All this came upon us,
though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant. — Psalm 44:17
In honor of my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, and his life work helping Christians understand the Jewish roots of their faith, I offer you one of his devotional teachings from the beloved Psalms.
Psalm 44 starts on a high note but gets lower as it goes on. At first, the psalmist described how God would fight Israel’s wars and perform miracles on behalf of His people. However, the psalm then turned bleaker and recalled the time when God’s Divine protection had ended.
The psalmist never mentioned the sins of Israel that led to their lack of protection, but instead focused on the difficulties of exile for future innocent generations who had not caused the exile, but who would bear the hardship. The psalmist extoled their virtues: “All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant.” And yet, despite the hardships, Israel had remained bound to God.
Israel’s situation can be likened to the experience of Job who was blameless before God, yet who suffered at His hand. The psalmist was saying that although the current generation of Israel did not deserve the treatment it was experiencing, and although none of it seemed to make sense, the people of Israel still clung to God.
Isaac Was Bound to God
This reminds me of the story about the sacrifice of Isaac. Interestingly, in Hebrew, the incident is referred to as the binding of Isaac. The focus is on the fact that Isaac was bound. Why would this aspect seem more important than the actual sacrifice that Abraham was prepared to make?
As the Jewish sages teach, Isaac asked to be bound. As the two approached the mountain, Isaac asked his father: “‘The fire and wood are here… but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son’” (Genesis 22:7–8). In other words, Abraham was saying, “My son, you are the offering provided by God.” However, Isaac didn’t run. He stayed in obedience: “And the two of them went on together” (22:8).
According to the sages, Isaac asked to be bound, not because he feared death, but because he feared that he might lose control over himself and try to run away.
We read this story on Rosh Hashanah, Judgment Day, in order to remind God of the great merit of Isaac. We also wish to remind God of our merits — that we have not run away in spite of the bad things that might have happened to us during the year. We have remained bound to God even when life doesn’t always make sense to us, even when it seems like God was pushing us away. We never let go.
Friends, let’s refuse to let go of God no matter how confusing life may seem at times. As the psalmist prayed, in the merit of our loyalty, God will “Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love” (v.26).
Start the New Year off right by helping you and your family learn how to set priorities. Download a sample lesson from my new family-friendly guide, the Generation to Generation Workbook, the companion piece to my book, Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to Our Children.