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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 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.