Your Son, Your Only Son Whom You Love

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.” Genesis 22:2

abraham-isaac

In the story line of the Bible, the sacrifice of Isaac represents a direct threat to God’s covenant promise to Abraham. God had promised Abraham, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” How can God make Abraham’s descendants a great nation and a blessing to the world if Isaac is dead? I can think of no better answer than the one offered by the author of the New Testament epistle of Hebrews. “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” But while that is how I approach this text theologically, it’s not how I approach it emotionally.

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The Election of Second Sons in Genesis

In ancient cultures, the first-born son normally held the place of privilege within important families. The first born was the heir, not only of the father’s property, but of the father’s prerogatives and place in society. This pattern persisted among the landed gentry at least into the 18th century *.

Surprisingly, then, God displays an unmistakable pattern of choosing second sons In the Book of Genesis.

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Covenant Inclusion and Greatness in Genesis

God called Abram and promised to make him a great nation with a great name.

The LORD said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:1-3)

Worldly greatness, however, is not central to the covenant. Abraham and Hagar’s son Ishmael is excluded from God’s covenant people, but God promises to make him a great nation anyway.

So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael were acceptable to you!” But God said, “No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his future offspring. As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless him; I will make him fruitful and will multiply him greatly. He will father twelve tribal leaders, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will confirm my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.” (Genesis 17:18-21)

Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac will carry God’s covenant promise, and God’s chosen people will be his descendants. Isaac will the covenantal heir through whom God will fulfill his purposes in the world. Both Isaac and Ishmael, however, will be the father of great nations. God’s covenant, it seems, is not primarily a path to greatness. The covenant is about something else.

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For a Daughter of Abraham, Freedom on the Sabbath

When I was stationed in Korea in the early 90’s, it was common to see short, elderly Korean women bent at the waist, walking down the street with large burdens on their backs. They were carrying merchandise to market or produce from their fields and I wondered how such a small, frail person could bear such a load.

And often you would see them without their burdens as well. Many of them were still bent at the waist, unable to stand erect, suffering from decades of hard labor, poverty and the nutritional deficits they had suffered in the early post-war years. The Korean War and the years that followed were extremely hard on the Korean people. I’m sure that if I listened to these bent-over ladies describe their lives, I would hear stories of both great strength and great suffering.

In our reading from the gospel, Luke tells us about a woman who suffered from a similar ailment.

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. Luke 13:10-11

Jesus has two ways of describing her condition. In verse 12, Jesus spoke about her weakness – which might also be translated as her illness or her disability. In verse 16, he described her as being in Satan’s bondage. And to complicate matters a little more, in verse 11, Luke says that she had a spirit of weakness.

What is the relationship here between her physical ailment and her spiritual condition?  Is Luke telling us that physical ailments are caused by demonic attacks?  Or is he telling us that Satan uses physical suffering as an opportunity to cause spiritual suffering?

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Abraham and Sodom in Genesis

The story of Sodom’s destruction in the book of Genesis is a lot (no pun intended) more central to the Abraham narrative than people tend to recall. I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

Most people are familiar with the basic outline of Genesis 19. A violent mob in the city of Sodom showed up at the door of an immigrant named Lot and demanded that he turn over the two men visiting him so that the men of the city could gang-rape them. I think that probably sounded as horrible to the first readers of Genesis as it does to us. The ancient code of hospitality required that Lot safeguard his visitors, and the best thing that Lot can think of is to offer his own daughters to the mob in the place of his protected guests. Rather than being placated by this gesture, the townspeople became incensed and attacked Lot. They shouted, “Hey, you foreigner, what gives you the right to tell us what to do? We’ll give it to you worse than we were going to give it to your visitors.”

The two visitors – whom the reader knows to be angelic beings – miraculously protected Lot from the mob and warned him to flee from the city. They told Lot to take his wife and daughters, run to the mountains and not to look back. When Lot hesitated, the angels basically dragged Lot out of the city. Like passengers evacuating a burning jet, they left all of their possessions behind. Lot complained that he couldn’t make it to the mountains, and asked if he could take refuge, instead, in the small town of Zoar. When Lot and his family were safely ensconced in Zoar, the Lord brought fire and brimstone down on Sodom, destroying the city, its people and all life in the vicinity. Despite the angelic warning, however, Lot’s wife looked back on the city in its destruction and was turned into a pillar of salt.

The original readers would have been familiar with salt pillars near the Dead Sea, and so in some ways this is a simple etiology story. Why are there pillars of salt near the Dead Sea, and why is the area around it so devoid of life?

The story of Sodom does not begin in Genesis 19, however. The first brief mention of Sodom is found in the table of nations in Genesis 10:19, where it is described as part of the territory of the Canaanites.

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