The knife was in the air and plunging down to snuff out the life of his son, whom he loved, when Avraham heard his name called out.
Even then, he could not have stopped if the Angel of the Lord had not helped him. It had been left to the last minute, the last seconds before it would have been too late. God wanted to know Avraham’s heart. He wanted to test his faith, that most powerful of weapons in the deadly battle for the redemption of mankind.
Avraham blinked hard a couple of times in an attempt to get his bearings. He heard the voice again.
He replied, “I am here.”
“Do not raise your hand against the boy,” the angel said. “Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.”
No, Avraham thought, I could not refuse but at times I wanted to. I am an old man and this is my son, whom I love. He was born in laughter and laughter is his name. But he was a gift in my old age and I cannot refuse the giver.
El Shaddai is a mighty God, full of compassion and love, and I could not refuse or doubt him. He would simply have raised Yitz´chak up again from the dead, if need be, to keep his promise that He swore to me on pain of death. No, I could not refuse but it had not been easy.
Looking up, Avraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Avraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Avraham called this place, “Yahweh provides.”
It was the waiting that was most difficult, he remembered, for he had known that God required his son from him for a number of days already. They had chopped the wood for the burnt offering and started on the journey to the mountain. God would indicate the place. On the third day they had arrived.
Then Abraham said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.” That was a statement of faith that had spontaneously sprung from his lips.
Avraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Yitz´chak, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together.
Yitz´chak spoke to his father Avraham. “Father,” he said.
“Yes, my son,” he replied.
“Look,” he said, “here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Avraham answered, “My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” Then the two of them went on together.
When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Avraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Suddenly he wondered how he would force his son to lie on the altar. The thought of struggling with Yitz´chak filled him with dread; the task was difficult enough as it was. But then he knew what he would do.
He approached Yitz´chak and, with strips of camel hide, he began to bind Yitz´chak’s hands. Yitz´chak seemed to be as much amused as he was confused. Although he inquired repeatedly, Avraham remained silent and did not answer his questions.
With a stubbornness born of the desert, Avraham completed the task, half dragging, half carrying Yitz´chak to the altar and pushing him upon it. Yitz´chak cried out in pain as the sticks of wood struck him in the back. But Avraham ignored his pleas and went about his task with single-minded determination, his bony face and hollow eyes a mirror of the death he was bringing upon his son, whom he loved.
He would put fire to the wood later, first he had to kill the sacrifice. Already he was thinking of Yitz´chak as the sacrifice! What strange thing is this, to what purpose this offering of his firstborn son?
But Avraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son. He had decided to do it swiftly and cleanly, so that Yitz´chak would not suffer. His arm was coming down strongly in the killing strokewhen he heard the voice call out his name.
“So rebellion against God is, in fact, rebellion against the source of Life, the Tree of Life,” Gamaliel said. “Death is the natural result, even if it is postponed for a time. What has that got to do with the forgiveness of sins?” Gamaliel was bringing the discussion back to the key issue.
“Because there is no going back,” Benjamin said. “Rebellion is a fact of life, a way of life and it has to be dealt with.”
Benjamin was clearheaded and sharp with his answers. It even surprised him. Was this what Nathanael had meant by the Ruach HaKodesh giving him the words to speak in the proper moment? Benjamin breathed a silent prayer of thanks to heaven.
“We were created to live under the authority and blessing of God but we act and live as if God is unnecessary and as if we were an authority unto ourselves. We are like married men living and acting as if we had no wife, no responsibility, no family. We are used to it and reluctant to give up control over our lives. We have rebelled against the authority of God and the result and punishment is death. Because death is postponed, we think we don’t deserve it, but it is not so. Blood will be shed, must be shed. Someone would have to die.”
Benjamin paused, his hand in the air, his finger pointing upward.
“There was only one way to save mankind and in his great mercy God covenanted himself to accomplish the impossible and do the unthinkable.” He looked around the room to gauge the effect of his words on his audience.
