[bible:365] Day 5 – Genesis 21-25

Sometimes I feel like I pass over the birth of Isaac as just another birth story. I almost did it writing this. But then I stopped and thought about it: this is a big deal. This is God’s covenant with Abraham finally coming to fruition. It’s in chapter 12 that God first promises to make Abraham into a great nation, and Abraham is 73 at this point. It takes almost 30 years for this promise to begin to be fulfilled. After such a long time of waiting and praying for the child from whom this great nation will spring, the hope and joy felt at his birth must have been astonishing. The child that was promised had finally arrived; how joyful Abraham and Sarah must have been.

This makes the almost-sacrifice of Isaac that much more astonishing. I don’t have children of my own, so I can’t speak from experience, but I can imagine the thought of sacrificing your own child must be excruciatingly difficult.Now, add to this that Isaac is Abraham’s only child, the one promised to him by God, and now God tells him to sacrifice Isaac. I cannot imagine how hard that would be.

At this point I can’t help but to draw a connection with Jesus’ death on the cross. God says to Abraham, “take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love” (22:2), something I see paralleled in Luke 3:22 as God calls Jesus his “beloved Son.” Abraham also tells Isaac, “God will provide for himself the lamb,” which he does in the perfect Lamb, Jesus. I don’t know how much can be taken from this, as we must be careful not to allegorize these stories (see Reading Biblical Narrative), but it is an interesting parallel, as God follows through in sacrificing his son; Abraham does not.

The faith Abraham must have had to be willing to do this is incredible, especially when it was the child he had waited for for so long, and his only source of descendants. The first philosophy class I took in college assigned the work Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard, in which he discusses the philosophical and religious implications of this event, asking why Abraham is revered as a hero of the faith, and not seen as a murderer. Kierkegaard extols the faith of Abraham, at one key point referring to him as a “knight of the faith.”

Actually though, I don’t remember much more of it than this, though I do remember what I read being very interesting (how much of it I read though, I’m not sure; I wasn’t the best at finishing assigned readings…). For anyone who has read this book, what did you think of Kierkegaard’s arguments? How are they important to our faith?

Something else this makes me think about is that this was a test from God, clearly stated from the beginning (22:1). God tests Abraham by requiring him to sacrifice, to give up that which was most precious to him. But then God gives it back to him. I wonder if God calls us to do the same, asking us to give him what we hold most dear in our lives, only to give it back once we’ve let it go. Question is, could I let whatever that is go?

The narrative in chapter 23 of Abraham purchasing a burial plot for Sarah was really intriguing to me. Sadly, I don’t fully understand the customs that are impacting this event (which makes me very sad for my copy of the Bible Background Commentary of the Old Testament which somehow morphed into a second New Testament copy…). I wonder if Abraham’s insistence that he pay for the land is because he wants to do right by Ephron by compensating him, or because that way the land cannot be legitimately reclaimed?

People got wives in the strangest ways in the Bible. I think you can add Isaac and Rebekah to the list.

Also, next time you want someone to do something for you, tell them to put their hand under your thigh and swear it (24:2). Please share their reaction.

I thought it was interesting that the writers emphasize that “Isaac and Ishmael his sons” bury their father.

The Scripture writers seem to make use of the “barren woman” who gives birth as a sign, pointing to the importance of that child, and we see this again in the birth of Esau and Jacob. But this birth is tinged with foreboding: parental favoritism is never good. (25:28)

A birthright for bread and stew? Hardly a fair trade. Why would Esau do it?

What catches your attention in the sacrifice of Isaac? Did you see anything significant in the story of acquiring Isaac’s wife? Why do you think Esau would give away his birthright for some food?


3 thoughts on “[bible:365] Day 5 – Genesis 21-25

  1. Pingback: [bible:365 2013] Genesis 16-50 « A Radical Journey

  2. Hey Karl, great job with these. I’ve really enjoyed reading these.

    One of the things that stuck out to me this time reading through Abraham’s test, was that we tend to put all the focus on Abraham. But what about Isaac? It’s not like he was too young to understand what was happening. On the way, he asks his father where the lamb was. He was certainly old enough to be thinking about this using logic and reason. He also may have been old enough and strong enough to overpower his father. So why didn’t he say something or try to stop Abraham when he realized what was going on? Or did he, and that just wasn’t recorded in the Bible? If he didn’t though, wow. That, i’m sure, would take nearly as much faith as Abraham had. I assume he had grown up hearing about how special he was, how he was the promised child. So if he truly believed that, he must have had very strong faith, just like Abraham, that he was the child of promise, and if God caused this to happen, then he would raise him from the dead if need be. Wow. Not only did Abraham have incredible faith in God, but Isaac also would have had to have just as strong faith in the God of his father to submit himself to death by his father’s hand. Just something to think about; a new perspective with which to look at this familiar story.

  3. HEY! Somehow that exact thing happened to me with my commentary…suddenly I had two NTs and no OT. I think an APU hooligan may be afoot 😉

    Anyways, I was intrigued by the burial story because you were intrigued, then I wanted to know more. So now I’m sitting in front of my bookshelf with every OT book in front of me on the floor 🙂 I have one more in my classroom at work, I’ll look tomorrow and see if I can get a better explanation than the one this one I’m reading right now gives.

    This is out of Manners and Customs in the Bible by Victor H. Matthews. He summarizes the story by pointing out that Abraham only asked for the cave itself, and Ephron basically tricks him into buying the whole field (plus the trees, whatever that means). “Ephron first offers the cave to Abraham as a gift. This gambit is designed to force the buyer into being equally gracious by asking the owner to set his own price.” (p. 30) The most important thing that Matthews points out is that this is the first recorded instance of a Hebrew owning a piece of the land that God promises so many times. The other tidbit of information is that the people in these times thought that every bit of land was bestowed upon them by the gods, and some customs regarded it as a crime to sell what was “given” to you. However, Ephron and the people of Hebron count Abraham as an asset to their land/tribe rather than a threat or someone whom the “gods” might be unfavorable towards. They think they are getting something in return from their gods or possibly from Abraham’s God.

    BUT I think that your thought about the sale being irreversible ever is a good point of interest as well.

    Anyways, thought I’d help. For anyone still reading, I also think it’s noteworthy that the sons of Jacob might have sort of used the circumcision issue as a deterrent (WHO in their right mind would submit to being circumcised for someone else’s benefit?!) and when the tribe goes through with it (whoops, backfire!), they become extremely weak as soldiers/defenders. THEN Jacob’s sons attack. SOOOOO….did they think up this plan in the first place or just use it as Plan B when Plan A blew up in their faces? (Another interesting note…..Levi is one of the sons who attacks. Think on that one.)

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