One of the most shocking and arresting artistic depections I have ever seen is Benito Berruguete's 17th century rendition of Abraham's offering of Isaac (see above). Few of us, I suspect, can begin to even imagine the horrific pain that our forefather went through at the point at which he was prepared to end the life of the boy whose coming he had for so long and anxiously awaited. It's easy to be trite when commenting on such events and to be tempted to dismiss them as something never-to-be-repeated again.
Well, I'm quite sure that Yahweh isn't suddenly going to ask us to whisk our firstborn son up to some hill and cut his throat. In that respect this was a non-repeatable calling. We know that its purpose was not only to test Abraham's obedience and love of Yahweh, the Most High Elohim (God), but to be a prophetic type. In viewing this heart-rending image of an aged father being asked to kill the son of his dreams and forefather of the Messiah, we are supposed to catch a glimpse into the agony that our Heavenly Father, Yahweh, went through when He presented His Son Yah'shua (Jesus) as a sacrifice for sin. Only in the latter case the knife was not stayed. Another temptation is to think of Yahweh as so 'other-worldly' that no equivalent to human sorrow and suffering could possibly be experienced by Him. But that is the whole point of this revelation into His Nature: we are to underdstand that He is not only a Person but that we are made in His very nature-image, and to such a degree that it was possible for His Son, Yah'shua (Jesus) to incarnate as one of us too.
There can be no question that Abraham was a remarkable man - a true friend of Yahweh, one who was obedient even unto death and whose love and faith made of him a true servant. He truly trusted in Yahweh to the point that he was willing to slay his own son and remain trusting that He would bring him back to life again after the grizzly sacrifice. What other conclusion could he have come to, given that he knew Yahweh was not a liar and had promised the Messianic Seed through him? He was willing to trust Yahweh unto death.
Lest we be tempted to think that we 'lesser mortals' are not called into such a relationship with Yahweh let us recall that Yah'shua (Jesus) said:
Shall we do the works of Abraham? Paul seemed to think so:
"If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham" (John 8:39, NKJV).
As believers we are adopted Israelites and therefore count as his spiritual sons. His Elohim (God) - "the Elohim (God) of Abraham, the Elohim (God) of Isaac, and the Elohim (God) of Jacob" (Ex.3:15, NKJV) - is also our Elohim (God).
"Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham" (Galatians 3:7, NKJV).
We are all the children of Abraham by faith, imitation and ingrafting
Patriarchs in Christian/Messianic polygamy are only too willing to claim Abraham and other polygamists as rôle models and as justification for a plural marriage lifestyle but I wonder if we have comprehended the wider meaning and demands of what it actually is to be a 'patriarch'? The term is almost reflexly used by us to designate the head of a family and, by extension, of a family with more than wife. But is that all a patriarch is? As we look at the lives of the polygamous Patriarchs - Abraham and Jacob - and compare them with that of the monogamous patriarch Isaac, what do we see? And how were Abraham and Jacob similar (apart from being polygamous)?
In terms of the New Covenant, believers are linked to Abraham and to Jacob (Israel) but seemingly not to Isaac in quite the same way except as children of promise (Galatians 4:28). When it comes to spiritual fatherhood (patriarchy) it is to his father and son that we are to look. It is to the two polygamists of the trio that we are linked as patriarchs, not to the monogamist Isaac as children.
Both Abraham and Jacob had to travel far to fulfil their missions. By faith, Abraham abandoned a prosperous business in the metropolis of Ur and migrated to a foreign land to become a herdsman. Jacob had to leave home and serve for 14 years abroad to obtain his two primary wives. Only Isaac stayed put - Abraham sent out a servant to fetch his wife for him. At once, then, we see a difference between the two polygamist patriarchs and the monogamist ones is that of reaching out and traveling far to fulfil their missions. Something of the explorer and pioneer was needed for them to apparently qualify to have several wives, something the more domesticated Isaac did not. And (if we are to believe the account in the Book of Jasher) it would seem that Isaac was a a little weak-minded and not that spiritual - his eyes of favour were on carnal Esau and not the spiritual firstborn heir, Jacob. True, Jacob started off as a bit of a deceiver but Yahweh soon knocked that tendency out of him through many trials and finally at Peniel.
The great polygamous patriarchs were all pioneers and migrants
But it is to Abraham that we must look as the 'all round' patriarch. True, he had the same weakness before Pharaoh as Isaac did before Abimelech, Jr., and had to overcome his fear or monarchical power. It takes courage to be called to a station such as his, as it takes much courage to be a true follower of the Lord Yah'shua (Jesus). It takes courage to be a plural wife too. Patriarchs face impossible dilemmas as well - Abraham on Mt.Moriah with Isaac, and Jacob at the Jabbok risking half of his family before a brother whom he had every reason to believe would avenge himself for his earlier trickery, and slaughter his family. They were willing to risk their families, and their families were willing to take the risk.
Courage and risk-taking. That is part and parcel of the polygamous patriarchal way of life. And in many ways the risks are even greater today when living in a culture that vehemently opposes polygamy and economically and socially penalises polygamists whilst endorsing and rewarding perversion. Patriarchs face jail sentences for living their life-style and families risk having their children made wards of the secular (and increasingly pagan) state. Wives face being alone for years and risk losing their small children. Who said that polygamy was easy? Do people really understand how dangerous it can be?
If this is not enough, then consider the 'Abrahamic Sacrifice'. To know who he really was, to test his loyalty and faith, Yahweh asked his servant and friend not only to do something horrendously wicked (which He Himself had forbidden) but to trust Him to restore his dead son afterwards.
It is my firm belief that every patriarch has his 'Abrahamic Test'. Are there others who have been asked by Yahweh to do things contrary to His Law or Torah? How about a prophet being asked to walk around naked and expose himself? How about the prophet commanded to marry a prostitute and have children with her as a prophetic sign? How about the Judahite girl asked to marry a pagan king to save the Judahite nation? How about it? Are you made of 'sterner stuff'? Are you willing to have every fibre of your being stretched to the limit of endurance? Are you willing to suffer and take risks? Are you willing to have your world of certainty and logic turned upside down? Are you willing to irretrievably offer something that is the most precious thing in the world (a child's life) and trust Yahweh to restore it to you supernaturally? For if you are not, don't become a polygamist.
None of us knows what our Abrahamic Test is but I can guarantee it will shake you to the core of your very being when you find out. There will be times of apparent darkness and meaningless when you will want to die. There will be times when you feel utterly, utterly alone. There will be times when you feel like Job and ask 'Why?? Why??' And when you go through these times, you will be challenged to trust in the Almighty when there are no rational or visible grounds for doing so. You may be asked by Him to do something that revolts every sense of your being. And if this hasn't happened yet, then it surerly will. It may not be a single Test but several strung out over a long period of time. And you won't ever know beforehand what that Test will consist of. You won't be able to prepare for it other than to walk with your hand in the hand of Yahweh.
To be a patriarch is not to occupy a throne or wear a badge of rank. If you want to know what the heart of a patriarch is supposed to be like take another close look at Berruguete's sculpture. Then you will know.