Rationalizing the Narratives: Sodom and Gomorrah and The Binding of Isaac


Leaving Sodom and Gomorrah

Consider these two observations:

In the “Sodom and Gomorrah” narrative, Abraham tries to persuade God to spare the inhabitants of these two cities if just a few righteous individuals can be found. Justice (but also mercy and compassion) are at the core of Abraham’s persistent objections to God’s plan to decimate the two cities. In this narrative, Abraham is shown to care deeply for the innocent and to courageously contend against God’s plan on their behalf.


Abraham attempts to kill his son, Isaac

On the other hand, in the story of “The Binding of Isaac” (a.k.a., The Akedah), Abraham drops everything in order to carry out God’s wish that his son, Isaac, be sacrificed by his own hand. No objection. No negotiation. No pleas for mercy. Abraham’s is an unquestioning, almost slavish response. Where is the humanity he showed so obviously and persistently in the Sodom-Gomorrah narrative in light of the fact that it is his own [innocent] son that is to be murdered-  by his own hand, no less?

I don’t have the answer (and may never have – it’s a profoundly complex and culture-laden question). But, there are hints that might be pursued, one of which is that God does not actually command that Abraham murder Isaac. Rather, Genesis 22:2 turns out to be a request, not a command. Here is how the English reads from the actual Hebrew of the first part of Genesis 22:2,

And God said, “Please, take your son, your only son …”1)or instead of ‘please’, the Hebrew word from which this is translated can, and often is, translated as, “I pray you”

As far as I can tell, this verse is the only instance in all of the Hebrew Bible in which God says please. Is this significant? I don’t know but deviations from expected behavior are almost always significant. Nevertheless, at this point I’m grasping at straws. I’m left wondering what I (we?) may have missed in interpreting the lessons to be divined from these two famous narratives?

What do you think? I’m truly open to any and all suggestions.

References   [ + ]

1. or instead of ‘please’, the Hebrew word from which this is translated can, and often is, translated as, “I pray you”
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So, You Think You Know Your Bible

how well do you know the bible


The First Creation Story:

  1. According to the Bible was the earth created from nothing? Explain.
  2. Reconcile God’s omniscience with the observation that the universe is perfectly indeterminate (i.e., unpredictable). HINT: Reflect on God’s attempt at making fruit trees in vv 1:11-12
  3. Why did God NOT judge His creative work on the second day as good – like He did for the other 5 days?
  4. Mankind is made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27). What is the difference between the two?
  5. In most ANE (Ancient Near East) creation stories (including Genesis) the protagonist is made in the image of god (or gods). So, if being made in the image of God is commonplace, why do we make it such a big deal?
  6. In Genesis 1:28 mankind is commanded to rule over God’s creation. More specifically, mankind is commanded to rule differently for inanimate and animate creations. Explain the difference?
  7. What is the significance of the Sabbath?
  8. What is the last verse of the first creation story?

Second Creation Story:

  1. In the first creation story mankind’s purpose was to rule over all of God’s creation. So, what does the 2nd creation story tell us about why God created mankind?
  2. Who committed the very first transgression in the Garden of Eden (HINT: Deuteronomy 4:2)
  3. In Genesis 2:16, God gives Adam permission to eat from each and every tree in the Garden of Eden, including the tree of knowledge. Explain, then, how eating from the tree of knowledge was a disobedient act?
  4. What does the phrase “good and evil” (Heb: tov va·ra) really mean (HINT: It’s not what you’ve been taught)?
  5. Why did Adam and Eve not die after eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge?
  6. In what sense was it “not good” for Adam to be alone – Lack of companionship. Lack of a servant? Lack of someone to help him tend the garden? something else?
  7. Why did God banish Adam and Eve from Eden (HINT: it was not a punishment. It has to do with the answer to question ‘d’)?
  8. Read and Study Genesis 3:16. Are husbands really required to rule over their wives when they’re in pain? If yes, do you think such marriages are destined for success? If not, explain.

