Abraham and Isaac

 

“How could the Lord ask a father to sacrifice the life of his own son?” That’s the wrong question. At least, it’s a terrible place to stop. It is like objecting to a scene in a novel or film before the story or even the chapter has concluded. Abraham does not kill his son. The Lord’s messenger stops him. That episode ends rather with this oath from the Lord:

“[…] because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth
shall find blessing—
all this because you obeyed my command.”

In other words, just by demonstrating that he was willing to put the Lord first, without actually having to surrender his most precious child in the end, Abraham’s faith and obedience without limit were rewarded without limit. Abraham’s love of God was unrivaled. By the incredible extent of that devotion, because he trusted in the Lord, we His descendants learned how trustworthy and loving the Lord proved to be.

But that’s not the end of the story either. A Christian cannot understand that episode without relating it to Jesus.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. —John 3:16

No one stopped that holocaust; that painful sacrifice. Whereas the Lord held Abraham back and protected Isaac in the end, God the Father offered His only begotten Son to sacrifice for our sake and fully endured those pains.

The immeasurable love God demanded from Abraham, knowing that price needn’t be paid, the Lord bestowed such love on all good people and paid the price because His own justice required it.

Ultimately, the story of Abraham and Isaac is less about Abraham’s faithfulness than about the love and faithfulness of God.

The Lord is our Creator and has dominion over all things. All that we have belongs to Him, including our lives and those of the people we cherish. To offer Him everything is only to offer what is due.

And yet His sacrifice for us is greater. What does He owe us except what He chooses to promise? Nothing. Yet the Lord surrendered His only Son to a lifetime of misunderstandings and loneliness, of abuses and doubts, to betrayal, torture, mockery, and execution.

God held back nothing, so great is His love. Isaac was spared because God is good. Jesus was not spared because humanity’s love is not so constant or so pure.

The Bible is a tragic love story. It gets dark at times. But every chapter leads to a wonderful finish. The end makes sense of the beginning.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    To me, this story was about Abraham learning about this God that had called him out of Ur. Surrounded by cultures that may have practiced human sacrifice, being faced with another just the same wasn’t as shocking to him as it is to us.

    But we know God isn’t like that because of this story. It sets God apart, reveals who He is, and demonstrates his provision.

    • #1
  2. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Though the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice recalls the imperfect love (to say the least) of humanity generally, Abraham’s willngness to give all makes him an exemplar and should offer us hope that divine love is humanly possible. 

    Jesus, though God, emptied Himself to rely on the Father and the Spirit as we can do. Through Him all things are possible.

    • #2
  3. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    According to, How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, the entire episode can be interpreted as the Jews ending human sacrifice. If you go back far enough, every civilization practiced human sacrifice according to The Golden Bough. The Jews were the first people to end human sacrifice which I always found interesting. 

     

    • #3
  4. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    According to, How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, the entire episode can be interpreted as the Jews ending human sacrifice. If you go back far enough, every civilization practiced human sacrifice according to The Golden Bough. The Jews were the first people to end human sacrifice which I always found interesting.

     

    Yes, human sacrifice ends, though blood sacrifice continues. Christians call Jesus “the Lamb of God” because He stands in for the ritual sacrifice of lambs and other beasts. Christians do not continue blood sacrifices because Jesus is the perfect sacrifice that covers all debts. 

    We still offer amends for our sins, but that is for renewal of our faithfulness rather than to bring justice. We can only repay the Lord with what He gives us, anyway. It’s like a child offering one’s allowance or gift back to the parent; a practice of gratitude which pleases the parent and rightly orients the child. The loving parent eagerly gives and eagerly receives with the child’s welfare in mind. 

    For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice,

    and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. — Hosea 6: 6

    See also Matthew 12 and Isaiah 58

    • #4
  5. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    According to, How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, the entire episode can be interpreted as the Jews ending human sacrifice. If you go back far enough, every civilization practiced human sacrifice according to The Golden Bough. The Jews were the first people to end human sacrifice which I always found interesting.

     

    Yes, human sacrifice ends, though blood sacrifice continues. Christians call Jesus “the Lamb of God” because He stands in for the ritual sacrifice of lambs and other beasts. Christians do not continue blood sacrifices because Jesus is the perfect sacrifice that covers all debts.

    We still offer amends for our sins, but that is for renewal of our faithfulness rather than to bring justice. We can only repay the Lord with what He gives us, anyway. It’s like a child offering one’s allowance or gift back to the parent; a practice of gratitude which pleases the parent and rightly orients the child. The loving parent eagerly gives and eagerly receives with the child’s welfare in mind.

    For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice,

    and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. — Hosea 6: 6

    See also Matthew 12 and Isaiah 58.

