Abraham Isaac sacrifice. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son to see if Abraham totally trusts Him. www.fishnetbiblestories.com

Day 7 (Jan. 7): Isaac is born, Hagar and Ishmael leave, Abraham told to sacrifice son, Sarah dies, Isaac marries Rebekah

image from www.fishnetbiblestories.com

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Genesis 21:8-23:20
Genesis 11:32
Genesis 24
(2064-2026 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

O. (21:12): God seems to be saying that both women are important, but Sarah is Abraham’s wife and he should please her.

O. (21:28): Abraham added 7 ewes to the covenant he made with Abimelech.  If you recall in Day 3’s answers, the number “7” signifies completeness.

Q. (22:9-11): It’s hard to imagine Abraham willingly ready to sacrifice his son and Isaac willingly lying on the altar ready to be killed.  Abraham’s trust in God has grown since he was afraid of the rulers killing him, a foreigner, and taking his beautiful wife.  Abraham willingly sacrificing Isaac foretells God sacrificing his own son?

A. This passage, above all else, demonstrates Abraham’s absolute trust in God’s goodness and direction, even when the direction itself did not make sense to him.  Since Abraham had such great trust in God, however, we should understand a few things.  Abraham understood that this was the child that God had promised him; all of Abraham’s descendants were going to come from Isaac.  So there had to be some way that this was going to be true — God had proven Himself faithful to Abraham, and Abraham’s obedience I think reflects this in his decision making.  Abraham understood that God was going to provide for him in some way (see 22:8 and 13).  Note that when Abraham leaves his servant and he and Isaac continue on together, he uses the word “we” when talking about his return (22:5).  He fully expects to return with his son.  The writer of Hebrews also points to Abraham’s thinking: that even if he killed Isaac, God was capable of bringing him back from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19) and restoring him to Abraham.  So there certainly was a great deal of trust in Abraham following God’s commands, but the text implies Abraham believed that the loss of his son would not be permanent.

Q. (22:11) The text says that an Angel of the Lord spoke to Isaac.  I always thought it was the Lord himself.  Angels seem to have a lot of authority with God.  Will we learn more about angels later?

A. The word “angel” means messenger, and it is tough for us to understand that cultural understanding of the ancient messenger.  Basically, an official messenger (sometimes called a herald) was seen and treated as though they were actually the king or ruler who sent them; the mindset was that they did not merely speak on behalf of the king, but AS the king (hopefully you can see the difference).  In this light, it is more clear what the OT writers want us to understand: a messenger or angel of God should be read as the actual presence of God being there.

This helps explain why sometimes the language gets a bit murky when describing an angel appearing, but God doing the talking (we will see several more examples of this, notably in Exodus 3 in the call of Moses).  This appears to be strictly an OT distinction: angels in the New Testament (such as Gabriel in Luke 1) speak on BEHALF of God, rather than as God.  Honestly, I am not sure the reasons for this, but it might have to do with a cultural shift in the understanding of the role of angels.

One other note: the concept of angels is not one scripture appears very interested in fleshing out (no pun intended) for us.  While scripture makes it clear that angels (and demons frankly) are real, it almost never provides detailed accounts of them.  This ultimately is because the focus of the reader should be on God, not on God’s messenger.

Q. (22:18): This is telling of Israel.  What is the significance of Israel?  Or, do we get into this later?  This verse says “all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”  What does this say about predestination and the chosen?

A. I think that this question has multiple answers that will unfold over the remaining course of the Biblical story.  On one level, we see in Exodus that God describes the Israelites (you’ll see where the name comes from shortly) as a chosen people to show what right relationship with God should look like- this is part of how the Ten Commandments will come into play (more on that later).  The problem is that (he he, spoiler alert) the Israelites fail to live up to the promises that they make to God, despite Him remaining faithful.  But where Israel fails, God sends the Messiah into the world to succeed where ordinary human fell short.  A central theme of Jesus’ ministry is continuing this quest to reunite God and man: Jesus speaks of the ways that people can walk in right relationship with God, and that He himself is at the heart of this message.  And since Jesus (the Messiah or Christ) is Jewish or an Israelite, Christians often assume that the promise to Abraham that the entire world would be blessed by his offspring refer to Jesus himself.

Q. (23:5): The Hittites respect Abraham calling him “my lord” and an “honored prince.”  Is this because he had favor with God?

A. I think so.  Abraham had clearly proven himself a force to be reckoned with (because of God, not because of anything Abraham had done), so that even the elders of other clans and tribes show their reverence for him.

O.  (24:26-27): There is a strong respect between the Lord and Abraham.  They both serve one another.  Abraham’s servants carry the same trust in God as Abraham.  Abraham must have been a successful champion for the Lord to his people.  I like to see the strong relationship that God makes with his followers and how much He will work for them.

Q. (24:40): Abraham must be in God’s presence a lot if he can say that an angel will be with his servant on his trip to find Isaac a wife?  How can Abraham order God’s angels?

A. Perhaps God informed Abraham of the way He would help Abraham’s servant.  I don’t think Abraham is bossing any angels around.

Q. (24:48): Why was marrying relatives OK in Bible times?

A. Family relationships (which frankly border on what we would understand to be incest — the married relationship between close relatives) were more common in the ancient world than today.  Though I would point out that even in the fairly recent modern world, we see things like closely interrelated monarchies of various countries who intermarry, so perhaps we are not as distant from this situation as we would like.

OK, here’s the bigger picture response: the big problem was not Abraham seeking a close relative for his son to marry; the big problem was intermarrying with the local tribes, which is clear Abraham does NOT want to do.  Thus, when presented with the choices of either marrying close kin or intermarrying with other tribes, the choice is clear: Abraham and the generations of Israelites that follow him will choose to “preserve” their ethnic heritage.  This will actually become part of the Law: there will be particular commands against intermarrying, again for the purpose of being a nation set apart for God’s purposes.

