How to understand the scripture about God telling Abraham to kill his son Isaac?


Since nobody else has pointed it out…there’s another common Jewish interpretation that is rather crucial.

Scripture says that Isaac carried the wood. You need a big load of wood to be enough to burn even a small human being. So Isaac was a young man, not a boy, and Abraham couldn’t have forced him to do anything.

The subtext is that Isaac (like Christ) was a willing victim.

(And indeed, like Christ, Isaac was carrying the means of his death on his own back.)


Yup, in Jewish tradition, Isaac was at least 17 years old at the time, making Abraham almost 120 years old. If Isaac wanted to resist, he could have. According to Jewish tradition, Isaac was willing to give up his life for the sacrifice. So he is indeed an Old Testament type of Christ.


I think the most interesting thing to point out is Genesis 17:19 :

The implication of what God told Abraham at this point (before Isaac was even born) was that Isaac would have descendants and become a great nation. Isaac did not have descendants at the time of God’s trial, therefore it’s evident that Isaac could not have been killed lest God would be lying.


I think you would have to look at it a few different ways. First, Genesis wasn’t written in a vacuum. Much of what Genesis says is written to refute the Canaanite religions that surrounded the Hebrew people to whom it was written. At that time, child sacrifices to Canaanite deities such as Molech or Chemosh were accepted religious practice. So when God instructs Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, then provides the lamb to take Isaac’s place, it demonstrates an implicit disapproval of the practices of the nations that Israel would later drive out of the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy hints at this). This is the more subtle aspect of this story that is up for debate.

In addition, the scriptural significance is that God tested Abraham to determine if he had faith that God would keep his promise to Abraham. In Hebrews, the author used this as an example of faith, that Abraham believed so intently in God’s ability and willingness to keep his promise that his offspring should be reconciled through Isaac, that God would even raise him from the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did.

Lastly, this story offers the archetype of Christ, the lamb who will take away the sins of the world. Rather than focus on the start of the story, focus on the end. The lamb is given in place of the offspring of Abraham, so that God’s promise might be fulfilled.


I agree that probably simplicity is best. However, that foreshadowing raises further questions (to me) since G-d REJECTS this kind of sacrifice and thus an animal is offered in Isaac’s place. Of course, Christ is likened to the Lamb of G-d but, in reality, is He an unwitting Lamb, Who does not know what will happen to Him and does not ask G-d why He has been forsaken? Besides which, as I have previously noted, the blood of the lamb is connected to the Hebrews’ mocking of an EGYPTIAN god during the initial Passover.


Good point. However, Isaac was also a willing victim whose sacrifice was REJECTED by G-d.


Also perhaps a lesson concerning PARENTAL obedience?


Not “rejected”, I would say, but deferred – “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering” – which He does provide in Jesus!

Except that, from a theological perspective, we realize that God already knows. (Omniscience and all that, right? :wink: ) So, this is really a test for Abraham, so that he might know that he’s grown past the days of doubting God and trying to do things his own way rather than God’s way…!


I would agree, it is for us that God allows us to be tested, and it is for us that the Holy Spirit inspired the author of Genesis to record this narrative.


Rejected or deferred? Therein lies the tale.


Kind David stated that he would not offer G-d a sacrifice which cost him nothing. That is the very definition of sacrifice, and the year-old, blemish free animal was the best of the best - specified in the sacrifice. Yet, the L-rd does not enjoy the sacrifice, and He does not benefit from it. It is for our atonement - therefore it must have repentance and some cost involved.

In Christianity, the Christ, proceeding from the Father, knows all things was was well aware of the sequence of events and their eternal import. His face was “set like flint” to go to His death at Jerusalem. At Gethsemane, He commanded the apostles, “Rise! Let us be going! See, my betrayer is at hand.”

It sounds trite due to repetition, but G-d so loved the world that He gave His only Son that those who believe in Him should not perish. Love, which has its source in G-d, and of which the L-rd consists, desires the good of the other. love does not count the cost. Thus, the only Son was knowingly and freely given.

In this case, the sacrifice was earth-shaking - literally, and forever changed our relationship with the Father. We lowly Gentiles, having never been counted among G-d’s chosen, and so poorly and rightly spoken of in the scriptures, now had hope in a true G-d, rather than the plethora of hopeless idols which gave some outlet to man’s innate desire for a G-d.


It might not translate well to the “modern era”, but Abraham lived in a very different time and place. He was not listening to another man (like a “guru”) who was asking him to sacrifice his son, as the pagans of his time did. He was listening to the voice of God, as he had been doing for many years. He knew very well that it was God that was asking this of him.

Why not? God was testing whether or not Abraham truly loved (and trusted) Him more than anything in this world, including his own son. Abraham proved his love for God, above all else, by being willing to obey God, even though the thought of killing his own son must have been tearing his heart apart. This is the kind of love God wants from all of us. The best test for our love of God is to be completely obedient to His Will, no matter what He might ask us to bear for His sake. You say that “a loving God would never test us like that”, but Jesus said:

“Mathew 10:37 He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.”

