Sunday, March 29, 2009

Abraham the great sky gazer

Bible contains many stories about unforgettable moments. Among the more beautiful ones is the short description of how our Lord takes His friend, Abram, out at night in order to tell him something wonderful in a most concrete and humanly understandable way. Moslems give him the beautiful name ibrahim el-khalil, Abraham, the Friend of God and call the city of Hebron where he is buried by his nickname el-khalil.

Our Lord uses the brilliant night sky of Beersheba to make His point. This happened long before electric light pollution from the big city had largely spoiled the night view. Negev sky is deep black and blue and even dimmer stars flicker over the majestic canopy like little jewels. The setting is unspeakably beautiful and our Lord chose a very effective educational technique: from that night on every time Abram would look up at the night sky he would remember of what was said. And also us who read from the Bible about Abram remember that message when we look up at the sky.

For it was not a little message only to Abram but a universal message for all nations on earth.

After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, LORD God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Genesis 15:1-6 KJVA

Please, note the translation "word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision saying"

Word of God came to Abram!

Jesus and Abraham
Later Jesus of Nazareth would confirm that it was He talking with Abram. He confirmed this and used the awsome words "I am" - and was about to be killed for blasphemy but at that time He succeeded to escape:

Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?

Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.

Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?

Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God:Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying.

Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.

Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?

Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

John 8:48-59 KJVA

Tough words!

Reconstruction of the Ishtar gate from Babylon 575 BC
Pergamon Museum, Berlin

Other sky gazers
Islamic people emphasize that Abraham, Ibrahim, was the first Moslem and the first one who believed in a pure and simple way in one God.

It is good to remember this when we read about the nocturnal encounter between our Lord and Abram in Beersheba. It was quite unusual at his time not to see that sky full of divine beings.

Abraham was moving his tents from campsite to other caring his sheep and goats wandering as a stranger between mighty Canaanite cities. The urban inhabitants of the Promised Land shared the rich cultural heritage of ancient Near East. The big cultural and military powers of that time were in Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt. The priests and prophets living in these regions gazed at stars and carefully followed their movements. For these were not just points of light but mighty divinities with strong effect on human destiny. Religious human mind wanted to please these powers and use them for good and bad offering them sacrifices and incense and with many other ways learned from the ancestors.

In this context it is interesting that many Biblical scholars date the Abraham cycle in Genesis to a rather late period near the Exile. Scientific study of Bible is not simple and theories abound. But if the final compiling is indeed in late 7th century B.C. it is quite remarkable. At this time God of Israel castigated through the mouth of prophet Jeremiah the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the refugees in Egypt for their worship of the Queen of Heaven, Ishtar (beautiful planet Venus)

Then all the men which knew that their wives had burned incense unto other gods, and all the women that stood by, a great multitude, even all the people that dwelt in the land of Egypt, in Pathros, answered Jeremiah, saying,

As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil.

But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine. And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings unto her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour out drink offerings unto her, without our men?

Then Jeremiah said unto all the people, to the men, and to the women, and to all the people which had given him that answer, saying,

The incense that ye burned in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, ye, and your fathers, your kings, and your princes, and the people of the land, did not the LORD remember them, and came it not into his mind? So that the LORD could no longer bear, because of the evil of your doings, and because of the abominations which ye have committed; therefore is your land a desolation, and an astonishment, and a curse, without an inhabitant, as at this day.

Jeremiah 44:15-22 KJVA

Pagan star gazing had penetrated Judah and Jerusalem and was carried to the diaspora also to Egypt.

The tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron

After this vision of the word of God Abraham was probably often standing outside his tent holding Sarah tenderly beside him and wondering the night sky.

Nothing on that canopy of stars was in itself divine for him. But he heard the great promise of the One who has made them all.

Today we know that He kept His promise to Abraham.

He will also keep His promises to us.

No comments:

Post a Comment