Monday, June 15, 2015

What makes an Old-Testament Hero?

As I've said before (and will doubtless repeat), Father Abraham is a Very Odd Fellow. Naught to do with being so obedient of Offer Isaac for a holocaust, but his relations with Sarah. Either he is being awfully crafty and knows in a supernatural way that she won't be in any actual danger, or he is being rather shrewd and careless with her.

If I were the suspicious- and bible-is-history-in-code sort of person, I might wonder if the poor dear Mother of Isaac were infected with something to which she was outwardly asymptomatic but otherwise virulent and communicable — the reason given for her barenness is considerable age, but at the same time it is implied that her appearance captures the eye of at least two local kings (including the current Pharaoh). The reason given for Abraham's dissembling w.r.t their state-in-life is that he fears for his life, should this or that royal figure behold and desire Sarah's beauty --- on which point, do remember the story of that other towering figure of David, his friend Uriah, and his wife Bathsheba. But twice, the result of Abraham and Sarah dissembling on their state is: the court of this or that King is soon stricken with some uncomfortable plague! I don't actually entertain the suspicious-minded reading as a likely subtext, but that there is some subtext to the repeated story seems more than likely.

So, what is it that makes Abraham a Hero, in the Old Testament? To be sure, it is clear that, when God instructs him, Abraham does. I don't know why God is content to hold the Protection of the Bond in His own capable hands rather than telling Abraham to do his sponsorial duty and actually protect his other-in-one-flesh. It is very strange to me, and Abraham's character certainly seems to imply he would obey --- for he does obey in other much-more-uncomfortable things; but there it is. But above this obedience, and over Abraham's gift of recognizing God (when, at the same meeting, Sarah seems not to), is a genuine interest in Justice. That is: Abraham does make so bold as to dispute with God whether it is right to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, if it should chance there be many righteous people living there. And I certainly think there was more in it than not wanting his earlier rescue expedition to go wasted. While you and I might disagree whether Abraham was (at the start of his story) a very good husband or father, it is more than possible that he was the most upright man between Babylon and Egypt.

I've not thought much about Isaac, but Jacob... sneaky Jacob, Jacob "the Usurper"... On the one hand, he was a combative fellow, one-to-one; on the other hand, he was alternately shrewd and cagey about his neighbors (and his cousins). But the symbolic key, I think, is that famous image: Jacob wrestles with the Angel.

And again I will skip over Joseph and the Pharaohs who knew him; but I will remark that, apart from his making-excuses and his hesitation, it is Moses who asks of God "If they should say to me 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" The rest is clearly fear and trembling (not in themselves bad, but sometimes misplaced), but this... underneath it is a genuine and fascinating Question, which many another might never have thought of, or bothered to ask.

This Bible, this scripture, is not an easy book to read or understand; in particular it is full of tension, and I rather think that that's something of the point. God expects us to wrestle with it, to wrestle in our own consciences against our disordered inclinations, and to ask of God why, and whether, and how.


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