Genesis 21-23

Good morning, and congratulations on reaching the end of this first week reading the Bible together! I’m grateful for your sustained interest, particularly since Genesis has served up such a potent mix of stories each day. Your observations, bringing in other learning and perspectives, make this a lovely and enriching experience. Thank you for your comments! Today’s reading is Genesis 21-23, where we experience the birth of the long-promised Isaac, witness its consequences for Hagar and Ishmael, journey with anguish to Isaac’s near-sacrifice at Abraham’s hand, then mark the death of Sarah.

Isaac’s birth story plays up Abraham and Sarah’s disbelieving laughter at earlier predictions of his arrival, and his name means “Laughter”. God has been faithful to the promises made over the past several chapters. This is not good news for Hagar and Ishmael, however. Sarah’s pride in her newborn makes her jealous and cruel toward Hagar once again. Reluctant Abraham concedes to Sarah’s demand, and he expels Hagar and Ishmael to the desert. Only divine intervention saves their lives, but I see a moral of the story in that God provides also for those who end up “losers” in this ancestral history. The story exists also as a cautionary tale, warning that those who have felt God’s favor may still be stone-hearted in their treatment of others who deserve the same favor.

After an interlude about Abraham’s business dealings, we come to another cautionary tale, this one about faith taken to its murderous extreme. The near-sacrifice of Isaac is one of the most wrenching stories of the Hebrew Bible. It has inspired boundless commentary about God’s motives, Abraham’s fanatical obedience, and Isaac’s state of mind. For my part, I cannot fathom that this was indeed commanded by God. If anything, the test to Abraham was whether he would stop in time, valuing God-given life over unquestioning obedience. God intervenes when it’s clear that Abraham is unwilling to check his own certainty that he heard God’s command right. Abraham shows us the peril of following so closely to what we assume is the will of God that we are willing to murder the image of God in another person. Though he is a remarkable common ancestor of three faiths, Abraham very nearly breaks the commandment against murder given later at Mount Sinai. Much, much more can be said about this episode, and I look forward to your reactions.

Chapter 23 describes Sarah’s death and Abraham’s purchase of land which will be her final resting place. Happy reading!

Read Genesis 21-23.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Genesis 24-25. Thanks for reading!

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