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?