legacy all started when Terah sacked up his family 'to go to the land of Canaan.'  Abram was already married to Sarai at this point, and, when Terah lost faith in the initial initiative and 'settled in Haran', Abram was visited by God, blessed by Him, and left all his family except for his cousin Lot to go to an unknown country full of bloodthirsty barbarians.  Abrahm's faith was considerable.  


Abram finally came to Canaan, and, at the Oak of Moreh, which was regularly used by the Canaanites as a holy place to sacrifice their infants, he is visited by God and boldly builds an altar to Yahweh, thus declaring outright war with the native gods and customs.  Yahweh appears to him and promises that this land, presently populated with terrorists, will be given over to his offspring.  Yet Abram has no offspring.


But there is a severe famine in the land, and Abraham, seeing the starvation of his cattle and people and the demise of his wealth, takes fright and escapes to Egypt, where he lets selfishness and fear overcome him, and falls into a whirlpool of lies and deceit, almost resulting in his wife being raped and the promise of a son being thwarted.  Yet God, through speaking to Abimelech, saved the promise and Abram returned to the famine in Canaan and was given a second chance.

Isaac grows up in a stranger land, full of a people that is completely opposed to the precepts that his father Abraham has instilled in his heart.  Abraham realizes the importance of Isaac marrying a woman from his own flesh and blood and worldview, and, on his deathbed, he sends his eldest and most trustworthy servant to go on a wild-goose chase to find his relatives, relatives he hasn't had much interaction with for over fifty years.  He acts out of pure faith, and the servant, having faith in his master's faith, sets out on his journey.

When he arrives at the well, he asks God to let the first woman who comes out and offers to water him and his camels would be the woman he wants Isaac to marry.  Rebekah comes out and offers to do the work, a labor of watering ten camels who have just come from weeks-long journey across the desert.  The servant is ecstatic, decorates Rebekah with gifts, and, when she realizes that he is apart of the family, she and her whole house welcomes him with the hospitality so indigenous to that culture.  

The servant tells the family what has happened, and, in a culture where dreams and portents and family honor were taken extremely seriously, his words are received as those from God.  Yet Rebekah is given the final word in this––a very strange circumstance in a Middle-Eastern family where women were very little esteemed, and hardly, if ever, given the choice of opinion.  Rebekah was steadfast in her belief that this was God's will, and she, probably a fourteen or fifteen year old girl, left her entire family, culture, and previous life for a man whom she did not know, had never seen, and a nation that was full of pagan ideals.

It must have meant a lot to this religious woman that the first time she sees Isaac he is walking through the fields, praying to God.  Isaac was most likely just as stressed as Rebekah was, for he knew how important his wife would be in the unfolding of God's promise.  But God was in control, and the Bible says that Isaac loved her.

The same fears and selfishness that were in Abraham were bred in Isaac, and he, too, fell under the fear of being killed for the beauty of his wife Rebekah by Abimelech's savage people, and, by calling Rebekah his sister, puts in danger the promise that God has given to his father and himself.  Abimelech sees him fondling Rebekah, and, ascertaining from that the real relationship between the two, he turns Isaac out of the kingdom in anger at his deceit.

Rebekah was barren––a trait that seems to follow this family a lot––and it was not till she was in her thirties that God granted hers and Isaac's prayers for a child, and she conceived.  She felt the twins struggling in her womb, and was given a prophesy that the elder would serve the younger.  

Esau and Jacob grow up, Esau a crude hunter with no respect for the promise of Abraham's line, and Jacob an intelligent, well-read man.  Esau first flagrantly insults his birthright by selling it for a bowl of stew (though the Hebrew word for Esau's hunger literally means starvation), and then insults the promise further by marrying pagan women from the community, which are a great pain to his parents and which marred the promise.

When Isaac is in danger of dying from old age, he calls Esau and tells him to go hunt for an animal, cook it, and bring it to him so they can eat it.  Thus there is labor, sacrifice, and communion prequelling the blessing.  Rebekah hears that Isaac is preparing to bless Esau, and panic fills her.  Not only is she very displeased with he elder son and his beliefs, but she remembers the promise of God back when her children were in the womb that Jacob would be the ruler of the two.  She loses faith in God's ability to fulfill his prophesy, and enters into deceit in order that Jacob will be blessed with the elder's blessing.  The process of labor, sacrifice, and communion is annulled, as Jacob merely stands by as Rebekah kills a lamb from the flock, prepares it, and, after dressing Jacob in Esau's clothes and covering him in goat hair so that he feels like Esau, she has Jacob bring the food to Isaac.  Yet Jacob does not eat with Isaac, thus receiving no communion with him.   He is blessed with the blessing of Esau, and, living under this blessing that was wrongly won, he escapes from Esau's murderous intentions and goes to Laban, where he marries of his mother's stock and becomes very rich,  His life is one of deceit however, not only in his receiving of the blessings that should have been Esau's, but in his wives, his attaining of wealth, and his behavior to his uncle.  

He finally escapes from Laban in the same way that he escaped from Esau, in fear and trembling because of the fruit of his deceitful life.  It is while he is fleeing, when there is hatred behind him in Laban's household and hatred before him in his home country and the inescapable meeting with his brother, when the deceit sown is finally being reaped, that God visits Jacob and wrestles with him.  In such a stressful, painful, and dangerous encounter, God asks Jacob a very important question.  "What is your name?"  And Jacob, who has lived for fifteen years under the auspices of his brother's name and birthright, is forced to confess his real name.  It is only then, when God has gotten him cornered, that God renames him Israel, and gives him his own blessing, one that belongs to Israel alone.  And thus Abraham's lineage and promise is carried on.

And that's all of the fruit of my study…for now.

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