Sunday, July 20, 2008

Abraham and Isaac

(posted on my blog too)

Gen 22:1 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."
Gen 22:2 He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you."

...

Gen 22:5 Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you."

...

Gen 22:7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
Gen 22:8 Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.

...

Gen 22:10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
Gen 22:11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."
Gen 22:12 He said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."
Gen 22:13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind {him} a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.
Gen 22:14 Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the LORD it will be provided."

(Source)


No need really to go over the story again in my own words; the historical account is plain.

Some argue that God is evil or unjust to order Abraham to murder his son. There are a few defenses against that statement, and I will touch on a couple before moving on to a more central point that I haven't ever heard made, though I'm sure better men than I have made it before.

Point 1) God didn't command that Abraham kill Isaac. He commanded him to "offer him as a sacrifice". Not the same thing.

Point 2) Abraham himself didn't think that God meant that he should actually kill Isaac.
See the boldfaced comment in verses 5 and 8 - why say "we will return"? Why state that the lamb will be provided?

But Abraham was just trying to keep Isaac from panicking and running away! (as has been said before)

Perhaps, but there's no indication from the text that this is so.
And why didn't Isaac run away, if he was so fearful, when Abraham got the stuff and all was ready and the lamb was still not there?

Point 3) Abraham also believed that, even if the sacrifice were to go all the way thru to Isaac's death, God would resurrect Isaac. B/c he was a man of faith.

Hbr 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten {son;}
Hbr 11:18 {it was he} to whom it was said, "IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED."
Hbr 11:19 He considered that God is able to raise {people} even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.
(Source)

Point 4) See Hebrews 11:19 - this sacrifice of a ram instead of a sinful human to atone for sin foreshadows the Mosaic Law to come, and each are foremost a type of the final and complete sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Interestingly (and hat tip to Tim Staples of Catholic Answers, ironically, who I heard point this out), Abraham refers to a "lamb" that God will provide. Yet mere minutes later, God provides - not a lamb, but a ram. What of the lamb? It is yet another type of Christ, the spotless Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God, still to come in the future, in whom faith is expressed by Abraham the first Hebrew. God thus had a vested interest in taking a human to the brink of death yet substituting another in his place.

Point 5) As James 1 and 2 tells us, God was testing Abraham's faith in the fire of adversity. Would he trust God, that which is eternal and authoritative, or what he saw, which is temporal and seems authoritative and "normal"?

Point 6) I preface this point with 2 warnings, to apply to comments.
  1. If you perform an internal critique, you must do so in accord with Christian presuppositions.
  2. If you perform an external critique, you must provide a basis for morality that will extend to individuals who are not you. For a guide to what questions you need to answer in order to accomplish that, see my blogalogue with the atheist ChooseDoubt.
  3. I suggest you at least skim my major points in this thread, culminating in this comment, to see what's gone before.

My central point - God has the right to kill anyone or that command anyone be killed at any time.
People die every second of every day. Man is fallen and sinful, and the penalty for sin is death - Romans 3:23 and following through the end of chapter 5. It is only thru God's forbearance and mercy that I or any other person draw the next breath. And the next, and the next. And of course, it is only thru His mercy in Christ's death and resurrection that eternal Hell is not everyone's final destination.

Murder is defined as the unjustified taking of human life.
Yet, as every man, woman, and child is sinful and bears the guilt of the sin of Adam, all are subject to the death penalty. This includes Isaac. This also includes the various peoples of Canaan, whom God commanded the OT Hebrews to put to death after hundreds of years of giving them time to repent of their perversions. This includes the millions of babies that die every year in the womb (re: Sam Harris' correct and yet wrongheaded and amazingly morally blind assertion that God is the greatest living abortionist). God is fully justified in putting anyone to death at any time thru any manner or agency He chooses.
Thus, even if God did not intervene before Abraham's knife swept downward, He would be fully justified.

So why does God set Himself apart as the God Who does not demand child sacrifice as Molech did? Why does He also call out as sinful the foreign deities that call on their people to sacrifice and the actions of child sacrifice in the Old Testament Canaanite societies?

A few possibilities:
1) Those deities are false. They don't exist qua deity.
2) Therefore, the origin of those ideas to sacrifice children is (either) human and/or demonic in nature. Neither human nor demon has the right to kill a(nother) human in anything close to this circumstance.
3) Such practices further idolatry and worship of false gods, which of course are no gods at all. Which of course violates the 1st Commandment.

