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Source: (consider it) Thread: Abraham was Testing God
mousethief

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Just finished reading The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons. A most satisfying science fiction tour-de-force. One of the more compelling things about it is that it doesn't just acknowledge the existence of religion---something many science fiction books fail to countenance. It is in great part about the nature and existence of God, and the relationship between Deity and Humanity.

One of the characters is a Jewish scholar who his whole life wrestles with Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. This is his surprising (well, to me it's surprising) conclusion. I think it's a powerful insight. I wonder what Shippies make of it.

-------------------

With a sudden clarity which went beyond the immediacy of his pain or sorrow, Sol Weintraub suddenly understood perfectly why Abraham had agreed to sacrifice Isaac, his son, when the Lord commanded him to.

It was not obedience.

It was not even to put the love of God above the love of his son.

Abraham was testing God.

By denying the sacrifice at the last moment, by stopping the knife, God had earned the right---in Abraham's eyes and the hearts of his offspring---to become the God of Abraham.

Sol shuddered as he thought of how no posturing on Abraham's part, no shamming of his willingness to sacrifice the boy, could have served to forge that bond between greater power and human kind. Abraham had to know in his own heart that he would kill his son. The Deity... had to know Abraham's determination, had to feel that sorrow and commitment to destroy what was to Abraham the most precious thing in the universe.

Abraham came not to sacrifice, but to know once and for all whether this God was a god to be trusted and obeyed. No other test would do.

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“Religion doesn't fuck up people, people fuck up religion.”—lilBuddha

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Ian Climacus

Liturgical Slattern
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quote:
By denying the sacrifice at the last moment, by stopping the knife, God had earned the right---in Abraham's eyes and the hearts of his offspring---to become the God of Abraham.
Not sure if I'm following this correctly, but I do not believe that if Abraham went through with the sacrifice, not being stopped by God, he would think this God had not earned the right to become the God of Abraham. The Abraham I read of appeared rather committed.

I'm also not sure, and the fault here is clearly mine as you found it powerful, what this "insight", were it true, does for me. Does it change my beliefs in any real way? Does this mean God, who is all knowing, knew Abraham was testing him and that Abraham wanted to see if He was a good enough God for Him, so God set up this test to let Abraham test him, and so on...? My mind starts to spin.

[ 28. October 2017, 07:18: Message edited by: Ian Climacus ]

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Golden Key
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mt--

Interesting idea. It could work well...except it's still unbelievably cruel to Isaac. Unless Isaac was testing both his father and God?

Another case of "who's testing who" is when Abraham negotiated with God to save Sodom. It goes back and forth with "if there are X righteous men (? or people?), will you spare Sodom", and God always says "Yup". They get down to 10 people, and God still says "Yup".

And the negotiation ends there.


quote:
33 And the Lord went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.

Genesis 18:33 (Bible Gateway):



(Of course, in the next chapter, Lot proves himself to be an utterly unfit father.)
[Mad]

Anyway, I've always wondered why the negotiation stopped, and who did it. Why didn't Abraham negotiate down to *one* righteous person, and go there?

Of course, Sodom was a horrible place--e.g., rape gangs. And, when I was little and trying to understand this passage, I may not have understood the full horror. So maybe Abraham simply didn't want to live there.

Interestingly, in the text, the negotiation takes place soon after God tells Sarah and Abraham they're going to have a baby.

Weird stuff.

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Blessed Gator, pray for us!
--"Oh bat bladders, do you have to bring common sense into this?"--Dragon, "Jane & the Dragon"
--"I'm not giving up--and neither should you." --SNL

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hatless

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There’s a similar reading of Job, that God is deeply threatened by Job’s complaint. The mighty chest thumping of the glorious ‘where were you?’ chapters is God trying to avoid seeing himself truly, and so becoming self aware. Job realises this and at the end backs quietly away.

If God is on both sides of the equation, in Abraham and Job’s questions as well as being the one they address (as God prays in us as well as being the one to whom we pray), then I think these readings can be helpful.

Where is God in the Isaac story? Where do I have a grateful sense of divine encounter? It is in the resolution at the end, and in the accommodation all readers must make to the loss of innocence. We will never see God or Abraham in the same way again after this disturbing episode. There is a second loss of Eden, but like a couple who have finally told each other their smouldering resentments, something is stronger as they carry on, limping.

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My crazy theology in novel form

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Ricardus
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I do have the impression of God and Abraham locked in a game of chicken, which is deeply odd to me, but does match the image of Jacob wrestling with the angel.
quote:
Hebrews 11:
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

So Abraham knew that God couldn't really mean it, because if he did, then all the promises about descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky would be nullified.