    Still weird about that whole human sacrifice thing even if it’s just one guy. 

    • #5
  6. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Ha!  I was Lector at Mass this morning at my church and I had to read that. As some might remember, I have an only son and only child and he came late in life, very much like Abraham. Of course I put myself in Abraham’s position. It would have been very hard for me. Praise be God that He is merciful. 

    • #6
  7. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Stina (View Comment):

    To me, this story was about Abraham learning about this God that had called him out of Ur. Surrounded by cultures that may have practiced human sacrifice, being faced with another just the same wasn’t as shocking to him as it is to us.

    But we know God isn’t like that because of this story. It sets God apart, reveals who He is, and demonstrates his provision.

    At the risk of rank hijackery, many laws and customs of old look evil to us but that is because they make a bright line in the sand against something far more evil. 

    Limits on wife-beating or slave mistreatment were great strides [forward] in feminism and human dignity.

    • #7
  8. T-Fiks Member
    T-Fiks
    @TFiks

    Aaron Miller:

    Ultimately, the story of Abraham and Isaac is less about Abraham’s faithfulness than about the love and faithfulness of God.

    As I was listening to this story again at Mass today I found myself a little troubled about comparing Abraham’s decision to sacrifice his son to God’s decision to offer up his son on the cross. As far as Abraham was concerned, he was losing his only son and all of his own progeny to death and Isaac was having his life snuffed out permanently by his father’s dagger. God, on the other hand, knew that his son would suffer terribly, rise on the third day, and ultimately rejoin him in heaven.

    I don’t think it’s a fair comparison. Perhaps someone here can help me see it differently

     

    • #8
  9. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Aaron Miller: “How could the Lord ask a father to sacrifice the life of his own son?” That’s the wrong question. At least, it’s a terrible place to stop. It is like objecting to a scene in a novel or film before the story or even the chapter has concluded. Abraham does not kill his son. The Lord’s messenger stops him. That episode ends rather with this oath from the Lord:

    Well, you skipped over the first line of the passage: “God put Abraham to the test.”  What if Abraham had refused to go through with it?  God of course knew what Abraham would do, so He asked.  In a way it’s sort of like God knowing Mary’s “yes” and had prepared her immaculate nature.  This was all to emphasize the sacrifice that God would make with His own son.  So is God putting Himself to a test?  I guess that’s not possible.  Just thinking out loud.  

    • #9
  10. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Manny (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller: “How could the Lord ask a father to sacrifice the life of his own son?” That’s the wrong question. At least, it’s a terrible place to stop. It is like objecting to a scene in a novel or film before the story or even the chapter has concluded. Abraham does not kill his son. The Lord’s messenger stops him. That episode ends rather with this oath from the Lord:

    Well, you skipped over the first line of the passage: “God put Abraham to the test.” What if Abraham had refused to go through with it? God of course knew what Abraham would do, so He asked. In a way it’s sort of like God knowing Mary’s “yes” and had prepared her immaculate nature. This was all to emphasize the sacrifice that God would make with His own son. So is God putting Himself to a test? I guess that’s not possible. Just thinking out loud.

    As I think about it, God putting Abraham to the test was not so much meant as a foreshadow of Christ (though it was that too) but to show Israel what true devotion to God is (“I know now how devoted you are to God” the messenger says).  I think that’s first and foremost.  Second is how God coordinated the sacrifice of His own son.  So He demonstrated Abraham’s devotion (knowing full well that’s what would happen) and then would demonstrate His devotion to humanity.  I think the central point is “devotion” both Abraham’s and God’s.  

    • #10
  11. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    According to, How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, the entire episode can be interpreted as the Jews ending human sacrifice. If you go back far enough, every civilization practiced human sacrifice according to The Golden Bough. The Jews were the first people to end human sacrifice which I always found interesting.

     

    I should read that.

    We’ve no public worship in Ireland since Christmas so I was watching the livestream from Knock. What you said there was the main point of the sermon.
    It’s very interesting and worth repeating. It’s not just myself who’s noticing the rise of neo-paganism in Ireland, RTE regularly promotes programmes about our pagan past, I’m interested in the subject for its historical value but it’s dealt in a superficial manner at best. But more sinister has been the hijacking of St Brigid’s Day in recent years by abortion activists and demented feminists.

    • #11
  12. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Marjorie Reynolds (View Comment):

    We’ve no public worship in Ireland since Christmas so I was watching the livestream from Knock. What you said there was the main point of the sermon.

    It’s very interesting and worth repeating. It’s not just myself who’s noticing the rise of neo-paganism in Ireland, RTE regularly promotes programmes about our pagan past, I’m interested in the subject for its historical value but it’s dealt in a superficial manner at best. But more sinister has been the hijacking of St Brigid’s Day in recent years by abortion activists and demented feminists.

