The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio. . .
The June 29 readings are Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 13, Romans 6:12-23, and Matthew 10:40-42.
In Genesis 22:1-14, “God tested Abraham,” by apparently asking him to kill his first-born son Isaac, the son he and his wife Sarah had been waiting and praying for “lo these many years.” (As noted in On “Call me Ishmael” – June 22 (Part I), “Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, and Sarah was past 90” when Isaac was born.)
The story bothers a lot of people because it shows God as apparently ordering a father to kill his own son. But a look at the “prevailing wisdom” might shed some light. (See On “originalism”, noting that originalism is the view that interpretation “should be based on what reasonable persons living at the time . . . would have declared the ordinary meaning of the text to be.”)
So what would a reasonable man – under the “community standards” at the time – have thought of Abraham killing his son as a “sacrifice?” Apparently it wouldn’t have bothered that reasonable man at all, because apparently at that time and place, child sacrifice was quite common. See Binding of Isaac – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, citing “Hertz:”
“[C]hild sacrifice was actually “rife among the Semitic peoples. . . [I]n that age, it was astounding that Abraham’s God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it.” Hertz interprets the Akedah as demonstrating to the Jews that human sacrifice is abhorrent.
(Akedah is Hebrew short-hand for the Abraham-Isaac story, and translates “The Binding.”) So to a reasonable Semite at the time – when the story occurred, or when Moses wrote it down, if not both – a father offering his son as a “sacrifice to the gods” was so common that the Akedah proved the noteworthy exception. (Something like today’s “man bites dog” journalism; “an unusual, infrequent event is more likely to be reported as news than an ordinary, everyday occurrence.” Man bites dog (journalism) – Wikipedia, the free …. (Did the Scribe mention that he got a Master’s Degree in Journalism?)
So the Good News here is not that God is cruel, as it might seem from a “plain reading.” The point is just the opposite; God wanted to change some “prevailing practices.” (Note the general definition of conservative, “a person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes.”) In this case, God apparently felt a prevailing practice needed to be changed.
In Psalm 13, the writer first asked, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me for ever?” But he ended on a note of hope, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has dealt with me richly; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.” (Maybe because God didn’t require child sacrifice.)
In Romans 6:12-23, Paul wrote about the wages of sin; “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The post On D-Day and confession addressed this whole business of sin, a “business” that seems to turn off a whole lot of non-Christians. (For example, the search “Christians hung up on sin” led to offerings including Advocatus Atheist: Why are Christians Hung Up on Sin?). Here’s what “D-Day” said:
When we “sin” we simply fall short of our goals; we “miss the target.” When we “confess,” we simply admit to ourselves how far short of the target we were. And maybe the purpose of all this is not to make people feel guilty all the time, as some seem to imply.
Note also Paul’s saying, in Romans 6:19, “I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations.” In other words Paul – like Moses and indeed God Himself – is not limited by his (or His) ability to teach, but only by our ability to comprehend. So Moses couldn’t tell “the truth” about such things as the earth revolving around the sun, because he had to tell the story of Creation “using language and concepts that his relatively-pea-brained contemporary audience could understand.” See On the readings for June 15 – Part I. So also Paul – like God – had to keep in mind the “natural limitations” of his (or His) audience.
And finally, in Matthew 10:40-42, Jesus spoke of the “reward of the righteous,” especially concerning the children who had been so routinely offered as a sacrifice to the “old gods” in the time of Abraham; “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
“Christ with children by Carl Heinrich Bloch.”
The upper image is courtesy of Binding of Isaac – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The full caption reads: “The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio, in the Baroque tenebrist manner.”
As to reasonable, see Reasonable person – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “The reasonable person (historically reasonable man) is one of many tools for explaining the law to a jury.”
As to the Hertz reference, “Rabbi Joseph Herman Hertz, CH (September 25, 1872 – January 14, 1946) was a Jewish Hungarian-born rabbi and Bible scholar. He is most notable for holding the position of Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom from 1913 until his death in 1946, in a period encompassing both world wars and the Holocaust.”
The lower image – and note the contrast between the upper and lower images – is courtesy of The Little Children – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.