O. (24:54): Serving meals and washing feet have been shown to be proper ways to serve guests.  I like to see the love for the Lord and love of one another displayed throughout Abraham’s extended family.

For further study
— Abraham’s story of trusting God is one to bookmark and reference over and over again to help us see that trusting God is vital and He really cares for us. https://livinlight.org/blog/give-yourself-a-solid-foundation/
— Why in the world would God ask anyone to sacrifice their one and only son? https://bibleproject.com/articles/why-did-god-ask-abraham-to-sacrifice-isaac/

Tomorrow’s reading: Genesis 25:1-4; 1 Chronicles 1:32:33; Genesis 25:5-6, 12-18; 1 Chronicles 1:28-31, 34; Genesis 25:19-26, 7-11

Abraham Sarah Hagar

Day 5 (Jan. 5): God and Abraham’s covenant, sacrifices, God cares for Hagar, circumcision

image credit: Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Genesis 15-17
(2081-2067 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

O. (15:5): I would love to be a fly on the wall at this conversation.  I can’t imagine the Lord telling me that I am the father of all of a great nation.  How incredible that must have felt to be handed that kind of gift.  If we all trust in God, we can feel that way too.

Q. (15:9): You talked about sacrifices in Day 4’s readings, but I still don’t get it.  Killing animals seems so violent.  I just don’t understand why such violence would be pleasing.  Maybe it’s something for me not to understand?  Also, I see the three’s in this passage — a goat, a ram and a heifer, all 3 years old.

A. I’m afraid there’s not much I can do to help you address the violent aspects of the usage of animal sacrifices; this was simply the world that they lived in, and, frankly, our entire world lived in until a couple of generations ago.  Today, we are mostly spared from the sight of animal slaughter, but it is a reality in our continued survival, vegetarian and vegan company excluded.  Let’s stick to this passage for the moment, and I will address the reasons for the sacrifice system when that comes up in Leviticus.  There are particular circumstances going on in Genesis 15 that I want to make sure we understand.

This ceremony that takes place between Abram and God in this passage is unique as it comes to sacrifices.  The animals are not sacrificed to cover sin, but rather to confirm a covenant.  As I understand it, in the ancient Middle East, a king would hold a covenant ceremony with a servant or vassal who agreed to serve the king (God of course is the King, and Abram the vassal).  The king and servant would conduct a ceremony in which animals were sawed in half (violent, I know, but it was the ritual) and the participating parties would walk between the two halves (as God does in verse 17 with the movement of the torch) to symbolize the establishment of the covenant relationship.  The sawed animals represented the punishment is either party broke the covenant, though not in a literal way.  The parties basically said, “may I be sawed in half like these animals if I violate this sacred relationship.”

God is using this ceremony to formalize the relationship between Himself and Abram in a way that Abram (and the subsequent readers) would clearly understand.  Though it seems foreign and violent to us, it would have been an especially significant experience to Abram and the ancient Jews who read these words.

I will try to keep addressing the sacrifice system as it comes up, but frankly, the Bible does not shy away from the violence (of many sorts) that takes place on its pages.

O. (15:13-16): The Lord tells of the Israelites saga.  There’s so much back-and-forth references in the Bible that it’s foolproof.  I am surprised that people still try to dispute it!

Q. (16:12): If the Lord or anyone told me that I was going to have a child wilder than a donkey, I would be a little upset.  And, God tells Hagar to go back to live with Sarai who was treating her poorly.  Hagar does not seem to be troubled with any of this.  God said that he had heard her cries, so maybe she was a believer and trusted God?

A. While it seems harsh (a common theme so far I guess), the story of Hagar is actually one of my favorites from the OT.  God made His promises to Abraham and Sarah, and a slave like Hagar could be excused for thinking that her actions (and her child) did not matter to God.  But she is wrong!  God sees her, as she points out, and cares greatly for her needs, as well as the needs of her son.  We will see more of this story in a few chapters, because it happens again.

Q. (17:12-14): Circumcision is something I totally don’t understand.  It is such a violent act for a newborn boy.  And, if it’s the mark of the everlasting covenant, no one can visibly see it unless they are naked.  So, what is the purpose?  Is this still one of God’s requirements today?

A. Regarding the current requirement of circumcision: yes, pious Jews will tell you that circumcising a male child on the eighth day is one of their most sacred duties as a new parent: the circumcision is the ritual for a child becoming “part of the family”.  And just FYI, it is part of pious Muslim ritual as well, and called “Khitan”.  Some Christians choose to participate, but there is disagreement about the requirement.  Christians who argue that we are no longer under the Law because of Jesus may still choose to do so in order to honor God.

Circumcision was (and frankly still is) a unique way of marking a person as a follower of God — and it would have been completely unique in the ancient world.  This gets at a larger theme of the first five books of the OT: that God is requiring that His chosen people act in various ways to show that they are set apart from the world (and other tribes) around them.  I won’t try to defend the violence of the act (like a broken record, I guess that would be the title for our Day 5 discussion), but there are Jews, Muslims, and Christians who to this day see circumcision as bringing their children into covenant relationship with God — something that can literally have eternal consequences.

For further study: 
— More on God’s covenant with Abram/Abraham: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-covenant-of-abraham, https://www.thenivbible.com/blog/abrahamic-covenant-with-god/
— Lessons from the account of Hagar: https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/4-powerful-lessons-from-the-life-of-hagar.html

Shop: Spread the message that hanging out in God’s Word will enrich you beyond imagination! https://livinlight.org/product/campout/

Tomorrow’s reading: Genesis 18:1-21:7