Saturday

11 November 2017

‘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.’” (v. 2)

Psalm: Psalm 119:49-64

 

Background

This chapter has one of the big twists in the patriarchal story, via the chilling words - 'Take your son … and offer him up … a burnt offering' (v. 2) - which come hard on the heels of the miraculous birth of Isaac. The big question must be why didn't Abraham say, 'No way, Lord,' as Peter does in Acts 10:14 - after all he already has a track record of arguing with God. Rather it is not long before we read, in Exodus, that one of the reasons why God wants the children of Israel to replace the Canaanites is because they sacrifice their children to their gods. It is a huge taboo. So we cannot take God's command or Abraham's unfathomable obedience at face value.

This is a story which has its eye on appalling religious practices and is telling us, in a roundabout fashion, that God will not accept human sacrifice. This has implications for penal sacrificial theories of the atonement, which are not in view in this story, with the familiar, resonant and much-misused words of verse 8 - 'God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.' Sometimes as Christians we are so busy reading the New Testament back into the previous Scriptures that we do not allow them to inform our interpretation and theological reflections of the Christian biblical writings.

After all the difficult thoughts arising from Abraham's impossible sacrifice there is some encouragement. The angel who has been watching everything reinforces the promise that God has already made to Abraham, and to all nations. Of course this is not without difficulty, as those bearing the name of Abraham have been mistreated and killed by others who also claim it. The time is ripe for the names Jew, Christian and Muslim to be words of blessing and for these three groups to bless each other as sharers in the name of Abraham.


To Ponder

  • How do you feel about arguing with God, or challenging what appear to be the words of God?
  • How can you bless Jews and Muslims and seek to spread blessings from the family of Abraham?


Bible notes author: Julian Bond

 

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