Thursday, August 26, 2010
The ultimate test
Now we come to one of the most famous stories about Abraham in which he is told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac.
I will readily admit that this is not one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I’m already turned off by all the images of animal sacrifice, so to now have God demand a human sacrifice is just one more step over the edge.
I think the only reason we even tolerate this story is that we know that it ends well. God sends an angel to intervene at the last second and spares Isaac from being put to death on the alter that Abraham built. But imagine the psychological trauma that Isaac must have gone through in that moment.
I also understand the significance of this story in the way it parallels and foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross in the New Testament.
But it is still very disturbing and I don’t like to spend a lot of time dwelling on it. Why God would demand such a “test” from Abraham after everything else he has already put him through is hard to understand.
The one part of the story I do like and that works well in a narrative sense is the part where Isaac asks his father where the animal is that they are going to sacrifice and Abraham responds “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Which, of course, he does when a ram shows up immediately after the angel intercedes.
I can’t imagine that God’s promise for the umpteenth time to make Abraham’s descendants “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” is much consolation at the end of this story.
Tagged on to the end of this chapter is a brief accounting of the sons of Nahor, Abraham’s brother. It would seem that the Biblical authors wanted to link some tribes to their lineage without going directly through Abraham, perhaps to give them a lesser status. Some don’t even come from Nahor’s wife, but through one of his concubines instead - a double insult it would seem.