The Observant Astronomer

The passing scene as observed by an observant Jew, who daylights as an astronomer.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

VC: Appearances (Season 1: Episode 4)

The episode opens with the soft focus that we've seen indicate the immanent presence of G-d. It as if the things we are seeing don't quite exist. Avraham is sitting at the entrance to his tent, fiddling with his bandages. A tree provides some shade.

The soft focus takes on shimmering quality, as if of great heat, and, out of the mirage-like distance, three men appear. We focus in on them. They seem to be looking at the tent, trying to decide whether to approach or move on. Avraham stands, excuses himself and comes running towards them. The visitors are invited back to the tent, given water to wash with, and offered food. Avraham goes into the tent to coordinate the meal with Sarah and Ishmael.

Sitting in the shade of the tree, the visitors eat with Avraham attending. We watch with Sarah through the entrance of the tent.

One of the visitors asks Avraham, "Where is Sarah your wife?"

Avraham points towards us. "She is in the tent," he replies.

The visitor says in a loud voice, ensuring it carries to Sarah, "I will surely return to you a year from now and Sarah will hold her son."

We hear Sarah mumbling to herself with a chuckle. "After all this time, this old body will be young again? And my old man will father a son?"

And things suddenly go soft as G-d reappears and speaks to Avraham. "Why does Sarah laugh? Is anything beyond me? Next year this time, Sarah will have a son." The camera focuses on Sarah's consternation.


Sarah, in fear, denies she laughed, but G-d knows she did.

The camera goes back outside as Avraham escorts the visitors on their way. They climb a hill. There Avraham stops as the visitors walk down the other side, towards the cities of S'dom and Amorah visible in the distance. The camera zooms past them, focussing on the cities, and then into them. Once again, we are treated to scenes of evil and depravity.

Avraham is still watching as G-d appears to him.

"Avraham, the outcry from S'dom and Amorah has become great for their sins are grave. They have sinned enough. I shall destroy them tomorrow."

"Lord, what if there are a few righteous people there? Maybe fifty? Surely you wouldn't destroy them with the wicked?"

"I will spare them for the fifty, if they exist."

"And if there are only 45?"

"OK, 45"


"Four cities for 40."





"What about if there are even ten righteous people?"

"Fine, one city shall survive for the sake of 10, but no fewer."

And G-d departs in the direction of S'dom. Avraham takes one last look, and turns back towards his tent.


Two of Avraham's visitors come to the gates of S'dom in late afternoon. They cast long shadows ahead as they approach the city from the west. Who do we find sitting at the gate? Why it is Lot! Like Avraham at the start of the episode, he invites them home. After some initial reluctance, they agree. The three sneak through the back streets of S'dom and finally reach Lot's house. Lot is bringing them food, when we hear a mob gathering outside his door. Things become very tense.

Lot stands outside his door to confront the mob. They are demanding he send out his guests. Lot tries to reason with them.

"Look, my brothers, these men are my guests. But, I've got two virgin daughters at home. Why don't I give you them instead?"

"Get away," shout the leaders of the mob. "You've only been here a short time and suddenly you think you're fit to judge us? We'll show you how we treat visitors!"

As Lot is about to be seized by the crowd, the door opens behind him and he is pulled back inside. Outside, the mob suddenly looses cohesion. They have been struck blind.

Back inside, the meal is forgotten. "What family have you got in town?" ask Lot's rescuers. "You've all got to leave town now. G-d has sent us here to destroy this place."

Lot hesitates, and they argue through the night. As light starts to fill the eastern sky, his guests take him, his wife, and two daughters back outside the gate where they first met. "Flee for you life," the tell him. "Flee to the mountains, and don't look back."

Still Lot has time to argue. "No, my Lord. You've been very kind. Let me just escape to Zoar. It is small, and not worth destroying."


They are anxious to get on with their work, so they agree to spare Zoar. Lot arrives at sunrise. Behind him, cataclysm. Avraham is back on his hill top looking down at the valley. It is full of fire and smoke. Destruction is utter.

Lot flees Zoar in the midst of all this. His wife looks behind, and turns to salt. Lot doesn't see this and flees to the mountains. He arrives in a cave with his daughters, and collapses.

The daughters look out the mouth of the cave. Nothing remains of the cities they fled. They fear that they are the only ones alive. So they plot to continue the human race with they're father's unknowing help, aided by a few bottles of wine they find hidden in the cave. Some time later, they hold their infant sons.

Avraham has moved south and now is in Gerar. Sarah has been seized again and is in the bedchamber of King Avimelech, who is sleeping elsewhere. Avimelech dreams and hears a voice.

"Behold! You are a dead man because of the married woman you have taken."

