Genesis Overview: Isac, Birth & Sacrifice

a) Isac's Birth and Ishmael's Expulsion (21.1-21 in P and E with J)

21.1-7: All traditions coalesce round the birth of Isac, with P being most clearly marked (2a-5) Isac either means "may the divinity smile on the child" or "laugh" which looks like the older tradition and makes sense in view of the whole story, although the latter may also refer to the embarrassment of neighbourly gossip. Children were weaned at approximately three years.

21.8-11: 21.10 suggests a difficult and lengthy discussion but Ishmael, as the elder and stronger, presented a threat to Sarah's ambitions for her son.

21.12-13: The story diverts from J in 16 where Abraham was as passive as he dared be but here in E Abraham actually resists Sarah's suggestion until God intervenes, his compliance resulting from obedience, not weakness. God pursues a plan which favours Sarah's foresight over Abraham's caution.

21.14-16: In spite of the dramatic handling of the child by his mother, Ishmael must have been 16-17! (cf 16.16, 21.5, P).

21.17-21: E only has the angel of God calling from heaven (cf. 22.11). The promise of land and call to a special relationship in 17.7 are missing. Ishmael becomes ancestor of the camel Bedouins.

The story was initially an etiological comment on why Israel's close relatives lived as nomads to the South but much of the detail in J has faded by the time of this composition. cf. Galatians 4.28. In this account Hagar is no longer proud, as she was in 16, but miserable; there she was partly to blame, here she is innocent; 16.9-10 makes two tellings tenable, the former being the earlier.

b) The Great Temptation (22.1-19 in e)

"... the most perfectly formed and polished of all the patriarchal stories ... it existed a long time independently before it found its place in the Elohist's great narrative work." (p234).

22.1-2: There is a temptation from God but we are alerted not to take it seriously, but Abraham does not know that and the command is incomprehensible, cf. 15.4; what counts is Abraham's demeanour. The temptation, or testing motif, has already appeared, cf. 12.1 ff, 15.1 ff, 18.1 ff. But "The idea of an act of testing arranged for man by God leads ultimately to the realm of the cult." (p239), God seeking to bring to light guilt or innocence. We know nothing of Moriah but tradition allocates the place to where the temple was built.

22.3-8: Abraham, acting on the message he receives in the night, is firm. The narrator "... exercises a chaste reticence on the emotional side" (p240). Abraham's love is shown by his carrying the torch and the knife.

22.9-14: The angel and God are fused. "Fear of God" specifies obedience. "Not a sound of rejoicing is audible, in keeping with the ancient magnificence of the passage, from which every sentimental characteristic is far removed." (Procksch) (p242). The un-named place is a cultic centre where God has appeared in such a special way.

22.15-19: These verses are a later, less restrained, addition. That Abraham's seed will "possess the gate of their enemies" is new, cf. 12.1-3, 7; 13.14-16; 15.7, 18; 24.7; 26.3-4,24.

It is not credible to see this story as a statement about child sacrifice: "... it describes an event that took place in the sacred history which began with Abraham's call and whose enigmatic character is qualified only by this realm". (p244). It is a radical test of obedience. "Isac is the child of the promise. In him every saving thing that God has promised to do is invested and guaranteed. ... It concerns something much more frightful than child sacrifice. It has to do with a road out to Godforsakennness, a road on which Abraham does not know that God is only testing him. ... Yahweh often seems to contradict himself, ... he appears to want to remove the salvation begun by himself from history. But in this way Yahweh tests faith and obedience!"" (p244). God poses to Abraham whether he really understands the promise.

KC V/14

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