Saturday, September 12, 2009

7: Father and Son

Genesis 22-24
Genesis 22 is all about this grand test God has devised for Abraham. Before I tell you what the test is (I'm sure some of you already know), lets review what we think we know about God. He is all loving, perfect, and presumably sinless. That being said, the test is for Abraham to kill his only child (Isaac). Now why would a being that is supposed to be the opposite of sin ask someone to do this? The idiocy is two fold here, one for God telling someone to sin, and two for Abraham not (visibly) caring.

Abraham does as he's told, gathers his son and firewood, and goes to the top of the mountain God told him about. Isaac isn't stupid and asks where the lamb for the offering is. Abraham says that God will provide the lamb, that's a lie. Let's stop for a second and think about what we would think of someone today who was going to kill their children on God's orders. Actually, we don't even have to imagine, click here.

Abraham then ties his son to the firewood, the bible doesn't say what Isaac is saying at this point, but he's probably getting the idea. Abraham picks up a knife and a moment before he deals the death blow an angel comes down and tells him to stop. I'm very interested in who this angel is and what he says. "Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son." So the test was a test of fear? If someone holds a gun to your head and tells you to do something, then you aren't expressing your loyalty to them when you do what they say. This seems like the same thing God is doing here. So can we assume that Abraham has never been loyal to God, just afraid?

Now, has God changed his mind, or is this angel working alone? If God changed his mind it will just be another example of how he's not omniscient. The only other thing the angel says is (paraphrasing) "God says you passed the test, you don't have to kill your son". Why isn't God saying this himself? We never see God needing to "send messengers" any other time. A logical conclusion would be that this angel is acting independently of God's will. Consequently I've only heard of one angel that acts against God's will. Why is it always God inciting sin and lying (in the garden of Eden for example), and it is always serpents (supposedly evil) and rogue angels (supposedly evil) telling the truth and saving lives?

In Genesis 23 Sarah dies and Abraham comes and cries and haggles over burial prices. Just as a side note, he mourns for a half a sentence and haggles over the price of her burial spot for 8 paragraphs; just saying.

Genesis 24 is about one of Abraham's servants going to find Isaac a wife. The only requirement is that she offer him water, and offers to give water to his camels. He finds a woman that does just that and gives her a bunch of gold. They're gone the next day. Isaac doesn't seem to mind being forced to marry someone and they are married as soon as she gets back.


  1. If this is taken as one of the "symbolic" biblical stories, is the moral saying that it's OK to emotionally and psychologically abuse your children in the name of god or religion? Should I have been ruling my household under threat of gang rape and ritual sacrifice? Is that why my kids don't always listen to me? damn.

  2. This is a fun one!
    Chapter 22: Let me remind you that at this point in the chronology, Abraham is well over 100 and Isaac is no baby - he's at least a teenager. Abraham couldn't have tied up Isaac unless Isaac deliberately went along with it, which he seems to.
    Because he trusts his father, and his father trusts (what he believes to be) God. Stupid? Maybe.
    But if someone experiences what had already happened to Abraham, his faith in what he has "hallucinated" as his contact with God seems pretty justified.

    Again, we come to the problem with using a translation: The actual command is to "bring him up as a raised offering" - like an offering, but not to ACTUALLY slaughter him. This linguistic confusion does seem deliberate and intended, though - what would have been the big deal if Abraham knew from the start and took a rubber knife?
    (Note - Lucifer doesn't exist within Judaism or the OT, it's a creation of the NT)

    The other translation problem is the word "fear." The proper term for fear in Hebrew is "eimah," or terror. Throughout the OT, "fear" of God is contrasted with "love" of God as two facets of a relationship; love and respect. You can love a child, but have no respect for them, and you can respect a colleague, but have no love for them.
    The test then shows this important dichotomy - Abraham had seen "divine favor," as it were, and had cause to "love," only now is he truly sacrificing for his relationship and showing trust and respect.

    Yeah, that sounds fluffy to me too, but it's internally consistent with Jewish Biblical ontology.

  3. Capter 23: Sarah's burial at the start of 23 - you neglect to mention that Abraham was haggling in order to actually PAY, when he was originally offered the site for free.

    As I said, the OT isn't purely moralistic, and the fact that it only spends a verse talking about Abraham's personal mourning over Sarah is indicative of the fact that it isn't really relevant for it to dwell on. The cave where she was buried is returned to multiple times in the future, as several major characters get buried there. The location and it's origin are historically important, public displays of mourning? much less so.

    Chapter 24: What was the actual requirement?
    "I will ask for water for me, and she will give me as well as my camels."
    Considering how camels store water and the fact that they can drink 40 gallons in one sitting, this was no ordinary offer of help. Not only did it indicate someone willing to help a total stranger (when, as we saw by Sodom, they don't always take to kindly to strangers), but that they would then voluntarily undertake a Herculean task that wasn't even asked of them portrays a tremendous sense of character.

    Granted, that doesn't mean that this was the best method of finding someone to marry Isaac (and Jewish tradition does censure the servant for this), but you can't say that the idea in context was entirely without merit.

  4. Isaack, once again you are assuming that Isaac is a teenager and would go along with this whole idiocy. First of all, there were no teenagers at this point in history. Once you grew the short and curlies, you were a man, with a man's responsibilities. Secondly, what teenager would go along with such a demand. I work with teenagers and they don't take kindly to any request that they see as stupid or dangerous unless their friends suggest it. Isaac isn't a teenager, he is a young boy completely dominated by his (lunatic) father. Just be happy that Dad hears more voices telling him not to do this horrible sacrifice.

  5. I didn't say that he was a teenager - I said he was at LEAST a teenager. Most accounts put him at well over 30 at this point. My point was that there was no way that a 100 year old man, even one with a knife, would be capable of coercing him into doing something dangerous that he didn't WANT TO DO.
    "what teenager would go along with such a demand." [sic]
    Precisely - Isaac seems to understand something not directly mentioned in the text that makes him complicit with his fathers attempt on his life. I wasn't trying to slander or malign teenagers.
    Look at the timeline and we see pretty clearly:
    Sarah was 90 at Isaacs birth.
    Several years growing up with Ishmael, he gets sent away...
    Isaac almost sacrificed - Sarah dies at 127
    That makes him 37 years old, or at least not much youger than that. Shortly thereafter, we have the story of Rebekah, and we later find out that Isaac is 40 when he marries her. See 25:20.

    Again, he is NOT A YOUNG BOY - he is a man in his 30's.

  6. Tim The EnchanterJune 7, 2011 at 6:18 AM

    Why is chapter 24 so repetitive?  The servant foretells the prophesy of finding a woman to give he and his camels a drink, reiterates the story in full detail when it happens, reiterates the prophesy when telling the story to Rebecca's family, and then reiterates the story to them again that it came true!  Why didn't the writer just say "and what I said earlier about the prophesy with the water...that came true" and then say "and the servent then proceeded to tell the story of the prophesy and meeting Rebecca to her family"? 

    It gets even worse in Exodus when God tells them how to build the tabernacle in excrutiating detail and then the actual building of the tabernacle is described in the same amount of detail.



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