Welcome back to the ongoing adventure wherein this atheist reads the bible!
Chapter 22- God tests Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering. Abraham is about to comply when God steps in just in the nick of time to save Isaac and provides a ram for slaughter instead. Then we get a little more genealogical information.
I’ve heard this story bandied about as an example of what true faith looks like. Doing whatever God asks of us, no matter how crazy we think it may be, is the moral and correct thing to do. Are you kidding me? If you hear voices telling you to kill your child, DO NOT LISTEN! When stuff like this happens in modern times, we damn well recognize that the parent is in the wrong. We don’t accept this behavior as moral in our society, so why do we accept that God asking Abraham to do it is a moral thing?
Perhaps it’s just foreshadowing. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the fact that Isaac is Abraham’s only son, which of course mirrors the New Testament story of God sacrificing his only son. I think that story is nuts too- if God wanted to forgive humans, why didn’t he just forgive them? Why so much emphasis on blood and sacrifices in the Bible?
If indeed this is a literal story, I find it hard to believe that Isaac just laid down and took it. There’s no mention of struggle- but I imagine that it took some physical coercion for Abraham to get his son onto that altar. I hope Isaac had a good therapist, because he probably needed some serious counseling after being held down, tied up and almost murdered by his father.
After the angel saves Isaac and provides the ram as sacrifice instead: verse 17 “…I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.” God has already promised this to Abraham, several times! Why does he keep altering the deal?
The last couple verses here are genealogies of Abraham’s brother’s descendants. Cool names include Huz, Buz, and Chesed. Turns out Abraham’s brother had a concubine as well. Biblical marriage, more liberal than you thought.
Chapter 23- Sarah dies. Abraham wants to bury her in a cave that is owned by Ephron. Ephron offers to give Abraham the cave and the field in which it is located, but Abraham insists on paying for it.
Finally a good lesson from the Bible! It sounds like the townsfolk were being supportive of Abraham while he was grieving, but Abraham (being the rich man that he was) didn’t want to take advantage. It only took 23 chapters to find a heartwarming story.
Chapter 24-Abraham is getting old and wants to find Isaac a wife, so he has his servant promise to go find a wife for Isaac amongst Abraham’s family. The servant goes, and prays that God will give him a sign as to which woman he should pick. The one that offered him water to drink and some for his camels as well was the winner; her name was Rebekah- a descendant of Abraham’s brother from the genealogy in the preceding chapter. The servant pays the bride price and takes her home to Isaac, and they get married.
Verse 2-3 “So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, ‘Please, put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord…that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites…”
I was curious about the “put your hand under my thigh” part, so I Google’d it, and it’s even weirder than I expected! From the first Google result for “hand under my thigh”:
According to Rashi, based on the Midrash Rabbah, it does not mean literally the thigh; it means the Milah (organ of circumcision). The reason is because one who takes an oath must hold in his hand a sacred object.
Again, I’m willing to play along with the “pick a wife from my family” incest business- they’re really just distant cousins after all. But I’m curious why Abraham makes a servant go and makes a big deal of “Beware that you do not take my son back there.” Was it important for Isaac not to return to the family homestead, or was it important that the bride not see him before it was too late?
Not that Rebekah had much choice in the matter. Her family agreed to the marriage deal and had received many gifts of gold, silver and clothing before finally they asked her, “Will you go with this man?” Somehow I doubt she really had much choice.
That bit about the family getting lots of gifts made me wonder- we generally think of dowries as money paid to the groom’s family, but this seems to be money paid to the bride’s family. Not that that’s any less unsavory- one way the bride’s family pays to get rid of her, the other way the groom’s family buys her like livestock. Not my idea of romantic.
My last little bit of commentary for the evening comes from verse 67: “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” Sex, it’s good for what ails you!