Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Akedah

Regarding God testing Abraham's faith by telling Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering in Genesis 22:

I think there's dramatic irony in Gen 22. The events of the story turn out to be the opposite of what one would have expected at the climax of the narrative.

My understanding is human sacrifice to various gods occurred among many ancient Neareastern cultures. An ancient Neareasterner (like Abraham) might not unreasonably expect Yahweh to be like these other gods too.

Yet Gen 22 has a twist ending. The twist ending of the story is that Yahweh isn't like other gods.

Quite the contrary. Yahweh doesn't demand Abraham sacrifice Isaac. Rather Yahweh "provides" a ram caught in a thicket by its horns for Abraham to sacrifice. As such, Abraham learns Yahweh is the God who "provides", not a god who takes. Yahweh is the God who unilaterally blesses his followers, not a god who requires things in a quid pro quo fashion from his followers. Yahweh is the merciful God, not a god who must always exact his pound of flesh. Yahweh blessed Abraham because Abraham trusted Yahweh, not because Abraham literally killed and sacrificed his son Isaac in exchange for blessings like a pagan god might wish. These are the kinds of lessons Yahweh imparted to Abraham - and to us.

So this was a happy reversal of fortunes from Abraham and Isaac's perspective. They didn't have to do what they thought they had to do.

What's more, this happy reversal of fortunes in turn points to the One who reversed their fortunes - namely, Yahweh. Such that Abraham and Isaac, along with the audience, are led to ask: what kind of God is this, this Yahweh? Yahweh is not like heathen gods. Instead Yahweh is the God of promise, provision, blessing, grace.


  1. From Philip Yancey’s book “What’s So Amazing about Grace?”:

    During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods' appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. "What's the rumpus about?" he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity's unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, "Oh, that's easy. It's grace."

    After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God's love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of law -- each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God's love unconditional.

    Aware of our inbuilt resistance to grace, Jesus talked about it often. He described a world suffused with God's grace: where the sun shines on people good and bad; where birds gather seeds gratis, neither plowing nor harvesting to earn them; where untended wildflowers burst into bloom on the rocky hillsides. Like a visitor from a foreign country who notices what the natives overlook, Jesus saw grace everywhere. Yet he never analyzed or defined grace, and almost never used the word. Instead, he communicated grace through stories we know as parables.

  2. Hawk—

    I have been fascinated with the Akedah for some time, now. In fact, I wrote my MA thesis on those sacrifices which took place outside the Temple, the ram from the story of the Binding of Isaac being among them. Of course, the Akedah is only outside the Temple because the Temple hadn’t been built yet. When finally constructed, it stood on the selfsame Mt. Moriah, where Abraham obediently brandished his knife.

    A harbinger of the Passover, Yom Kippur, and the Cross, the narrative of the Binding is such a counter-intuitive passage. How and why does God end up forbidding human sacrifice by commanding one? (And then, reversing that prohibition with his OWN son? In a sense, on Calvary he completed the vow he made with Abraham in Genesis 15, where a flaming torch passed down a pathway formed of dismembered animals.)

    It is indicative of God’s immense empathy for the bearers of his image. And of his faithfulness to his promises!

    1. Thanks, Eric! This is helpful to know. Perhaps you might consider posting your MA thesis (or an anonymized version) somewhere for the benefit of others? I know I'd be interested in reading it! :)

  3. I am the polar opposite of tech savvy. Maybe my wife can help me figure out how to do such a thing.

    1. Thanks, Eric. Sounds good if your wife can help do this!

      Maybe another option is to write up a more reader-friendly post or series of posts about your thesis on a website or Twitter or better yet Gab or somewhere like that? Then I can post the link to it. Perhaps it could be the start of a good Christian website if you don't already have one! :)