I talked about this briefly with Alexandra the other day, and decided to post on it. I am taking a Bible as Lit class, and on our first day of class, we discussed Abraham and Isaac. Of course, I always prescribed to the amazing story of faith. When we discussed it in class, it kind of rocked me a little. Here's a rough paper on some of my thoughts. They are by no means complete thoughts, just a little something to hopefully get some conversation churning (I hope). And, um. I don't know what's going on with the font. Sorry.
The ultimate story of faith: Abraham, unquestioningly diligent in following the word of God, trudges up the Mount of the Lord to sacrifice his beloved son. The Hebrew term for this long-disputed story is the Akedah, or, the Binding of Isaac. Early rabbinic interpretations quote God, " 'I never considered telling Abraham to slaughter Isaac' (using the Hebrew root letters for "slaughter", not 'sacrifice'.)" (McInerny). Rather than a test of loyalty, in seeing if Abraham would kill his beloved son, Rabbi Yona Ibn Janach claimed the commanded sacrifice was meant to be symbolic.
God puts Abraham in quite the moral dilemma: Obey God, commit murder. Save Isaac, disobey God. Even the LDS cover answer for divinely appointed murder cannot fit: there is no risk of an entire nation dwindling in disbelief based on Isaac's living. In fact, God has already covenanted with Abraham in Genesis 21:12 that Abraham's seed will be preserved through Isaac. Theology professors Caspi and Kramer argue that "[Isaac] went together with his father (perhaps having dialogue with his father about the meaning of the sacrifice). In this way, Isaac actively participated in the non-tragic drama of the Akedah" ("Response"). As Sherryll Mleynek rebuts, "There is no textual basis that Abraham knows this is a test. [Caspi and Kramer's] attribution of a second 'dialogue' appears to be based on the wish for such in the context of faith, rather than on any exegetical justification" ("Rejoinder"). The end result that this is a just a test of Abraham's faith is irrelevant to Abraham. Because the text does not support Abraham's understanding, it cannot be assumed. To Abraham, the question truly is, would God have me kill my son? If God had covenanted with Abraham that Abraham's seed would come through Isaac, could it come from God to kill Isaac?
The authoritative Christian reading is that Isaac is a precursor to Jesus. Just as God, the Father, must sacrifice his own son, Abraham must sacrifice his son, like a lamb to the slaughter. Even if this is meant to be a type of Christ, it is incomplete, because Abraham's hand was stayed. How is this taste of sacrifice meant to shed light on the Atonement or the Crucifixion? As a type of Christ, Isaac's sacrifice would have had to accomplish something. Isaac's sacrifice would need to act as a catalyst for something greater, as Jesus' death was the catalyst for the salvation and resurrection for humanity.
While a Christian, type-of-Christ application is irrelevant to the Jewish reader, a Hasidic reading of the text interprets Abraham's inner battle as the pertinent issue. The test was not of Abraham's faith, but of his emotions. "For our Hasidism, had he felt love or pity for Isaac at the akedah, Abraham would have failed the test, even had he sacrificed Isaac!" (Gellam). Abraham had to prove his total devotion to and love for God by eradicating his feelings toward his son.
The Genesis account does not state this is a test of Abraham's faith: "God did tempt Abraham" (Gen. 22:1). Early rabbinic interpretations of the Akedah also refute the notion of a test of faith: "Abraham's imagination led him astray, making him believe that he had been commanded to sacrifice his son" (McInerny). Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi asked "how could God command such a revolting thing?" (McInerny). The divine intervention which prevents the actual sacrifice is curious. God commands/tests/tempts Abraham to sacrifice his son. Surely such a grave command would need to come directly from God in order to be believed, yet when Abraham's hand is stayed, it is on the errand of an angel. If God gave the commandment, would God not need to be the one to revoke it? God shows his mercy and love repeatedly. In his destruction of Sodom, God tells Abraham he would refrain from destroying the city if there were but fifty, then forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, then ten righteous people. God seems to want to give the benefit of the doubt to his people. The evidence suggests a fair, rational, loving God. Commanding a father to sacrifice his son just as a test of faith is not only unjust, it is cruel and sadistic. The only way to rectify this seemingly cruel joke, is to use the evidence: "God did tempt Abraham." Consistent with God's character, battling temptations are the way to test and prove faith. If God did tempt Abraham, as Genesis states, Abraham was not meant to carry out the sacrifice; Abraham was not meant to attempt the sacrifice. When Abraham yields to temptation, an angel of the Lord stays his hand.
The Akedah may be similar to that of David and Saul: a cautionary tale. God is consistent; man rarely is. When Abraham felt tempted to sacrifice his son, he was tempted with the current trend. Human sacrifice was a common thing in Abraham's day: as evidenced by Abraham's father's actions. Rarely does God command his child to follow the current trend. "Unlike the cruel heathen deities, it was the spiritual surrender alone that God required" (McInerny). God is constant and sure. While a story of unwaivering faith is the most common as the interpretation of Abraham and Isaac, a story of temptation is the only one to make sense.