Tuesday, May 31, 2022

A make-up exam

Yet Abraham finally did come to understand that God didn’t want him to sacrifice his son. If we consider his sacrificing the ram as analogous with a make-up test given by a generous professor, might we say that in this sense Abraham just barely passed the test of the discernment of God’s character? Or is that conceding too much?—Abraham's Silence, 223 (emphasis original)

<idle musing
I keep asking myself how well I would have done on this test. I fear I would not have passed…
</idle musing>

Friday, May 27, 2022

Did he pass?

Yet the fact that he did eventually look around could be taken as a point in his favor. Perhaps Abraham is to be commended not simply for looking around but especially for offering up the ram “as a burnt offering instead of his son” (22:13) on his own initiative. This was not something actually commanded by God. In one sense, it was too little, too late. In another, it was better than nothing, in that it signified that Abraham finally understood that God did not want him to sacrifice his son. Evidence of his coming to this understanding is that Abraham names the site “YHWH sees/provides” (22:14).

I am inclined to think that Abraham did not pass the test in Genesis 22. His silent obedience indicated that he did not discern God’s merciful character (until the angel called off the sacrifice); and he did not show love for his son by interceding on his behalf.—Abraham's Silence, 222–23 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Unfortunately, I'm inclined to agree with him that Abraham failed the test. But, I wonder if I would have done any better. Do I understand the character of God? Or do I have various lens that distort my view? I suspect the latter is true.

May God remove the distortion that I might see him as he truly is!
</idle musing>

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Speak up!

If I were to construct a hierarchy of possible responses that Abraham might have made to God’s request to sacrifice his son, I would put protest and intercession on behalf of Isaac at the top of the list, as the optimal response. Through such protest/intercession, Abraham would have demonstrated his profound discernment of God’s character, that YHWH was merciful and compassionate. Or his intuition that God was merciful would have led him to prayer; and this intuition would have been confirmed and expanded by such prayer, resulting (I believe) in God rescinding the request. Such protest and intercession would have also demonstrated his love for Isaac, perhaps strengthening the tenuous bond between them.

But Abraham didn’t speak out on behalf of his son.

Somewhat below this optimal response would be Abraham’s genuine belief that God would provide a substitute—that is, he might have remained silent (against the general tenor of Scripture, which encourages bold prayer), yet trusted that somewhere along the journey or on the mountain itself, he might find an animal to sacrifice instead of his son. Yet when he arrived at the spot for the sacrifice, Abraham did not give even a cursory glance around the vicinity to see if God had provided a substitute; he simply bound his son and placed him on the altar. He did not look around until after the angel called off the sacrifice.—Abraham's Silence, 222

<idle musing>
Don't you want to take Abraham by the shoulders and shake him, yelling, "Wake up! Look around you! Speak up!"

I know I do. But, what about the injustices around you? Are you interceding with God on behalf of those? Asking God to be merciful?

If not, then why not? Maybe you believe in a different god than the biblical one...

Just an
</idle musing>

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Too task oriented

Let us understand what is going on. A ram is a male goat or sheep, and for its curled horns (from which a shofar is made) to be long enough to be caught in a thicket, it would have needed to be a fully grown specimen. A large, adult ram, full of testosterone, would have made a huge racket trying to extricate its horns from the thicket that it was caught in. The fact that Abraham didn’t hear the ram (and thus didn’t look around for the source of the noise) when he first arrived suggests that the ram had already stopped struggling. In other words, it had been caught in the bushes (provided by God as a substitute) long before Abraham arrived and had exhausted itself. Such prior provision of a substitute would have flowed from the mercy of Abraham’s God toward him (and also toward Isaac). But if the ram had, indeed, been there (provided or “seen to” by God, as Abraham claimed God would do), Abraham clearly missed it. Did he even look to see if there was a substitute?—Abraham's Silence, 220–21

<idle musing>
Abraham was so task-oriented that he didn't even hear what was going on around him, let alone notice anything. I've been that way at times. It's not a healthy place to be. You miss out on life—you miss out on the provisions that God has supplied so your task doesn't have to be as heavy as you think it is!

May none of us be so task-oriented that we miss God's loving provisions for us!
</idle musing>

Monday, May 23, 2022

But, what if…

Prior to the Aqedah, the promise was stated in terms of the nations blessing one another by Abraham (12:3; 18:18). But here for the first time the blessing is connected to Abraham’s descendants: “By your offspring shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves” (22:18a).