    Nothing to do with the OP I’m afraid, but I think Marjorie you would be interested in this article Joseph Pearce published today on how Ireland has sold its soul.  Here.

    • #12
  13. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Manny (View Comment):
    So He demonstrated Abraham’s devotion (knowing full well that’s what would happen) and then would demonstrate His devotion to humanity. I think the central point is “devotion” both Abraham’s and God’s.

    It’s largely a lesson about priorities. Many things are good, but they must be properly ordered. God is the highest good. 

    • #13
  14. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Manny (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller: “How could the Lord ask a father to sacrifice the life of his own son?” That’s the wrong question. At least, it’s a terrible place to stop. It is like objecting to a scene in a novel or film before the story or even the chapter has concluded. Abraham does not kill his son. The Lord’s messenger stops him. That episode ends rather with this oath from the Lord:

    Well, you skipped over the first line of the passage: “God put Abraham to the test.” What if Abraham had refused to go through with it? God of course knew what Abraham would do, so He asked. In a way it’s sort of like God knowing Mary’s “yes” and had prepared her immaculate nature. This was all to emphasize the sacrifice that God would make with His own son. So is God putting Himself to a test? I guess that’s not possible. Just thinking out loud.

    As I think about it, God putting Abraham to the test was not so much meant as a foreshadow of Christ (though it was that too) but to show Israel what true devotion to God is (“I know now how devoted you are to God” the messenger says). I think that’s first and foremost. Second is how God coordinated the sacrifice of His own son. So He demonstrated Abraham’s devotion (knowing full well that’s what would happen) and then would demonstrate His devotion to humanity. I think the central point is “devotion” both Abraham’s and God’s.

    Question is, what was Abraham being tested on?

    God made a promise to make him the father of a great nation through Sarah. Already, Abraham and Sarah had acted out of distrust, using Sarah’s handmaiden to have Ishmael.

    God had promised this nation out of his son with Sarah. Yet here, God is asking for that sacrifice. This time, he doesn’t seem to question it. God will keep his promise. He’ll give Sarah another son, even though she was ancient when Isaac was born. Or God would raise this son from the dead. Or maybe… something. God promised and he keeps his promises. It’s an amazing shift on Abraham’s part.

    • #14
  15. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Stina (View Comment):
    Question is, what was Abraham being tested on?

    It seems to speak to human nature. We are beings both spiritual and physical, of both intellect and will. For a human being, a latent inclination isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to be loyal or loving in theory. One’s will must be lived in action. We are formed by lived experiences and not idle thoughts. 

    Stina (View Comment):
    God made a promise to make him the father of a great nation through Sarah. Already, Abraham and Sarah had acted out of distrust, using Sarah’s handmaiden to have Ishmael.

    Ishmael’s conception might be considered analogous to artificial insemination and surrogates today. Abraham and Sarah wanted a child so desperately that they resorted to a facsimile of marital procreation. In hindsight, they felt the difference and loved Isaac more. 

    As Father Mike Schmitz said in his homily yesterday, in a loving relationship, obedience precedes understanding. 

    • #15
  16. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    So He demonstrated Abraham’s devotion (knowing full well that’s what would happen) and then would demonstrate His devotion to humanity. I think the central point is “devotion” both Abraham’s and God’s.

    It’s largely a lesson about priorities. Many things are good, but they must be properly ordered. God is the highest good.

    To some degree that’s (the Bishop Barron homily) a very unsatisfying answer, and maybe even a copout.  If the point of the story is to “shout to the deaf,” well that evades the question of whether it is true.  Did it happen?  If it did happen, all the questions raised here still apply, whether it was shouting to the deaf or not.  If it did not happen, and it’s just a story, then what else is fiction and why should I care?

    • #16
  17. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Manny (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    So He demonstrated Abraham’s devotion (knowing full well that’s what would happen) and then would demonstrate His devotion to humanity. I think the central point is “devotion” both Abraham’s and God’s.

    It’s largely a lesson about priorities. Many things are good, but they must be properly ordered. God is the highest good.

    To some degree that’s a very unsatisfying answer, and maybe even a copout. If the point of the story is to “shout to the deaf,” well that evades the question of whether it is true. Did it happen? If it did happen, all the questions raised here still apply, whether it was shouting to the deaf or not. If it did not happen, and it’s just a story, then what else is fiction and why should I care?

    Fiction contains the most important lessons. 

    • #17
  18. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    So He demonstrated Abraham’s devotion (knowing full well that’s what would happen) and then would demonstrate His devotion to humanity. I think the central point is “devotion” both Abraham’s and God’s.

