Monday, January 10, 2011

God's Faithfulness and Abraham's Faith

Over the weekend we read about the birth of Isaac and the subsequent testing of Abraham's faith. However, the miraculous birth of Isaac was preceded by an episode of human impatience and lack of trust in God's provision, namely the conception and birth of Ishmael (Genesis 16). When it seemed that God was tarrying in providing Abraham and Sarah with offspring, they took matters into their own hands. Abraham had marital relations with Sarah's servant, Hagar, who conceived and gave birth to Ishmael. The Judeo-Christian tradition has maintained that Isaac, not Ishmael, is the true heir of Abraham. However, within the Islamic tradition, Ishmael is considered a prophet and the ancestor of the Arab people. It is important to note that while Isaac takes priority over Ishmael within the biblical narrative, God does not abandon Hagar and her son (see Genesis 21:8-21).

The birth of Isaac (Genesis 21) is a pivital turning point within the overal narrative of Genesis. Even in the face of human failure and brokenness, God remains faithful to the covenant. This is a key feature of Old Testament theology: God's purposes cannot be thwarted; even in the face of the most grievious unfaithfulness of Israel, God never abandons his purpose and promise. The name Isaac means "he laughs," since Sarah intially laughed at the prospect of conceiving a child in her old age.
However, the surprise and joy surrounding the birth of Isaac is quickly tempered when, in chapter 22, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, his only son, the son he loves. As one biblical scholar observes, "In chapter 12, Abraham was called to relinquish his past for the promise that he would be the father of a great nation. In the divine command to sacrifice Isaac in chapter 22, Abraham is directed to give up the future and the promise as well." The covenant relationship between Abraham and God is one that requires ultimate surrender and complete obedience.
As Abraham and Isaac are making their way up the mountain, Isaac asks his father, "Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" To which Abraham responds, "God himself will provide the lamb." Many Christian theologians have interpreted Abraham's response as a foreshadowing of the coming of Christ, who was the Lamb provided by God to be sacrificed for the sins of the world. When Abraham is about to slay his son, an angel of the Lord commands Abraham to stop. Abraham sees a ram caught in the thicket and he sacrifices the ram as a substitute for Isaac. Again, many Christian theologians have seen similiarities between the substitution of the ram for Isaac and the substitution of Christ for humanity.
Finally, a word about the names of places. In the Old Testament, many important locations were named because of some great event or divine encounter that occurred there. So, in today's reading, Abraham names this place Jehovah Jireh - "The Lord Will Provide."


  1. Gen 26:  Issac too! with the wife/sister thing?!
    Is this the same Abimelik with the father?

  2. What we find is that the Old Testament writers like to link the generations with similar stories and experiences; therefore, we find these patterns develop as we follow the family tree. Yes...this is the same Abimelech.