The answers to these questions will appear in two weeks, following the lecture and discussion next week at the “Lutrin Fly-Fishing and Bible Thumpin’ Conclave”. Stay tuned.

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Tolerating Moral Differences

The Bible has an interesting take on tolerating moral differences. After forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites were a force with which to be reckoned, and constituted a formidable nation in their own right. Ready to enter and take possession of the land of Canaan, God instructs them to attack and destroy the local tribes of Canaan before establishing their settlements. Why?

Because, as God informs the Israelites, the Canaanites “burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods”(Deut 12:31).

But, while God detests child sacrifice, His command has nothing to do with ridding the world of this practice! Rather, He is unwilling to have His people live among the Canaanites and yet tolerate child sacrifice. Thus, we read in Deut 20:17-18, that God commands the Israelites to annihilate everyone in Canaan “so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD your God.”

God’s fear was that by coexisting with a culture that engaged in such practices, the Israelites would inevitably begin to worship the Canaanite gods.

Molek (Masoretic מֹלֶךְ) is the Biblical name of a Canaanite god or possibly an ancient form of propitiatory child sacrifice by parents as sacrifice for the deity.

Molekh (Masoretic מֹלֶךְ) is the Biblical name of a Canaanite god or possibly an ancient form of propitiatory child sacrifice by parents as sacrifice for the deity.

Child sacrifice to the god Molekh was an important moral obligation for the people of Canaan. So important, in fact, that when Joshua offered peace to any city that would give up the practice, all but one city refused the peace offering (Joshua 11:18-19). In offering peace, Joshua was not abrogating God’s command. He was executing God’s intentions. As God explained (see above), His purpose was to protect the Israelites from the temptation to worship Molekh. The intent of God’s command was to remove the temptation that tolerance encourages and implicitly supports.

tolerance-not-christian-virtueThe tolerance of moral diversity is simply not a Judeo-Christian value. So, are Jews and Christians then to murder those whose moral values differ from theirs? Of course not. As did Joshua, we are to seek God’s intentions which, throughout the Holy Scriptures, requires the exercise of critical thought and reasoned judgment. We are not, as many literalists would have it, to lose ourselves in the forest because all we see are trees.

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The Walls of Jerusalem

The rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, argued Nehemiah, would demonstrate God’s blessing upon His people. Thus, Nehemiah, having been put in charge of Jerusalem, understood that he bore a responsibility to God to rebuild the wall.


Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem ca 443 BC

By the end of Chapter 3, the wall had been completed. According to the narrative, God led Nehemiah to work on the walls, no less than he had led Ezra to work on the temple.  We learn from this that both the sacred and the secular were necessary to fulfill God’s plan to restore the nation of Israel. If the walls were unfinished, the temple would have never been finished. Both were necessary.

The reason for this is easy to understand. Without a wall, no city in the ancient Near East was safe from bandits, gangs and wild animals – even though the empire might be at peace. The more economically and culturally developed a city was, the greater the value of things in the city, and the greater the need for the wall. The temple, with its rich decorations, would have been particularly at risk. Practically speaking, no wall means no city, and no city means no temple.

In Leviticus 19:34, God commands that

The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

This verse is often cited by Christians who would advocate for open borders. But, that’s not the end of the story. First of all, foreigners who lived with the Israelites or within Israelite communities were required to live as their hosts lived, including participating in the Israelite ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations. In other words, to remain within the community and be treated as a native, the alien must adopt and live by Israeli values. In other words, only the alien who is willing to live by their host’s customs were to be permitted to dwell within the community (Exodus 12:49, Leviticus 24:16, 22).

The biblical argument for the U.S. to open her borders is compelling only insofar as the immigrants agree to adopt American values. Yes, they can retain the customs of their culture but only so long as those customs are not opposed to American values.

The Pope and other open-border advocates are insisting that we accept aliens who are unwilling to abide by our laws AND behave according to our customs. Were we to accommodate aliens to enter the country and not abide by our laws, as the Pope and other open-border Christians advocate, we would be breaking faith with the biblical narrative.

Now, go and study


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