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 …”((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.

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One Response to Rationalizing the Narratives: Sodom and Gomorrah and The Binding of Isaac

  1. Chuck Nance says:

    *It is possible that God was testing Abraham’s obedience. If he doubted God’s purpose in destroying the two cities, perhaps he was not being obedient to God. Perhaps, God wanted to know Abraham’s real loyalty, God or men. In the case of sacrificing the son, Abraham was obedient to God’s commandment. It is possible that the key to salvation is obedience to God’s Commandments.

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