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The Context of the Binding of Isaac

27 Sep
from Google Images

from Google Images

If the binding of Isaac cannot be considered child abuse, as I’ve discussed in a previous blog,[1] how should we understand it?[2] Speaking of the binding of Isaac, Richard Dawkins had something to say and also asks how the story should be understood, if it was not meant to be literal fact (but I believe it was indeed meant to be a literal and factual story). Notice:

Once again, modern theologians will protest that the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac should not be taken as literal fact. And, once again, the appropriate response is twofold. First, many many people, even to this day, do take the whole of their scripture to be literal fact, and they have a great deal of political power over the rest of us, especially in the United States and in the Islamic world. Second, if not as literal fact, how should we take the story? As an allegory? Then an allegory for what? Surely nothing praiseworthy. As a moral lesson? But what kind of morals could one derive from this appalling story?[3]

It is rather easy for us to make judgments against Abraham or even against God, when we take only our own modern worldview into consideration. In doing so, we fail to put ourselves into Abraham’s culture and ask what is God doing, or what is Abraham thinking? What would it look like if God wished to change the cultural viewpoint of a society? In Abraham’s day human sacrifice was not the evil thing that we understand it to be today. Ancient societies practiced it when they felt it was needed to gain the favor of the gods. If God found this deed as “appalling” as Dr. Dawkins seems to in the excerpt from his book above, how would God go about changing the behavior of the world? Where would he begin? What would he do?

I believe there is evidence in the wording of the text that God was indeed doing this thing as he endeavored to bring Abraham to the point of simply trusting him. Notice what the text says: “And he said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and get you into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of.” The wording here in Genesis 22:2 is similar to what we find in Genesis 12:1 when God called Abram (Abraham) out of his own land. Notice that the phrase “Get you out of your country” (Genesis 12:1) answers to the phrase “get you into the land” (Genesis 22:2). The same Hebrew word (H1980) is used and means “going go”. Also, the word for land (H776) is the same in both verses. In Genesis 12:1 it is “unto a land (H776) I will show you.” In Genesis 22:2 it is “into the land (H776) of Moriah.

What is God doing and what could Abraham be thinking at this point? In the first Scripture only Abraham is involved and is called upon to sacrifice his past, but in the second Isaac is also involved, and Abraham is called upon to sacrifice his future. In other words he is called upon to trust God and only God to bring about what he had promised. The wording in both accounts implies that Abraham is forced to consider God’s original promise with what Abraham is asked to do in Genesis 22. Every hope Abraham had at this point was wrapped up in his son, Isaac. Yet, God, who made himself the surety of his own promises to Abraham in Genesis 15:8-18, was now asking Abraham to work against his own hopes. No matter what Abraham does at this point, this moment would show itself to be one of those defining moments that forms not only the thinking and identity of Abraham for the rest of his life, but also it would shape the thinking and the identity of all those who would come after him who would look to him as their father.

The conclusion of the matter is that Abraham let God be God. In other words, he wasn’t the name-it-and-claim-it type of guy. Rather, he allowed God the freedom to fulfill his promises according to God’s own will, not according to Abraham’s understanding of how it should be. Moreover, it changed Abraham’s cultural point of view forever—God simply does not demand human sacrifice. That idea begins here with Abraham when God interrupted the cultural point of view and said, “Don’t harm the lad!” (Genesis 22:12).

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[1] See my blog-post, Was The Binding of Isaac Child Abuse?

[2] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

[3] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Ealing, Bantam Press, 2006), page 242-3

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Posted by on September 27, 2015 in apologetics

 

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