Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Right of return and the curse of the aberrant covenant

Separation barrier dividing Israel
“...and your descendants shall inherit the gates of their enemies”. The meaning of this verse from Gen. 22:16-18 remained cryptic to me until I stumbled across a shocking explanation that unlocked the mystery. First; this promise was made to Abraham for overcoming his natural instinct to fulfill the will of God and offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Second; prior context is important because the binding of Isaac and offering is introduced by the statement  “...and it was after these events”. What events?

The events refer to the inter-tribal pact Abraham made with Abi Melech (Father King) in Aza (modern Gaza) allowing Abi Melech’s living descendants to stay in the land, importantly  Gaza, Hebron and Shalem (Jerusalem). Immediately after offering Isaac, Sarah died and Abraham returned to Hebron to bury his wife. Notwithstanding Abraham’s  inheritance of the land through his direct descendant Shem or Malchi Tzedek (King of Justice), he upheld the pact. He negotiated with Abi Melech’s relative Ephron, King of the Hittites to buy the grave-cave plot in Hebron known as Machpelah. Later, after Isaac’s water wells were destroyed by Abi Melech’s shepherds, for a renewed promise of peace Isaac extended Abraham's pact to include the living and future descendants of Abi Melech.

Fast forward 400 years to the time Israel returned from Egypt. Then, a tumultuous 300 years followed when Israel was mostly preoccupied settling their land. It is known as the time of Israel’s appointed judges, one of whom was Samson. Most people know the famous story of Samson and his Philistine wife Delilah, in which she convinced him to reveal his hair as the secret source of his strength. When he was sleeping she cut it, which led to imprisonment and death during his redemptive act, the destruction of the idolatrous Philistine temple of Dagon in Gaza.

In one other lesser known story that occurred immediately before Samson met Delilah, he ripped out the heavy doors held between the stone gates of the Philistine city and marched them on his shoulders to the mountain opposite Hebron, a distance of 60 Kilometers. We are not told much more about this episode, so it puzzled me for some time as I paged through various books looking for clues. We can suppose that the mountain opposite Hebron was Kiryat Arba or Alonei Mamre the original dwelling place of Abraham. So, what was Samson trying to demonstrate by his obvious and purposeful actions?     

We know Samson was a nazarite from birth, totally committed to God and the appointed leader of the rear guard tribe Dan. We also know that Dan was the last tribe to settle its allotted land, but that due to Philistine resistance, reinforced by the earlier covenants with Abraham and Isaac they were unable to conquer it. Similar resistance was met in Hebron and Jerusalem, which Israel’s tribes were also unable to conquer. Further, the other tribes, who had previously joined the collective struggle of re-occupation abandoned their effort to support the last tribe Dan. This forced the burgeoning tribe to look for land and in their transient state their leaders restlessly sought solutions ultimately part re-locating in Laish, near today’s Golan Heights.

The recurring theme through the stories of Samson are of strength and resistance almost tangential is his role as highest judge of the tribes. Carrying the gate of Gaza representing the region allotted to tribe Dan, Samson was crying out in desperation that his tribe and his nation confront the effect of the aberrant covenant of Abraham and Isaac by defeating their Philistine enemy. In protest he marched the door of Gaza to the home of Abraham, reminding the nation that they had not yet fulfilled their obligation to settle the entire land, Samson was protesting Israel’s continuing and erroneous regard for the aberrant covenant.    

“...and it was after these events”  Abraham demonstrated his faith by offering Isaac “...and your descendants shall inherit the gates of their enemies”, but not in Samson’s time! Dejected he leaked his secret to Delilah, destroyed the temple of Dagon where he died.  Approximately 300 years later David first ruled as King of Judaea in Hebron before he infiltrated the walled city of Jerusalem and obtained influence over Abi Melech’s descendant, the incumbent Jeubusite King, Araunah. Progressively King David increased his dominance eventually uniting Israels disparate tribes, however he too was distracted, unable to rectify the allotment of tribe Dan by conquering Gaza.  

Almost 3000 years have passed since Israel relinquished the opportunity to fully realize the benefits of their entire land. In 2005 the order by Arik Sharon to dismantle Gush Katif and the towns built around Gaza by Jewish families was the last real opportunity to overcome the curse of the aberrant covenants that continues to prevent Israel from its rightful return to Gaza, Hebron and parts of Jerusalem. Perhaps Israel will once again merit a leader that is capable to finally rectify the past and strong enough to resist foreign diplomatic offers of security for fragile short term peace. Inevitably we must look forward to a generation that will be united in its demand for full restoration of the Israel’s inheritance to restore the rights of all its tribes and bring order to its land. Maybe that will that be Generation 5800?