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Abraham, Part 4: Does Holiness Get Lost in the Fog of War?

Abraham, in becoming a patriarch in Canaan, also becomes a sort of political entity. He has “flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold, and menservants, and maidservants, and camels, and asses.” Like the restored political entity known as modern Israel — a distant descendant of that of Abraham — he has to conduct a sort of “international relations” with the surrounding peoples.

Israel’s conduct of its affairs, of course, seems to arouse more controversy than that of any country except the United States. The political Left — within Israel, in the larger Jewish world, and in the non-Jewish world — accuses Israel of immorality; the Right — mostly within Israel and the Jewish world — accuses it of weakness and cowardice. In fact, upholding a democracy while dealing with rough surroundings is not at all simple and requires a constant balancing act between moral standards and self-preservation.

It wasn’t so different for Abraham. On the one hand, God expresses confidence in him to “do justice and judgment”; on the other, he has to interact with tribal leaders and others who are sometimes decent and sometimes ruthless. Living in Zion, asserting independence, means being connected to the spiritual realm while at the same time having one’s feet firmly on the ground of the “real world.”