Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tales of Isaac, Part I

The Altar

Abraham entertained angels. Jacob saw angels parading up and down between heaven and earth. Isaac didn’t see angels – he had to take other people’s word for it. He only knew that for some reason Abraham stopped the sacrifice. The old man said the angel of the Lord came down.

Back in those days, Isaac had thought that he was well on his way to becoming a patriarch. He had felt so excited about being asked to go with his father to make the sacrifice – looking on it as a rite of passage. He had seen it as a step into adulthood where he would enter his father’s world of wealth, influence, and obedience to God. The betrayal of the sacrifice had changed everything. Even though it was prevented, still Yahweh did ask it and Abraham did agree to it. From that point on, Isaac realized that he was not really very important in whatever it was that Yahweh was doing. He was not even very important to Abraham, at least not compared to Abraham’s desire to obey God.

What an insult, then, to be expected to carry on the family quest to obey God. How hollow it was to have to love and serve Yahweh who had shown that human life, at least Isaac’s human life, was incidental to God’s intents and purposes.

For some reason, Isaac’s father, Abraham, had been absolutely sure of God and his calling. His whole life was geared toward serving God, and believing in God’s promise to make the family a great nation in a great land. It would make the old man immortal. Even Isaac’s son, Jacob, was sure about it. He was so sure that he tricked and maneuvered his way into position to carry on the promise of Yahweh; to be a patriarch.

Isaac, on the other hand, was never so sure. In some ways, he thought he had seen Yahweh more clearly than did Abraham or Jacob. That clear sight of his nullified any desire he may have had to get to know Yahweh better. Let those other two walk and talk and fight with God. Isaac had better things to do with his time.

Isaac was obsessed with digging wells. That’s what people said. He’s not of his father’s caliber, they would say. Abraham spoke as a chieftain, Isaac speaks as a merchant, people would say. He has proven to be merely a caretaker of the family fortune. He has no vision – no desire to accomplish great things. He is content to live off the old man’s legacy, adding the occasional herd or servant to his fortune. Those were some of the things that were whispered about during Isaac’s tenure as patriarch. He never defended his lands or stood by his watering rights. If his enemies filled in his wells or told him to leave, Isaac just picked up tent and started digging wells all over again.

Others may have called it an obsession, but Isaac thought the wells were needed. “Something has to be done to get water into this God-forsaken place,” he would say. Besides, he felt much more comfortable going down into the earth to find water. It occupied his time and it did give him a sense of accomplishment. Furthermore, he took nothing for granted. “I may be a patriarch now,” he would say, “but that doesn’t mean anything.” His father’s kinsman was every bit as rich and God-fearing as Abraham, and he lost all his fortune – found himself an outcast sitting at the garbage dump scratching boils. Isaac knew that you could lose your life any day of the week. He also knew from his kinsman, Job, that you could lose your wealth at any time whether you obey Yahweh or not.

No, Isaac was not about to think that he would always have Spring rains and streams in the desert for his flocks and herds. He was going to have his own water that he acquired with his own two hands. His guiding philosophy had been to play it safe, take nothing for granted, and avoid personal involvement with Yahweh. And so he lived his life: staying busy, keeping a low profile, avoiding trouble, and always living in the shadow of the altar in the wilderness.

In spite of it all, Isaac managed to keep it all together. He lived his life having preserved the family fortune with all its wealth. The servants, the sheep, the cattle and the goats, all the family traditions and all of the family influence remained intact. Perhaps it was true that he was the caretaker patriarch, but he had remained faithful to the task. He had kept the promise of Yahweh and preserved it for another generation. As an old man, he knew the time would come when he would pass the blessing on to his own son. The fullness of God’s promise to build a great nation would soon be passed on to a new generation. That time came when he lay helpless upon his bed in his own encampment, just as he had lain helpless upon the altar in the wilderness all those years before.

Tomorrow, The Blessing...


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