This means that for the promise to be fulfilled, Abraham would need to have offspring. He would need to have obeyed the angel’s command to stop the sacrifice and spare Isaac. This is why the angel links the promise to the sparing of Isaac: “By your offspring shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have listened to my voice.” Simply put, if Abraham had not desisted from the sacrifice when the angel called from heaven, there would be no offspring by which the nations could bless themselves.—Abraham's Silence, 218 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Quite a provocative thought! I'll have to chew on that one for a while…
</idle musing>

Friday, May 20, 2022

A blessing missed

Later, we are told by Abraham’s servant (24:36) and by the narrator in a genealogy (25:5) that Abraham gave all he had to Isaac (possibly as compensation for what he went through on the mountain). But it is significant that Abraham never blesses Isaac. It was literally impossible to do, given that they never met again after chapter 22. Instead, we are told that after Abraham’s death God blessed Isaac (25:11).51 God made up for Abraham’s failing. But was it ever fully made up? What would be the effect on Isaac of the estrangement and the resulting lack of direct blessing from his father?—Abraham's Silence, 210

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Silence speaking volumes

Whereas Abraham became silent at the end of his intercession in Genesis 18 (he stopped the conversation earlier than he needed to and so never fully grasped the wideness in God’s mercy), here, in Genesis 22, he never gets the conversation off the ground. He is simply silent. And this silence speaks volumes. It articulates a view of God as clearly as if he had used words. I would suggest that Abraham’s silence speaks of God as a harsh taskmaster who is not to be challenged. If that is what Abraham learned about God, we may wonder what he passed on to Isaac.—Abraham's Silence, 206

<idle musing>
Indeed! That might be the reason why Isaac is such a one-dimensional character. And note that in Gen 31:42, God is called the "terror of Isaac."

That seems apt, doesn't it?
</idle musing>

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

And he was shown wanting

It is possible that Abraham was merely accommodating his speech to the presumed polytheism of the pagan king (which was unnecessary, since God had already revealed himself to Abimelech in 20:12). But even if Abraham was not confused about the unity of the divine nature, it is reasonable to think Abraham needs further guidance in distinguishing YHWH from the gods of the nations.

In light of the command that Abraham receives in 22:2 to sacrifice his son, we may put the question of Abraham’s discernment of God’s character more pointedly. Is the God of Abraham simply one of the pagan deities of Mesopotamia or Canaan who requires child sacrifice as a symbol of allegiance? Or is he different, a God of mercy and love for his children, who was even willing to forgo udgment on Sodom for the sake of the righteous? That was something Abraham should have learned in chapter 18, so he could pass it on to his own children. But he didn’t. The lesson was cut short—by Abraham himself.

And so in a final, climactic episode in the Abraham story, God gives Abraham another opportunity to learn and grow in the relationship. But God ups the ante this time; God raises the stakes. It’s not his nephew Lot who will be destroyed (along with Sodom, his home). It is Abraham's own son. And it’s not God who will do it; Abraham must do it by his own hand. If anything would force Abraham to speak out, to appeal to the mercy of God, this would be it. Abraham has the opportunity, in this test, to protest the command and intercede for his son’s life, which would articulate his view of the character and ways of God——both in what he says to God and by the fact that he says it. And it would, further, show his love for Isaac (which would be a good thing, not an impediment to his commitment to God).

But Abraham doesn’t speak out; he is silent.—Abraham's Silence, 205–6 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Ouch! I hope I'm a better student of God than that! I hope I don't cut short the lesson(s) that God has for me!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Beyond what we can ask or think…

…It is as if YHWH is looking for an excuse to save Sodom (and Lot).

YHWH’s instructions to Jeremiah might be relevant here. In 5:1 God tells the prophet,

Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,
look around and take note!
Search its squares and see
if you can find one person
who acts justly
and seeks truth—
so that I may pardon Jerusalem.
This suggests that God might forestall destruction of a wicked city for just one righteous person. That Abraham stops at ten, however, suggests that he hasn’t fully plumbed the depths of divine mercy. He has not yet learned what God wanted to teach him. Nevertheless, God rescues Lot and his family through angelic agency (Gen. 19), even though Abraham hadn’t thought to ask for that outright.—Abraham's Silence, 202-3

<idle musing>
That just blows my mind! I hadn't thought of it before, but that Abraham neglects to ask for the safety of Lot (and his family) and God goes the extra distance to save them is truly theology-shaking. My box of what God wants to do is vastly expanded (again!).

