Puzzling text #1 – Gen. 22 (The call to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac)
We begin our series of puzzling texts with that account with Abraham and Isaac that baffles and horrifies even seasoned Christians.
I saw a non-Christian comedy cartoon production of this incident. So we see Abraham tying up Isaac, pulled out and raised his knife and started the downward stab to kill Isaac and the voice from heaven stalled Abraham’s hand and he loosed Isaac and together they started to descend the mountain. Isaac broke the awkward silence by asking “Seriously Dad, what the bad word happened back there?” Non-Christian parody of the incident to be sure but which probably has a streak of truth to it. Do you think Abraham and Isaac just walked back to the servants in absolute silence? I don’t.
Look at the text with me though. Gen. 22. A few things to note then I ask for your views on the text.
- The unusual nature of the text and the almost bizarre command from God were appreciated by the author because in the Hebrew text of God’s command in v. 2, there is a little word called a particle [nā] which though not normally translated in English adds a critical nuance to the command, indeed it modifies the command into a plea. Properly rendered with the particle translated the command reads “Please take your son…” or “Take, I beg of you, your only son…” So Hebrew scholar Nahum Sarna may be correct in saying that the presence of the particle suggests that “if Abraham couldn’t see God’s broader purposes and so couldn’t bring himself to [heed God’s plea] he wouldn’t ‘incur any guilt’ in declining God’s pleas.” (See Paul Copan in Is God a Moral Monster?, 48).
- Much more weight needs to be given to the outcome Abraham expected from this unusual request from God (see. V.5 “…I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.”) Abraham expected Isaac to live, regardless! If we miss that fact we miss a lot and end up misreading and mystified.
What values might Isaac have learnt from this teachable or near death incident?
Who was Hagar to Abraham, Really?
How could Sarah tell Abraham to have a child by their maid Hagar and he obeys her and gets Hagar pregnant giving rise to Ishmael yet Abraham still wields moral impact in the narrative?
Well there are a couple forgotten and unknown facts to ponder. In the Ancient Near East of Abraham’s time (about the 1800s BC) the cultural and legal norm was for a maid to function as a surrogate womb in the event of barrenness in a wife and the maid would be given in marriage by the wife to her husband. We overlook what Gen.16.3 says, “Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.” Hagar became Abraham’s wife.
©Rev. Clinton Chisholm, February, 2015
3 thoughts on “Reading Puzzling Accounts in the Bible Meaningfully”
This is in fact a true and faithful explanation of this portion of scripture. Nonetheless, even though it is plain that Abraham expected Isaac to live, regardless, I wonder why such an expectation? Is it based on the fact that Abraham knew that God did not take pleasure in human sacrifices? Then, if this is the case, should we consider the willingness of Abraham to take the boy to the Mountain to be sacrificed as an act of faith?
Often times we read and interpret according to our own moral ways or immoral ways of life
I read, I study. However, how would I know if what I perceive is correct, unless guided by someone or by the Holy Spirit (God) himself.
Yvonne you are right. At times we need background information on the text, its language and/or rules of interpretation provided by an informed person or drawn from reputable book s all subject to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.