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Authors: Bernard Evslin

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A son was born to Abraham and Sarah. And Sarah laughed again, for Abraham was a hundred years old, and she was ninety-one.

“It is time to laugh,” she said. “That we, being old, are made young again. Therefore shall the name of our son mean laughter, as the Lord has said.”

The babe was named Isaac, and Abraham cut the sign of the covenant into his flesh when he was eight days old.

Sarah used no wet nurse, but suckled the child herself like a young mother. And Hagar jeered. But not in Abraham’s hearing, for she knew that the old man viewed his youngest son as God’s special gift and doted oh him.

Isaac grew and was weaned. Abraham made a great feast to mark that day. But in the midst of the rejoicing Ishmael, son of Hagar, looked wrathfully upon his little half-brother.

Sarah said to Abraham: “I have endured the sight of Hagar these fourteen years, although I loathe her. But now she must go. I do not wish to see her mocking face again. I do not wish her son to share with my son, and to have part of your inheritance.”

Abraham grieved, for he loved Ishmael. And he asked God what to do.

God said: “Do not grieve about Ishmael or about his mother. You must do now as Sarah wishes. For her son, Isaac, shall inherit your special knowledge of me. I will bless him. And that blessing shall be the destiny of the mighty nation that he shall spawn.”

Abraham arose early the next morning and went to Hagar. He gave her bread and a flask of water, and told her she must depart.

“You must never return,” said Abraham. “You or the boy.”

She wept and pleaded, but Abraham said: “It is God’s will.”

“It is Sarah’s will!”

“In this they are the same. Go in peace now. And fear nothing. The Lord has promised to provide for you.”

Hagar wandered in the wilderness near Beersheba. It was very hot and the flask of water was soon empty. She know that they could not live in the burning desert without water, and she did not wish to see the death of her child. She put Ishmael in the shade of a bush and said: “Stay here. Rest yourself, and your thirst will be less.”

“Where are you going?”

“Just over there, a short way.”

“Stay with me.”

“I must go over there.”

She began to walk away. She stopped. She turned to look at him. She could not bear for him to die alone, and walked back to him and sat close, weeping terribly.

An angel appeared to her as he had appeared once before. The brightness of him dazzled her eyes, and she fell to earth. She heard the angel say, “Why do you not trust the word of God? When you first were in the desert, fleeing Sarah, He promised that your unborn child would grow to be a man and king of men. Wherefore do you doubt?”

“We thirst to death.”

“Arise!”

Hagar looked up. The angel was gone. But where he had stood, there gushed a fountain of sparkling water.

Hagar and Ishmael dwelt near the fountain, and all that the Lord had promised came to pass.

The Sacrifice

Now, Abraham had obeyed God all his days and enjoyed his mighty favor. He had even dared challenge Him in the matter of Sodom and Gomorrah.

“He is the best man I have ever created,” said the Lord to His angels. “The strongest and the wisest. But I shall test him once again. I shall test him to the utmost limits of his strength, so that I may know what those limits are. And it shall be a measure to me forever.”

God appeared to Abraham and said: “Behold, I am here.”

Abraham was in the fields. He bowed to earth and said: “I listen and obey.”

God said : “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There, upon a mountain, you shall build an altar, place your son upon the altar, kill him, and give him to me as a burnt offering.”

Abraham did not answer. He arose and went back to his tent. There he sat all night, sleepless, and did not answer when Sarah called or when Isaac called. But all night the boy’s face burned in the darkness—a narrow keen face with great dark eyes. Abraham could not weep; the horror went too deep for tears. Why is God doing this to me? he said to himself. How can I obey Him?

Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey and summoned two young men. He told them to chop wood and load it on the donkey and follow him on a journey. Then he mounted Isaac on the donkey and departed, still without a word to Sarah.

They traveled for two days, and on the third day reached the hills of Moriah. Abraham said to the two young men: “Stay here with the donkey. The lad and I will go up the hill to worship.”

They climbed the hill, hand in hand. It was a barren place, all rock and sand, where no trees grew. But Isaac was happy to be journeying with his father—riding a donkey, seeing new places, and now helping his father carry wood up a hill. He laughed with joy as they climbed.

At the top of the hill Abraham raised an altar. He heaped wood upon it, and set the wood on fire.

