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When he is instructed by God to sacrifice ...
When he is instructed by God to sacrifice his son Isaac, he heads on the mission with the hope that God will inform him that a mistake has been made and that his son's life will be saved. But God's intervention does not come as expected, and Abraham's life takes a turn to the road less travelled.
Abraham's story as told in A Dysfunctional Legacy depicts the vaunted promises made to Abraham that have seemingly faded by the time of the death of his grandson, Jacob.
While viewing the morning activities of his herders, Abraham felt pangs of guilt over his recent conduct. His despair and remorse over having to expel his concubine, Hagar, and son Ishmael were understandable, but he couldn't let his despondency continue his neglect of the community. The dry season had scarcely begun, but the verdant plains of the Negev near Beersheba had turned to dry stubble, which the flocks were rapidly consuming. The previous rainy season had produced abundant rainfall, which filled the wells and water basins to the brim and restored the springs of the hill country to the northwest to an abundant flow. Nevertheless, Abraham knew that conservation and irrigation procedures must start now to ensure adequate water and grazing for his abundant flocks during the remainder of the dry season. This season had also begun with above normal heat. Should this heat persist, more wells would need to be dug.
Before he could reach a conclusion on how to assign future work, he noticed a rare, animated discussion between his chief administrator, Eliezer, and lead shepherd, Salah. Work communication between the two was usually brief and quiet, enabled by knowing each other's methods of animal husbandry after years of working together.
As Abraham arose to walk toward the two men, Eliezer made a departure gesture and started to walk toward Abraham. Showing a renewed interest in the affairs of the community, Abraham exclaimed loudly, "Eliezer, what's wrong?"
"I have just finished talking with Salah about our recent losses of cattle through theft—and, surprisingly to me, through attacks by wild animals. I have discovered that these losses were caused by improper assignment of shepherds. Only a certain amount of luck and outstanding diligence by our shepherds have prevented our losses from being greater. I know that life has been trying and boring of late, but you must take greater care with the herding assignments if our community is to thrive. As it is, our financial coffers will have to be reduced noticeably to replace some of our prized breeding stock that has been stolen."
"Do you think I should give my supervisor job to someone else?" Abraham asked. "It is only vanity for me to think that I can still manage the large herds that we maintain, considering how despondent I have been."
Eliezer agreed that Abraham should relinquish his duties to Eliezer's assistant and take on a role as a general overseer. Also, Eliezer opined, he should start having more talks with the leaders of the communities. Indeed, it had probably been Abraham's infrequent contacts with his people that had led to his mismanagement of assignments.
Eliezer started to leave, but Abraham called to him, "I must talk to you about some other matters."
"What are they, my lord?"
"I hate to mention it again, but Sarah's attitudes and moods are making me miserable ... so miserable that, ashamedly, I have failed to act properly as a leader. I thought my taking on more chores would make me more cheerful. But if anything, the work reminded me of happier days, which led to further despondency and neglect by me."
"Sire, may I speak frankly?"
"Yes. Please do. I doubt that there is anything you would say that would offend me, however hurtful the statement might be."
"The problem with Sarah results from dealing with her in a way that makes you a superior person overall, but unfortunately that way doesn't work well with her. We know that she has never been a strong individual when it comes to controlling her emotions. She needs someone who is both compassionate and strict at the same time. You were strong on compassion, but you let that compassion fail to guide her properly. She has slowly grown throughout her life to distrust you. For years, her awe and respect for you counteracted her distrust—a distrust that she may still not realize she has. She is probably confused over her feelings for you, as some of her reactions toward you have indicated."
"Eliezer, you have gotten to the core of my main problem in life. I have never been comfortable with reprimanding her. Actually, I don't think I know how to reprimand her. I mostly thought it best to let her tantrums go unchallenged. The few times that I challenged her tantrums in some way brought forth rather extended pouting or avoidance periods from her."
"Sire, in retrospect, your forbearance was a mistake. It would have been better to have tried and said the wrong things than just be quiet. After each tantrum that you ignored, she came to feel that you really didn't think that she was important, except possibly as a business assistant. She felt she was too insignificant to merit your guidance."
"How would you suggest that I deal with this problem now?"
"Sadly, any advice I can give you is unlikely to work. Your problem can only be solved if you recount your lack of guidance to her and ask forgiveness. Whether such an act will work, even if she says that she forgives you, is doubtful. I would suggest that you get the advice of several of the men in camp who have successful marriages. Many know of your problem—it won't be news to them."
"Eliezer, I want to give you my deepest thanks. Maybe this advice will turn my life for the better. Before you go, would you give me the latest news about Ishmael and Lot?"
