Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Barmy Bible Study - Abraham and Isaac: A Tale of Unconditional Love

Raising adoring eyes to the heavens, Abraham prepares to slaughter Isaac. Now, that's what I call love!

It's Wednesday night, again!  That's right, time for Barmy Bible Study!

This week in Barmy Bible Study we will discuss the story of Abraham and Isaac. Our text for tonight will be Genesis, 22:1-18 (New International Version):

(Note: Atheists and other haters of GOD'S HOLY WORD, scroll past the blue text)

Genesis 22

Abraham Tested

 1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
   “Here I am,” he replied.

 2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

 3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

   “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

   “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

   “Here I am,” he replied.

 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

 15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring[b] all nations on earth will be blessed,[c] because you have obeyed me.”

This delightful demonstration of fatherly devotion has been a Sunday School favorite for generations.  Christians believe that little children can learn valuable lessons about unconditional love from the story of the father who was willing to murder his own child, and the Heavenly Father who commanded him to do it.

Study Questions for Abraham and Isaac:

1. What did God command Abraham to do?

2. Why did God command Abraham to do this?

3. How does the Bible tell us that Abraham reacted to this command and what does his reaction teach us?

The Biblical god, Yahweh, was one among many ancient middle eastern gods. At some point in history, not long before the Hebrew Bible was set down on scrolls, a sect of Jews had split away from the polytheism of the region. Although most other people in ancient Israel were still worshipping Canaanite gods, the Hebrews selected Yahweh, (but not his consort, the goddess Asherah), an Edomite warrior god, for singular status. Thus monotheism was born.

Monotheism was a very useful concept in the ancient world, just as it is today. When two people had a dispute, they could fight each other and the stronger might win the dispute, but if they were of relatively equal strength, each could point to hir favorite god and claim that the god demands that the dispute be settled in hir favor. But the mythology confirms that not one of the gods could ever be counted on to reliably settle an argument with hir fellow deities - Athena and Aphrodite or Thor and Loki seemed inclined to continue to duke it out forever. The ancient Hebrews solved this problem by elevating one of their gods to special, singular status and - voila! Their god was bigger than all the other peoples' gods!  Finally, the buck stopped there. After choosing Yahweh as their supreme deity, the Hebrews began referring to themselves as the "chosen" people.

Still, even the top god - the god of gods - can feel a little lonely and jealous from time to time, especially when the other gods are always basking in the fragrant smoke wafting up to the heavens from the burning flesh of children! The Bible tells us that while human sacrifice was still practiced during Abraham's day among populations that worshipped the numerous other gods mentioned in scripture, the people who worshipped Yahweh had evolved a more humane moral conscience. Instead of sacrificing virgin children to appease Yahweh's capricious temper like his rivals' worshippers did, the Hebrews had switched over to spilling the blood of lambs, kids and calves and then burning the slaughtered animals instead. Anyone can see how much better that was and it was usually very pleasing to Yahweh.

It is a burnt offering to the Lord: it is a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the Lord. Exodus 29:18

Not good enough, Abraham.
At some point, however, Yahweh needed to know if, in fact, his followers loved him as much as those other gods' followers loved them. The Bible tells us that after finally sending a son, Isaac, to Abraham, Yahweh began to wonder if Abraham might start to love Isaac more than he loved his god.  Because of these perfectly understandable feelings of insecurity,  God decided to test Abraham's love. And what could be more natural than demanding a human sacrifice? After all, the other gods did that all the time. And, since it was Isaac whom the god feared Abraham might be coming to love more, it makes perfect sense that Yahweh commanded Abraham to prove his devotion by slitting the throat of his only legitimate son and burning him to death on a sacrificial altar.

You might think that Abraham would have been paralysed with horror at this commandment and might even have refused to obey it, but you would be wrong. Abraham was a godly man who loved Yahweh.  He was a True Believer™, which meant there was nothing he would not do to demonstrate his loyal devotion - murder, lie, cheat, steal, rape, pillage; everything is permissible when God commands it and whatever God commands must be obeyed, if one is a True Believer who loves God. Abraham did not hesitate. He packed up his donkey, slaves, some firewood and Isaac and set off for Moriah with confidence and, apparently, without a flicker of uncertainty. He lied to the slaves as he left them to take Isaac up the mountain to his doom, and because he was a loving father, he soothingly lied to Isaac when the boy asked where the sacrificial lamb was.

"God will provide" said Abraham, and indeed he had perfect confidence that this would be so. He knew that God had provided for him in the past - hadn't Yahweh finally given him Isaac? - and no doubt he would provide a great reward for the filicide that Abraham was about to so willingly commit. Besides, compared to the glorious works of God, a sign of devotion seems like so little to ask of a filthy sinner. Anyway, as the Bible explains, Yahweh did not really intend to let Abraham go through with the murder. He was just looking for a little love, that's all.

Really excellent advice,
but unfortunately
Bible-believers rarely follow it.
The Bible story of Abraham sets the bar pretty high for most Christians (also the other "people of the book"- I'm looking at you, Muslims and Jews), but millions of the faithful throughout history have valiantly striven ever since to match his devotion to God. Sadly for Yahweh, most fail, because their fatally flawed humanity renders them incapable of the ruthless sociopathy required of a True Believer. Abraham's unquestioning, uncritical willingness to gut and burn his own child is an example of godliness to which all true Bible-believers aspire. For although no one has ever seen God (John 1:18), the idea of the almighty deity is an awesome idea. Indeed, it is an idea which has inspired rare godly men to do unthinkable things for several millennia. The problems of God's invisibility and the unknowability of His will are nothing but a mirage when compared to the certainty of a True Believer. Just as the Bible-believer does not have to see God to know He is there, so s/he does not have to hear God to know what He commands.

Abraham knew what God commanded of him, and he set off immediately and apparently without a qualm to commit a murder. He knew that what he was preparing to do was righteous, godly and just, because it was God's (unknowable, invisible) will. Filled with the joy of knowing God's love in his life, Abraham was ready, willing and able to plunge a dagger into the body of a child to prove his obedience and devotion to God. Even when it turned out that God was only testing him by demanding the blood of Isaac, Abraham did not chastise the deity. Instead, he pulled a ram out of the bushes, plunged his dagger into it instead and offered it as a burnt offering in praise and glory to God.  

Now that's unconditional love!

Class dismissed.

For the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 6:15.  Understandable, amirite?


  1. A nice little lesson in the abusive relationship that is Abrahamic religion; and a nice precedent for those in sects that, in obedience to "God's will", refuse medical help for their sick children.


  2. Thank you for your comment, cicely. You make an excellent point about parental withholding of medical care for children - you remind me that the list of scary things about the psychological priming of the Bible is longer than my arm.

  3. OMgosh this is just profane. You have no sense of extending the courtesy of letting an ancient passage be understood in its own social and historical setting.

  4. Sorry, Anonymous, but that is what the Bible says. Many Bible-believers are squeamish about the truth of what the Bible teaches, but the truth is that it says all that and worse. As a Christian friend of mine once said - the Bible is tough. People don't want to accept what it says - we want to change its meaning to make it fit our "modern" mores and values. But a true Bible-believer must accept what it actually says.

  5. P.S. I would be happy to allow an ancient passage to be courteously manipulated by Believers into something they could live with - if Believers did not then turn around and try to apply similar abhorrent passages to contemporary society and historical settings. Christians cannot have it both ways.