“This is new even to my ears.” The famous rabbi spoke at last. “When was this?”
“When Adonai Elohim made a covenant with Avraham,” Benjamin said. “It was a covenant of promise. Avraham was not required to do anything to receive it. In the enactment of the covenant, El Shaddai, the Almighty God, showed Avraham a flying torch, representing himself, which passed between the split carcasses of the sacrifices. God was telling him that he would keep his promise to Avraham upon pain of death – his death. He would –”
“But God always keeps his promises to his people,” Gamaliel said. “It is we who are covenant breakers.” The look on his face made it clear that he thought it was, after all, rather obvious.
“And yet, it is God who passed between the sacrifices, not Avraham and it is God who agrees on pain of death to complete his promise, not Avraham.” Benjamin went on, smiling. It was not often that he caught his Bubba off guard. “The promise to Avraham, after all, was the covenant counterpart to the promise of a Holy Warrior in the prophetic curse upon the serpent in the garden.”
In reply, Benjamin began to recite once again from the ancient text of beginnings.
“Avraham became the father of many nations; his descendants inherited this land, Eretz-Isra´el, in which we now live. His name has become known all over the world and certainly God has both blessed and cursed the nations based on how they dealt with his chosen people.” Benjamin paused. “But can we truly say that all the nations of the earth have been blessed through Isra´el?”
“The Rabbis would say that we have been chosen to carry God’s Law to the ends of the earth,” Gamaliel said. “They say that is the blessing spoken of here.” He tried to make it sound important, Benjamin could see, but it wasn’t convincing.
“And we have seen how the world has accepted this great revelation of law,” Benjamin said, his eyes glinting. “We have seen how it has shown Roman law to be weak and self-serving; how it has inspired nations to come to Yerushalayim to sit at the feet of our wise men and learn how to manage the affairs of the nations.”
“There was a time –”
“Yes, grandfather, there was a time, but no more. Please forgive my lack of respect. It is true that there is nothing wrong with the Law. It is holy and perfect and is a source of healing for the nations. But, grandfather, the nations could not look into the perfect law for being blinded by the sin of the guardians of that same Law.”
Benjamin almost bounced from his couch. “It is not just the Law that the nations needed to see but the living, dynamic fellowship between God and his people that the fulfilling of the Law made possible. Without that holy fellowship, the Law has no power or appeal.” Benjamin was standing, his hands spread out, his palms outward, looking, appealing, to his grandfather for assent.
“So you believe, young Benjamin, that Isra´el has not fulfilled her calling?”
“You, yourself, believe that, grandfather. You have told me so, in secret, many times.”
The startled glances of those left in the audience who were still awake was a mute testimony to the fact that the night still held a few surprises. But Gamaliel didn’t seem to notice. He was staring at nothing, and Benjamin knew that he was looking deep within himself, examining his heart and studying every word that he was saying. He had seen that look before.
“Yes, I suppose that’s true, but it still vexes the soul to hear it.”
Benjamin waited for the question to be asked.
“Was Isra´el then a hindrance to this great plan of redemption that you speak about?” Gamaliel avoided Benjamin’s eye as if he feared the answer. “Was she a curse to the nations instead of a blessing?”
“Not at all, grandfather,” Benjamin said. “Not because Isra´el was so faithful — because we know she wasn’t — but because Adonai Elohim, himself, was faithful. Isra´el was an example to the world, whether good or bad, a mirror of the sin and deception of the human heart even under the blessing of God. Isra´el would be used by God to bless the nations despite herself. Without the law and without the demonstration of Isra´el’s need for something more than the law, the work of the Maschiach would not have been understood. Without the sacrifices, without the Passover, without the covenants, the curses and blessings, the laws to regulate our lives and worship, who would have understood what happened that night when the Light of the World died upon a cross outside the holy city like thousands of others before and after him.”
“But how does that change the human heart?”
