Monday, October 03, 2005

He gave his only begotten Son (Gen 22)

You know, I gotta hand it to the SAB for thoroughness. While sometimes I think the criticisms go overboard, it's clear to me that it's because Wells is trying to make sure he covers all the angles. There are a few things pointed out in this chapter that I'm not sure I've ever thought of. Of course, you can't read this chapter without seeing the issue of human sacrifice, that's obvious, but there are a few minor, but important points brought up here.

Off the top, something that can often be a sticking point for some is the issue of whether God "tempts" people. James says that God does not tempt people, but there a re a few places where it sure seems like it's happening, particularly here, where the KJV says outright that Abraham was being tempted. One of the very difficult things that the Bible reader has to deal with is vague language. The Hebrew word that is translated here as "did tempt" has a variety of meanings, and in fact, the KJV is more likely to translate the word "prove" than "tempt". I actually would love to know why the KJV translators chose "tempt" in this particular case, as every other instance of translating this word as "tempt" it refers to testing God. Perhaps the idea behind the word is making an unfair demand of someone to see if they'll follow through, because that certainly seems to fit with the idea behind this story. In any case, Abraham is being tested by God, not provoked into choosing wrong, but provoked into choosing right.

So the test is that Abraham is told by God to take his only son, Isaac, and give him as a sacrifice on a nearby mountain. Now, God is not generally in the practice of asking for human sacrifices; in fact I'd say this is the only time He orders it (I realize the SAB gives other examples of things that seem to be saying this, but I'll deal with those as I come to them), and there's something that should be quite notable about it. He doesn't have Abraham actually go through with it. No, it was just a test, not a real sacrifice.

Should Abraham have gone through with it? I mean, obviously not once God said not to, but should Abraham have just said, "God, I don't think this is right, and I won't do it!" Well, I'd definitely tell anyone who thought God was telling them to kill someone to go see a doctor and make sure they're on the right meds, but if indeed it was God talking to Abraham, then Abraham did the right thing to obey. While it may seem heartless, there are a few things to consider. If you look at Hebrews 11:17-19, you see that Abraham remembered God promising Isaac would prosper and have children, so Abraham knew that whatever was going on, this wasn't the end of Isaac. As a child reading this story, I always assumed Abraham knew God would call it off, but the passage I quoted in the N.T. there says that Abraham assumed God would bring Isaac back from the dead. Abraham knows that he has to obey God, and that if he does, God will make everything turn out alright. Note that Abraham says to his servants that he will be coming back with his son.

There are some interesting bits of symbolism here, both for the Jewish faith and the Christian one. It's believed by Jews that the place that all of this happened was right near where the Temple would actually be built. Christians also believe this, and in particular are also interested in the symbolism of Isaac being a prefiguring of Christ, carrying wood (like the cross) to the place where he is eventually going to be offered as a sacrifice. Isaac is not completely clueless here, either. While most people seem to read this story as Abraham taking a little boy up to the mountain, it is traditionally thought that Isaac is probably in his early thirties. When Abraham, a 130-year-old man ties up his 30-year-old son and places him on the altar, he must have been a willing, if confused participant. The best bit of interesting symbolism is in the wording of the KJV translation, which unfortunately is not likely supported well by the original Hebrew: "God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering." The ambiguity of this statement in English is rather suggestive of Jesus' death centuries later.

After God calls the whole thing off, though, he then says, "Now I know that thou fearest God..."I have to admit this is very odd wording for a God who supposedly knows everything, and assumedly only asked Abraham to do this because He knew Abraham would be willing, but wouldn't actually go through with it. I tend to think that God tests people for their own benefit, because He knows the strength of their character, and wants to give them insight into themselves that they would not have without the testing. In such a case though, it seems it would make more sense to say something like, "Now I see..." since He already knew, but this was the first time it was visibly shown. There is some ambiguity in the Hebrew word, and I'd like to suggest that it could be rendered "perceive", but I'd hate to put myself in a very unpopular position: I can't find any widely-accepted English translation that doesn't translate that word into "I know". Of course, knowing now doesn't mean He didn't before, but it sure sounds like God was almost holding His breath waiting to see how this would turn out, doesn't it? I just don't know what that's all about.

I also don't know what the deal is with the claim in Exodus 6:3 that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob didn't know God's name, YHWH. Not only does Abraham use it here, but he used it in 14:22, 24:3, and 24:7, and Jacob uses it in various verses, the first of which is 27:20, in conversation with Isaac. Perhaps by the time I get to Exodus 6:3, I'll have an idea what that passage might be saying, because it does appear to be wrong taken at face value.

