I started on a journey exploring the story of Abraham and Isaac deeper and with more nuance in my previous article, The Story of Abraham and Isaac Revisited: Introduction. The story of God’s seeming demand to Abraham to sacrifice his son, and Abraham being seemingly willing to do it, is quite misunderstood, especially without reference to the Ancient Near East context.
Child sacrifice was ubiquitous among the religions with which Abraham was familiar. Abraham would have thought the demand for the sacrifice of Isaac unsurprising among the arbitrary and capricious gods in the Ancient Near East world he knew.
The story is of the first 11 chapters of Genesis and of Abraham is a revelation that the God of Abraham is different than all the other Ancient Near Eastern gods. In the subsequent article, The Story of Abraham and Isaac Revisited: Here I am!, we explore the interpersonal dynamics of Abraham and Isaac that set the stage for much greater revelation of which God is.
Through Abraham’s dutiful and faithful obedience to the demand he feared would be required of him, God demonstrated His character in a way that was indelibly etched into the experience and psyche of Abraham and Isaac. They would learn that God does not make the same kinds of demands as the other gods: God would provide the sacrifice Abraham feared that God required of him.
In Abraham, Faith and a Hope Deferred, I may seem to take a sideways turn off the path of revelation of God’s character to Abraham, but I will finish the story in this article and get to that point.
The ground we covered in that last article included a blessing by God to Abraham, but the experience of God’s momentary blessing was dampened by the cold reality of God’s yet unfulfilled promise.
In Genesis 15, Abraham sought more assurance from God that the land he lived as a stranger would really become the land of his descendants and, more fundamentally, that he would actually have descendants. Many years had passed, and Abraham was still childless.
In response, God asked Abraham to set up a covenant with five animals of specific types to be slaughtered, cut in half and placed opposite each other on either side of a depression. The blood of those animals drained into the depression creating a blood path. This, Abraham knew, was the stage for entering a covenant with God.
These types of covenants were familiar to ancient Middle Easterners. I understand that similar covenant rituals are practiced today by Bedouins.
Abraham would have known the drill. As the lesser party to the covenant, he would go first, signifying that God should do to him (stomp on a pool of his blood) if Abraham didn’t keep his part of the bargain. With the lesser party committed to the covenant, the greater party would seal the deal, and go last, walking through the blood path.
Only Abraham doesn’t initiate the covenant by walking through the blood path. He waits so long that he must drive the birds of prey away from the rotting carcasses. Then Abraham falls into a fitful and dark sleep.
Why did Abraham hesitate? Maybe he realized the significance of what God was setting up – a covenant between a fallible person and the Almighty God! Abraham was not likely worried so much about the commitment God would be making to him, but about the commitment Abraham would be making to God!
So, Abraham, perhaps, feared to enter in to the covenant. He falls into a restless sleep, and God comes to Abraham in his sleep. The “assurance” Abraham receives in his dreams is far from satisfying: God says the promise to Abraham’s descendants would not be finalized for 400 years!
Abraham would be long dead and gone.
This is where we pick up the story. This is where we get the next revelation of the kind of God the God of Abraham is. If we aren’t tracking with the story, we won’t appreciate what happens next:Continue reading “Abraham, Isaac, the Blood Path, Christ and Him Crucified”