    It’s largely a lesson about priorities. Many things are good, but they must be properly ordered. God is the highest good.

    To some degree that’s a very unsatisfying answer, and maybe even a copout. If the point of the story is to “shout to the deaf,” well that evades the question of whether it is true. Did it happen? If it did happen, all the questions raised here still apply, whether it was shouting to the deaf or not. If it did not happen, and it’s just a story, then what else is fiction and why should I care?

    Fiction contains the most important lessons.

    I’m aware of that.  But that’s not my point.  It evades the issue.

    • #18
  19. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Manny (View Comment):
    To some degree that’s (the Bishop Barron homily) a very unsatisfying answer, and maybe even a copout. If the point of the story is to “shout to the deaf,” well that evades the question of whether it is true. Did it happen? If it did happen, all the questions raised here still apply, whether it was shouting to the deaf or not. If it did not happen, and it’s just a story, then what else is fiction and why should I care?

    I had a similar thought during the bishop’s reflection. I don’t think he meant it that way. Remember that the Bible is the Word. It is Christ speaking to us actively today, and not just like any other story. Remember also that God is the author of the world, not just of histories.

    Christians read and hear the same Biblical verses throughout their lives. The Church builds upon thousands of years of explication, debate, and prayer. Yet the same verse will say something different to you each time; not contrarily but as another layer. Like literary fiction, a single event or phrase can have layers of designed meaning to discover.

    Abraham’s experience was for Abraham and for us as well. It really happened. The Creator of the universe challenges us in ways that bear fruit both for the individual and by the way that individual serves within a grand body of humanity.

    • #19
  20. Amaranth Member
    Amaranth
    @Amaranth

    Marjorie Reynolds (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    According to, How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, the entire episode can be interpreted as the Jews ending human sacrifice. If you go back far enough, every civilization practiced human sacrifice according to The Golden Bough. The Jews were the first people to end human sacrifice which I always found interesting.

     

    I should read that.

    We’ve no public worship in Ireland since Christmas so I was watching the livestream from Knock. What you said there was the main point of the sermon.
    It’s very interesting and worth repeating. It’s not just myself who’s noticing the rise of neo-paganism in Ireland, RTE regularly promotes programmes about our pagan past, I’m interested in the subject for its historical value but it’s dealt in a superficial manner at best. But more sinister has been the hijacking of St Brigid’s Day in recent years by abortion activists and demented feminists.

    @marjoriereynolds:  Cahill may have discussed Jews ending human sacrifice in How the Irish… but he most certainly did in his The Gifts of the Jews.  I bet that’s what @henrycastaigne meant to reference.

    • #20
  21. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Amaranth (View Comment):
    @marjoriereynolds: Cahill may have discussed Jews ending human sacrifice in How the Irish… but he most certainly did in his The Gifts of the Jews. I bet that’s what @henrycastaigne meant to reference.

    Nope. I meant How the Irish… I think in Gift of the Jews Cahill focused on time and how Jews thought differently about time. 

    • #21
  22. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Manny (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    So He demonstrated Abraham’s devotion (knowing full well that’s what would happen) and then would demonstrate His devotion to humanity. I think the central point is “devotion” both Abraham’s and God’s.

    It’s largely a lesson about priorities. Many things are good, but they must be properly ordered. God is the highest good.

    To some degree that’s a very unsatisfying answer, and maybe even a copout. If the point of the story is to “shout to the deaf,” well that evades the question of whether it is true. Did it happen? If it did happen, all the questions raised here still apply, whether it was shouting to the deaf or not. If it did not happen, and it’s just a story, then what else is fiction and why should I care?

    Fiction contains the most important lessons.

    I’m aware of that. But that’s not my point. It evades the issue.

    Why would it matter if the story is literally true or not? 

    • #22
  23. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    So He demonstrated Abraham’s devotion (knowing full well that’s what would happen) and then would demonstrate His devotion to humanity. I think the central point is “devotion” both Abraham’s and God’s.

    It’s largely a lesson about priorities. Many things are good, but they must be properly ordered. God is the highest good.

    To some degree that’s a very unsatisfying answer, and maybe even a copout. If the point of the story is to “shout to the deaf,” well that evades the question of whether it is true. Did it happen? If it did happen, all the questions raised here still apply, whether it was shouting to the deaf or not. If it did not happen, and it’s just a story, then what else is fiction and why should I care?

    Fiction contains the most important lessons.

    I’m aware of that. But that’s not my point. It evades the issue.

    Why would it matter if the story is literally true or not?

    Because it’s presented like truth.  With something like Job there are literary clues that it’s a sort of parable.  I don’t see that here.

    • #23