I've mentioned Widmer's book, Standing in the Breach before, and he heads in this same direction. But Middleton goes beyond him in exploring God's mercy.

And in light of the happenings over the weekend, I would say that this is a nice encouragement to continue to pray for peace and revival in the face of an epidemic of hate!
</idle musing>

Monday, May 16, 2022

Unquestioning obedience? Not so much!

I am going to suggest that Abraham was being tested not for his unquestioning obedience (that is not something God wants) but rather for his discernment of God’s character. I agree that he was being tested for his trust in God. But genuine trust is not equivalent to blind faith to do anything a voice from heaven tells you. Rather, trust in God requires knowledge or discernment of what sort of God this is.—Abraham's Silence, 197

Friday, May 13, 2022

We might have it all wrong

Given that it isn’t clear at all that Abraham is attached to Isaac, could it be that Abraham is being given a chance in chapter 22 to prove his love for his remaining son? After all, God’s instructions to Abraham in 22:2 contain the following description of Isaac: “your son, your only one, whom you love—Isaac.” So maybe Abraham’s love for Isaac was being tested. As noted in the last chapter, it is possible that the phrase “Whom you love” has the rhetorical effect not of a declarative statement of fact but rather of suggesting to Abraham that he loves Isaac or of attempting to evoke his love for Isaac—with the _sense of “You love him, don’t you?”

But what would be evidence of this love? I suggest that Abraham could prove his love for Isaac by speaking out and protesting God’s command to sacrifice him. Indeed, speaking out on behalf of Isaac might well extend and deepen Abraham’s incipient love for his son (testing often brings to the surface and makes actual what is only potential).—Abraham's Silence, 195–96 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
I find that to be a provocative thought. What about you? He's right that Abraham seems to favor Ishmael over Isaac.
</idle musing>

Thursday, May 12, 2022

How not to treat a promise (and your wife!)

But there is a second problem with the traditional reading of the Aqedah—namely, that it is unclear why this test is needed at all. The Abraham story gives absolutely no evidence of Abraham’s special attachment to Isaac, such that giving him up would prove his commitment to God.

Abraham would seem, rather, to be attached to Ishmael,something that is very clear from chapters 17 and 21. When God tells Abraham that Isaac, not Ishmael, is the one through whom the covenant will be passed, this leads Abraham to plead for God not to forget Ishmael. He exclaims, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” (17:18). And when Sarah wants him to send Hagar and Ishmael away, we are told, “The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son" (21:11). In both cases, we find a significant difference from Abraham's response when God tells him to sacrifice Isaac.

In fact, the account of what happens in Genesis 20 suggests that Abraham is so attached to Ishmael that he simply doesn’t care about the replacement son that is promised.

We should remember that Abraham had passed Sarah off as his sister in Egypt back in chapter 12, with the result that Pharaoh took her into his harem. Abraham does this again in chapter 20, this time in Gerar, so the king of Gerar takes her into his harem. But note that chapter 20 comes after God announced that the covenant heir would be born to Sarah (17:16) and after God predicted that this would happen shortly—presumably within the next year (17:21; 18:10, 14). And yet, knowing this, Abraham goes ahead and passes Sarah off as his sister a second time, not caring that he might lose her (and the promised heir with her); indeed, she might even have been pregnant at the time.—Abraham's Silence, 194–95 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Definitely not the traditional reading! But, sad to say, it makes better sense of the text than the traditional reading does. And it gives you food for thought, doesn't it? We all have our agendas that we bring to God. And not infrequently they differ substantially from God's purposes.

May we be open to changing our agenda to that which God desires!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Why the silence?

But we should also note that the accounts of Abraham’s intercession (on behalf of Sodom and Abimelech) come before the Aqedah, at which time Abraham becomes strangely silent in the face of God’s command to sacrifice his son (he does not intercede for Isaac). As I suggested in my earlier discussion of Job (in chap 4), the reversal of Abraham from passionate speech (Gen. 18) to later silence (Gen. 22) may be addressed by Job’s own move in the other direction—from initial silence at the end of the prologue (implied in Job 2:13) to bold speech (starting in 3:1), and then again from his refusal to answer after God’s first speech (40:3–5) to his articulation of comfort after the second speech (42:6).—Abraham's Silence, 186–87

Monday, May 09, 2022

Is the beginning treated like the end?