"Lord, what have I done wrong? They told me she was his sister. And I haven't touched her!"

"Only because I wouldn't let you. Return her to her husband. He is a prophet and will pray for you. Otherwise, you and yours will die."

In the early-morning darkness, Avimelech wakes with a start and calls his servants. All are frightened. He sends some one to bring Avraham. There is turmoil as Avraham enters the throne room. Avimelech crosses the room to speak to him.

"What have you done to us? What did I do to you that you have brought me and my kingdom to such a great sin? And now we are all closed up and unable to pass a thing. Why? What did you see that you did this?"

Avraham replies, "I saw there was no fear of G-d here and that you would kill a man to take his wife. Besides, she is my half-sister. So, when G-d sent me from my father's house, I said to her, 'Tell them you're my sister, so they don't kill me.'"

Avimelech calls for Sarah and, following her dramatic entrance, restores her to Avraham with many gifts and an offer to settle wherever Avraham sees fit. Avraham prays to G-d and all of Avimelech's household are cured. Everyone rushes off to take care of their business.

The ascent ends with Sarah holding baby Yitzchak.


Yitzhak is named and a feast is made when he is weaned. There is great rejoicing, and all the great people of the generation are there: Shem, Ever, and Avimelech among them.

Time passes, and Ishmael has gone bad. He takes to shooting arrows at Yitzhak as the boy toddles by. Sarah comes to Avraham and demands that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. Avraham is distressed. That night, G-d comes to him and tells him to listen to Sarah.

In the early morning, Avraham rises and sends Hagar and her son away with some food and water..

Hagar is wandering in the wilderness, carrying Ishmael. The boy is obviously very ill. Hagar puts him down under a tree. He is fevered and there is no more water to drink. Hagar moves away from the dying boy, unable to bear watching him die. She sits down and weeps.

The an angel appears to comfort her. She looks up as the angel departs and sees a well. In joy she gives a recovered Ishmael water. We end with domestic scenes. Ishmael hunting in the wilderness. He and his Egyptian wife.


Avimelech and his general come to Avraham's tent. When Avraham greets him, he comes straight to business.

"G-d is with you in everything you do. Swear to me by G-d that you will not deal falsely with me, my son, or grandson. As I've treated you well; treat me and this land well."

Avraham agrees, but raises another point. "I have dug this well, but your servants have taken it."

"I don't know anything about it, and this is the first I've heard about the matter," Avimelech replies.

So Avraham gives Avimelech sheep, goats, and cattle and they swear oaths. Avraham has also set aside seven ewes. Avimelech gets curious.

"What's with those sheep?"

"I'm giving them to you as my witness that I dug this well."

They name the place Beer Sheva, and Avimelech returns to Gerar with his entourage, plus livestock. Avraham settles into providing hospitality for wayfarers and the years pass.


Avraham is asleep when G-d comes to him.


"Here I am."

"Take you son..."

"Which one?"

"Your only one..."

"They're both only children..."

"Whom you love..."

"I love them both."

"Yitchak! And take him to the land of Moriah and bring him up there as a sacrifice on the mountain I'll show you."

Avraham wakes with a start. By the early-morning light, he rushes off to fulfill this new command. He's got his donkey, two servants, Yitzchak, and a load of wood. Sarah watches as the small caravan departs northward.

They've been travelling for a couple of days. Avraham looks up, and we see one mountain in particular standing out. He gives Yitzchak the wood, takes the fire and knife and they head for the mountain leaving the other two with the donkey.

Avraham and his son walk in silence for a while. Finally Yitzchak speaks.


"Yes, my son?"

"I'm puzzled. We've got fire and wood, but where is the lamb? What are we supposed to be sacrificing?"

"G-d will see to the offering. My son." Yitzchak looks startled, but continues walking with his father.

They arrive at the place. There is an open spot on the side of the hill. Avraham builds an altar and arranges the wood on it. They he ties up Yitzchak and lays him on top of the wood. Methodically, he picks up the knife and raises it over his son.

An angel calls out. "Avraham! Avraham!"

Without moving, Avraham replies, "Here I am."

"Don't touch the lad. Not even a scratch. Now I know that you haven't withheld even him from me."

Avraham, hearing a noise, looks up at the thicket on the other side of the clearing. There is a ram caught there. He unties Yitzchak and helps him down, then takes the ram and offers it as an offering instead. As the fire burns, he names the place.

Again he hears the angel. The angel gives him G-d's blessing and promises him endless numbers of offspring. Avraham returns to the others and they head toward Beer Sheva.

Back at his inn, Avraham hears news from his brother Nahor.

Last update: 2006 Nov 9

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