So, God could conceivably demand child sacrifice and be justified in doing so, but does not demand such. God thus creates yet more space for distinguishing between Himself and the false gods to which these pagans held. That is a merciful thing to do. He also wrote into His Law that no one is to put their child to death. That is a merciful thing to do. He wrote it on the hearts of humanity in general (Romans 2:13-15) such things. That is a merciful thing to do. To set God, the true God, apart from false gods in His ability and authority to give life and take it, to set up authority to take life under certain conditions (ie, the gov't in cases of capital crimes), and to define how He will and will not be worshiped.

What is amazing is that, despite the obvious horror, and despite their knowledge that God is the only true God (Romans 1:18-26), some societies throughout history have nevertheless turned away to these invented foreign deities that demanded satisfaction thru child sacrifice. The story of evil here is, once again, man, not God.

12 comments:

Edward said...

I think people spend too much time defending the Bible and not enough time studying the Gospels. If Jesus Christ is the revelation of God, then why do we continually draw lessons from the Old Testament?

BJ Buracker said...

Edward,

I'll take a stab at that, especially since I'm working on degrees in OT Studies...

We draw lessons from the OT because the OT tells us a lot about who God is, what He has done, and what He wants us to do. Furthermore, you can't understand the point of much of Jesus' teaching, miracles, life, death, and resurrection, without knowing their historical and theological background.

It's like with your wife. Do you just want to know about her since you met/married her? That would be a truncated relationship at best, and a non-relationship at worst. How can you understand what she means, thinks, and does if you don't know where she came from, what she's already accomplished, and what her family is like? Not possible.

That's my 2 cents.

Peace,

BJ
Stupid Scholar
Daily Bible Reflections

Rhology said...

I'd add that it could be really helpful to munch on points 3, 4, and 5.
All 3 of them show that the NT writers were deeply concerned with pointing out its great continuity with what God had already revealed.
#4 is an example of how all of the OT points to Christ, with the force of God's imagination and creativity behind it.

Rhology said...

On the flipside, I wrote this post specifically to counter some claims and arguments made by atheists. That's the main thing I was after here.

Edward said...

Hey BJ,

You said:

I'll take a stab at that, especially since I'm working on degrees in OT Studies...

We draw lessons from the OT because the OT tells us a lot about who God is, what He has done, and what He wants us to do. Furthermore, you can't understand the point of much of Jesus' teaching, miracles, life, death, and resurrection, without knowing their historical and theological background.

It's like with your wife. Do you just want to know about her since you met/married her? That would be a truncated relationship at best, and a non-relationship at worst. How can you understand what she means, thinks, and does if you don't know where she came from, what she's already accomplished, and what her family is like? Not possible.

Edward: I'm not too sure on the wife analogy, but I can see where you are coming from with the background info for the Gospels. So, why not relegate it to that and leave it there? It's background info. It's not our religion, it's not our canon. The Gospels are. Or, that's my assertioin anyway.

BJ Buracker said...

Edward,

It's not our religion, it's not our canon. The Gospels are. Or, that's my assertioin anyway.

No, it is our religion, if for no other reason than it was Christ's religion. The God of the Gospels is not different from the God of Genesis, Psalms, and Amos. In fact, Jesus says that He didn't come to abolish the Law and Prophets (Matt 5:17), and He used the OT all the time. Thus, if we truly follow what is written in the Gospels, we'll follow suit, plain and simple.

What don't you agree with about my wife analogy? She didn't just appear when you got married. Truly knowing and loving her means knowing and understanding all of her, past and present. The same is true with God. Why would you want to settle for knowing such a small amount about God (roughly 30 years worth of work in the Gospels with large gaps), when you can know what He was doing for 6000 years or so? That doesn't make any sense to me.

BTW, you said, "If Jesus Christ is the revelation of God..." While this is true, it is not the whole picture. He is God, not just a revelation of God. He is the God of the Old Testament. Again, reason to read it.

In Christ,

BJ
Stupid Scholar
Daily Bible Reflections

Edward said...

Hey BJ,

You said:

No, it is our religion, if for no other reason than it was Christ's religion. The God of the Gospels is not different from the God of Genesis, Psalms, and Amos. In fact, Jesus says that He didn't come to abolish the Law and Prophets (Matt 5:17),

Edward: No, I have to stop you there, because everyone who wants to cling to the security of the law quotes that.

He said he came to fulfill the law. In other words, with our faith in Christ, with our repentence from the world, in our obedience to his teachings, we fulfill the law. Christ replaces the law.

Yes, the OT points to Christ, but the signpost is not the destination. Christ is our destination. We don't need the OT anymore. Leave it for the Jews and their dead religion. We have Christ and we have the Gospels. Everything else is just commentary.

