Biblical Literature I, Dr. Barry Matlock
Exercise 33, 9/18/12
In this passage, we see Abraham as a crafty manipulator – who is willing to take risks to survive in challenging situations. Abraham disguises his wife as his sister, because he is afraid that if the Egyptian authorities know that she is his wife, they will kill him because she is so beautiful and therefore also desirable. Had Abraham seen this sort of thing happen before? It is possible that his fears had a basis in personal experience – and this was his attempt to deal with what may have been a common practice in his own experience. Nevertheless, we see both a liar and a chameleon manifest in the character of Abraham, as it relates to his attempt to protect his life from what he perceived as a potential threat.
In this verse, we see Abraham possessive of what seems to be a go-with-the-flow attitude. His wife Sarai suggests that he sleep with Hagar, one of their slaves, to conceive offspring – so that the family can be sustained economically – as was the situation for families in this day and time. He seems to let his wife essentially rule the roof. She tells him to sleep with someone – and he does. She tells him she is angry with the woman over her pregnancy – and he tells her to do with her what he wants. This may be interpreted as a lack of leadership on the part of Abraham in terms of his own authority over his own family. Other interpretations could include a lack of faith, on both the part of Sarai and Abraham, because they hatched a plot on their own – rather then continuing to trust in God for their sustenance. Either way – it is an example of failed leadership on the part of Abraham.
In this passage, we are shown the promise that is made to Abraham regarding a son. One characteristic that may be able to be gleaned from this passage is Abraham’s role as intercessor or supplicant. When he meets the triune manifestation of God, he entreats Him/them to come and eat with him. The eating of food is a mark of intimacy and communion in this historical setting – and so it shows Abraham’s desire for intimacy with God.
This passage is perhaps one of the most interesting tales of Abraham, and has been pivotal in the theology of many theologians – such Søren Kierkegaard. In this passage we see Abraham’s faith tested in a profound way. Isaac was God’s promise to Abraham – and in the day and age of the context, would have been critical to their own survival. In this sense – Isaac represented both a promise and life itself. He represented everything to Abraham. God’s insistence on the sacrifice of Isaac represents a request of God on the part of Abraham to surrender everything to God in a sense of totality. Søren Kierkegaard refers to this act a the ‘teleological suspension of the ethical’ in terms of a radicalized faith that goes beyond what is right and wrong, common sense or foolish. It is an act of complete surrender. As we see – God does not actually allow Abraham to sacrifice Isaac – rather He has an angel hold back his hand, and then provides a ram stuck in the thicket for the sacrifice. In Christian theology – it is widely held that the ram is a metanarrational archetype for a Christ-figure. In modern evangelical parlance, it is assumed that Christians are called to fully surrender to Christ the totality of their lives. Søren Kierkegaard argues that a further dynamic is that in this complete surrender – there is a reciprocal act that takes place: that God gives everything back, which He has asked to be surrendered to Him. A soteriological act takes place, here, in that that which is surrendered is redeemed and placed in a different place then it was before in the understanding of the believer. Abraham’s seemingly insane act – becomes an act of tremendous faith – and represents the first example of a radical submission, coupled with radical reward.