For the first time, Eliezer admitted that he had instructed spies to bring regular reports on the activities of Abraham's oldest son and nephew. Both relatives continued to prosper, but were showing growing animosity toward Abraham, although Hagar always directed her hatred toward Sarah and not him.
"I suppose that I should thank you for seeking out Ishmael and Lot," Abraham said. "You should understand, nevertheless, that my lack of action to seek them out wasn't caused by my unconcern for them. I had seemingly exhausted all ruses to get Lot to return. I trusted God to spare his life. But if the horrors he must have experienced didn't turn him toward us, there was nothing I could do to change his attitude. It was clear from the direct instructions from God that I was to stay out of Ishmael's life. I took one long last look at him and Hagar before I left them in the desert, because I knew it could be the last time that I would ever see either one."
"Sire, do you mean that I should cease having others keep me informed of their actions?"
"No. Please continue what you are doing, if you like. I now realize it would be good to see where their belligerence toward me or others in our community is going."
The resumed meetings with the community leaders helped not only to lift Abraham's spirits but seemed to make the animals more content also. Their appreciation of the increased care and attention was obvious. Nonetheless, Sarah's growing aloofness didn't allow Abraham to be really happy. Surprisingly, she seemed upset when Abraham suggested that Salah teach Isaac some herding skills. Her reaction to the idea of this necessary education for someone who was to inherit his wealth was so exasperating that Abraham couldn't hold back a sharp retort.
"Sarah, how can you be so obstinate by refusing to let your son learn skills needed for his livelihood?"
"I am not rejecting the training of Isaac, except by your herders. I don't trust them to see that he is properly protected at all times."
"Sarah, that is absurd! I plan to have Salah do all of the overseeing. I have never seen a more competent shepherd in all of my life. His skills exceed any that I or Eliezer ever acquired. Isaac would be taught the simple things first and then the more difficult things as his learning progressed."
When Sarah seemed unconvinced by his argument, Abraham decided once again not to counteract her. He would let the subject of Isaac's training rest for a while. He had finally come to feel comfortable with the idea of apologizing to her for his past actions. He would wait a couple of moons and then bring up training again after his formal apology.
About two weeks later, Abraham was forced into an apology. One morning, Eliezer approached Abraham's tent in a state of agitation. "Sire, I have a request from Sarah to move her and Isaac to Hebron. She says that Isaac needs to be taught a livelihood, and she doesn't feel comfortable with the personnel or surroundings here. There are tutors more to her liking in Hebron. She also told me that she doesn't want you to accompany them to Hebron. She feels that your, hers, and Isaac's interests would be better served if she and Isaac separated from you."
Abraham stood still at the door of his tent, looking off into the distance, while not speaking a word. From the way he shifted his weight from foot to foot, Eliezer clearly felt uncomfortable with the awkward silence, but waited patiently to give Abraham ample time to recover from this shocking news—yet another tragedy in his life.
"Eliezer, what have I done with my life? Even after you warned me to apologize to her, I never found the words or the right time to utter such an apology. Despite the mercy and blessings bestowed upon me by God, it seems that my life has never been peaceful for any great length of time. And now the woman that I love is deserting me. This really hurts, because I know that at one time, she loved me."
"A thousand pardons, but her estrangement probably happened some time ago. This upset over Isaac's training is just an excuse for her leaving. And as I told you in the past, an apology probably wouldn't have worked anyway."
"Well, I feel that I must send her away with an apology—futile as it must be. There is one good thing about this dire news: she is staying with our people by choosing Hebron as her residence. Unlike Lot, she isn't headed for a place of shame and degradation."
Abraham refused Eliezer's offer to accompany him to see Sarah, asserting that he had to deliver his now vain apology alone. Sarah accepted his entrance politely, but firmly insisted that her resolve to leave was final, although she was happy that he saw fit to apologize. She readily accepted a request from him to be able to visit Isaac often—even to give him fatherly advice. Nevertheless, he was not to countermand any instructions made by Isaac's tutors.
Just as Abraham was reconciling to her terms, she launched into a tirade about how he had favored Ishmael over Isaac. Also, Sarah complained, even though Abraham had sent Ishmael away, he still showed more interest in news about Ishmael than he did about Isaac, who was dwelling with him. Abraham explained that it had been the sole idea of Eliezer to keep track of Ishmael's activities and that his primary interest in Ishmael was to learn how his belligerence toward their community was progressing. Abraham's appeal did little to assure her as she continued to list neglect after neglect by Abraham toward Isaac. Abraham finally began to wonder how he had had enough time since Isaac's birth to commit all of these neglects. He clearly saw that the rift could never be repaired and asked what he could do to help with the move and what supplies should be provided to make them comfortable in Hebron.
