Tag Archives: isaac

Found Link – Pondering Scripture

Rebekah and Abraham’s Servant at the well. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

I admit it: I’m stuck on Genesis 24. It’s such a beautiful, complex chapter. In sixty-seven verses, it say so much and has so may allusions to other stories that I struggle to capture it all. This is the story of Abraham’s servant’s search for a wife for Isaac, a job that both seems incredibly important (his family will inherit Israel) and also unimportant. After all, neither Abraham nor Isaac could be bothered to do the mate-searching for themselves. Between that and fact-checking my Torah family tree, I’m just behind!

As I finish writing some actual content, here’s a blog that has some: Pondering Scripture by Justin Honse. The author is slowly working his way through the bible, but is still in Genesis after several years of writing. That sounds very familiar…

Two that I liked about Genesis 24:

Check out Justin’s blog.

Up next: Nahor, brother of Abraham

 

 

 

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…

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

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.

 

Continue reading Chayei Sarah – The Life (and Death) of Sarah

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.

Continue reading Isaac at Moriah and the Temple Mount

Errata: Isaac in the East

Oh, the troubles a little comma can make! Yesterday’s post on the separation of Abraham’s family after the Binding of Isaac had an error: I mistakenly said that Isaac had gone eastward between the time his mother died and when his father did. It’s a simple mistake and it’s because I was reading Genesis 25 using an archaic translation:

But unto the sons of the concubines, that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.

Genesis 25:6 (JPS, 1917 Edition)

Somehow in my reading and my note-taking, I got confused by the clauses. It was the sons of the concubines that were “unto the east country” and not Isaac. While the bible doesn’t say, Isaac was probably at Beer-lahai-roi, where he was both before and after this passage.

This doesn’t change my explanation much, except to say that Isaac didn’t choose this as his special place to go when his father passed away. It does drive home me a lesson for me that I should know already: translations matter. I use the 1917 JPS for this blog because it’s so cut-and-paste-able, but it is also not the most modern of translations. The meaning of words drift over even a hundred years and I like to be sure that words mean what I think they mean. Still, this is more a case of misreading than a text gone bad.

The New International Version (1984) gives a clearer translation:

But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.

Genesis 25:6 (New International Version, 1984)

Much more understandable!

Up next: Back on Moriah!

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.

Continue reading Abraham’s True Sacrifice – His Family

Sarah’s Laughter – Isaac’s Name Pun

While I love the bible in translation, there are little moments that I miss for not being able to read the original Hebrew. All translations have to make difficult choices. Given a poem, for example, do we translate for the meaning or the meter of the verse? Should we fail at both and land in between? The bible contains poetry, of course, but these translation challenges happen whenever there is wordplay in the bible.

The birth of Isaac is one of the places where the humor, in this case the puns, simply don’t come through in our translations. In Hebrew, Isaac’s name means “he laughs”. (I have no way to verify this, but several of my bibles reference in this a footnote.) By a complete non-coincidence, the verb “laugh” happens all over the several chapters of Genesis that refer to Isaac. In fact, the verb appears in that story in Genesis more than it appears in any other book except the Psalms.

Sarah and Abraham Hosting the Angels
Sarah and Abraham hosting the angels, presumably right before he fell flat on his face. (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s try an experiment. Let’s re-translate “Isaac” and “laughter” in the Isaac story as “Chuckles” (as a proper name) and “chuckle” (as a verb) and see what happens…

Then Abraham fell upon his face, and chuckled, and said in his heart: ‘Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?’ … And God said: ‘Nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Chuckles;

Modified Genesis 17:17-19

Not too bad, right? Funny, but understated. The vision of Abraham “falling on his face” underscores the humor intended. Can a woman that old have a child? Preposterous!

Genesis 21 follows up and knocks this pun out of the park:

And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bore to him, Chuckles. […] And Sarah said: ‘God hath made Chuckles [or chuckles] for me; every one that heareth will chuckle on account of me.’

Modified Genesis 21:2-7

Now, that’s funny!

(Thanks again to the Five Minute Bible blog which has inspired me to look for the humor in the sacred. Tim’s most recent post on Humor in the Bible is about the Book of Daniel.)

Up next: Something less funny.

Casting out Ishmael

God was very hard on Abraham’s relationship with his kids. Despite the fact that he would be “a great nation”, the choices (and commands) that God gave Abraham only served to separate him from his family. While the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac is better known, it must have been all the more heart-wrenching to Abraham for one often overlooked reason: he had already sacrificed his fatherhood for his real first-born son. When God commanded him later to “Take now thy son, thine only son,” when he took Isaac up the mountain, those words must have stung twice over: both with regret for the son he had already lost, as much as for the one that he knew he was soon to lose.

After a long break with posts about holidays and marriage, I have returned to the Genesis stories. (The last was the second wife-sister story, where Abraham first meets Abimelech.) This will begin a short cycle (with one intermission to return to the Abimelech story) that will ultimately result in the loss of everything Abraham ever loved: Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, and finally Sarah.

Read on!

Continue reading Casting out Ishmael

Marriage in the Bible – Part 4: Wives as Property

In honor of my first wedding anniversary, I’m doing a week-long look at marriage in the bible. Monday was marriage in the creation story, which first depicts something akin to marriage equality, before casting women below men after Eve’s sin. Tuesday was Levirate marriage, which describes a method by which widows can be married off to their spouse’s brother. Wednesday was polygamy, the one-sided practice of marriage plurality. These all dance around an uncomfortable truth: in many cases and in many ways, wives were property.

I should make clear of course that this doesn’t mean that the women in the Torah were subservient or weak, only that they were working in a system that was unkind to them. Read on!

 

Continue reading Marriage in the Bible – Part 4: Wives as Property