(Q.1, “National Character)
One of the main themes running through the national history of the Israelites, is their concern for descendants and heirs to their blessing. Yhwh’s covenant to Abraham, that his offspring will number the stars (Gen 15:6) required that Abraham and Sarah actually have children. With seemingly no pregnancy possible, Abraham took matters into his own hands and had a son through servant Hagar. This theme punctuates the deep concern for extinction of Abraham’s family line, but also importance of an heir through Abraham, as promised by Yhwh. “Perhaps the fixation on such matters reflects the monarchic setting of the Yahwist narrative and its consuming interest in heirs and succession with the royal house of David.” (Bandstra) Throughout Abraham’s life, his activity and living demonstrated “righteous” acts or “God-approved” acts (Bandstra) and describes the character of this key figure as one who stands in relationship with, and dependence on God. The history and righteous character of the Israelites is further illustrated with Abraham’s near compliance with Yhwh’s request to sacrifice Isaac. This event symbolizes for the Israelites that Yhwh will test, but will also ultimately provide.
Throughout the key ancestral stories, the Israelites are keenly aware of their shortcomings and character flaws. From Abrahams lapses of judgment and parenting of a child with Hagar, Jacob’s trickery of Esau’s birthright, Josephs’ superiority complex and many other examples of less than exemplary role models, the Israelites did not attempt to hide the humanness of their fore fathers.
I’m a descendant of Swedish immigrants on my Mother’s side. A significant story told by my grandmother was my great grandfather’s journey to America. He had witnessed the deadly beating of his brother at the iron mill where he was employed, and so he booked passage to the United States where he could pursue a more promising future. However, after arriving in New York, he was faced with discrimination (“dumb Swede”) and was assaulted and robbed. My Grandmother told of how he kept his money in his shoes and refused to take his shoes off even to sleep. His feet became so swollen it was nearly impossible to walk. But he made his way to Illinois where he started a new life and family. This ancestral/family story has always represented perseverance to my family and me. That even in the face of terrible trial and hardship, there is hope and a better future.
As I’ve been reading the Old Testament stories with new eyes, I’ve become aware of how important the telling of those stories was in sustaining the identity of the Israelites. These stories represented God’s faithfulness to God’s people in the way of promise of relationship with God, promise of descendants and promise of homeland. The stories of key individuals demonstrate human choices and mistakes, but ultimately a desire to walk in righteousness, which was then blessed by God. The same can be said about the story of my Swedish ancestor and the impact it’s had on my life and my family. Circumstances will forever impact one’s journey, but carrying the history of perseverance guides one’s attitude and actions.