In a previous blog we examined the bloody history of Abraham and hinted at its relationship to the Christ. God Himself began the history of blood by providing animal skins for coverings for Adam and Eve when they first decided they were smarter than God.
One of the interesting aspects of Abraham’s bloody history is the how of it all. Animals were a constant part of life and still are even though we have separated ourselves from their death in our modern economic systems. The animals that were such a part of the lives of yesteryear were most frequently kept as food sources. This required the dispatch of the animal at about the time the family or household needed meat. Milk, and its derivatives, were also commonly harvested from the family’s animals. More indirect uses were also assigned to the domestic animals, such as wool and skins. All these harvestings were renewable except for meat, the most basic.
To dispatch animals for food purposes was common practice and the various households found themselves needing to take the food quite regularly. We know that Abraham was the leader of a sizeable group of people, maybe numbered in the thousands at times. To feed such a sizeable population would require that many animals be harvested every day. This was simply a necessity and would typically be carried out dispassionately with an emphasis on an efficient operation.
Abram, as he was known in his early life, was a herdsman and shepherd by trade. He was good at it as is witnessed by the fact he prospered at every point. There can be but very little doubt that he was good at dispatching sheep, goats, and so forth with great regularity. There were many others in the camp who would be assigned the task or would simply find it necessary in the normal course of life. The messiness of such processes would be fully taken into account in the ordering of the necessary activities. Things that related to the taking of domestic animal life were simply accepted as routine. This is not to suggest that wild game was not acceptable. On the contrary, wild game would be most welcomed for its change in taste and its substitution for the cost of using domestic animals for food.
Let’s accept that Abraham knew what he was doing in the area of use of his food animals. He would have been quite good at dispatching the animals. It is likely he was not a cruel man and that his animals died as quickly and with as little suffering and thrashing as possible. In fact, it is quite likely that he would dispense punishment if and when others were seen as being cruel in the process of processing the animals chosen for food.
Such a context would have required that Abraham give careful thought to the devices used in the taking of the lives of the animals. Archaeologists may discuss whether Abraham operated in the “stone age” or after metals began to find practical use. Either way, it would be necessary that he and his servants would keep and tend to efficient knives. These tools would be carefully looked after because they were so necessary to everyday use. People who depend on such things would be expected to maintain several of them at all times. Perhaps, probably, there were different knives for different purposes.
We have hinted that the killing of food animals was often carried out with a knife. Other methods would be known as well. Clubbing the animal, for example, could result in an efficient kill. That method, though, and most others would be followed up immediately with a knife for purposes of bleeding the meat so it could be prepared for food. All in all, while other kill methods could sometimes be used, the sharp knife was a constant. Abraham and the other men in his camp would be sure to keep some knives sharp for such purposes.
In addition to the need for food, we also know that Abraham used his animals, at least occasionally, for sacrifices. We can trace his journeys in a way by noting the places and reasons he built altars. The altars would be used for particular animal sacrifices. Before the animal would be burned on the altars, they would be killed. All evidence points to the cutting of the throat as the method used. Surely the sharp knife was a central accoutrement to such things.
Did Abraham keep a “special” knife for sacrifices? He might well have done so. After all, the building of the altar and the offering of the animal were very special events. It is not likely that happened anywhere nearly as often as the harvesting of food animals. It is not hard to construct a scenario wherein Abraham kept a particular knife to be used only for the taking of sacrificial life.
Then one night God required a new thing of him. He instructed Abraham to circumcise himself and every other male in his camp. That began the very next morning. Abraham circumcised himself because he was the greatest in the camp (topic for another time) and then his son Ishmael. After that, all the other males in the camp in fairly short order.
Let’s agree that Abraham would want a very sharp knife for cutting himself and his son. He, being a kind man, would want the knife to be sharp for the other men in the camp. This marked the most sacred thing – the covenant with God. Perhaps this knife would hold a special place in the life of Abraham from that day on. It would probably be the same knife he would use to circumcise Isaac about a year later. To no profane purpose would such a knife ever again be put!
I suppose the same knife made the three-day journey from Beer Sheba to Mt. Moriah years later. After all, no lesser edge could be worthy to part the flesh of the “only son” of Abraham.
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