Tag Archives: genesis 22

Can Bible Stories Be Spiritually True, But Factually False? (Ishmael and Isaac’s Ages)

The Bible overall, but especially Genesis, is a collection of stories. These stories were stitched together (either by man or God, it doesn’t matter) to make theological or historical points. I’ve made a big deal out of ages and timelines in the last couple of posts because I love facts. I love nuggets of information that I can hold on to and draw context with. Genealogical tables, lists of place names, and timelines all fascinate me in the bible and I’ve done posts about all three.

The truth is though, that sometimes it seems like the author didn’t care about all of that. Some stories appear to be spiritually true more than they are historically true, or even true relative to other stories. This happens in the Proverbs (some of which directly contradict each other), this happens in Numbers (the inflated population figures), and it happens in Genesis. The ages of Isaac and Ishmael is one of those “truths”.

What do I mean? Well, I guess you’ll have to keep reading…

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Chayei Sarah – The Life (and Death) of Sarah

In the Jewish cycle, Genesis 23 begins the fifth Torah portion: Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah. Like all portions, it is named for its first phrase:

And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiriatharba—the same is Hebron—in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
Genesis 23:1-2

Ironically, while the name of this portion celebrates life, its content is just the opposite: it begins with Sarah’s death and ends with Abraham’s. In the middle is Isaac’s marriage, a fitting reminder that the cycle of life continues even as the ones we love pass away.

The circumstances of Sarah’s final days is one of the smaller mysteries of the Bible, and one that Jewish and Christian sources tend to disagree on. We know how old Sarah was when she died, but why did she die alone? What caused her death? Was she the Bible’s first divorcee? Read on for more.

 

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Isaac at Moriah and the Temple Mount

It’s no mystery that I love all the “begats” in the bible and I’ve built complex charts and relationship maps to tease out interesting details. (My family tree of every named individual in the Torah is completed, but I have to make it presentable and write up explanations for some of my choices.) I am now trying to pay more attention to the places in the bible and their connections.

Using my previous post on the Binding of Isaac as an example, the fact that Isaac lived at Beer-lahai-roi after his near-sacrifice deepens the text. Now, we as readers can connect that as where Hagar first met God and ponder its significance. While the book does not provide easy answers, we can ask new questions. Did he go there because it was hallowed ground? Was there a connection between him and Hagar or Ishmael at that spot? Could Isaac have gone there in search of God himself, as Hagar did when she ran away? There are no answers to these questions, but asking them brings us closer to Isaac and closer to the text.

As important as Beer-lahai-roi is, undoubtedly the most important place mentioned in the Binding of Isaac is Moriah, the region where he was to be offered to God. It may be the most important place in the while bible.

Read on for more.

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Abraham’s True Sacrifice – His Family

We’re up to one of those famous stories in the bible. The “Binding of Isaac”, as it is generally called, is almost as well known as Noah’s Ark or the Parting of the Red Sea and it does so without cute animals or Charlton Heston. In this story, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to Him, only to relent at the last moment and provide a ram to use instead. Because of his commitment to God, Abraham proves himself worthy again to be the patriarch of the future Israel.

This test and validation narrative is a good one, but a careful reading shows that God wasn’t demanding an empty sacrifice of Abraham. Although Isaac was spared the knife, God dealt Abraham a tremendous hidden sacrifice: a family, a father and son, walked up the mountain together but two strangers walked down. In one stroke, Abraham’s family was shattered. He, his son, and his wife would never be together again.

Read on for more.

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