Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Genesis 22: Insanity or Divine Instruction?

Check out today's episode

The Sacrifice of Isaac (v. 1-24)

I think this is a story we are all familiar with, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son on the altar, Abraham listens and gets ready to do it but God stops him at the last second and has him sacrifice a ram instead. He is praised for fearing God and obeying.

This story is really a strange one, I think anyone who reads this story at face value would be disgusted. The idea of murdering your own child is horrible, and I think generally anyone who is willing to do that would be viewed as a monster, or perhaps someone who has been psychologically beaten down like in some psychological horror movie (I've never seen any of the Saw movies, but it's the kind of psychological torture I could imagine in a movie of that type). I can't imagine a situation where the character who is willing to murder his own child is seen as the hero. Enough of my rambling, I think the focus of today's post should be on the Christian commentaries.

Let's start with Guzik:
Significantly, God calls Isaac your only son Isaac, when in fact Abraham had another son, Ishmael. But since Ishmael was put away from Abraham’s family, then as far as God was concerned, Abraham had only one son.
Wow, I totally missed that part, that's screwed up. As to the sacrifice itself, Guzik references an LA times columnist who said he would have told God to mind his own business. Guzik's response:
That’s what the world always says to God.
So Guzik says it is wrong to fail to listen to God's order, and yet he recall the story of Andrew Cate who murdered his child thinking God would stop him at the last moment. Guzik says
The man was obviously deranged. What Abraham did was something completely unique in God’s redemptive history, given for a specific purpose once for all fulfilled. There is no way God would ever direct someone to do this same thing today.
How are we supposed to tell the difference? How can you tell the difference between God talking to you and you being deranged? And don't we have to put some of the blame of that tragedy on the bible? And finally, how can he be so sure God would never ask someone to do that again? If it was a good thing why can't it happen again, and if it was bad why was it good for it to happen once? Anyway, let's move on.
In wonderful, trusting obedience, Abraham went right to the spot.
This sentence really bugged me. Obedience is held in such high regard even though he is being asked to do such a horrible thing.

The next thing that Guzik brought was was very interesting and it was something I completely missed when I read it. Abraham and Isaac had some servants along with them for most of the trip, but near the end they went up the part of the trip just the two of them and Abraham said they would both be back.
Does this mean Abraham somehow knew this was only a test and God would not really require this of him? Not at all. Instead, Abraham’s faith is in the knowledge that should he kill Isaac, God would raise him from the dead, because God had promised Isaac would carry on the line of blessing and the covenant.
What are the implications of this line of reasoning? It certainly seems to take away how horrible the story is. Abraham isn't such a bad guy for doing this if he thought Isaac would just be brought back to life and they could go back home, but then it's also not as much of a sacrifice. The whole point of the story seems to be that Abraham was willing to obey God and sacrifice what he loved most, that message is ruined if Abraham thought they would come home together at the end of the day.

And we have to end with another comparison between Jesus and Isaac

  • Both were loved by their father.
  • Both offered themselves willingly.
  • Both carried wood up the hill of their sacrifice.
  • Both were sacrificed on the same hill.
  • Both were delivered from death on the third day.
I also looked at Matthew Henry's commentary (I scanned it at least), most of what was said there was covered above, although I did find an interesting line. At the part where God stopped Abraham from going through with the sacrifice
Abraham did indeed love God better than he loved Isaac
Is that was this was all about? God wanted to make sure that Abraham loved him more than he loved Isaac? What an egotistical God.

I was thinking of trying to draw a comic for this, but I can't think of a good joke that hasn't already been done to death. Instead I'm going to just include my 2 favorite youtube videos based on this story.

And from SMBC Theater


For the verses of note post:


Genesis 22:12 Abraham rewarded for fearing God

"He said, 'Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.'"

--Obedience and Violence--

Genesis 22:2-3, 10 Abraham rewarded for being willing to murder his son on God's order

"He said, 'Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.'  So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him...Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son."


  1. So many levels of this story are disturbing. First, why is willingness to MURDER A CHILD the measure of obedience to God? Why did God choose sadism as a measure of obedience, rather than some other virtue? For example, why didn't he ask Abraham to give away all his wealth, or perform some dangerous feat?

    Second, the story (and its apologists) assume that Isaac was Abraham's property. The idea that Isaac was a human being with intrinsic value -- not property that Abraham was commanded to sacrifice -- is never considered. The story is deeply rooted in ancient assumptions about children as their father's property.

    Third, apologists assume that the story turned out OK because God stopped Abraham from killing Isaac at the last minute. Isaac would have still been psychologically traumatized, so this WASN'T a harmless exercise. The Old Testament authors clearly didn't have much respect for children.

    1. Seriously, if obedience really was the point why not have him give away every penny that he owns. But you are right, if they thought of children as possessions, perhaps this story would have the same feel as that would. His kid is his most precious piece of property, so he's supposed to be letting it go. That message of course falls apart if we think of Isaac as a person.

      A lot of bible stories kind of work that way, the message only makes sense if you restrict your point of view to the main character. If you think of it from any other perspective it is just screwed up. It makes me think of the story of Job, at some point his family is killed, but it's cool because in the end he gets a new wife and has more kids, so all is well. But...what about those other people who died in God's pissing contest with the devil?

  2. I couldnt imagine geing asked by God to do something so horrific. That is a test I would certainly fail.

    I just found an interesting music video on FB based off of the story of Abraham.

  3. My take aways from this story has always been...

    So...I guess God isn't all knowing since He had to test this guy.
    I wonder if any Christians or Jews would be okay with a guy getting off legally for killing their kid if they used the "God told me to" plea.

    1. Yeah, the whole idea of God testing anyone doesn't really mesh well with him being all knowing. I always had it explained as it not being for God's benefit but for the person being tested. God knew he would pass the test, but still did it so Abraham would feel good for passing the test...or something.

      I'm guessing that very few people would accept the "god told me to do it" plea. Perhaps they would argue that since they were able to go through with the killing, it wasn't god talking to them at all


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