Posts Tagged ‘God’

Re-Reading Genesis 22: Faithful Servant, Faithful God

June 30th, 2017 No comments

I presented a version of this at the WGM field prayer meeting on 6/21.

Almost every Christian is familiar with the story in Genesis 22.  It’s known as the Akedah – “The Binding”, God’s Testing of Abraham or the Sacrifice of Isaac.  It is considered by a great majority of the Christian Church to be a pre-cursor of the Gospel message – a story of a loving father who was willing to sacrifice his only son (sound familiar)?  Personally, I encountered it for the first time in Sunday School when I was young.  Since then, I have read it several times in English, and perhaps more times in Hebrew.  As I was working through it again recently, it occurred to me that many people are, perhaps, missing a major point in the passage.

Until very recently, I found myself – perhaps just like many others – reading the story as Abraham’s remarks to Isaac as a kind of underhanded, subtle, perhaps even crafty dishonesty to Isaac. Isaac says “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  Abraham responds with the very popular line, “God himself will provide a ram for the offering, my son.” I don’t think that anymore.

What is Abraham doing, here?  What is the writer trying to communicate to his hearers/for us today?

“The Sacrfice”. Image courtesy of LA Times

One day, as I read this passage, I noticed that there is absolutely no sense of struggle or emotion here.  The writer is very simplistic – very methodical and to-the-point: “Abraham got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey and split some wood for the offering…and he took the knife to slaughter his son.”

The ancient Hebrew writers didn’t have any qualms about expressing emotion.  We see some of that language in the Pentateuch.  We see a great deal of said language expressed in the Psalms, particularly in the lament psalms.  When we read those, we get a real sense of what the writer is feeling.  We connect with his humanity.  We identify with his suffering.

We see no trace of that kind of imagery in Genesis 22. Consequently, we need to dispense with this idea that the crux of the passage is some sort of great inward struggle with Abraham during his journey to the mountain.

I suggest that there is something greater going on, here: The central focus is not Abraham’s faithfulness in spite of great anguish.  The focus is on Abraham’s unwavering faithfulness, as well as God’s faithfulness to Abraham.

We see God’s faithfulness demonstrated repeatedly throughout Abraham’s story. The promise of a great nation in spite of humble beginnings.  The promise of a son in spite of old age. The protection of Ishmael even though he’s not the promised child. And, perhaps most strikingly, a holy God unilaterally enacting a covenant with a man that should be, by all accounts, a nomadic pagan.

Yes, I think Abraham was well aware of — and was counting on — God’s faithfulness to come through in a very stressful situation.

It is against the backdrop of Abraham’s and God’s faithfulness that I think this passage should be read. If we read the passage this way, we see that Abraham’s response to his son is not some sort of vague, crafty response to an annoying toddler (Isaac was more likely closer to seventeen, but that’s another post entirely).  Rather, it is a demonstration of Abraham’s unwavering faithfulness to a faithful God.

Stay tuned for part 2: What should Christians do with this?




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