I hope you’re ready for some plagues, because today we’ve got plagues. Well, one plague. Don’t worry, there are more later.
Houston, we have a problem. I was all set to examine how God answers Moses’ questions and frustrations from our passage yesterday, make a point about how he doesn’t get angry with him this time, dig into the content of his response, but almost immediately I encountered complications. As God appeals to his history with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to underscore his commitment to their descendants, he makes a claim that is, prima facie, hog-bonkers.
Here’s a passage that used to agitate me. To set the stage, Jacob and his twelve sons have long since died, and the current Pharaoh is struggling to control the numerous Hebrews in his kingdom. He forces them into hard labor, but they still prosper. So he tries to enlist the Hebrew midwives to kill all the Hebrew sons as they’re born. The Hebrew midwives don’t comply. But they lie in order to save the newborns, and therein lies the complication.
Good lord, where do I begin? This chapter’s got more drama than a 1980s daytime television serial. First we pick up where we left off in Rachel and Leah’s race to have as many sons that they can call their own as humanly possible, and then Laban tries to convince Jacob to continue working for him when Jacob has clearly had enough of employment under his uncle. The friction is palpable, and all through the chapter my soul is facepalming. Remember how I ended Friday’s post with the observation that maybe, just maybe, human relationships are worth it? That’s a hard “maybe.”
In today’s chapter, Isaac travels in the land of a foreign king, in order to avoid the effects of a local famine, and to keep the inhabitants from killing him and taking his extremely attractive wife, he claims she’s his sister. Sound familiar? It’s the same thing Abraham did twice before. However, to paraphrase the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, you can’t step in the same river twice, much less the same river that your father stepped in. Isaac’s encounter doesn’t go exactly as his father’s two encounters did, but what are we to make of that?
Today’s chapter tells the story of the Binding of Isaac, in which God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, Abraham goes to do it, and the angel of the Lord tells him that he doesn’t actually have to sacrifice his son. It’s one of the better-known passages from the Bible, and with good reason. An ostensibly all-loving God calling for human sacrifice, only to turn around and say, “No, wait, sacrifice this ram instead,” has a way of arresting our attention. But I feel like the story, in its magnitude, has me hemmed in on all sides. How can I adequately address its scope? How can I say something worthy of the monumental matters it raises?
Meet Abraham. He’s known as Abram right now. He’s the son of Terah, descended from Noah’s son Shem, whose name means “name.” In the last chapter, Abraham’s dad died, and in this chapter, God calls Abraham to go to a place where God will bless Abraham, his descendants, and finally all the families of the earth. Abraham follows God’s leading to the land of Canaan, which is named for the son of Noah’s youngest son Ham. Abraham builds an altar to God there, and he later moves on to Bethel, where he also builds an altar. But more importantly for today’s post, he goes down to Egypt to avoid the effects of a famine, and while he’s there, problematic stuff happens.