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Abraham and God: A Tale of Two Fathers

Abraham and God: A Tale of Two Fathers

Abraham was just minding his own business one day when God popped up again. The God of Abraham had been doing that a lot lately.

But this time God didn't come to give Sara and Abraham great news about the future of their descendants. This was God on a whole new level. Abraham might have asked God to repeat Himself, thinking that he had misheard. But the message was clear enough. “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

The story doesn't tell us what went through Abraham's mind. The next verses simply tell how Abraham and Isaac packed up and left for the wilderness with two servants, some wood and a donkey.

At what point does a man question his own religion and god? At what point do a wife and son question the judgement of their husband and father? Abraham was doing exactly what God told him to do. At what point does a man question his own sanity?

Human sacrifice has occurred in virtually every corner of this globe, which means it happened in southeastern Mesopotamia. Specifically, it occurred in Chaldea. Chaldea was the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers on the north end of the Persian Gulf. The city of Ur was the capital and Abraham lived in Ur. An archeologist by the name of Sir Charles Leonard Wooley (1880-1960) did some excavating in Ur and discovered the widespread practice of human sacrifice. So, God helped Abraham feel right at home by utilizing a familiar, religious practice.

Let's walk through the specifics of this story one more time.

A deity, unknown to virtually everyone else in the world, repeatedly appears to an old man named Abraham and promises him many descendants. During one such appearance, the deity commands Abraham to take his son into the wilderness, put him on a pile of firewood, slit his throat with a knife and burn his body as a sacrifice to the deity making the demand.

There are actually six characters to consider. Seven if you count the donkey. Abraham, Isaac, Abraham's wife Sara, two servants and, of course, the deity. Oh yes, and the donkey.

The two servants. In the story, when it came time for the sacrifice, they were left behind. Why? On a purely human level witnesses could be detrimental. Witnesses could also try to persuade Abraham to not go through with the plan. They could also attempt to physically prevent Abraham from cutting his son's throat and burning the evidence … I mean body. Or maybe it was reverence which God required. Only his man Abraham and the boy, Isaac, were allowed at the altar. It reminds me of a time later in Israel's history when only the priests could enter the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle/Temple. So here, it is only Abraham — the "Priest" — and Isaac — the sacrifice  — who are allowed into the presence of the Almighty.

Sara. She waited a long time for the birth of her son. She was barren till very late in life. Did she know of Abraham's plan to kill Isaac? Would she have been as "faithful" as Abraham? She did not go along. Maybe she was sent on a vacation to a relative's house for the weekend.

Isaac. He only has one speaking part in the whole ordeal. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham's response is interesting. “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” He says this as he raises the knife over his son's bound and prostrate body. This is what is strange about the story to me. God asks this outlandish, absurd thing of Abraham in order to test his faithfulness as the first leader of a budding nation. But Abraham's willing response should have disqualified him for any position, especially that of "Father of Many Nations".

Abraham. This is a scary man. A deity no one else has heard of, tells him to do something which in any modern society would be criminal, and Abraham sets out in unquestioning obedience toward the sacrificial mountain. So now let's do what must be done in order to understand this story fully. Abraham is your neighbor. You can hear him talking over the high wooden fence that separates your back yards. The "conversation" goes something like this:

"Take my son into the forest outside of town, God? But why?" "A sacrifice? I see. Why do I need a knife?…oh…and then Burn him? My son? But I love him, I don't want to kill him. Yes God, I trust you. I believe in you. This weekend? But what about my wife, the boy's mother? A little trip for her? Yes, I can arrange that."

Well, what did you think the "conversation" would sound like? And we still have an even more important question to answer. After overhearing the "conversation" over the back yard fence, what would you do?

What would you do if you overheard your neighbor talking to God about killing his son?

  1. Say "Praise God, my neighbor's faith is being tested"
  2. Forget you heard anything and go on grilling your steaks
  3. Check the locks on your doors.
  4. Call the police and Child Protective Services.
  5. 5. 3 and 4 and immediately move across town.

I know what I would do and I really think I know what you would do as well. There is no one reading this who would believe a god had commanded their neighbor to cut his son's throat and burn the body. But you would believe that your neighbor was crazy.

The deity. What kind of god would test a man in this way? Would any man who is willing to go through with this plan, actually be an asset to the deity's agenda? Would a deity, willing to ask this of a man, be the kind of god anyone would desire to follow? Really? Would you, if it was you he asked to do this?.

Why this is such a popular story among Muslims, Christians and Jews? Is it something to be proud of that the founder of your religion was almost a child murderer?

And why is this is a popular children's story? After seeing his father standing over him with a raised knife in one hand and a burning torch in the other, I wonder what Isaac's therapy bill amounted to over the next several years?

The donkey is, without question, the most intelligent character in the whole story.

About Chris Mills

I am a former Evangelical Christian, pastor and missionary. I have written numerous articles over the last four years, most of which are now archived. I would like to share them here on God Discussion from time to time. I have a couple here already I do believe. Since leaving the ministry, I have allowed myself to ask the questions which had long been hanging out inside my head. Finally, I had the freedom to be intellectually and spiritually honest. Isn't it interesting that I had to abandon Christianity to feel free to be honest with myself? Today, I do not consider myself to be atheist or agnostic. I have this very basic, no frills concept of a deity. I talk to him, but I don't have great expectations of him. Why do I hang on to such a belief? I can't answer that. Maybe I'm in a process of demythologizing myself. I believe in allowing people to go through the process of stepping away from organized religion. We can offer good reasons for them to do so, but I don't think nasty arguments and ridicule do any good in this regard. At the moment I don't have a home for my articles concerning Evangelical Christianity. I'm focusing more on fiction writing now, so all of my sites are taken up with that. So I will slowly begin depositing my articles here until I am told to "Stop, please, stop!!" I'll do it slowly though, so I don't clog the pipes. Be Well, Chris Mills
  • Welcome to free thought, Chris. I hope you continue to use your innate God-given reason to evolove out of the "revealed"/hearsay religions. I used to be a Christian until I read Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason at which time I became a Deist (I believe in God based on the application of my reason on the laws and designs in Nature, the study of which is science, and I reject unreasonable claims, even those promoted by the various "revealed"/hearsay religions).