I wonder about the contrast between Abraham and Job. After all, Job moves beyond his initial praise of God (chap. 1), followed by his passive acceptance of whatever God sends him (chap. 2), to voice abrasive protest about his sufferings (from chap. 3 onward). Might this indicate that the book of Job intends to contrast two different ways of fearing God—one that is manifest in silent submission (Abraham), the other that is compatible with vocal protest (Job)?

But there is another possibility. Given that Job started out (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3) where Abraham ended (Gen. 22:12)—with the fear of God—could the point of the comparison be that Job progressed beyond that? Although the fear of God/YHWH is a positive attribute, highly praised in the Wisdom Literature, and is identified with wisdom in Job 28:28 (“Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; / and to depart from evil is understanding”), what are we to make of the prominent thematic statement that the fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom or knowledge (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; also Sir. 1:14), rather than its culmination?—Abraham's Silence, 185 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Definitely food for thought! One of my favorite OT/HB books is Habakkuk. And he definitely argues with God! A lot! And just like Job, in the end he trusts God. That's where I find myself sometimes—in the first chapters of Habakkuk, not the final one. I usually end up in the final chapter, but sometimes it takes a while to get there.

But now, after reading this, I wonder if maybe even after getting to the final chapter of Habakkuk, I can't continue to plead with God to bring about the changes—that I might see the prayer of Amos, "Let justice roll down like waters, righteousness like an never-ending stream," answered in my lifetime.

A bit later in the book (we'll get to it), he claims that Abraham, when interceding for Sodom in Gen 18, didn't go far enough, that God had to take the initiative himself to save Lot and family, when he was hoping that Abraham would push him further. And, later still, after the Aqedah, God modifies the covenant to be unconditional. What a mind-blowing idea! Mull that over in your mind for a while—and then throw in Paul's comment in Ephesians 3:20, "who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us" (CEB).

If that doesn't give you hope for prayer, I don't know what can. by the way, for a good look at intercessory prayer, read Widmer's book Standing in the Breach. I've excerpted from it on this blog; you can find them by searching on the label Standing in the Breach (or by clicking on the preceding link or the tag below). Good reading! And praying!
</idle musing>

Friday, May 06, 2022

Where did he go?!

But perhaps the most important datum within Genesis 22 that supports a critical reading of Abraham’s response is that Isaac is missing at the end of the story. In verse 5 Abraham tells his servants that he and the boy will go up the mountain to worship and “we will return to you.” Yet the narrator tells us in verse 19 that “Abraham returned to his servants.” Isaac is conspicuously absent. Abraham’s son is not recorded as returning with him down the mountain. And this is a very well—crafted narrative, in which every detail matters. 182

<idle musing>
I find this the most disconcerting part of the story. But, would you come back down the mountain with a dad like that? I would have to think twice! And is it significant that a bit later, in the Jacob and Esau story, that God is called the God of Abraham and the Terror of Isaac (Gen 31.42)?

Food for thought anyway. Let's see where he goes with this.
</idle musing>

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Can you love a God like that? Brunner says, "NO!"

The doctrine of the double decree is, however, not only not supported by the evidence of Scripture, it is also impossible to equate it with the message of the Bible. It leads to an understanding of God and of man which is contrary to the idea of God and of man as given in revelation. It leads to consequences which are in absolute and direct opposition to the central statements of the Bible. Of course, the champions of the doctrine of Predestination have never admitted this, but, on the contrary, they have taken great pains to evade these conclusions, and to smooth out the contradiction; but this is speculative effort which, from their own standpoint, was inevitable, their argument becomes sophistical and contradictory. If God is the One who, before He created the world, conceived the plan of creating two kinds of human beings—non pari conditione creantur omnes, Calvin says explicitly—namely, those who are destined for eternal life—the minority—and the rest—the majority—for everlasting destruction, then it is impossible truly to worship this God as the God of love, even if this be commanded us a thousand times, and indeed at the cost of the loss of eternal salvation. Essentially, it is impossible to regard the will which conceives this double decree as the same will which is represented as Agape in the New Testament. All Calv1n’s arguments against these objections come to the same point in the end: these two conceptions must be kept together in thought, because both are stated in the Word of God. God is Love, that is the clear Biblical message; God has conceived the double decree, that is—according to Calvin’s erroneous opinion—equally clearly, the Biblical message; thus one must identify the God of the double decree with the God who is Love. But when we reveal the error in the second statement, the whole argument, which demands the impossible, falls to the ground. The Bible does not urge us to believe that the God whom it reveals to us as the God of love has created some human beings for eternal life and the rest for eternal doom. Equally inevitably the double decree contains a second consequence for the Idea of God which is in opposition to the Biblical message: God is then unmistakably “auctor peccati" [author of sin]. Zwingli drew this conclusion courageously, without “turning a hair”, only making the excuse that the moral standard which is valid for us cannot be applied to God. This at least can be said, and in itself the idea is not contradictory. Calvin, on the contrary, is terrified of this conclusion, and calls it blasphemous. In point of fact, it is impossible to say of the God whom the Biblical revelation shows us, that He is the Author of Evil. But Calvin tries in vain to eliminate this conclusion from his doctrine of predestination. Here, too, his argument simply ends in saying: “You must not draw this conclusion!”—an exhortation which cannot be obeyed by anyone who thinks.