I suppose that works in the opposite way too, in that if God hadn't stopped him, Abraham would have known that the promises weren't worth anything and that he should find a different god. Granted, the wording of Hebrews implies he wouldn't have found this out until after Isaac was dead.

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Then the dog ran before, and coming as if he had brought the news, shewed his joy by his fawning and wagging his tail. -- Tobit 11:9 (Douai-Rheims)

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Martin60
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That's a beautiful, postmodern take mousethief, that God, being God, knew we'd come up with after four thousand years. Much like my seeing His apology in the Crucifixion. Neither were there at the time.

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Love wins

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simontoad
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book ordered.

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Human

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by simontoad:
book ordered.

The Fall of Hyperion is the second of a pair of books. The first is called Hyperion.

I wouldn't bother with anything else Dan Simmons has written. Everything else is written from a self-satisfied know-it-all secular humanist point of view - I think the Canterbury Tales structure of Hyperion forced him to write out of points of view other than his own, with considerable benefit to his imagination.

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by mousethief:
Just finished reading The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons. A most satisfying science fiction tour-de-force. One of the more compelling things about it is that it doesn't just acknowledge the existence of religion---something many science fiction books fail to countenance.

Simmons wrote a belated follow-up pair of books which go right back to the idea that religion is just priestcraft practiced on idiots.
I was rather taken with the Abraham testing God (or God letting God be tested idea) when I first read Fall of Hyperion. I'm not so sure now.

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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mousethief

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quote:
Originally posted by Ian Climacus:
I'm also not sure, and the fault here is clearly mine as you found it powerful, what this "insight", were it true, does for me. Does it change my beliefs in any real way? Does this mean God, who is all knowing, knew Abraham was testing him and that Abraham wanted to see if He was a good enough God for Him, so God set up this test to let Abraham test him, and so on...? My mind starts to spin.

Over and over in discussions of the Isaac Sacrifice Incident, I read people saying that Abraham wasn't really hearing God, he was hearing his own imagination, or mental illness, or something. Abraham may well have been thinking, "What kind of god would promise me a skyful of descendants then want me to kill my son? The REAL God wouldn't do that."

How can he be sure this one is the real God?

If it's not the real God, then the promise about numberless descendants is a lie as well, and Abraham's hope in numberless descendants through Isaac is empty. If God doesn't pass the test, then there is no promise.

Nothing of course makes it a nice deal for Isaac. As Madeleine L'Engle starts her poem written in the first person from Isaac's point of view, "Fathers can never again be trusted."

quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
Simmons wrote a belated follow-up pair of books which go right back to the idea that religion is just priestcraft practiced on idiots.

So a mind, once expanded, DOES return to its original size. I find that sad.

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“Religion doesn't fuck up people, people fuck up religion.”—lilBuddha

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cliffdweller
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I have heard scholars suggesting the Isaac story is meant to be a refutation of the common Canaanite practice of child sacrifice. It's thus more parabolic than literal, a story to show themselves and their neighbors how Yahweh was different from Moloch.

That being said, I find this perspective from Hatless quite helpful and resonating with my own experience:

quote:
Originally posted by hatless:

Where is God in the Isaac story? Where do I have a grateful sense of divine encounter? It is in the resolution at the end, and in the accommodation all readers must make to the loss of innocence. We will never see God or Abraham in the same way again after this disturbing episode. There is a second loss of Eden, but like a couple who have finally told each other their smouldering resentments, something is stronger as they carry on, limping.



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"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid." -Frederick Buechner

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Eutychus
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hosting/

Being about a Bible passage, this is being moved to Kerygmania.

/hosting

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Let's remember that we are to build the Kingdom of God, not drive people away - pastor Frank Pomeroy

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Ian Climacus

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Thanks mousethief. I had not heard such interpretations before. I can now see why you found it so powerful and shared it; it does indeed turn it upside down.

Thanks for informing an ignorant. And I'm intrigued to read it is appealing to many here whom I greatly respect - gives me pause for thought.

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HCH
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As some people have commented on the Ship in the past, a discussion of Abraham and Isaac reminds us of the story of Jephthah and his daughter. In the later story, there is a substantial delay before the daughter is killed. Were they waiting to see if God would let Jephthah out of his vow?
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no prophet's flag is set so...

Proceed to see sea
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Wow. The Word Made Flesh leaves a scar. God says I want to love you, and Abraham says okay only after the fire is set, the knife is out, and the blade is to Isaac's throat. "Here I am baby", and then Abraham lets God be his lover.

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Maybe I should stop to consider that I'm not worthy of an epiphany and just take what life has to offer
(formerly was just "no prophet") \_(ツ)_/

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Golden Key
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I've been wondering...since the situation is so unfair to Isaac, why didn't God ask Abraham to sacrifice *himself*? Or Abraham offer?

And that would work well for the OP idea of a face-off between God and Abraham.

