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Abraham, Part 2: Godís Gadfly or Meek Servant?
Pajamas Media ^ | 05/09/2013 | P. DAVID HORNIK

Posted on 05/09/2013 8:40:53 AM PDT by SeekAndFind

Last week I maintained that the patriarch Abraham is in certain key ways a paradigmatic figure for today’s Israel. A paradigm, though, would be expected to show some consistency in his conduct. In at least one important regard, Abraham seems to engage in behaviors that radically contradict each other.

When God prepares to leave Abraham’s tent encampment for Sodom, having heard that “sin is very grievous” there and in Gomorrah, Abraham rightly infers that—should the rumors turn out to be true—God intends to do away with these dens of depravity. Yet, at that point, Abraham seems to show incredible chutzpah: he confronts God with a series of questions that seem to challenge the morality of “the Judge of all the earth”—as Abraham, who appears well aware that he’s on shaky ground, takes care to address him.

Yet later in the story, when this same God, whom Abraham has had the audacity to challenge, commands Abraham to “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest” and turn him into a burnt offering on a mountain–Abraham meekly, humbly, and unquestioningly sets out to do exactly that.

How can the same Abraham who seemed to stand up for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, to the point of morally accosting the deity, immediately accept the decree to sacrifice his son?

God, in the form of three men, comes to Abraham as he sits “in the tent door in the heat of the day”; Abraham, realizing right away who the three men actually are, rushes to put together some food for them while asking his wife, Sarah, to “make cakes upon the hearth.”

God—speaking either as “they,” a threesome, or “he,” a single figure—informs Abraham that “Sarah thy wife shall have a son.” The hitherto-childless Abraham and Sarah are “old and well stricken in age,” and Sarah—who has overheard from the tent—breaks out in incredulous laughter.

Before setting out for Sodom near the Dead Sea, God—“Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him”—takes the tribal chieftain into his confidence and reveals to him his next mission:

Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;

I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.

It is at this point that Abraham—his self-assurance apparently boosted by the news about a son—launches into his amazing cross-examination of God, which centers on his blunt question: “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?”

What Abraham means is this:

Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?

That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

This could be called “reminding God of his better nature” except that the words seem almost too bizarre and counterintuitive to type.

And yet God’s response—no less remarkably—is seemingly to accept Abraham as a sort of moral interlocutor, replying:

If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.

Abraham proceeds to whittle down the number. While taking care to disparage himself—he calls himself “but dust and ashes” and acknowledges that “I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord”—he asks God what he will do if there are just 45, 40, 30, 20, or finally, 10 “righteous” in the city.

And each time God seems to concede, stating finally: “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.”

Could it be that God already understands morality and is just—out of tolerance and perhaps affection—giving Abraham the answers he seeks?

Maybe. But even if so, to call this a role reversal appears a great understatement. How can a mere mortal—even a paradigmatic one who is so crucial to God’s plans—subject the Judge of all the earth to such a grilling and not only get away with it but seem to prevail?

Years later the son God promised to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, is alive and thriving. God again comes to Abraham—though not in any physically perceptible form—and this time gives him a quite explicit command:

Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

The text then simply narrates Abraham’s obedient actions, with no hint of emotion:

And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.

Only on the third day, as Abraham and Isaac are approaching the mountain alone, does the text subtly convey what Abraham must be feeling. Isaac asks:

My father.…Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

Abraham answers:

My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering….

The rest of the story is well known: God rescinds the decree at the last moment and provides a ram to take Isaac’s place; an angel of the Lord calls out from heaven to laud Abraham:

By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:

That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;

And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

Human sacrifice is on the way to being abolished; both Abraham’s own people and humanity at large will benefit greatly from this major step toward civilization.

Why, though, when Abraham originally received the appalling diktat from God, did he not even raise a peep of protest—so unlike his behavior when he boldly confronted God about Sodom and Gomorrah?

After all, Isaac was promised to Abraham by God and was supposed to be the means—the only means—toward the “great nation” for which God seemingly had such plans.

Yet Abraham doesn’t even mention such matters as he sets forth to do God’s bidding.

The apparent paradox can be resolved this way:

When Abraham cross-examines God about Sodom and Gomorrah, he’s not violating any known command. It hasn’t been laid down anywhere that you shouldn’t have the chutzpah to talk to God this way. True, Abraham feels intuitively that he’s treading a thin line, as evident from his apologies and self-deprecation. But he’s not breaking any law, and indeed God never reproves him for his boldness.