The consequences of the doctrine of predestination are just as disastrous for the understanding of Man as they are for the Idea of God. Predestination in the sense of the “double decree” means unmistakably: All has been fixed from eternity. From all eternity, before he was created, each individual has been written down in the one Book or the other. Predestination in the sense of the double decree is the most ruthless determinism that can be imagined. 331–32 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
It's hard to know where to stop. I could post the whole chapter, it's so good. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing: Chapter 23: The Problem of "Double Predestination," 321–39, The Christian Doctrine of God (the link is to a legal copy on Archive.org). There are also good used copies on Abe, or you could buy a new paperback from Wipf & Stock

By the way, the next chapter, an appendix on the history of predestination is very good too. As my seminary theology professor used to say, "You owe it to yourself to read it."

Let me just highlight this sentence, which sums up my feelings exactly: "it is impossible truly to worship this God as the God of love, even if this be commanded us a thousand times, and indeed at the cost of the loss of eternal salvation." Indeed!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Is it exemplary? Maybe not…

Throughout the first ten verses of the Aqedah the narrator has skillfully conveyed a series of rhetorical signals that suggest tension, stress, and perhaps internal confusion on Abraham’s part, while portraying a significant power differential between an active father and a passive son. He has done this by giving very few details, while leaving a lot to the reader’s imagination. Although we should be reluctant to definitively fill in the gaps in this narrative, such as claiming to know the mental state of either Abraham or Isaac, the attentive reader is nevertheless left to wonder about the validity of Abraham’s response to God. The rhetorical signals of this artfully crafted story, together with the pervasive biblical background of vigorous prayer in situations of difficulty, combine to raise questions about whether Abraham’s silent obedience to God’s command should be viewed as exemplary.—Abraham's Silence, 181–82

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Why didn't he??

Scripture provides normative precedent for speaking one’s mind directly to God, even challenging God over the injustice or wrongness of any situation in one’s own life or in the wider world.

This biblical precedent of vigorous prayer raises the question of why Abraham didn’t intercede for Isaac. Given this weighty precedent, we might wonder why he didn’t cry out like the psalmist in Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Or he could have pleaded, as Jesus did in Gethsemane, “Remove this cup from me.”

Indeed, just four chapters before the Aqedah, Abraham does challenge God, with great boldness.—Abraham's Silence, 132–33

<idle musing>
I told you it was going to get interesting…
</idle musing>

Monday, May 02, 2022

What if we have the purpose all wrong?

The midrash in Genesis Rabbah 55:7, where God reveals step-by-step the identity of the one to be sacrificed, goes on to interpret this as God attempting to make Isaac “even more beloved in his [Abraham's] eyes and reward him for each and every word spoken” (trans. from Sefaria.org. While I agree that this may serve to stir up Abraham’s love for Isaac, the purpose might be different from what the midrash suggests (namely, that Abraham’s reward for sacrificing him will be even greater). Perhaps the point is to get Abraham to show his love for Isaac by interceding for him. I will return to this possibility.—Abraham's Silence, 173 n. 20

<idle musing>
Indeed! What an intriguing idea. Hold onto your hat as he explores that possibility. This is going to be interesting...
</idle musing>

Sunday, May 01, 2022

But what does Brunner say?

Though it is perfectly true that Calvin desired to be first and foremost a Biblical theologian, it is, on the other hand, equally evident that no one has any right to read the doctrine of double predestination into the Bible, and, indeed, that if we pay proper attention to what the Scriptures say, it is impossible to deduce this doctrine from the Bible at all.—The Christian Doctrine of God, Dogmatics: vol. I, 326