Why didn't Jephthah take his daughter's place?

--------------------
Blessed Gator, pray for us!
--"Oh bat bladders, do you have to bring common sense into this?"--Dragon, "Jane & the Dragon"
--"I'm not giving up--and neither should you." --SNL

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Moo

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I can't recall anywhere in the Bible where someone offers himself as a sacrifice. It's usually sons or daughters.

While we're on the subject, I'd like to tell you how a five-year-old at our church responded to the story. She said, "I wouldn't kill him; I would take him in my arms, lift him up to God, and say 'Here he is. Do what you want with him.'"

Moo

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Kerygmania host
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See you later, alligator.

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HCH
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If Abraham killed himself rather than kill his son, would he nonetheless be failing in his duty to God? Would his death excuse this failure? Should Isaac then kill himself in an attempt to salvage his father's honor? There are various imaginable grisly alternatives.

It is rather apparent who in the Bible does offer himself as a sacrifice, though especially happy about it.

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HCH
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Correction to my last post: "not especially".
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Martin60
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Why do we keep projecting C20th niceness on to people from nearly four thousand years ago in the past which is another country?

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Love wins

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Brenda Clough
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It's inevitable; we can't help it. We swim in our own time, as fish swim in their water. It surrounds us and permeates us. It takes a specific effort to get out of our own time and mentally climb into another.

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Science fiction and fantasy writer with a Patreon page

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Martin60
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Aye. It takes William Golding, Mary Renault, Patrick O'Brian.

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Love wins

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HCH
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Aren't we actually in C21?
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Martin60
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Niceness is C20th. Post WWI.

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Love wins

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mousethief

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# 953

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quote:
Originally posted by HCH:
It is rather apparent who in the Bible does offer himself as a sacrifice, though especially happy about it.

Happy?

And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

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“Religion doesn't fuck up people, people fuck up religion.”—lilBuddha

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Nick Tamen

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I guess, mousethief, you missed the post immediately following:

quote:
Originally posted by HCH:
Correction to my last post: "not especially".



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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

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mousethief

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Did.

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“Religion doesn't fuck up people, people fuck up religion.”—lilBuddha

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HCH
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I apologize for my earlier slip.
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cliffdweller
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quote:
Originally posted by Moo:


While we're on the subject, I'd like to tell you how a five-year-old at our church responded to the story. She said, "I wouldn't kill him; I would take him in my arms, lift him up to God, and say 'Here he is. Do what you want with him.'"

Moo

My first response is horror that anyone would repeat such a terrifying story in the presence of a 5 year old.

My second response is to wonder at the wisdom of a child.

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"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid." -Frederick Buechner

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Gramps49
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I came across a couple of views. One I am still wrestling with.

That particular view points out that after this story, there is no more mention of Isaac in the E tradition. Rather, it seems that Isaac did not even come down from the mountain after the sacrifice.

The other viewpoint is from Rob Bell's What is the Bible.

"So, if God doesn't want Abraham to offer his son, why the charade?

"Several responses:

"First, the drama is the point Abraham knows what to do when he is told to offer his sone because this is always where religion heads. So at first, this God appears to be like other gods. This story is like the other gods demanding acts of devotion and obedience. Gods who are never satisfied. The first audience for this story would have heard this before--it would have been familiar.

But then it's not. The story takes a shocking turn that comes out of nowhere. God disrupts the familiarity of the story by interrupting the sacrifice. Picture the early audience gasping. What? This God stopped the sacrifice? The gods don't do that!

Second, the God in this story provides. Worship and sacrifice were about you giving to the gods. This story is about this God gave to Abraham. A God who does the giving? A God who does the providing?

This was a new idea at the time. Mind-blowing. Groundbreaking. A story about God who doesn't demand anything but instead gives and blesses.' (Bell, Rob. What is the Bible? Harper One, 2011 p. 111f)

Of the two viewpoints, I prefer Rob Bells thoughts.

[ 08. November 2017, 15:54: Message edited by: Gramps49 ]

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Honest Ron Bacardi
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I would have thought the Rob Bell story is close to a narrative version of a major historical understanding that the church has had of the story, Gramps49.

Another interesting factor that probably merits mentioning is the whole "Who exactly were the Canaanites?" question. I've seen quite a few discussions on this from the biblical perspective recently. The thesis is that quite a lot of narratives are involved with distancing Judaism from the Canaanites and their religion(s). The latter are frequently (but not always) portrayed in the direst of terms, though there is also evidence they were not that different. The existence of apparent duplicate but variant narratives can often be seen to involve such matters.

Anyway, it is certainly the case that child sacrifice is at the centre of this polemic, and in this case the Abraham and Isaac narrative must surely play a pivotal role.

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Anglo-Cthulhic

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