“From the inside out,” Benjamin said. “By dealing with sin once and for all on the cross, it is possible for us to receive the gift of the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Presence of God. We become human temples for God to dwell in. That is what will, in the end, change the human heart. Because of the cross, not only is the punishment for sin taken care of, but we are also made truly holy before God, even though we continue to sin. The sacrifice of Yeshua on the cross was sufficient for all of our sin, past, present and future. He not only accepted the punishment for our sin but became sin for us. We are not simply pardoned but, in fact, receive the righteousness of Yeshua as our own. We are now holy as God is holy.”
“That is hard to believe and even harder to accept, my son.” Heads nodded in sleepy agreement.
“Yes, it is hard to accept, grandfather,” Benjamin said, “but it is the only way. If we are not made truly holy, we cannot receive the gift of the Ruach HaKodesh. It is the only way that God can fellowship continually with us without the interference of sin, though we would sin.”
Benjamin stopped suddenly, checked by a more powerful force within. He waited, wondering in the growing silence what he should do. Then the crucial question came.
“Do you have the Spirit of the Living God within you continually?”
“Yes, Bubba, I do.”
“You dare to compare yourself with Elijah, Samson and even King David?”
“Yes, grandfather, it is so. Not because I am worthy, for I am not. But David was a shepherd, an adulterer, a murderer. Samson a womanizer. Elijah prone to despair and depression. Were they worthy to receive the Spirit? No more than you and I, and no less. It is by God’s grace and for his purposes that they were filled with the power of his might. And that is how it is with me.”
“But you claim to have the Ruach HaKodesh continually,” Gamaliel said.
“Yes, that is so.” There was nothing else to say. It was so because of the grace of God not through any merit of Benjamin’s. But his grandfather knew that.
Gamaliel remained quiet with his own thoughts, and Benjamin looked at him intently. When his grandfather stopped asking questions there was a problem. It was almost as if there were some invisible wall that he couldn’t get past, some barrier that stopped him from moving forward and accepting the truth. There was very little left to say, and his grandfather seemed to grant all of the major points of his argument but there it stopped. Benjamin could not seem to penetrate to his heart. Yes, that was it. His heart was still closed.
Adonai Elohim, have mercy on my grandfather. Benjamin prayed into the moment of silence that had fallen on the group. He remembered something that Nathanael had told him. It seemed so long ago, but was really only a few months back. What had he said? Oh, yes. Only the Ruach HaKodesh could penetrate the heart. We are only witnesses to the truth, we have no power to make someone believe.
Benjamin almost started to panic but then he remembered something else his mentor and friend had told him. The prayer of a righteous man has weight with God and prayer mixed with love is always heard.
Benjamin began to pray in more earnest than ever before. The moment was now. There would never be another opportunity like this one.
O Lord God, chesed, have mercy. Work your redemptive power in the heart of my grandfather. O Lord God, have mercy.
Gamaliel looked up at him. The silence had gone on too long. Benjamin picked up the thread of his argument where he had left off, one part of his mind in constant, earnest prayer while the other tried to bring the story to an end. There really was nothing more to say.
“But how is God to have fellowship with his people if their hearts belong in their very essence to the Evil One. The people’s hearts must change, their dead natures restored to life, forgiveness must somehow be accomplished without the death of the people themselves.”
“And there, right there, at that point, God showed us how much he loved us. To save us from death, he died for us. To save us from hell, he endured hell for us. He sacrificed himself in our place, as our substitute. God sent the most precious thing he had, his Son, to take upon himself both pain and death on the cross so that all the world could believe in him and in this demonstration of his love and his justice and be forgiven.”
The last words Benjamin would speak on the subject reflected the first words that he had spoken at the very beginning. “Grandfather,” he said, his words clipped and precise as if he were reciting a creed, “I believe that Yeshua bar Joseph of Nazaret is the Maschiach, the Lamb of God, sacrificed for our sins to restore all men to fellowship with their Creator.” It was the truth. It was the only truth that mattered.
Benjamin slumped back on his couch. Did it all make sense? Did anyone understand what he was trying to say? Gamaliel seemed to be deep in thought, his head bowed low and Benjamin watched him out of the corner of his eye.