“Father,” said the boy.

“I am here, my son.”

“I see the wood and the fire, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

Abraham said: “My son … God Himself will provide a lamb for the burnt offering.”

Then he bound Isaac’s arms and legs with thongs, and laid him on the altar. Isaac smiled up at him. He thought his father was playing a game. And Abraham, seeing him smile, choked back his tears so that the lad should not be afraid. He drew his knife.

He heard a voice say, “Abraham … Abraham …”

“Here I am,” he whispered.

“Do not lay your hand upon the boy,” said the voice from heaven. “Do not harm him in any way. For now I know that you love me enough to give me your son, your only son.”

Abraham lifted his eyes and saw a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. He went to the ram and slit its throat, and placed it on the altar for a burnt offering to the Lord.

The voice spoke again. “Because you have not withheld your son from me, I will multiply your seed like the stars of heaven, like the sands upon the shore. They shall prevail against their enemies, and the whole world shall be blessed in them because you have obeyed my word.”

Abraham and Isaac went down the mountain and journeyed back to their tents. But Abraham never told Sarah what had happened at Moriah, nor did Isaac.

ISAAC

Rebecca at the Well

I
SAAC WAS NOW
a grown man. Sarah was dead, and Abraham was ready for death. But he had one more thing to do before he died. He called his servant, Eleazer, to him, and said: “You are my oldest and most faithful friend. You have lived in my tents all your life and shared my fortune, good and bad. You are my steward in all things, and keeper of my keys. Now I require one last service of you.”

“Speak your wish.”

“Put your hand under my thigh.”

Eleazer placed his hand under the old man’s thigh. This was a token that a mighty oath was to be sworn.

Abraham said: “I wish you to swear by the Lord God, maker of heaven and earth, that you will not allow my son Isaac to take a wife from among the daughters of Canaan.”

“We have dwelt here many years,” said Eleazer. “You are a great man among the Canaanites.”

“Nevertheless,” said Abraham, “I am not of their blood, nor is Isaac. And Isaac is the inheritor. It has been promised that he will father sons who will become a mighty nation, blessed of God. Therefore, I want him to take his wife from among the daughters of my kinsmen who dwell beyond these borders. You must journey there and choose a maiden strong and beautiful—like my beloved wife, Sarah—a daughter of our own people, to be the mother of nations.”

Eleazer said: “Suppose the girl is unwilling to leave her family and come into a strange land. Shall I take Isaac back to her?”

“You shall not. Isaac is not to leave Canaan. God has promised him this land, and his sons after him. You shall journey to where I was born to find a wife for my son, and God will send his angel before you to clear the way. If the maiden does not follow you back to Canaan, then she is unfit to be my son’s wife, and you must find another. Do you understand?”

“I understand.”

“Do you swear?”

“I swear by the Almighty God to do as you wish.”

Then Eleazer kissed Abraham’s hand, but Abraham arose and embraced him, for he knew he would never see his servant again.

“Farewell,” said Abraham. “Choose carefully. And do not grieve that I must leave you. The Lord has blessed me and blessed my seed. I am ripe for death and He harvests my soul. And I am glad, for where I go Sarah waits.”

Eleazer packed bales of silk and samite, and gold and diamonds enough to load ten camels, and departed in a rich caravan. He journeyed to a land bordering Ur, where Abraham’s brothers, the sons of Terah, dwelt, and their children and great-grandchildren. He did not enter the city but stopped before its gates, where there was a fountain of water and a deep well. It was evening, and women were coming through the gates to draw water. He made his camels kneel at the well, but did not allow them to drink.

Eleazer lifted his face to the sky and said: “Lord, show me the way, that I may serve your servant, Abraham, according to his wish. Show me a sign. I shall stand at the well as the daughters of the city come to draw water. And I shall ask certain of these maidens to give me a drink, choosing only those who seem graceful and strong, and fit to be Isaac’s wife. And let this be the sign: The one who will say, ‘Drink, and I will draw water for your camels, also,’ that one I shall know to be the one you have chosen as Isaac’s wife.”

