tomb – and know I was meeting one and the same God.
I got so I could recognize Him anywhere, even in the
Old Testament, where almost everything is hidden. Events
emerge as slivers of light in depths of shadow, rendered
obliquely, sparingly, almost begrudgingly. God appears
abruptly out of nowhere, and just as abruptly vanishes.
Thoughts and feelings, divine or human, are opaque. All is
reduced to stark action, terse dialogue. We can only guess
at motives, infer thoughts, imagine feelings. God out of
nowhere commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, no reason
given. Abraham wordlessly obeys. Isaac wordlessly com-plies. Sarah, if present at all, wordlessly watches.
The Old Testament’s narrative arc covers sweeping time
scales. Centuries elapse in the span of a verse or two. The
book of Genesis covers thousands of years in 50 chapters.
Compare that with the book of Acts, which covers a few
years in 28 chapters. Or the book of John, which covers
three years in 21 chapters.
All’s to say, the Old Testament highly condenses theology, history and chronology, and conceals almost all its
characters’ motives, thoughts and feelings. We flinch, for
instance, when reading of God’s fierce wrath against the
Amalekites, but usually fail to note it took a thousand years
for His wrath to be fully revealed. On that time scale God’s
swift anger starts to look almost like doddering patience.
Take, for instance, the story earlier about flint knives and
foreskins, death avoided, “the bridegroom of blood.” The
wider context in no way prepares us for this. Immediately
prior, Moses and God are having an almost companionable discussion about the coming showdown with Pharaoh.
Out of nowhere, God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, no reason given. Image: The Sacrifice of
Isaac, a painting from 1603 by Caravaggio.