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Wandering Abraham

by Tim O'Hearn

The Jewish people have long been used to being a homeless nation. Even when they had a home it had a history of being conquered—by the Philistines, the Midianites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans. Even the great fall feast, Succoth (the Feast of Booths which begins on October 7 this year) is a reminder of forty years wandering in the desert.

In a way this makes a little sense. After all, the father of the Jewish nation was Abraham. Legend says that Abraham’s father moved the family to Haran because the young Abram had called down the wrath of the leaders of Ur when he smashed up his father’s idol shop. Whatever the reason, early in his life he moved from his home. When he was seventy-five years old God told him, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee.” (Gen 12:1) From that time he became a man with no settled home. He moved around in the land to which he went, and even had to leave that land at times. Abraham was a man without a permanent home.

One of the early Christian writers, most probably a rabbi, made a drash (a lesson in which the writer draws a conclusion which may not be in the simple reading of the text) on Abraham’s wanderings. “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” He goes on to say that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob

confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

When God gave the commandment for Israel to dwell in booths during this feast, he gave the reason, “That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 23:43) What does dwelling in booths at that time have to do with God being “the LORD your God?” Might it not be the same thought given about Abraham?

Abraham knew that his home was beyond this life, because his God is not limited to this life. As God led Israel to the land which Abraham had inhabited they dwelt in tents. Even after entering the land they were to remember this. The lesson of Abraham and Israel is that this life is not permanent. We are merely on a journey to the land which is to be. Abraham knew that no matter how long he lived on the land in Canaan, that was a short path to home with God. He lived in tents, but even the tent of his body was temporary.

During the feast of booths, the observant live in a sukka, a temporary hut, only one side of which can be a permanent wall. It is built just for the holiday and then torn down. In a sense, our lives last no longer than a sukka during the feast; we are here a week and then torn down. Like Abraham, though, we need to be looking forward to a permanent home, not to the present which lasts only for today.