Did God Bully Abraham or Isaac?

01 Oct
from Google Images

from Google Images

The new atheists of today often point to the binding of Isaac as an immoral act and one of God acting as a bully to get Abraham to willingly sacrifice his son, Isaac.[1] Moreover, they make it seem that Isaac, a mere child (which I show not to be the case in a previous blogpost), was bullied directly by Abraham who seemed intent on carrying out God’s command, and indirectly by God who is responsible for the entire event. Notice how Dr. Richard Dawkins puts it:

“A modern moralist cannot help but wonder how a child could ever recover from such psychological trauma. By the standards of modern morality, this disgraceful story is an example simultaneously of child abuse, bullying in two asymmetrical power relationships, and the first recorded use of the Nuremberg defence: ‘I was only obeying orders’ Yet the legend is one of the great foundational myths of all three monotheistic religions.”[2] (emphasis mine)

How are we able to reply to such an accusation? First of all, the child abuse allegation shows a misunderstanding of the text, as I have shown HERE; also neither could Abraham be bullying Isaac, if Isaac is of military age and stronger than his father (cf. Genesis 22:6). Secondly, how should we understand the text of Genesis 22:2, “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”? Does God really command Abraham to take the life of Isaac? Admittedly, most of my 60+ translations of the Bible translate Genesis 22:2 into “Take now your son…” which seems to be a command. However, I have three that translate the text as a request! Notice:

And he went on to say: “Take, please, your son, your only son whom you so love, Isaac, and make a trip to the land of Mo·ri’ah and there offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall designate to you.” (Genesis 22:2 NWT)

And he said—Take, I pray thee, thy son, thine only one, whom thou lovest, even, Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah and cause him to ascend there as an ascending-sacrifice, on one of the mountains which I shall name unto thee. (Genesis 22:2 Rotherham)

And He saith, `Take, I pray thee, thy son, thine only one, whom thou hast loved, even Isaac, and go for thyself unto the land of Moriah, and cause him to ascend there for a burnt-offering on one of the mountains of which I speak unto thee.’ (Genesis 22:2 YLT)

If Genesis 22 is not a command then the argument, at least from the perspective of God’s giving a command and acting like a bully, is moot. The Hebrew word, na (H4994), occurs about 400 times in the Old Testament; in 170 of those occurrences is it translated ‘now’ (as in most translations of Genesis 22:2), but it also occurs 196 times and translated ‘pray’! Biblical scholar, James L. Crenshaw, translates the Genesis 22:2 phrase as: “Take, I beg of you, your only son.”[3]

One cannot help but wonder if the more traditional translators of Genesis 22:2 worded the verse according to their own understanding of how God should have communicated his desire to Abraham, rather than according to the context of the surrounding text. Gordon Wenham, another Old Testament scholar, understands the phrase as a “hint that the Lord appreciates the costliness of what he is asking.”[4]

According to my past few blogposts, I have been arguing that God was revealing himself to Abraham in a manner that contradicted and rejected the then current worldview of the nature of divinity and how man is affected by the spiritual realm. Once God had shown Abraham’s worldview was wrong, that worldview must be replaced with what is correct, namely, that God allows mankind freedom of choice, and mankind must permit God the freedom to be God in all that he does. In other words, prayer (worship) is a request, not a way in which man is able to manipulate God—the physical realm (man) causing the spiritual realm (God) to act in accordance with men’s desires.


[1] 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.

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

[3] James L. Crenshaw, Whirilpool of Torment (Augsburg Fortress Pub, 1984), page 14. – quote as cited in Is God a Moral Monster, page 47.

[4] Gordon Wenham, World Biblical Commentary Vol. 2 — Genesis 16-50 (Dallas: Word, 1994), page 104, quote as cited in Is God a Moral Monster, page 47.

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Posted by on October 1, 2015 in Kingdom of God


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