The Binding Of Isaac
The Binding of Isaac, known as the “Aqedah” has always been a field of confrontation for Jewish and non-Jewish academics to prove their beliefs and interpretations. The whole narrative about Abraham and his wife Sarah, reaches its highest point in the very moment in which the prophecy of God has finally a name: Isaac. Against the odds of the old age of the couple, against the undeniable fact that the prophet already had a son named Ishmael whom at the age of fourteen finds himself unwanted, against the prophecy itself that cleared the path to a new nation through the newborn son, God is now “asking the unthinkable” (Geoghegan Homan 81).
How emotionally challenged Abraham must have felt when he heard his God pronouncing the astounding command: “take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go for yourself to the land of Moriah. There you will sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you” (Holy Bible: Contemporary English Version, Genesis 22:2). This is the kind of story that gives the Old Testament a bad notoriety. Whether or not the story is true, who would want to believe in a God like this? (Davis 29). If we slowly step back, we can consider several painful acts, promises and prophecies that would become useless, or worse, false with the realization of this sacrifice. There must be somewhere a perspective that let this claim have a sense since “God’s request, taken in straightforward way, would not differentiate Abraham from his contemporaries or his God from those that nearby peoples were worshipping” (Fischer 173).
In Hebrew, the word for prophet is nabi, which means “one who is called” (Geoghegan Homan 219) by God. Hence, the ethical conduct that Abraham pursued during his life, eventually led him to find and develop a special relationship with the Lord. Through this perspective, the idea of Abraham – the forefather of three different religions – chosen by God because of his behavior and beliefs, clashes with the expectation of him carrying out the murder with no objection. When the narration of the Old Testament made introduction of Abraham’s role, we witnessed him expressing some concerns to some of God’s decisions: “far be it from You to do this things – killing the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked the same” (Genesis 18:25). Yet, when later on Abraham receives a “far more troubling call” (Geoghegan Homan 81) to sacrifice his own child, no voice is heard but a blind obedience that God might have found as a disappointing performance, far below the potential for making ethical decisions that was the reason for Abraham’s selection in the first place (Fischer 174).
What if, according to this interpretation, God wanted to hear an argument from the very ethical nature of Abraham? A way to open Abraham’s thinking to new questions, new possibilities, a re-examination of his mission, a better understanding of his and our God (Fischer 174). On the upside-down of the same hill from which we are spectators of this event, we find ourselves wondering about what kind of God would submit Abraham to this appalling test? (Davis 30). All the answers are shortened to two possible explanations. The first one speaks about a savage God who uses the most precious portion of His creation for cruelty purposes. It is not the purest interpretation nor the most inspired one. Yet, the other option forces us imagining God in a “desperately needs to know whether Abraham is completely devoted to Him” (Davis 30).
In this scenario filled with the ambiguity of a possible deeper meaning of the request, the almost-sacrifice location also calls for the reader’s attention since it is quite a journey. It takes more than three days of travel from his home in Haran to the land of Moriah, to figure out that the destination is visible but still far away. Having Abraham traveling for all those days might be construed as a planned time for a profound search inside of Abraham’s character. There are plenty of ways in which a father can offer his “only son” to God such as a life-long service but by all means, Abraham’s long and conflicting silence seemed to be a loud confession that his boundaries were to include that tragic option too.
Abraham’s entire role in the Bible can be harmed by obedience in service of an unjust cause. Nevertheless, if we could play with the shades of some words, we could shift the obedience in faith and the faith in trust. Only then, we might have reached something much closer to the core of the story that covers such a big momentum of the Genesis. “Total, radical trust – this is the only thing that makes any sense of Abraham’s submission to God” (Davis 30). While concerned whether these considerations are only a rhetorical exercise, the Angel of God steers the readers from floating around, stopping the prophet’s hand ready to slaughter his own son and creating a coup de theatre. When the scene is set, the overall understanding now seems to have a political turn whose roots can be clearly stated as: “I know that you honor me every way. You were willing to slaughter your only son but I want your and Isaac’s ethically discerning nature to be your people distinguishing characteristic and your contribution to the peoples of the world” (Fischer 178).
At this point, the way to read the story gains, so far, a new perspective: it is less of a blind faith award; rather it could be thought as an eye-opening revelation of the patriarchs ethically guided faith and of the God they chose to follow (Fischer 178). Moreover on the same sociopolitical aspect of the matter, “when Abraham lifts up his knife, the religion developed in Torah is still in its infancy, and its values are just beginning to develop” (Mirkin 61). This newborn religion could not bear a dichotomy between God and the Family, in fact by serving one, we actually serve the other at the same time. By betraying one, we betray the other (Mirkin 61).
The whole structure and narration of Aqeda is frightful: it forces us to think what we can do to each other, believing that it is God arming our hands, believing that is God’s will. Nevertheless, it also provide us with hope because If we can stop and listen to the voices of those we love, we can discover how we are bound and learn how to be more compassionate and supportive human beings (Mirkin 61).
On a more religious and sacred intuition perspective and just before the curtains close over one of the most speculated stories ever told, we can try to blend all the possible explanations in a more intimate vision of the Biblical passage. The story of Abraham and God and Isaac is the place you go when you find yourself beyond anything you thought could happen or beyond anything you imagine God would ask of you; when the easiest thing to do might be to deny that God exists at all, cares at all, or has any power at all (Davis, 29).