The Only Enduring Legacy

Abraham married three times, had at least eight children, traveled the known world, led an army, and accumulated fantastic wealth. He interacted with kings as an equal and was a personal friend of the Creator of heaven and earth. He lived a long and eventful life and half the world calls him father today.

Genesis has something very curious to say about what he did with all that he had acquired.

Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.
(Gen 25:5-6)

If Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac, what gifts could he have given to his other sons?

There are three ways to understand this:

  1. Abraham gave gifts to his other sons and then bequeathed all that remained to Isaac. This is possible, but based on the order of the statements, I don’t think this is what is intended.
  2. Rashi wrote that these gifts might be the things that he had acquired from Pharaoh and Abimelech after the misunderstandings over Sarah. Abraham didn’t want to be associated with them, so didn’t really consider them his. For this to be true, he would have had to keep two completely different sets of books, including segregated flocks and servants, for more than 75 years with no confusion between the two. Why wouldn’t he have just given them away during that time? This explanation also seems unlikely to me.
  3. “All he had” didn’t include tangible things at all, but spiritual things. This, I believe, is the correct answer.

Everything belongs to God. Whatever we have is only held in trust for the day God requires it from us. “I own the cattle on a thousand hills,” God says. But Abraham did have a set of possessions that was completely his. God could never recall these things, could never demand that anyone to whom He has given them, return them:

  • Covenant
  • Promises
  • Knowledge
  • Wisdom

These are things that neither God nor man nor death can ever take from you. You can’t touch them or put them in a bank, but once yours, they are yours forever. Not only that, but you can share them. You can give them away as much as you want without ever running out. They can’t be inflated, deflated, or out of stock. When you die, your relationship with the Father, your knowledge of His character, and the wisdom of His righteousness are the only things that will still belong to you. Best of all, you can pass them on to your children.

I’m sure Abraham imparted wisdom and knowledge to his other sons–whether or not they accepted these gifts–but the Covenant and associated promises he only gave to Isaac. Not because he didn’t want to give them to all of his sons–he asked God as much when he had to send Ishmael away–but because Isaac was part of God’s redemption plan, while Zimran, Jokshan, et al, weren’t. The Covenant was Abraham’s single most important possession. It was only because of the Covenant, that he received God’s promises, that he learned of God’s character, and that he adopted the wisdom of God’s righteousness. The Covenant was truly all that Abraham had and he gave it to Isaac long before he died.

I would like to be able to pass on some material goods to my son when I die, but what I really want him to take from me is a covenant relationship with our Heavenly Father. When I die, when my son dies, when we are all dead and turned to dust, Abraham’s Covenant is the only thing we will still possess. It ensures our eternal salvation, our resurrection and reunion with our Creator. It is the most important thing in the world that a father could give to his son.

It’s important to teach our children to save, to invest, and to live productive lives. But it is infinitely more important to teach them to be a friend and a son of God and a productive citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. As you gather with family and friends this week, remember to thank God for the great gift He promised us through Abraham and delivered to us through Yeshua. Especially remember to let your children see your gratitude.

Abraham considered his covenant with Adonai to be his one enduring possession.

The Greatest Leaders

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Anyone who wants to be President badly enough to make it happen is almost certainly unqualified for the job.

None of the greatest men of God in Scripture sought power for themselves. Consider these highlights from the lives of Abraham, Moses, Gideon, and David, all undoubtedly great leaders.

Abraham

Abraham was an extremely wealthy man, a king in his own right. Everything he did prospered, yet he was never greedy, never took power where he didn’t already have authority, never engaged in military conquest. When he went to war against the four Mesopotamian kings to rescue his nephew Lot, he refused any reward from the five Canaanite kings whose people he also saved.

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.” (Genesis 14:22-24 ESV)

After his wife Sarah died, he asked Ephron, a Hittite prince, to sell him a cave as a burial place. During the negotiations The Hittites called Abraham “lord” and “a mighty prince,” and Ephron offered to give him the cave for nothing. He bowed to all the people and paid more than the market value.

Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” (Genesis 23:12-13 ESV)

Moses

Adopted into the house of Pharaoh, Moses actively tried to protect his people, the Hebrews, from oppression, not as a prince of Egypt, but as a fellow Hebrew.

When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:13-14a ESV)

After forty years of exile in the land of Midian, God called Moses to confront Pharaoh, but he resisted. He had no desire to engage in national politics or to be the leader of his people.

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11 ESV)

But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10 ESV)

Even after many years as the reluctant leader of Israel, he remained a selfless and humble man.

Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3 ESV)

And Moses was very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, and I have not harmed one of them.” …And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.” And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. (Numbers 16:15,28-31 ESV)

Gideon

When the Midianites continually raided the land of Israel, Gideon, also known as Jerubbaal, did all he could just to protect his own family’s livelihood. Leading an army was the furthest thing from his mind when God sent an angel to call him to do just that.

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:12-16 ESV)

And when the war was over, Gideon had won a lasting peace against Midian and settled inter-tribal disputes, Israel asked him to rule over them as king. Instead, he gave them a new religion (for what it was worth) and returned to his own home.

Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.” …So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon. Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. (Judges 8:22-23,28-29 ESV)

David

When the prophet Samuel anointed David to be the new King of Israel, instead of declaring himself and forming an army, David became the servant, personal musician, and right-hand man of the King Saul who had been anointed before him. He had a number of opportunities to seize power, but he always refrained.

