Incidentally, I like to go with the Jewish description (the Akedah) of this event--the binding of Isaac--rather than the typical Christian description--the sacrifice of Isaac--because, well, Isaac was bound for a sacrifice but wasn't actually sacrificed.
Many modern and liberal readers of Genesis 22 are rightly horrified that God would demand a father to sacrifice his own son. Even if it's just a test. The request seems cruel and inhumane.
And no doubt it is. But the other day I had this thought about the Akedah. What if the story of the Akedah was an apology for Canaanite neighbors?
We know that Israel's neighbors practiced child sacrifice. A practice that many Israelites were drawn into. For example:
2 Chronicles 28.1-3Thus the various prohibitions in the OT. For example:
Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and also made idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his children in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.
Leviticus 18.21Now my point here is this. Israel's faith wasn't to include child sacrifice but that was a part of neighboring religions. And I wonder what sort of religious debate this created. Specifically, if you came from a religion that practiced child sacrifice what sort of criticisms would you make about a religion that didn't have child sacrifices? I'm wondering here about Canaanite criticism of YHWH and the followers of YHWH. What form did that criticism take?
Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
Here's my guess. The criticism questioned the religious commitment of the Israelite religion, questioned the depth of the zeal of the Israelite faith. And it's easy to see how such a criticism could be made. The Canaanites did not withhold their child from the gods. The Israelites did. So you tell me, who looks more committed? Who is more "sold out" for their faith?
So what I'm wondering here is if the story of the Akedah is working as an apology in the face of that Canaanite criticism, that the followers of YHWH are less committed to their god because they don't practice child sacrifice. Because that seems to be precisely the point of the Akedah: that YHWH does not demand child sacrifice but that the followers of YHWH are just as committed to their god as are the Canaanites to theirs. The Akedah is a story that says that child sacrifice cannot be used as the ultimate test of religious devotion. And no doubt it was being use as such a test as the Israelites and Canaanites compared religions.
That YHWH doesn't demand child sacrifices is no reflection upon the love, faithfulness, and commitment of the Israelites. Abraham, as the founder of the faith, demonstrated this once at the beginning so no further tests are needed. The point has been made:
The passion and commitment of YHWH's followers in this new non-sacrificial faith is secured in the founding story of the Akedah.