BJ: and He used the OT all the time. Thus, if we truly follow what is written in the Gospels, we'll follow suit, plain and simple.

Edward: Then why don't you do it? And I know you don't. Why don't you follow kashrut law? If Leviticus has the same standing as John, why don't you follow it?

BJ: What don't you agree with about my wife analogy? She didn't just appear when you got married. Truly knowing and loving her means knowing and understanding all of her, past and present. The same is true with God. Why would you want to settle for knowing such a small amount about God (roughly 30 years worth of work in the Gospels with large gaps), when you can know what He was doing for 6000 years or so? That doesn't make any sense to me.

BTW, you said, "If Jesus Christ is the revelation of God..." While this is true, it is not the whole picture. He is God, not just a revelation of God. He is the God of the Old Testament. Again, reason to read it.

Edward: I reject that. Otherwise, we should all become Jews before we become Christians. God is revealed in Jesus Christ. However they understood God in the OT, it wasn't correct. Everything we need to know about God is revealed in the life and teachings of Christ. And I would say the contemplation thereof leads to even more creative insights.

The big problem with the OT is that it has no future. Whereas even after 2K years, we haven't begun to realize the potential of the Gospel teachings.

But you're working on degrees in OT studies, so I'm not going to be convincing you of anything, am I? Who knows, maybe one day Lee Strobel will investigate something and come and knock on your door. Otherwise, I don't know how the OT is going to give you any wisdom for living today.

Carrie said...

Edward,

The OT is inspired and the Word of God, just as much as the NT. You don't get to just toss it aside, it is part of God's revelation to man and needs to be treated as such.

BJ Buracker said...

Edward,

Do you deny that Jesus is God? Your last post certainly seems to say as much. Do you believe the words of the Nicene Creed? Do you think that the 10 Commandments hold any value for Christians? Do you even believe that OT was God breathed? What about the rest of the NT? All you have talked about are the Gospels. What is your opinion of Paul, Peter, etc.?

Christ replaces the law.

Where do the Gospels say that? Again, he said the opposite.

Yes, the OT points to Christ, but the signpost is not the destination.

I'm glad you see that the OT is at least worth something, but your views are very troubling. You also haven't told me what you disagree with about my analogy.

Then why don't you do it? And I know you don't. Why don't you follow kashrut law? If Leviticus has the same standing as John, why don't you follow it?

That paints with a huge brush. Because some laws were fulfilled and no longer practically necessary (e.g. food laws, cleanliness, sacrifices), you are willing to write off 39 divinely inspired books as unnecessary. That doesn't make much sense at all.

But you're working on degrees in OT studies, so I'm not going to be convincing you of anything, am I?

I hope you don't use that logic consistently. Then you'd have to say, "Well, you're a scientist, so I'm not going to believe you." Or, "Well, you're an historian, so I don't need to buy your reconstruction of the past." Discrediting me in my area of expertise because of my credentials is quite strange.

Carrie said: The OT is inspired and the Word of God, just as much as the NT. You don't get to just toss it aside, it is part of God's revelation to man and needs to be treated as such.

Yep! I would be very careful before despising, rejecting, and/or ignoring, something that the almighty, one true and ever living God gave to man. I'd posit that you can't really know the God of the Gospels without the OT. Show me otherwise from the Gospels themselves.

I reject that. Otherwise, we should all become Jews before we become Christians.

That doesn't make any sense at all. Where did you get that from? I don't understand your logic here at all.

Peace,

BJ
Stupid Scholar
Daily Bible Reflections

Rhology said...

Edward,

I appreciate your interaction here and hope that you'll stick around to continue as time allows.

And please see this post for information on the relationship between OT Law and NT.

JustJan said...

The study of the OT is very necessary. It speaks to the ever widening expression of the covenant between God and man, beginning with Adam and culminating in Christ's sacrifice on the cross. If we only see that event through the NT we miss the fullness of the sacrifice required and the depth of our need of it.

God's unending love, the patience that he expresses toward his people, the protection that he has extended over centuries is seen again and again in those OT books.

Apologist said...

Yes, 'murder' is the unlawful taking of lives and 'killing' is the lawful taking of lives. God killed people, and it was lawful to do so. He did not murder, because it is unlawful.

Also, in response to comments: the old testament is there to show us God's history of creation, the fall of man (why we are sinners), the prophecy of Christ to come, etc.

Without the old testament, we would have no idea why Jesus came to die for the sins of all who would believe in Him. We would have been like, why are we sinners by nature, what caused it.?

We need to old testament for important reasons... not including the old testament is like someone watching a movie or reading a story halfway through, it never completely makes sense.