But when God tells him to sacrifice his son, Abraham feels himself commanded—and has no choice but to comply. At that moment, the content of God’s command—no matter how horrific and devastating—is not relevant. Abraham, after all, has changed his whole life—leaving his father’s house for Israel, becoming (or so he thought) the patriarch of a nation—because God told him to. Obeying God is who he is. He can do no different than set off for Moriah.

Where does this leave us? So long as no divine command is involved, Abraham has radical intellectual freedom—even to the point of questioning God’s wisdom and justice in running the world. But when a command is involved, Abraham is, indeed, God’s servant; he does his will.

Again, it’s not a bad paradigm—thinking for yourself while being anchored in the divine. And the God of Abraham will never command you to commit murder.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva and author of the new book Choosing Life in Israel. He blogs at

TOPICS: History; Theology
KEYWORDS: abraham; sodom

1 posted on 05/09/2013 8:40:53 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind

No, Abraham did not prevail in the sodom argument...God destroyed the city. Abraham thought there were more righteous men there...he was wrong. Notice nowhere here does God command Abraham to do anything. Abraham has just been taught a lesson in God’s righteousness. Thus when God does command Abraham later, he obeys immediately.

2 posted on 05/09/2013 8:58:30 AM PDT by what's up
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To: SeekAndFind

Could it be that Abraham understood the character of God better than P. David Hornik seems to give him credit for? Abraham had lots of experiences with God not just these two. I agree with “what’s up”, Abraham had lots of lessons in God’s righteousness - and he learned them.

3 posted on 05/09/2013 9:42:03 AM PDT by Lake Living
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To: SeekAndFind
Abraham didn't know what Jesus said in the NT. There is none good, no not one. He assumed there had to be righteous people in Sodom, so he asked for mercy. God gives Mercy, He also gives Grace, but He is also Just. If Lot had not gone with the angels, he would have been destroyed. Can God not do as He wishes with His own creation? Just as today, God can destroy whom He chooses because everything belongs to Him.

Many here on FR argue over bad things happening to "good" people. I'm saved by the Grace of God, but I also contracted cancer. My daughter has Crohn's and she is born again also. The Word tells us that it rains on the just and the unjust, but if I die, I will live forever with Him. We pay much too much attention to life on Earth. This is but a moment in time. The Bible is there to teach us about the character of our God. Trying to over analyze every verse is just to make arguments.

When God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son, Abraham knew God had made promises that could NOT be fulfilled if Issac died, so I believe he felt God would raise Issac from the dead if need be. The question is, do you believe God or not? To argue for mercy from God at Sodom is not questioning God's authority, but realizing God cannot change. Even today, if you repent, you can be saved even though you are filthy with sin. God will accept anyone that believes on Him. If not, He wouldn't be "good" all the time. God is good and merciful ALL the time.

We all are born to go to die and go to Hell. The beauty is that God has shown us Mercy and Grace, not that so many are doomed to Hell.

4 posted on 05/09/2013 11:09:32 AM PDT by chuckles
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To: SeekAndFind

Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him as righteousness.

By saying that “God would provide the sacrifice”, Abraham exhibited his quiet, confident faith that God, having promised him a multitude of descendants through Isaac, would either prevent him from killing Isaac, or raise him from the dead.

Sodom and Gomorrah were a whole different thing. They were guilty, Isaac was innocent.

Abraham’s faith was founded in truth, and was rewarded.

5 posted on 05/09/2013 11:11:20 AM PDT by left that other site ((Ban the ubiquitous and deadly solvent, Di-hydrogen monoxide!!!))
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To: SeekAndFind
Abraham upon learning Sodom is to be destroyed, was concerned about the possibility of good people being destroyed. Lot (Abraham’s brothers son) lived in Sodom. Lot had family (remember his wife turned into a pillar of salt for looking back).

God had promised Abraham a son and that he would be the father of nations with as many people as the sands of the sea shore.
Abraham had faith in God to fulfill His Word.

6 posted on 05/09/2013 11:15:54 AM PDT by geologist ("If you love me, keep my commands" .... John 14 :15)
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To: SeekAndFind
God, in the form of three men, comes to Abraham as he sits


7 posted on 05/09/2013 3:43:10 PM PDT by Lee N. Field ("You keep using that verse, but I do not think it means what you think it means." --I. Montoya)
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To: SeekAndFind

I have always been fascinated by the Binding of Isaac.

8 posted on 05/09/2013 7:08:09 PM PDT by Mrs. Don-o ("Jesus thrown everything off balance." - Flannery O'Connor)
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To: Mrs. Don-o

Yep, the first question that came to my mind when I read this passage was this — Abraham is an old man, Isaac is a young man, the latter could have easily escaped the former by running away. He didn’t. Why?

9 posted on 05/10/2013 5:15:09 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
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