He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed.” So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. (1 Samuel 24:6-7 ESV)

Years later when his son Absolom rebelled and David was forced to flee Jerusalem, he humbly accepted severe criticism from a man of Saul’s house, allowing that the man might even be right.

When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! The LORD has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.” Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?'” And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will look on the wrong done to me, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing today.” (2 Samuel 16:5-12 ESV)

When the war was over and Absolom dead, that same man was the first to greet David on his return and begged his forgiveness. His advisor Abishai urged David to have the man killed, but David refused.

Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the LORD’s anointed?” But David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath. (2 Samuel 19:21-23 ESV)

Susceptibility to political ambition seems to be the greatest weakness of representative democracy. We choose our leaders by how well they appeal to our vanity and greed instead of how well they appeal to God’s Law and mercy.

I don’t have a better suggestion. I don’t have any ideas for fixing a broken political system because I am convinced that no political system can be fixed, that whether we are a democracy or a monarchy has almost no impact on whether we are cursed with great leaders or with power hungry tyrants.

Mohandas Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” However leaders are chosen in any nation and in any political system, history indicates that we almost always get the leaders we deserve. If we want better leaders, we must become a better people. If we want leaders like David and Moses, we must become like David and Moses ourselves, not seeking after power for our own purposes, but able and willing to wield power when necessary on behalf of our families, communities, and nations. We must obey God’s Law, hear his voice, and act fearlessly when we are called.

Nominal leaders are superfluous and incidental in a nation of Davids. As Gideon said, “The LORD will rule over you.”

The Little Kaph and the Breaking of Abraham

Genesis 23:2 And Sarah died in Kiriatharba – the same is Hebron – in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.

This is such a sad verse. Abraham and Sarah had been together for more than one hundred years. Can you even imagine that? We all cheer at golden anniversaries and gasp at diamond, but just think of living, working, and loving with someone for one hundred years! Abraham had experienced all of these things with Sarah:

  • Family breakups
  • Drought
  • Decades of childlessness
  • Miraculous conception and birth
  • Kidnappings
  • War
  • Extraordinary wealth
  • Near filicide
  • Actual fire and brimstone
  • Personal visits from God!

And then she was gone.

Scripture doesn’t have much to say about Abraham after the death of Sarah. Nothing more of significance happens in his life. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He didn’t suddenly become a failure. In fact he remarried and had six more sons and probably as many daughters. All of those sons went on to be the patriarchs of their own tribes. But compared to what he had been, the “Friend of God”, all of this pales. The entire story of the rest of Abraham’s life is wrapped up in a single character in the last word in the Hebrew text of Genesis 23:2, the little kaph.

Read that last sentence again:

Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.

Why does Moses say “mourn” and “weep”? Wouldn’t one of those words be enough? Whenever Scripture appears to repeat itself, there is a reason, and there are a couple of reasons in this case.

First, mourning and weeping in this context are two different things. “Mourning” is a ritual frequently involving sackcloth, ashes, and hair pulling. Sometimes there are hired mourners who might not have even known the deceased. They’re hired to put on an emotional show. (There’s a cultural disconnect here for me. I don’t understand how the practice of hiring official mourners honors the dead. Fortunately, I don’t have to understand it. I just have to acknowledge that other people understand it, and then move on.) This is probably what Abraham did. He put on a good show of wailing and tearing and maybe hired some locals to join in.

Weeping, on the other hand, is a genuine outpouring of emotion. Sarah had been a huge part of Abraham’s entire life, and he must have been terribly heartbroken at her death.

There is something else going on here, though. The word Hebrew word for weep is bakah. It has only three letters: bet-kaph-heh. The really unusual thing is that the middle letter, kaph, is written smaller than usual. Remember that nothing in the Torah is superfluous; there is a reason for every jot and tittle. Some of the Jewish sages believed that this little kaph tells us that Abraham only wept a little: the grief in his heart was infinite, but in his humility he didn’t want to make a big show of it. However, this interpretation seems to be at odds with the mourning of only a few words earlier. The sages have passed down a lot of wisdom, but it appears to me that they were wrong in this case. The little kaph does not mean that Abraham didn’t cry very much. It actually tells us about the depth of his sorrow.

Take a look at the meanings behind the three letters in bakah.

Bet = house = nation, descendants, kingdom
Kaph = hand = strength, control, pride
Heh = window = revelation, wisdom, prophecy

In the death of Sarah Abraham saw much more than the loss of his lifelong companion. He saw the diminution of his role in God’s plan. Isaac, the child or promise, was grown into a man. The great prophecy of the Lamb of Providence who would take away the sins of the world had been given at Mount Moriah. Abraham’s days at the center of God’s work were done, and it was time to move on. He saw all this in Sarah’s passing. Moses’ writing of the little kaph certainly tells of Abraham’s humility, but not through subdued weeping. Even in his humility, Abraham was grand. He showed us what true humility means through his willingness to reduce his active role (the hand) in the ongoing revelation (the window) of God’s house (the house). He acknowledge that he was nothing but a tool in God’s hand. His purpose having been served, he stepped back from a spectacular life and allowed Isaac to take center stage.

After he buried Sarah, instead of continuing to vie with kings and to claim the Promised Land for future generations, he settled down to live a relatively mundane life. He remarried, had children, grew old, and died. Abraham was always a man of great faith, but in the end, he was still just a man with hopes and disappointments, joys and sorrows.

Before he died, someone called him Grandpa.