Diplomatically, the community stayed out of the dispute, offering no advice or pleas for reconciliation. The countenances of Sarah and Abraham were enough to tell them that any entreaties would be useless. Only Eliezer was with Abraham to say good-bye to her entourage as it left for Hebron. Affectionately, the two embraced one last time before departure. Abraham had rarely been known to cry; this time he wept almost like a child who was experiencing some great trauma in his life.
"I know that it may seem improper for your leader to weep so much," Abraham managed, "but losing the love of my life through my own fault has caused a grief that I can barely endure. I feel that I will never get another chance to kiss her."
"Sire," Eliezer offered, "may I suggest that we travel back to Bethel? There you can offer petitions and sacrifices from God's chosen spot. Not only would it help with your spiritual recovery, but the change of scenery would do you good."
"Eliezer, you may be right. I feel that I have neglected worship there ever since our move to Hebron, and now we have distanced ourselves even more by our long sojourn in the land of the Philistines."
Abraham took two other aides besides Eliezer on the trip to Bethel. As the group approached Hebron, one of the aides went ahead to tell the community that they would be passing through and weren't to be acknowledged unless necessary. If possible, the camp was to ensure that Sarah and Isaac didn't notice their passage.
* * *
As Abraham stood by the offering, Eliezer noticed for the first time that Abraham was starting to take on the look and movements of an old man. He had seemingly aged many years in the past few moons. The chief administrator couldn't help seeing how unique and tragic this man Abraham was. No other man he knew had such respect and admiration from those with whom he had interpersonal relations. Yet, when it came to the closest of blood relatives, Abraham seemed thoroughly incompetent in personal interaction. Almost from the beginning of his marriage to Sarah, she had been a problem to him. His first child, Ishmael, while quite talented, had led a life of disrespect to all but his parents, along with barely controlled mayhem, in the more than thirteen years that he was with the community—and this disrespect had appeared before the child could have really understood the unsure status in the community of his mother, Hagar. Then, when Abraham was blessed with the promised heir, Isaac, he clearly demonstrated that he favored Ishmael. His unabashed delight over any news about Ishmael definitely showed that Ishmael was still his favorite. While some commendation could be extended for Abraham's obedience to God through acceptance of Isaac as heir, this literal act did nothing to avoid the psychological blow Sarah endured every time she observed his attitude toward her child, the heir chosen by God.
* * *
The next day, after the sacrifices were finished, Abraham approached Eliezer. "I want to return to Beersheba tomorrow. I sense this tragedy will not be healed in my lifetime. Therefore, I will cease complaining about it. I understand that my complacency toward Sarah led to this estrangement. I have enjoyed so many blessings in my life that I always assumed she would be there, regardless of my actions. Such conceit obviously didn't work in this case. Nevertheless, I still have a duty to many people, and I mustn't let remorse over one neglect cause me to neglect the many. Hence, we need to get back home and ensure the safety and nurture of our communities."
"My lord, I am well pleased that you have reacted thus. I don't often express my gratitude for the gracious benefits that you bestow upon your subjects. Of course, I understand that you are able to do this because of God's blessings, which are extended to us also. Given all of the blessings, his lack of intervention with Sarah is perplexing. God must have a reason, and I believe that you have told me that you don't always understand some aspects of his way. Nonetheless, I am happy that you accept the reality of this matter, although there are no words of remorse to express properly my feeling of concern for you. Now, to practical matters: Are there any jobs to perform before we prepare for departure? Also, do you want to contact anyone in Hebron on this return trip?"
* * *
Abraham had hardly had time to get accustomed to the absence of Sarah before the local chieftain Abimelech arrived with several aides and servants, asking for a chance to speak with him. One of those servants was an attractive and rather young woman by the name of Keturah, whose husband had recently been slain in a border skirmish near Egypt. The camp gossip immediately declared this visit a matchmaking endeavor by Abimelech. A few gossipers had even dared to assert that the attention paid to her by Abraham on previous visits had been the last effrontery to Sarah, causing her to decide to leave Abraham.
Nonetheless, Abimelech made few casual comments to Abraham before he started to recount the growing turmoil caused by Egypt.
"My Lord Abraham, I have some disturbing news to report. The leadership within Egypt has stopped most of their internal squabbling and is starting to look outward. I am expecting an armed campaign to capture all or part of the land east of the Great Sea."
Excerpted from A Dysfunctional Legacy by LEONARD SMITH Copyright © 2010 by Leonard Smith. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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