The Reality of Our Reflection

For better or worse, ‘little mirrors’ reveal our true character.

I cannot think of a single scenario in which it would be wise for me to introduce my wife to anyone as my sister. I can see myself in the marital doghouse.

That being said, consider the fact that Abraham and his son Isaac—those giants of the Judeo-Christian tradition—both attempted to pass off their wives as their sisters on separate occasions (Gen. 12, 20, 26), in order to protect themselves from harm. What were they thinking?

Two out of the three such deceptions propagated by these patriarchs in the book of Genesis feature father and son—again, separately, and many years apart—pulling the wool over the eyes of a Philistine king named Abimelech. Whether both men tried to trick the same decidedly thickheaded king or two separate rulers named Abimelech is unclear. Either way, the maxim, “Like father, like son,” seems apropos.

When I read of Isaac following in his father’s footsteps, I think of how children mirror their parents, through both heredity and observation. My own father is a Baptist minister, and here I sit, exploring theological things in essay form—would I write about these things if not for him? Would I be a stay-at-home dad if my own mother hadn’t stayed home with me?

We human beings mirror our heavenly Father, too. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them” (NIV). Every person is a “little mirror” then, reflecting something of the likeness of God, even if that likeness has been distorted by sin, subjecting the image of God to something like the warping effects of a funhouse mirror.

In Abraham and Isaac, I see how these distortions of God’s image have the potential to pass from parent to child in a transmission I’m inclined to describe as spiritual heredity. While Abraham appears to trust God to sustain him, his deception indicates otherwise. God has a plan for me, he seems to think, but I’d better protect myself by lying in case He’s asleep on the job.

Isaac’s faith falters precisely where his father’s does—both men buckle in exactly the same way. Which prompts me to wonder: Did Isaac act with knowledge of his father’s dishonesty, or was he predisposed by some hereditary factor to do as his father did?

As I write these things, I wonder how my 3-year-old daughter will resemble my wife and me. Already I see early reflections of myself in her—good and bad. In her primitive toddler art, I see my creativity. In her tantrums, her temper flares hot and fast like mine; I fear we have the same gunpowder in our guts.

Since I’m the parent who stays home, when my fuse is short, Evie often bears the brunt of my bluster. When I react with disproportional anger to a mess she’s made—a recent hot cocoa catastrophe comes to mind—I can only apologize in the aftermath. In moments like this, I see God in her most clearly.

“Don’t worry, Daddy,” she says without hesitation. “I still love you and I forgive you.”

She actually says things like this, and it destroys me because I don’t deserve such grace. I’m 36. I have no excuse for behaving as badly as I do. But she absolves me anyway like some pre-school priest. So even though she acts as my little mirror, reflecting my anger, she also mimics the merciful motions of her heavenly Father, too. I hope and pray that she sees God in me, even though His image in me has been defaced—subjected to spiritual vandalism.

When I think about my own spiritual heredity, I know I owe my father a great deal. As a minister, Dad points people to the holiest reflector humanity has ever known—the one who is, to use the popular parlance—the spitting image of God. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” Jesus says in John 14:9. When I look in the mirror, I see shades of Abraham and Isaac in me. When I look at Jesus, however, I see what God looks like—and what He wants me to look like, too.

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What happens to my notes

1 Now the LORD said to Abram, Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you;

2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing;

3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."

4 So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

5 Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.

6 Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land.

7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, To your descendants I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.

8 Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.

9 Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev.

10 Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.

11 It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman;

12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, `This is his wife'; and they will kill me, but they will let you live.

13 Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you."

14 It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful.

15 Pharaoh's officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.

16 Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels.

17 But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife.

18 Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?

19 Why did you say, `She is my sister,' so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go."

20 Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.

1 Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar.

2 Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister." So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.

3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married."

4 Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless?

5 Did he not himself say to me, `She is my sister'? And she herself said, `He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this."

6 Then God said to him in the dream, Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.

7 Now therefore, restore the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours."

8 So Abimelech arose early in the morning and called all his servants and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were greatly frightened.

9 Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done."

10 And Abimelech said to Abraham, What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?"

11 Abraham said, Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.

12 Besides, she actually is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife;

13 and it came about, when God caused me to wander from my father's house, that I said to her, `This is the kindness which you will show to me: everywhere we go, say of me, He is my brother."'"

14 Abimelech then took sheep and oxen and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored his wife Sarah to him.

15 Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please."

16 To Sarah he said, Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is your vindication before all who are with you, and before all men you are cleared."

17 Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children.

18 For the LORD had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham's wife.

1 Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines.

2 The LORD appeared to him and said, Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you.

3 Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham.

4 I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;

5 because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws."

6 So Isaac lived in Gerar.

7 When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, She is my sister," for he was afraid to say, my wife," thinking, the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful."

8 It came about, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out through a window, and saw, and behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah.

9 Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, Behold, certainly she is your wife! How then did you say, `She is my sister'?" And Isaac said to him, Because I said, `I might die on account of her.'"

10 Abimelech said, What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us."

11 So Abimelech charged all the people, saying, He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death."

12 Now Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the LORD blessed him,

13 and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy;

14 for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him.

15 Now all the wells which his father's servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth.

16 Then Abimelech said to Isaac, Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us."

17 And Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar, and settled there.

18 Then Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the same names which his father had given them.

19 But when Isaac's servants dug in the valley and found there a well of flowing water,

20 the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with the herdsmen of Isaac, saying, The water is ours!" So he named the well Esek, because they contended with him.

21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over it too, so he named it Sitnah.

22 He moved away from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rehoboth, for he said, At last the LORD has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land."

23 Then he went up from there to Beersheba.

24 The LORD appeared to him the same night and said, I am the God of your father Abraham; Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, For the sake of My servant Abraham."

25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac's servants dug a well.

26 Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army.

27 Isaac said to them, Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?"

28 They said, We see plainly that the LORD has been with you; so we said, `Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you,

29 that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.'"

30 Then he made them a feast, and they ate and drank.

31 In the morning they arose early and exchanged oaths; then Isaac sent them away and they departed from him in peace.

32 Now it came about on the same day, that Isaac's servants came in and told him about the well which they had dug, and said to him, We have found water."

33 So he called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.

34 When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite;

35 and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.

27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

9 Jesus said to him, Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father'?

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