    Regarding the Bible story of Abraham, I think it's an insult to God, to life and to our God-given reason. Pluse, it's very dangerous.

    The Bible does not say God told Abraham to kill his son to test Abraham's faith but to see if Abraham feared God enough to actually do it. Genesis 22:12 makes this clear. Fear is a huge tool of the clergy and a driving force for the purpose of "revealed"/hearsay religion.

    The twisted belief that God would ever tell someone to kill their children caused a Christian mother to kill her two little boys and to permanently injure handicap her third innocent son. She said she did it because she thought God wanted her to prove her unconditional faith in him ( http://www.deism.com/religionmentalillness.htm ). It's liberating to know that faith is NOT required to believe in God as the French Deist Voltaire made clear when he wrote, "What is faith? Is it to believe that which is evident? No. It is perfectly evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme, and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason."

    Jews, Christians and Muslims should also know that their father Abraham pimped his wife/half-sister Sarah at least twice and profited materially for it. And the Bible god did not punish Abraham, he punished the Pharaoh and King who allegedly took Sarah. Genesis 12:12-20 claims when Sarah was about 70-years-old Abraham pawned her off as his sister to the Egyptians and Pharaoh and Genesis 20:2-18 claims Abraham committed the same disgusting crime when Sarah was about 90-years-old with King Abimelech. Neither the Pharaoh nor King Abimelech knew the truth, that Sarah was Abraham's wife but the Bible god punished them anyways.

    People who believe in God need to ask themselves if they think highly enough of God to not blame the Torah, Bible and/or Quran on God. As Thomas Paine wrote in his landmark book on God, Deism and religion, The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition, "Is it because ye are sunk in the cruelty of superstition, or feel no interest in the honor of your Creator, that ye listen to the horrid tales of the Bible, or hear them with callous indifference?"

    Progress! Bob Johnson

    • Y. A. Warren

      Thank you, Bob.
      And let's not forget that Abraham sent the mother of his first son, along with this son, out into the desert to die because his wife became jealous after setting up childbearing through a surrogate/slave.
      Then we have the nonsense that God created a son for himself, simply to kill him, to atone to himself for the weaknesses he built into his creations. Did I get that right?

  • Zed

    Don't get me wrong, its great that you left a religion you no longer believe in. More power to you. But I don't think it helpful when discussing OT scripture to use cultural and historical bias as your method of attack. 'Look how BRUTAL and INSANE they were! What would people think TODAY?' Most of the ancient world, and past and foreign cultures can be attacked this way, just pick your target. Very few will hold up to our modern viewpoint. It might make you feel good, but its not very illuminating.

    • Scott Morgan

      Good point.

    • Chris

      I see. So because the world of Abraham's day condoned child sacrifice, it was morally acceptable for God to demand this act. Ok, now I've interpreted it in light of ancient history. Everything is okay now, Abraham is a good man of faith. Sorry, I don't buy it. There is no logic to that approach either.

      You seem to imply that there were different moral standards in Abraham's day and that because of this, God was somehow in the right to command Abraham to kill his son. I thought God never changed, the same yesterday, today and forever. But according to you, he operated according to a different moral standard than what exists today. Would this same God command a man today to do this. Of course not. So either it was right back then and right today, or it was wrong then and wrong today. The same God, and the same moral standard apply to all time.

      It is less illuminating to conveniently change what is considered to be acceptable in the deity we choose to follow.

      If this God demanded that his people today take up arms and exterminate whole cities of men women, children and animals, would you say it was a good thing? Why not? He did it once, why not again?

      My point is this. The true God never commanded Abraham to kill his son and he never commanded Israel to exterminate masses of people. Men made those decisions and pinned it on their god. That makes much more sense than any other explanation I have ever heard.

  • Scott Morgan

    ” Abraham's response is interesting. “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” He says this as he raises the knife over his son's bound and prostrate body.

    Really? Is that what happens in Gen. 22:8?
    Yes, Abraham would eventually raise the knife over his bound son–a miraculous son of promise, lets keep in mind. He did so in both fear of and faith in God.
    When we TAKE IN the full context of the story, and when we TAKE OUT your macabre distortion of 22:8, we're left with a man trusting in God's goodness, God's wisdom, and God's promises.
    Also, keep in mind that Abraham's God (a fictional deity from your point of view) has the ability to raise the dead–and Abraham knew this. As it turns out, however, no dead-raising was necessary. The ram was delivered just as Abraham told his son it would be.

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  • Great history. I always love to read good history. I read your history and love. I have gotten more teach to your history. I am waiting to read for your next history.

  • Andrew Davis

    Isn't it strange, that God who is Purely Good, would order Abraham to Kill his innocent son, Isaac?
    Would our loving Father, God, play a “Trick” like this on His loyal servant?
    Could it be that God NEVER told Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac?

    All of these questions are answered in this Teaching:

    • The Common Understanding of this record
    • Why is this “Test” Questionable?
    • Did God Tempt Abraham?
    • Burnt Offering vs. Sacrifice
    • Satan’s Deception
    • Not the first time Abraham Miscomprehended
    • How old was Isaac?
    • Other Important things to Note

    -Andrew Davis

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