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Monday, June 5, 2017

M3 Abraham's Sacrifice

            It’s been a long haul to get to the story that Abraham is probably most famous for, the sacrifice of Isaac. It’s been a long time coming (sorry about that), and it pretty much culminates in this.
            Most are familiar with this story. An angel tells Abraham to take his son up into the mountains and sacrifice him to God.
            Time out.
            This is our first (of probably many) interruption. Abraham knows what he is told to do, but no one else is subject to this conversation. In particular, Sarah does not know. That would not be a pleasant conversation. “Honey, I’m going to take our only son, the one you wanted more than anything else, and take him up and offer him as a human sacrifice to God.” That would not fly. Ever. Remember the ages involved, too. Abraham is over 100, and Sarah is close to it if she hasn’t already hit it. Keep in mind, too, how much Sarah wanted a child (y’know, the whole thing with Hagar?). So she absolutely has no idea what Abraham is planning. It’s the equivalent of “I’m taking the boy with me to do manly things.”
            This in itself has huge implications for Abraham. Not only has he been commanded to sacrifice Isaac, he will have to face the repercussions of such an event with his wife and his servants. Yes, he and Isaac are not alone. On day three of the excursion Abraham told the others “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you” (Gen 22:5). So not only is Abraham hiding it from his wife, he’s deceiving his men, likely because they won’t understand it, either.
            I mean, we have to face this, the request borders on lunacy. Okay, maybe it left the border behind, even. But it serves as a good measuring stick for Abraham’s faith, which is how most people interpret the story. He was so faithful that he would sacrifice his only son. Not only that, he’ll break the heart of his wife. Isaac was everything to her. After having Abraham bear a child through Hagar, she sent Hagar and Ishmael away to make room for Isaac. She wanted him to have everything, especially after she worked so hard to have him. There is no way she would forgive Abraham for Isaac’s sacrifice.
            Likewise, Abraham didn’t tell his men for a similar reason. They wouldn’t understand the idea of sacrificing Isaac to God. In fact, they would have likely tried to stop it. Abraham would have sacrificed his son and had to face down these men about Isaac’s absence, and Abraham would have been completely ostracized, if not killed.
            It’s also worth noting that this is still a tribal existence. Abraham is the head of his tribe, but that would quickly change with Isaac’s sacrifice. Abraham at best would have lost everything. On top of his son, he would have lost his wife and society. He would have had a fate similar to Cain’s (though Cain got to keep his wife). At worst, he would have been executed.
This was a heavy burden for Abraham no matter what. We don’t have any kind of internal dialogue. There’s no internal debate or journal recording Abraham’s thoughts on the entire matter as this is Genesis. Genesis specializes in short, to the point stories. It’s not until Exodus that we get significant character development. The command to sacrifice Isaac is the original Catch-22 situation. If he fails to do it, he will break his Covenant with God and be lost. If he does, he will lose everything.

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