Sunday, March 8, 2009

GENESIS: Chapters 22 & 23

Chapter 22
Summary:God calls down to Abraham with the intention of testing his faith and obedience and commands Abraham to bring his son Isaac out to the land of Moriah and to sacrifice(!) Isaac as a burnt offering to God upon one of the mountains.

The next morning Abraham gets up nice and early to chop some wood and saddled his donkey in preparation for his task. He takes Isaac and two of his slaves out to where God told him to go. On the third day of their journey Abraham saw the place off in the distance and told his slaves to stay with the donkey and that him and Isaac would return after they went off to worship.

Abraham stacks the timber on Isaac's shoulder while he brings along a knife and a flint for striking a fire. Isaac starts to get suspicious when he realizes that they haven't got an animal to sacrifce, but Abraham reassures him that God will see to that. When they arrived at the spot God picked out for him, Abraham built an altar, spread out the kindling, and tied his son up and placed him over the altar. He then takes his knife and lifts it in preparation to plunge into his son and slay him, when God shouts Abraham's name from heaven.

He tells Abraham to set down the knife and not to harm the boy, and explains to him that this was all just a test to see if he feared God enough to place God first in his life - ahead of even the life of his beloved son Isaac. At that moment Abraham sees a ram with its horns stuck in a bush and sacrifices the ram instead of Isaac. Abraham names the area "Yahweh provides" - which allegedly it is still called today.

God tells Abraham that he passed this test, and in honor of his willingness to sacrifice his son, he will bless him with incredible blessings and multiply his descendants by countless millions. God goes on to add that these descendants will conquer their enemies and become blessings to all other nations of the earth.

Abraham returns to his slaves and his donkey with Isaac and traveled home to Beer-sheba. After they returned, a message arrived to Abraham that Milcha (the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor) had borne Nahor eight sons*:
  • Uz, the oldest,
  • Buz, the second oldest,
  • Kemuel (eventual father of Aram),
  • Chesed
  • Hazo
  • Pildash
  • Jidlaph
  • Bethuel (eventual father of Rebekah).
He also had four children with his concubine, Reumah:
  • Tebah
  • Gaham
  • Tahash
  • Maacah
Notes:1.) Does not specify if these children were born separately or as octuplets.
Thoughts:Once again we're faced with an awkward depiction of both Abraham's and God's behaviors towards Isaac being used as a pawn in a trivial test. If God is omniscient, why does he need to test Abraham's faith (and fear of God) at all? Shouldn't he know as easily as he could read both Abraham's and Sarah's thoughts previously?

Secondly it's hard to justify the terror both God and Abraham put young Isaac through with the threat of being slaughtered at knife point by his own father. Even after the revelation by God that it was "just a joke" to test Abe's faith, wouldn't this kind of behavior both by his own father and by the God he is lead to believe is just sort of erode his trust in these two? I for one, if I were Isaac, surely wouldn't be going on any more excursions with my dad carrying a sharp knife and a bundle of kindling!

Perhaps we could even think less critically about God and Abraham's behavior towards Isaac if Isaac were perhaps older and not a young boy as depicted. Additionally, how far and for how long are we to presume that Abraham and Isaac must have walked (through mountainous terrain, no less) to find a place where Isaac's screams of terror wouldn't be heard by Abraham's slaves? In the mountainous area wouldn't Isaac's screams carry through the mountains? Even if Isaac did not scream or loudly protest being tied up and almost gutted, wouldn't the thought have occurred to Abraham that perhaps the possibility that the boy *might* scream would summons his faithful slaves to investigate?

Well, at least they were lucky to find that ram stuck in the bushes to satisfy God's blood lust.

On a final note, unless they were octuplets, isn't it a bit strange that a message arrives for Abraham about all eight (plus the four kids borne from the concubine) of Nahor's children at once?
Chapter 23
Summary:Sarah dies at the age of 127 in Hebron in the land of Canaan, and Abraham mourned and wept for her. Standing beside Sarah's body, acknowledging that he is simply a visitor to their land, he asks the men of Heth to sell him a piece of ground to bury his wife in.

The men stating that Abraham is an honored prince of God, tell them that it will be their privilege to offer the finest sepulchres to bury Sarah. Abraham bows low before them and tells them that as this is their wish, to then ask Ephron (Zohar's son) to sell him the cave of Mach-pelah at the end of the field. He offers to pay full price for it so as it will become a permanent cemetery plot for Abraham's family. Ephron, who was sitting amongst the men, spoke up and offered Abraham the cave at no charge.

Abraham refused to accept the cave as a gift inquiring as to what monetary value the land has. Ephron tells him that the land is worth 400 pieces of silver, but attempt to waive the charges once again. Abraham instead paid Ephron the 400 pieces of silver, effective buying Ephron's field at Mach-pelah (near Mamre), the cave at the end of the field, as well as all the trees in the field, and proceeds to bury Sarah in the cave.
Thoughts:This short chapter seems to serve to enforce that Abraham does not like to accept charity to avoid being indebted to others, much like his position towards King Bera of Sodom - before God annihilated his whole city.

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