Benjamin was tired, and he wasn’t sure why. He could feel the lethargy growing in his bones and his eyelids growing heavier with sleep. He shook his head heavily as he tried to think. For one sudden, terrible moment he was desperate to stay awake. Bubba needs me right now. Stay awake, Benjamin!
But then a soothing calmness came over him and he relaxed, somehow knowing that his grandfather was now in the hands of a wiser teacher.
“Stop, stop,” Akbar demanded, pulling on the captain’s arm. “Listen.”
“Be quiet.” Akbar begged him. “Please.”
It was his voice that made the captain stop and listen. It was so dark they could see nothing beyond the flickering light of their torches.
The group bunched together in the middle of the plaza looking around them. They could feel it. They could hear it in the darkness. The sound of movement was all around them, coming closer, surrounding them, hemming them in. Shadows filled with menace, shapes becoming more solid, more real as they pressed closer and closer.
Why was it so dark? What was out there?
Shalamar was about to give the order to attack when he was checked by the Spirit within. Could it be?
He waited with silent expectation.
He had decided that an all-out battle was the only option they had left. He had positioned his warriors to attack the Special Forces from both sides, hoping that they were not prepared for such an open confrontation.
But just as Akbar had started to move across the plaza, he began to feel it and then he saw it. There was movement in the plaza, a rustling of robes and the angry murmur of people. There were dozens of them and then, dozens more, as they kept coming out of the alleyways and streets to stand in the plaza. A dark mass of people, an angry mob with one intent, one purpose, one holy mission. He saw Akbar stop in the middle of the plaza with his guard detail huddled around him.
Guido had done it! He had done it after all!
They had heard what Akbar intended to do to Benjamin and Gamaliel and they had come. They simply would not allow it. Not that they were violent. The followers of the Maschiach seldom are, but they would not allow it just the same. They, too, had their spies, even in the household of the High Priest.
The command came from the mass of people, though it was only one voice that spoke. The guards sat down without a word right where they stood and Akbar joined them quickly, not wanting to be marked as the leader.
Not another word was spoken nor, strangely, was it expected. They would all simply wait for the dawning of the day. Then all would be revealed.
“You are ancient, Gabriel, my son, but not so ancient as I.” The voice was deep as the sea, firm as the earth, and full of the delicious music of Heaven.
“You and your brothers must fight to protect this race of earth bound creatures. They are of the dust, as you are not, but I have put my breath upon them and in them and they will ascend, in the end, to a place of honor above you. Will you serve them and protect them, my son, for my sake?”
“Yes, Lord, you know I will.”
The assent was not only mine. Together the sound of our thoughts seemed to resound in the halls of his Temple like a mighty shout. We were united, together in our loyalty and love for him who made us, our numbers diminished but our resolve strengthened for the battle that lay ahead.
“Ask,” He commanded with a whisper. He knew there were answers yet to be given.
“Will we be changed?” fearful, but strangely hopeful as well, came the question.
“Yes,” whispered the strong sound of His voice, “deeply, subtly, gloriously!” His excitement made our hearts race with joy. “And the ones you must serve, even more. You will watch and be amazed and you will glory in the Master you have chosen to follow. Listen to the song that emanates from the earth, from the hearts of men throughout the ages to come, for it will be sung by the angels of heaven.”
Gabriel listened. It was a petition, that song, a cry for help as well as a statement of faith. Lucifer could not quench the yearning in the heart of man and God would respond. Gabriel was sure of it.
“Ask further, my son.”
I could feel the listening presence of my brothers as their questions became my own, but it was my place to speak.
“I am troubled, father….”
“Speak, my son. Your heart is known to me.”
I hesitated. “Is he, then, necessary to your plan, O Lord?” I could not say the name.
