Parenting and the binding of Isaac

A little boy was having problems accepting his parents’ authority.  In response to simple, ordinary parental instructions (“take a bath,” “clear your place at the table,” “do your homework”), the little boy raised fierce opposition:  “I don’t want to,” “You’re not the boss of me,” “No one else I know has to.”  The parents cracked down.  All of his favorite privileges were now gone.  He could earn them back only with several consecutive days of military obedience to orders:  “Take a bath” had to get met with “Yes, sir.”  “Clear your place at the table” also needed a terse “Yes, ma’am” response.

The little boy tearfully acquiesced, but then offered one further complaint:  “You at least give me reasonable orders, Mommy.  Daddy keeps giving stupid orders, like “clean up after your sister.”  I hate that.  He’s testing me.”  If the little boy was looking to triangulate Mom and Dad in order to gain sympathy or leniency, he was looking in the wrong place.  Mom had a simple response:  “Pass the G*d damn test!”

The story I just told reminded me of a another story, a very old one, known to you all:

1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

2 And he said, 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.

3 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.

4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

5 And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.

7 And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

11 And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.

12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

I actually don’t have a point to make, beyond the obvious:  An authority figure sometimes needs to do something to ensure that the person over whom he exercises that authority truly understands who is ultimately in charge.  It seems like a petty thing, even when God does it, but that’s only when things are going along swimmingly.  When life gets tough, the follower needs to look reflexively to the leader for moral guidance, for justice, and for comfort.  Testing the follower is a way of reinforcing the follower’s understanding of that relationship.

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  • stanley

    I guess this is why I was driven to watch Obama on “The View” surrounded by his advisors

  • Earl

    I’ve always had a very hard time with that story…..
    I choose to believe the Bible is God’s Word, and I live my life by it, insofar as I’m able.  But the picture of God I get from this story doesn’t appeal to me much.
    Not saying it’s not true, but it’s one of the things in my list to ask God when I see Him.
    And I worked real hard not to treat my kids in this way….apparently irrational orders given with no explanation.

  • Mike Devx

    I agree, Earl.

    12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

    If I take anything away from this verse – as with any particular verse in the Bible – for this one my take is, “This kind of absolute authority is something a person may grant ONLY to his or her God, and never, ever, to any other Man.  And even in granting such authority to God, you can expect God to be merciful instead.”

    Dan Simmons had an interesting take on this Abraham-Isaac story in his novel The Fall Of Hyperion.  He considered it Abraham’s Test … of God!  A God that demands the sacrifice of a beloved son, solely as a demonstration of obedience, is not a God worthy of worship.  That God did not require the execution, but merely a demonstration of the intent – makes God worthy of worship.  Many of the other deities in religions in competition at that time were extraordinarily bloodthirsty and, by the dictates of those other religions, would have made no such distinction, and would have carried through with the actual bloodletting and murder.

  • MacG

    1 Samuel 15:22New American Standard Bible (©1995)
    Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king.” Abraham accepted and applied the Word of the Lord. It has been said that Abraham was relying on an earlier promise of the Lord about the vast number of descendants he would be bless the world with. So how could this be with a dead son?*  Verse five indicates that he would return with Isaac. Verse eight he says that G-d himself would provide the sacrifice. Verse thirteen says that G-d did provide said sacrifice.   Looking forward form that provision to New Testament times we read of how G-d provided His Son as the unblemished lamb as the penultimate sacrifice.  This is I believe is hinted in Isiah 52:13-53 IS 52:13See, my servant will act wisely;
    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
    14Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
    and his form marred beyond human likeness—
    15so will he sprinkle many nations,
    and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
    For what they were not told, they will see,
    and what they have not heard, they will understand.
    53:1Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
    2He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
    He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
    3He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
    Like one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
    4Surely he took up our infirmities
    and carried our sorrows,
    yet we considered him stricken by God,
    smitten by him, and afflicted.
    5But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
    6We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to his own way;
    and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.
    7He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
    he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
    8By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    And who can speak of his descendants?
    For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
    9He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
    though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.
    10Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering,
    he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
    11After the suffering of his soul,
    he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied;
    by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.
    12Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
    because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
    For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.
    * Some stretch this into an early belief in resurrection though I believe it is more isogetical surmising than  the more direct statement by Job in 29:16: “Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see G-d;”