Abraham’s covenant

He stood before me. An honourable man, a father, honourable father. And in his heart pulsed one great burning desire, the desire to be the father of many, and not just one son and he by a woman not his equal. He longed for sons by his sister-bride, by his closer-than-a-heart. He saw her time for bearing young ending as her tides of blood-flow dried up.

I saw myself in his eyes. I saw a small god, a mighty leader of a tiny tribe, dwarfed by the big gods, but I saw his unswerving allegiance given to me. I was HIS god. And she, barren as she was, was HIS sister-bride.‘I will give you your son, father of many,’ I promised, ‘and by his sons, I will give you generations of children.’ Faith and realism choked him. Laughter that I did not know of the tides of women, how remorseless they were, and the thought  that, small as I was I might yet do something for the son of the woman not his equal.

‘I will give you a son by your princess wife,’ I promised, speaking deep of longing. Despite himself, he hoped. ‘We shall seal the promise with a covenant sacrifice’ he said. The way of a covenant sacrifice is for human and human, or human and God, to pass between a broken parted dove or a kid, and for the promise to be bound between bloody flesh and bloody flesh.

‘I will bind myself in covenant,’ I said.

I saw a purpose in his mind, and I understood. Other flesh was to little for this. The promise was of regeneration, a intimate promise, tender and painful to believe, and therefore he would take a knife and cut into his most tender parts, acting in deadly earnest.

We sealed my promise in his blood, passing between him and his foreskin.

I stood before him as he bled. ‘Father’ I said.

5 thoughts on “Abraham’s covenant

  1. Do you know Mary Renault’s “The King must Die”? I had an early passion for a kind of poetic prose which I think (as a non-speaker) you also find in the Gaelic – and which you use beautifully here.

  2. Really, what I try to do is to unpick some of the things I see in the passage – to open it out in exegesis but using story and not instruction. Thus I generallly give English forms of the names (Honourable Father, Princess) The things about covenant sacrifice are just there – that is how it worked. This is stuff the Jews just knew. But it is another world to us, and I just try to draw people in. I admit that seeing circumcision as sacrifice is not picked up by the commentators, but I think it is there, at any rate in the eyes of the perceptive P writer of this passage. Increasingly scholars are attempting serious reading of the actual passage before them, which I find helpful and useful. It is nice to know I am not alone in regarding the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures as seriously clever. But I do also expand the sub-text in the light of the NT – our reading of self giving changes, and our understanding. Really, that is all there is to it.

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