The Last Temptation of Alexander Hamilton

Saturday, May 16th, 2020

I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of Jesus Christ.

Alexander Hamilton
The gravesite of Alexander Hamilton in Manhattan
The Last Temptation of Alexander Hamilton, Audio Version

The quote from Alexander Hamilton cited above was spoken as an affirmation of faith shortly before his death. Hamilton died on July 12th, 1804, thirty one hours after suffering a mortal wound in a pistol duel. Aaron Burr, a bitter personal and political rival, was the culprit. Burr took deliberate aim and gunned down Hamilton. At the time, Burr held the office of Vice President of the United States. Strange though it may be in our hearing, the Vice President of the United States shot his political rival in a duel, knowing that death was a likely consequence. Worse still, Aaron Burr was never arrested nor prosecuted for the deed. But the duel did forever derail Burr’s political ambitions, which is exactly what Hamilton anticipated and wanted. Though he died in the process, Alexander Hamilton meant for the duel to undo the ambitions and aspirations of Vice President Aaron Burr.

Some historians speculate that Hamilton may have had another motive for the duel, as well. Hamilton felt personally responsible for the dueling death of his son Philip. Philip had dueled and died over a slight to his father’s honor. It’s quite likely that Hamilton, distraught with grief and consumed with guilt, actually had a suicidal death wish. Hamilton probably considered it apt that his own death come by duel, just like his son’s.

A Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by Walter Robertson

Perhaps we can describe that fatal duel as the last temptation of Alexander Hamilton. Notice that it was a temptation in not one but two ways. The duel with Burr was a temptation for Hamilton and a temptation by Hamilton. For Hamilton, the temptation was death by duel itself. And Hamilton used the duel to draw Burr into bloody temptation. If this is an accurate read, then it worked, in both ways. Hamilton was doubly successful, but quite dead in the end.

Aaron Burr was a vindictive, self-serving, unprincipled, ambitious politician. Hamilton knew that. It is precisely why Hamilton opposed Burr. Based on his negative and yet accurate assessment of Burr’s character, Hamilton had reason to believe that Burr would be vengeful and aim to kill in the duel. Hamilton, on the other hand, went into the duel with no intention of shooting Burr. Hamilton intended to miss. Thus Hamilton read Burr’s dark motives accurately. But Burr completely misread Hamilton’s intentions. Had he understood Hamilton’s intentions and the consequences of his own actions, Burr would not have shot Hamilton. But sadly and predictably, Burr did shoot Hamilton. Burr seethed with malice. He wanted to exact revenge. He wanted blood.     

I watched Hamilton examine the terrain; I wish I could tell you what was happening in his brain.
This man has poisoned my political pursuits; most disputes die, and no one shoots.

Lyrics to “The World Was Wide Enough,” sung by a remorseless Aaron Burr in the musical “Hamilton

What does this bit of historical trivia have to do with the Book of Revelation? A lot.

The triune God and the diabolical pseudo-trinity arranged for a deadly duel that put Jesus Christ on a Roman cross. The triune God knew well how his hateful opponents would behave in that situation. But the satanic dragon completely misread God. Had he accurately understood God’s intentions and the consequences of his own actions, the dragon Satan would not have deliberately killed the son of God. But predictably, he did. The dragon was vindictive, self-serving, unprincipled, ambitious, and murderous. The dragon wanted blood.

The dragon’s character hasn’t changed. He is still pure evil. He is still self-serving, unprincipled, and ambitious. He still wants blood — our blood. But we can use his malice against him, through truth-telling and self-sacrifice. When we testify to the truth and practice self-denial, he predictably over-reacts. When he can, he lashes out. He tempts himself to violence. He cannot help himself. It’s his corrupted nature. He wants blood. But ironically, God works it to our advantage. God turns it to redemption. Like Christ before us, we overcome the adversary, even when is able to attack us.   

The last temptation of Christ was actually not a temptation but a double determination. Christ Jesus himself was “tempted” to embrace death, or rather, was determined to embrace death in love — to die for our sake. And God “tempted” the dragon, or rather, determined that the dragon would be allowed to tempt himself and slay the Lamb of God.  And so Christ Jesus died violently, a sacrifice for sin. God foresaw and foreordained that Christ’s death would be the sacrificial undoing of our sin and of diabolical, malicious evil. And in that determination, God was doubly-successful. In death, then, Hamilton and Christ have some remarkable commonalities; but unlike long-gone Hamilton, Christ is no longer dead. It’s encouraging to know that Hamilton professed faith in Christ before he passed.  

3 thoughts on “The Last Temptation of Alexander Hamilton

  1. While I have not yet seen “Hamilton” (and I greatly want to), I can see how the story resembles that idea of victory through loss. Strength through what others consider weakness. This is how Christ reigns victorious as the sacrificial lamb. Thanks for the reflection!

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  2. Very good. For men at that time who considered themselves to be men of consequence, dueling was considered to be the ultimate means of defending ones honor.

    Today we would consider it to be a very foolish way of settling disputes.

    But the truth is, we do the very same thing all the time on social media. And now, it is acceptable to going to the streets and gun down people we disagree with. The only difference is that we will do it en mass.

    Liked by 1 person

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