We must love God more than we love anyone else around us, first of all. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t love anyone else, but that everyone else should come second to God. This is what Jesus is teaching us in that passage.


There is no simple reading of the Bible without taking into account numerous factors including cultural and historical norms, context within passages as well as within and between Books of the Bible, language and inherent problems in translation, literary devices and different literary styles, seemingly internal inconsistencies and contradictions, possible multiple meanings, and so many other things. When all of this is considered, plus the many verses that emphasize the mercy and love of G-d, the reader might very well be forced to rethink what may have appeared at first reading as the evil character and behavior of G-d.


I’ve wondered about that too. It’s not like God doesn’t want us to ask questions. Even Mary was like “wait, hold up,” when Gabriel told her about God’s plan, and she wasn’t being asked to commit filicide.


It is not a matter of balancing bad behavior with good behavior, in my view. What I have stated in my prior post is that the seemingly bad behavior of G-d, at first glance, is not really such when all these factors are taken into account by means of a closer reading of the text. Biblical scholars and devout believers may spend their whole lifetime studying and interpreting the Bible (which also consists of omissions and ellipses, which I failed to point out before) since it is written in such a way that many questions do arise even, perhaps especially, among theists. The latter, however, are not so quick to dismiss it all as revelations of a malevolent deity; rather, they are willing to plunge into the intricate nature of the Holy Texts to extract the wisdom and inner peace that is contained within its passages.


Although I may disagree with the essential premise of Christianity, I fully accept it on its own terms, as you have encapsulated here. Nonetheless, for Judaism, that sacrifice is not essential or even desirable for mankind, let alone for G-d. As I have reiterated, it would not, could not, did not, and does not atone for intentional sins committed against one’s fellow man. Only direct repentance can do that. Even for unintentional sins, it MUST be accompanied by sincere atonement in the form of prayer or it is to no avail. How often I recall what my childhood rabbi told us about the meaning of the Yom Kippur Holy Day and its fast. The latter is hollow if not sincere, only going through the motions, and the Holy Day itself, for all its penance, is not without its joy and peace at the prospect of a brighter future. Moreover, the vows we make on this most sacred of Holy Days in Judaism (next to the Sabbath), are already broken in advance in the realization we are unable to fulfill them and that G-d might in His mercy not hold us responsible for doing so. So even our prayers and abstinent behavior should not be regarded as binding in the eyes of G-d.


I don’t think anyone mentioned that God the Father sacrificed Hos son to suffer and die.


The quandary arrives when it become humanly impossible to atone for one’s sin, whether intentional or not. Say that the wronged person has moved elsewhere or even died, leaving no descendants. How then to restore? That is a chasm between the two covenants. Christian sin has been defined as requiring intent rather than mere accident - a failure of the heart, rather than disobedience to the letter of the law. It does not dispense with the moral requirement to make good on damage done, if possible.

From my active time at Jewish World Review, fairly well do I know the burden of strict adherence to the Mosaic law. Yet, Christianity has abandoned the tooth-for-tooth requirement and applied a broader and less restrictive but even more binding requirement: that of love dictating all.

Does this make any sense at all?


It makes perfect sense; BUT it is not what Judaism teaches. If the Letter of the Law cannot be followed (and we both know it CANNOT since several/many of the 613 commandments apply to the now non-existent Temple), G-d does NOT expect us to do the impossible. The same applies to restoration (repentance) toward an injured party. So we do the next best thing: (sincere) prayer that G-d may forgive us ALL our sins, directly toward Him and toward our neighbor. This is all in the Law. And the Spirit of the Law is not regarded as contradictory to the Letter of the Law either: in fact, the former is contained within the latter. Intent is very important in Judaism as well. However, sometimes we do things unintentionally that do hurt other people: certainly this is no mortal sin, perhaps not even venial according to Catholic teaching. It may not even be a serious sin in Judaism (which, incidentally, also has its gradations of sins), but it is nonetheless missing the mark, that is, we might have behaved better, with more caring, more forethought, more sensitivity. Similarly with regard to sins of omission: perhaps a minor sin or even no sin, technically speaking, but not the best way to behave, not the best character, the most compassionate, certainly not going the extra mile, preferring to remain in our own comfort zone.

Strict adherence to Mosaic Law (Torah) is not so cumbersome as it may seem from the outside (either a person who is not Jewish or not an Orthodox Jew, like me). Especially if raised in an Orthodox home, it becomes second nature after a time, so I am told. It becomes a way of life and is no burden at all. And, as is found in Psalms: “The Law is…fine as gold…and sweeter than honey.” Likewise, in Deuteronomy, Moses proclaims that following the Law is easier than one might think.


Thank you for the clarification! I had not (for fairly clear reasons I hope) not considered the temple requirements. Indeed, we are flexible, malleable creatures and can adapt to an incredible variety of life situations. As part of religious belief, adherence to the law affects us negatively only if we are overly influenced by the outside world.

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