Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

I have been studying scriptural passages from different perspectives, both on my own and through classes I’ve been taking from a number of different sources. This has gotten me to look more closely at the Bible from the view of the original readers – without the chaptering and segmenting that we are all used to seeing in our Bibles. This segmenting was done with the idea of bringing sections together to make preaching and reading easier. Unfortunately, sometimes this segmenting focuses our attention on the narrative at hand, while losing what was going on just before and after, sometimes altering our perspective, forming an almost unbreakable view of the story. The tale of Abraham and Isaac is one of those. For reference, here is the narrative we all know.

Genesis 22:1-14 (RSV) The Command to Sacrifice Isaac
1 After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriā€²ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place The LORD will provide; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

What do you picture happening here? Abraham, saddened that the Lord God is asking him to sacrifice Isaac upon the altar. Isaac unsure of why they are going to the altar without a sacrifice in hand. Here’s the food for thought: How old is Isaac? How does his age change the relationship between Abraham and Isaac?

If you’re like me, you were given the picture of a young Isaac, perhaps still before being considered a “man”. But a reading of the passages before this show that Isaac had already reached the age of manhood

Genesis 21:8 (RSV) 8 And the child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

This is generally accepted, as expressed in the Midrash, the day that Isaac turned thirteen; the day when he was “weaned” from his childish nature, and assumed the responsibilities of a Jewish adult. But this still doesn’t give us an exact age, only that now we see him as, to us a young adult, ready to strike out on his own with family. But, is that when the sacrifice occurred? Maybe, maybe not.

Just prior to the sacrifice we are told that Abraham and Abimelech make a covenant at a place which Abraham named the place Beer-Sheba. There is no time reckoning of when this occurred, only that it was after Isaac’s coming of age, so after Isaac was 13. In the next section we are told of Sarah’s death.

Genesis 23:1 (RSV) 1 Sarah lived a hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.

So here we have it, Isaac was born when Sarah was 100; he came of age at 13 (113 for Sarah); Abraham offered him as a sacrifice to God; then Sarah dies at 127. What we know for sure is that Isaac was a man in his own right, able to have a family of his own, his age somewhere between 13 and 27. The only other thing we really know is that Abraham had Isaac carry the firewood for the sacrifice, up the mountain to where the altar would be built.

Now, here is where you need to look at the story and decide:

  • Does the narrative change if Isaac is 13 or 27?
  • Is there a difference in the relationship with Abraham between Isaac at 13 and Isaac at 27? How different was your relationship with your parents at those ages?
  • Does going up the mountain without a ram appear differently to a younger or older Isaac?
  • We are told that Abraham bound Isaac and laid him down on top of the wood pile. What differences in willingness and compliance of Isaac are there at 13 and 27? Is a young Isaac more open to being sacrificed? Is an older Isaac just as willing, or does he need more convincing?
  • Does Abraham feel any different about sacrificing a young 13 year old versus someone he has spent 27 years with?
  • Any other thoughts?
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