Monday, August 03, 2009

Genesis 22:1-18: Abraham and Isaac

There has been a lot of hand-wringing over the narrative found in Genesis 22:1-18. Skeptics and critics have wondered how a loving God could ask a parent to sacrifice his or her child up to a divine being. Some even accuse God of playing a "trick" on Abraham. Others, while considering themselves believers in God, have also spent countless pages trying to analyze and somewhat explain how God (YHWH) could make such a request from his beloved servant. I have also spent hours teaching this account, trying to understand it and mulling it over. There are numerous ways that one could understand the account of Abraham and Isaac, but two things seem clear to me. First, Genesis 22:1 says that God was testing Abraham, not tricking him. As Jamieson, Fausset and Brown state:

"God did tempt Abraham--not incite to sin ( Jam 1:13 ), but try, prove--give occasion for the development of his faith ( 1Pe 1:7 )."

The writer of Genesis (traditionally viewed as Moses) states from the outset that what is about to be read in the narrative is a "test": God is trying to see what is in Abraham's heart. That is why YHWH later utters the words "now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only [son] from me" (Genesis 22:12 KJV).

Open theist Gregory Boyd writes concerning this passage:

"if the classical understanding of foreknowledge is true, God's statement 'now I know' seems disingenuous. The meaning of God's explanation for this knowledge — 'since you have…' — is also obscured. Indeed, if the future is exhaustively settled there would be no point in his test of Abraham, because God would never have to find out anything."

So, Genesis 22:1 seems to offer firm evidence that God did not trick Abraham but tested his faith. The account must be read with Genesis 22:1 in mind. Secondly, the Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures (the Old Testament or Tanach) make it abundantly clear that God does not want nor did he ever want or desire child sacrifices. Read Micah 6:1-8; Jeremiah 7:31. The account of Abraham and Isaac (also known as the Akedah or Aqedah) is understood more easily when read in context.

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