Advisory: I invite you to read the preceding blog to make the reading of this entry more meaningful.
The command to sacrifice Issac in the 22nd chapter of Genesis can be a huge stumbling block for modern minds. I daresay this ancient story discourages many from exploring the Scriptures. Common responses are to ask what is more abhorrent than killing one’s own child? And what kind of monster God would tell a parent to do that?
Even we Christians who trust the witness of our forebears in faith are challenged by this story. Trusting God’s Word, however, can lead us beyond literal interpretation and application of the testimony to diligent digging for meaning as we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
After some Spirit-guided digging (main sources: many years of reflection in class discussion, Bible studies, and sermons; and The New Interpreters Bible (1994), commentary by Terence E. Freitheim), I do not offer serious commentary or analysis for which I am neither qualified nor prepared, but rather some thinking points:
· As with all stories of faith, this one is not simply about these specific people and this specific situation. The message is far broader and packed with metaphor and symbolism. Abraham represents Israel as God’s firstborn and his personal story is about Israel’s life with God.
· The cultural context included belief in many gods and a sacrificial system to please them that included the sacrifice of human beings. In this story, God puts an end to human sacrifice. Sarah Dylan Breuer expresses this idea: “When humanity’s vision of the world and the powers that made it is in the narrow place of thinking that the gods are as thirsty for human bloodshed as humankind is at our worst, in a culture in which parents sacrificed their sons and daughters so they could be more successful in agriculture, politics, or war, God’s voice speaks to Abraham as he loomed over his bound son Isaac, and God says, “Stop it! That’s enough!” God goes with Abraham to that dark and narrow place and leads him to a wider place, a wider vision of who God is and what God wants from us. ~from sarahlaughed.net
· Also important is understanding this incident as part of the larger story of Abraham and Issac from Genesis 11 through 35.
· Through relationship and revelation, Abraham had come to trust God automatically. Trust in God is not necessarily blind or unthinking but can become a default position, second nature to the believer. Even as he prepared to obey, Abraham trusted God to provide the lamb. Even as we seek to obey through difficulty, we can trust God to provide what we need in this life and beyond.
· God will never invalidate the divine promises but people may choose not to participate.
· Belief in the resurrection connects this story of the Hebrew Scriptures to the New Testament, foreshadowing Jesus giving his life for us.
These reflections probably raise as many issues as they address. Such is the nature of this vast array of testimony known as the Bible. What joy for people who have faith in its witness to explore its deep riches for our everyday lives.