“Do not hate him, my son, for hate destroys. Know him, fight him, defeat him, you may even grieve for him. No, he is not necessary but he is there, and he must be dealt with. And because he is there, he has become necessary for a time but only because of love and for my purposes and under my hand. The seed of rebellion is hidden in the flower of love. I choose to create in my own image and this possibility, too, is part of the creating.”
There was a holy pause, the Voice deeper still with anger and grief. “I have allowed this choosing in order to teach love, but rebellion is not a creation of mine. It is a new and evil thing, a creation of doubt and unbelief and evil desire. Rebellion maycome but woe to him through whom it comes!”
The sorrow in his voice shocked us that he would grieve for him, the traitor. But the anger and firmness in his voice was also clear.
“Lord, permit me…..”
“Ask, further, my son.”
“Lord, if we defeat him, will he one day no longer be necessary?”
“Observe the lowly caterpillar.” His answer came upon the soft winds of summer as we found ourselves in the midst of his new creation. “He is transformed through struggle and victory but has no need to return to the struggle when the transformation is complete.”
I was amazed. He had written the deepest truths of His mind into the very creation He had made. I would look into this much deeper when I had the chance.
“We are ready, Lord, to do battle on your behalf.”
The prospect of defending the honor of His Presence with every strategy I could devise, thrilled me to the core of my being. I blazed with a ferocious light as my excitement grew.
“Gabriel, Gabriel.” The voice penetrated my excitement like a sword piercing my heart. “You must first learn how to fight. Your strength alone would destroy the fragile creation I have made. Follow me, obey me, move as I move and watch as the Evil One is defeated by his own evil.”
The Voice grew stronger. “Watch as the keeper of my glory, who now would steal my glory, becomes the instrument to display an even greater glory that will transform the universe.”
The Voice spoke with a deeper and more powerful timbre than I had heard even in the Days of Artistry and Creation. Something new had begun, a new day, a new history, a new experience of the Glory of the Majesty who sits upon the throne.
The Voice of the Majesty spoke like rolling thunder. “Let the Redemption begin!”
“Holy, Holy, Holy.” The song burst forth in reply as row upon row of angels leapt into the air, stamping their feet and bowing their heads like an army of Zulu warriors preparing for battle.
“Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” The seraphim surrounding the throne responded with voices that rose in harmony, filling the heavens with song.
The four living creatures, their tones as deep as the earth, added their joy to the celebration with their declaration. “He is worthy! He is worthy!” The excitement was contagious as the Holy Presence swept over the ranks of angels, filling them with the laughter and the tears of the truly happy.
And then it happened.
Adonai Elohim, Himself, rose from his throne while all of heaven grew quiet and watched. Slowly he stepped down and, with a heave of his mighty shoulders, he swept his royal mantle from his back. Freed from the restraint, he lifted his arms into the air and snapped his fingers, once, twice, his whole body responding to the beat, his foot stamping its agreement into the holy firmament of heaven, keeping time while he began to murmur his song.
There were no words yet, just the sounds of joy and holy desire. His eyes were closed, his body swaying. As his fingers became more nimble, snapping out the rhythm of the song, his feet began to shuffle and skip to the beat. The murmurs of desire became words and names and declarations and the dance and the song took on a life of their own.
As I watched, I realized that this was the Dance of Life, the Song of Redemption. The words began to write themselves upon the sands of time, weaving their story into the history of earth. Faster and faster the Majesty sang and danced and snapped his fingers until, suddenly, all of heaven joined in with shouts of jubilation, singing and dancing around the Majesty and around the throne, weaving and stamping and shouting for joy.
“Let the Redemption begin! Let the Redemption begin!”
It had begun and we, the angelic hosts of the Almighty God, were ready for the battle that lay ahead. The joy of Adonai Elohim, Himself, would be our strength.
Gamaliel was deep in thought. For the first time, it all made sense to him. It was the cross that bothered him the most. Saul said something once about the cross being a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. But even if it all made sense, was it true?
Gamaliel shook his head.
He just wasn’t sure, yet. His heart yearned for it all to be so.
It was true. He wished in his heart that it was all true.
