Lectionary Year A
June 27, 1999
June 30, 2002

II. Disposition


Gunkel identified large parts of Genesis as "saga, "an ancient form of poetic story dealing with persons and events of the distant past which was passed along orally in a circle of tradition." (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, Fortress Press 1979, p. 140). Brevard Childs argued that a major concern of the material in Genesis was to "describe both creation and world history in the light of the divine will for a chosen people."

The pericope is narrative, which is filled with tension and pathos. Abraham, whose heir and only son (by Sarai!) Isaac is the miraculous fruit of God's promise, is told to sacrifice Isaac. Brueggeman (Genesis, Interpretation Series, p. 185) calls this story of Gen. 22:1-14 the "crescendo" of the Abraham stories.

The "build up": God summons, Abraham responds, God gives the terrible command to sacrifice Isaac (vv. 1-2)
Hinge: Abraham responds
Climax: Abraham starts to offer up Isaac, his hand is stayed (vv. 7-8)
Resolution: God calls, Abraham answers again, and a sacrifice is provided (vv. 11-12 ) (Brueggeman, p. 186)


1. Terrible suspense. I always had trouble with this story in Sunday School: why would God do such a thing, make such a fearsome demand, after promising Abraham a son, despite his and Sarah's advanced ages?

2. A couple of very modern questions, unaswerable, I know:
      a. Where was Sarah? What would she say to this?
      b. What effect would this have on Isaac?! I remember a colleague once noting that Isaac is never really that much of a presence after this!

3. How to preach this? How would it sound to a parent who has lost a child to illness or tragedy: "God wanted you to give her/him up, like Abraham was willing to"? I remember in my first pastorate teaching a Bible study on this passage. A participant who had lost her husband to cancer some months before couldn't bear the story and had to leave. What track to take: Testing? Sacrifice? Giving Up? How to do it without opening wounds-- or, can it be done?

4. Of course, as a Christian, I see a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ. It's a temptation to jump right to that -- "See, it's all fine, God really wasn't going to ask too much of Abraham, it's all about Jesus!" -- but how to look back through the lens of the Cross without taking away from the drama and the pain of the text?

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