Sunday, February 10, 2013

Jump the Gun

Jump the Gun

I often wish that I knew the future. Not “the” future, so much as “my” future. What’s going to happen to me? Will I ever be successful? Will I live a long time? Will I ever be able to retire?

As I wrote last week, when the Witches told Macbeth he would be King they altered his actions, even though he was already on the road to taking the crown.  While I want to know what is going to happen next, in myth and story knowing the future often has causes more trouble than not knowing would have caused. As I was wondering what would happen to me this year, this story from the Bible kept showing up:

Abram (or Abraham) was told by God to leave his town and go out into Canaan.  He packed up his wife, Sarah, and his nephew, Lot, along with their servants and livestock and left Ur for the great beyond.  (They had lots of adventures worth reading recorded in Genesis 12-16). 

God gave Abraham a vision telling him he would be the father of a great nation that would number more than the stars in the sky or the grains of sand in the desert. Abraham liked the sound of this prophesy. It didn’t make any sense since both he and his wife, Sarah, were old and she was seemingly barren.  But, he held the faith.

After a number of years of not giving birth, Sarah came up with a plan. She would let Abraham sleep with her handmaiden, Hagar. She and Abraham would “adopt” their offspring. In this way, Abraham and she would fulfill God’s prophesy. Abraham agreed.[i] The passage reads:

And Sarah said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing,: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. . . And Abram went in unto Hagar and she conceived: [Genesis 16: 2-4 King James Version[ii]]

Of course, as soon as Hagar got pregnant, she “despised” Sarah and joked that she could give Abraham the child he wanted and Sarah couldn’t.  Sarah went to Abraham and blamed him.[iii] He told Sarah to do as she wanted. Sarah beat Hagar. Hagar in turn ran away into the desert where an angel came to her and said that God had blessed her and the son in her womb, who she should call Ishmael. God said Ishmael would be the father of a great nation. She was counseled to return to Abraham and Sarah for she was blessed by God.  [iv]

A number of years later, three angels stopped in to see Abraham on the way to toast Sodom and Gomorrah.  They reminded him that God would make him the father of a great nation.  Sarah overheard this and laughed. [v]

A few more years passed and Sarah gave birth to a son.[vi] They called him Isaac. On the feast day when they celebrated Isaac’s weaning, Ishmael teased him. Sarah got annoyed and had Abraham kick Ishmael and Hagar out into the desert.

When there water was gone, Hagar left Ishmael under a shrub and moved away because she did not want to watch her son die.  An angel spoke to her and told her Ishmael would be the father of a great nation and he showed her a nearby well so they might live. 

Isaac grew up and was the fore father of the Israelites.  According to the Koran, Ishmael grew up to father many Arab tribes and was the forefather of Mohammad.  The Israelites and the Arabs have been fighting since.

It’s hard not to read this story and wonder if only Abraham had trusted in God and waited for his divine timing rather than try to make it happen, would it have ended up differently? Would there be peace in the Middle East?

So while I would like to know what is going to happen next and I’m ready to jump to the newest opportunity, there is some good counsel in waiting for things to take their course.  To not, jump the gun.

[i]               From the perspective of a married man, I’d have to ask Abraham how he imagined sleeping with Hagar was going to be a good idea? Was this in any way going to lead to marital bliss? There is no way he could agree to this plan without Sarah becoming a bit jealous and hurt that he wanted to sleep with Hagar. And, how did you think this was going to play when Hagar gives you the son that Sarah can’t? While this essay is about “jumping the gun”, this would be a prime example in an essay I could write titled: “What not to do when Married: Examples from the Old Testament”.

[ii]               I refer to the King James Version of the Bible. It is the one my father, the Southern Baptist Minister preferred and preached. Living with the King James Version of the Bible clearly added to my appreciation and understanding of Shakespeare. Shakespeare and the other poets/playwrights of time were enlisted to help write the new version of the Bible. I find it funny that a lecherous King who most likely liked young men more than women was the sponsor of the Bible most fundamental Christians believe to be in the inspired word of God. The very people who use the literal words of the Bible as a bludgeon against homosexuality, among other things, refer to the version of the Bible sponsored by King James.

[iii]              Didn’t see that coming Abraham? Did you?

[iv]              I’m skipping over a lot of this story to get to my point. It’s a good read. Look up Genesis, Chapter 12- 21. Read it as a good story and myth.

[v]               The three angels continued onto Sodom and Gomorrah where they tried to find an honorable man or any other good reason for God not to smite the City. They visit Abraham’s Nephew, Lot, who had moved to the City after he and Abraham had a falling out. (Genesis 13) The Angels didn’t so much visit him because he was honorable. They visited him because Abraham had asked them to look up his nephew. The people of Sodom had heard of the angels arrival and went to Lot’s house, mob-like, to demand he give them the angels, the suggestion is that they would like to gang rape them. Now this sounds bad, but in the Sodomites defense they were angels. They must have been intoxicating. Lot, not wanting to be a bad host, refuses to give the angels to the mob and offers his two virgin daughters in their place. Now, this is pretty sick. The angels got Lot, his wife and his two daughters out of Sodom and Gomorrah before God destroyed it with a fire ball all Hiroshima-like. Even if Lot was Abraham’s nephew, I’m not sure he should have escaped destruction. His wife couldn’t follow the instructions not to look back and was turned into a pillar of salt. It’s hard to justify a vengeful Deity wiping out an entire city with a fire ball, but the folks of these towns were definitely pushing boundaries.

[vi]              The Bible says that Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. I think you must take the stated age of a person in the early Old Testament with a grain of salt. I can’t believe that Abraham lived to be a hundred seventy-five. They must have counted the years differently than we do. This was actually one of the things that made me begin to question the Bible as literal fact. I soon understood the Bible as holding mythical truth rather than factual truth. When I read Abraham was 100 years old, I understand that the birth of his son was at the appropriate time, when he reached the maturity to have his son.

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