But great theological discussions meant nothing if they did not meet the test of the light of day. The real question always came back to Yeshua, the Maschiach. King of the Jews, Lamb of the World, or simple country Rabbi caught up in the religious politics of the big city?
No, not the latter.
He handled himself pretty well in the big city. No one took advantage of him. For some reason he had allowed it to happen. He had encouraged it to happen. He claimed that he was the Son of God. That was heresy, pure and simple.
Unless it’s true. The thought came unbidden into his mind.
Yes, he said to himself, unless it’s true.
And if he rose from the dead, he would have to be who he claimed to be, isn’t that so?
Yes, that’s also true.
Gamaliel glanced up at Benjamin and then looked around at the rest of the room. They were all asleep!
It was so strange that Gamaliel almost laughed out loud but then he didn’t, because it was strange. It was late but not that late. Of everyone in the room, Gamaliel had least expected Benjamin, in the midst of the discussion, to fade away.
The candles flickered as a draft moved through the room. Just as Gamaliel leaned forward to wake Benjamin, he heard his own name whispered in his ear.
He turned his head sharply at the strangeness of having someone so close to him and not know it. But there was no one there and his breathing became ragged and shallow.
O Lord God, deliver me from this evil.
“Be not afraid, it is I.”
The voice was audible, there was no doubt. Gamaliel had never before heard the voice of God and he responded like a little child.
“I am here. I am Gamaliel, your servant.”
As the Spirit of God came over him, Gamaliel also slumped in his seat and, with his mouth open and his eyes wide, he looked into heaven and witnessed the greatest story ever told.
The glimmering light of the candles accentuated the dimness of the room as Gabriel turned his attention back to the room. The real battle was about to begin.
The arrogant demonic prince strutted about the room looking invulnerable, as pride often does, but he began to notice the quiet that had fallen upon the festivities. With the instinctive knowledge of many battles, he started to look around more carefully while Gabriel watched him. The demonic storytelling he had indulged in had filled him with arrogant pride and had made him careless. Gabriel knew that the Holy Presence had blinded him for a time, allowing his proud storytelling to fill his mind to the exclusion of all else. He approached Gabriel’s position not because he had seen anything but simply for its strategic location. Gabriel tensed himself gripping his sword tightly, ready to attack.
Shalamar made a slight move and the flickering light of holy presence was visible for a quick second. With a roar Prince Bashan charged into the rafters to flush him out but Shalamar had slipped to a new position and didn’t move again. The demonic brute peered closely into every corner of the room looking for them, finding nothing but his suspicions.
He spun around to look at the Rabbi Gamaliel and then at Benjamin, cursing himself loudly for not paying closer attention to the discussion.
“What were they talking about? The Passover? The Maschiach?” None of his subordinates dared to speak.
“That would be dangerous in this group,” he said to no one in particular. “We have our spies.”
He began to approach Gamaliel in order to probe his mind for answers but could not seem to move forward. Gabriel could feel the Holy Presence filling the room with his Majesty. A sense of growing joy and exhilaration swept over him but the demons cowered or fled the room.
Prince Bashan stood in the middle of the room, his fists on his hips, but his body began to tremble, his knees became weak, and, finally, he broke away to run stumbling and cowering into the darkest corner of the room.
Gabriel could sense what the demons could only suspect. The Presence was protecting Gamaliel for a time from demonic interference. Their authority had not yet been broken, that would come later, hopefully, but for now they were kept at bay, cowering in the dark corners of the room, as far away from Gamaliel as possible.
Then he understood why, for the murmuring of voices had grown quiet and everyone had fallen asleep, everyone, that is, except Gamaliel. He, too, was quiet but his eyes were wide open, his gaze fixed upon heaven, living a vision that would change his life forever.
I, Gabriel, the archangel of God Almighty, testify to these things that they are true for I also looked and saw and remembered, and the remembering was good. . .
The Temptations of the Cross by Bert A. Amsing
Copyright © 2012 by vanKregten Publishers. All rights reserved.