No sooner had he stopped speaking than he saw a girl come through the gates who was so beautiful that, old man though he was, he felt the sap rise in his limbs. She was slender as a gazelle, with great black eyes and long black hair bound in a silver fillet. He heard her laugh among the maidens, and her laughter was like music to him. He watched her as she came to the fountain, and filled a heavy copper pitcher and lifted it to her shoulder in one easy motion. He walked to her slowly, and she watched him come, modest before a stranger but unafraid. He said: “Give me, I pray you, a little water from your pitcher.”

“Drink, my lord,” she said, and swung the pitcher from her shoulder, tilting it for him to drink. Her fragrance was like the night-flowering jasmine.

Oh, God, let her be the one, said Eleazer in his heart. Let her say the words I want to hear.

He drank slowly to give her time. He drank until he thought he must burst. “Thank you, sweet maiden,” he said.

“Are you a stranger, my lord?”

“I come from afar.”

“Do those camels belong to you?”

“They do.”

“May I draw water for them, also, and give them to drink?”

“They are many, and they are thirsty.”

“I shall be swift,” she said. She ran to the well and drew water, bucket after bucket, running back and forth with the heavy buckets until the camels had drunk their fill. And Eleazer stared in wonder.

When she had finished she returned to him and said: “Your camels have drunk. They were very thirsty.”

“What is your name, gentle maiden?”

“Rebecca, my lord.”

“You have been kind to a stranger, Rebecca. Will your father welcome us as well? Will he give us lodging in his house?”

“He will. And lodging for your servants and straw for your camels.”

“What is your father’s name?”

“Bethuel.”

“And his father?”

“Nahor is his name.”

“Nahor, son of Terah?”

“The same, my lord.”

“Nahor, whose brother was Abram?”

“My grandfather tells us tales of his brother, who is called Abraham now and has become a mighty man in Canaan.”

Eleazer bowed to the ground and said: “Blessed be the Lord who has showed me the way.” He arose and gave Rebecca a heavy gold bracelet and earrings of ruby and gold.

“I cannot take such gifts from a stranger,” she said.

“They are not from a stranger. They are from your grandfather’s brother, Abraham, who is my master, and whose servant I am.”

Rebecca ran home. “Mother, Mother!” she cried. “A guest is coming. He came all the way from Canaan—from the tents of Abraham, who is my grandfather’s brother. Look what he gave me!”

Rebecca had a brother, Laban, who knew the ways of the world. When he heard his sister’s words and saw the golden bracelet and the earrings of ruby and gold, he ran out of his house to the city gates and beyond them to the fountain. There he saw camels and many servants, and an old man with a long white beard.

“Why do you stand here at the gates, blessed guest?” he cried. “I am Laban, brother of Rebecca, and I have come to show you the way to my father’s house, which you will honor by your visit.”

Laban led Eleazer and his caravan through the city to his father’s house. He helped the drivers unpack the camels, feed them, and bed them down. Then he found food and quarters for those who had come with Eleazer. He led Eleazer into the house, where Rebecca and her mother were preparing a great feast.

Water was sent for, and Eleazer’s feet were washed. All this time the old man said little, but sat observing the household and all in it. Food was set before him, and he said: “I will not eat until I have told my errand.”

“Speak, honored guest,” said Laban. “We listen.”

“I am Abraham’s servant,” said Eleazer. “The Lord has blessed Abraham and made him a mighty man in Canaan. Great flocks of sheep graze upon his land, and herds of fat cattle. He is served by shepherds and herdsmen and tillers of the soil, by body-servants and handmaids. He has heaped up gold and silver and precious stones; caravans of camels and donkeys carry his bales to market. He is a mighty man, and mighty among the mighty, for all seek his counsel. His wisdom has been ripened in the service of the Lord.

“Now, Abraham has a son, Isaac, born of his wife Sarah when she was very old. This son will inherit all that his father has. The Lord also promises that the sons of Isaac shall, in their turn, inherit the entire land of Canaan.”

All sat in the wavering torchlight listening to the words of the old man. Their food lay untouched before them.

“Therefore,” said Eleazer, “my master said to me: ‘I am about to die, and I must find a wife for Isaac. She must not be a daughter of the Canaanites, who follow other gods and other ways. You, Eleazer, must go to the land where I was born and find a wife for Isaac among my kindred, who are also Sarah’s kindred. Only there will you find her who will be strong enough to bear God’s heavy favor, and fit to be the mother of nations.’

BOOK: Signs and Wonders
5.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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