So God once again swore to bless Abraham and his descendants, and yes, God swore "by and to himself." And why not?

4 comments:

marauder said...

On the story of Isaac's sacrifice, Woody Allen once wrote in his collection "Without Feathers":

And Abraham awoke in the middle of the night and said to his only son, Isaac, "I have had a dream where the voice of the Lord sayeth that I my sacrifice my only son, so put your pants on."

And Isaac trembled and said, "So, what did you say? I mean when he brought the whole thing up?"

"What am I going to say?" Abraham said, "I’m standing there at two a.m. in my underwear with the Creator of the Universe. Should I argue?"

"Well, did he say why he wants me sacrificed?" Isaac asked his father.

But Abraham said, "The faithful do not question. Now let's go because I have a busy day tomorrow."

And Sarah who heard Abraham's plan grew vexed and said, "How doth thou know it was the Lord and not say, thy friend who loveth practical jokes, for the Lord hateth practical jokes and whosoever shall pull one shall be delivered into the hands of his enemies whether they can pay the delivery charge or not."

And Abraham answered, "Because I know it was the Lord. It was a deep, resonant voice, well modulated, and nobody in the desert can get a rumble in it like that."

And Sarah said, "And thou art willing to carry out this senseless act?"

But Abraham told her, "Frankly, yes, for to question the Lord's word is one of the worst things a person can do, particularly with the economy in the state it's in."

And so he took Isaac to a certain place and prepared to sacrifice him but at the last minute the Lord stayed Abraham's hand and said, "How could thou doest such a thing?"

And Abraham said, "But thou said ---"

"Never mind what I said," the Lord spake. "Doth thou listen to every crazy idea that comes thy way?" And Abraham grew ashamed. "Er - not really ... no."

"I jokingly suggest thou sacrifice Isaac and thou immediately runs out to do it."

And Abraham fell to his knees, "See, I never know when you're kidding."

And the Lord thundered, "No sense of humor. I can't believe it."

"But doth this not prove I love thee, that I was willing to donate mine only son on thy whim?"

And the Lord said, "It proves that some men will follow any order no matter how asinine as long as it comes from a resonant, well-modulated voice."

And with that, the Lord bid Abraham get some rest and check with him tomorrow.

celetus said...

it has to be the end of the world, which is not autmatically terrible

Chika Tinashe said...

(Disclaimer: I admittedly haven't skipped forward to see what you've said on this at Ex 6 yet, so maybe this is all pointless but here goes.)
"I also don't know what the deal is with the claim in Exodus 6:3 that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob didn't know God's name, YHWH. Not only does Abraham use it here, but he used it in 14:22, 24:3, and 24:7, and Jacob uses it in various verses, the first of which is 27:20, in conversation with Isaac. Perhaps by the time I get to Exodus 6:3, I'll have an idea what that passage might be saying, because it does appear to be wrong taken at face value."

And why couldn't both be true? YHWH meant 'personal relationship with His people' why couldn't Abraham, Jacob, and Issac use it indicative of it's meaning because that is how they saw Him. And have Ex 6:3 be true, which doesn't actually say they didn't know him by that name but that He did not reveal Himself/make himself known to them by that name but by the name of God Almighty when he appeared to them(but maybe it's your translation, haven't hit the SAB yet to see).

So Let's say you know a guy who introduces himself to you as John, and in conversation you alternately refer to him as Jack to distinguish him as different from a previously known John meanwhile unbenownst to you he also goes by Jack. It is entirely true that he is Jack, but you know him to be/he revealed himself to be John.

Minus some obvious differences the same is true in these passages... They are using the YHWH name to envoke a different image or facet of God than creator or God Almighty, etc...to emphasize the personal bond probably quite frankly to lend more credence to the covenants. As the better you know some one/closer you are the better you know how much faith you can put in his word, how much he can be trusted...emphasizing just how strongly they trusted God to deliver on his promises and covenants. So in effect Ex 6:2-3 are saying "yes that's that's my name/that's me but I didn't give them that name..."

*shrugs* Meh... maybe that helps, and maybe it doesn't. And I may also be entirely wrong in my interpretation but it is how I resolve it/find it not to be a discrepancy, because in my point of view they are really saying two different things which are not mutually exlusive of one another, and both can easily be true.

Brucker said...

I think the real problem here is the very straightforward way in which Exodus 6:3 is presented. There may be a slight ambiguity in the manner of usage of YHVH in this chapter, but the Hebrew of that verse is so straightforward that even in my limited understanding of Hebrew, I need no translation to see exactly what it's saying, which is that A, I & J were not aware of the name YHVH. I honestly don't know what that means when you place it alongside passages like this.