Ohhhhh! So it wasn’t a test of faith for Abraham after all! It was a way to teach some little punk a lesson! Too bad that angel stepped in and messed it all up. What a chump.
The Binding of Isaac is another one of those tales from Biblical mythology where God, in his infinite wisdom and compassion, decides to harass and terrify innocent people to make a point. Not only does he terrify innocent people, they happen to be faithful folks as well, which makes the whole story just a little bit weirder.
For centuries, Jewish and Christian scholars have tried to make sense of this tale. Why does God, an infinitely powerful deity, take time out of his undoubtedly busy schedule to tell an old man to take his son up to a mountain and make a sacrifice of him? If he actually wanted a sacrifice, he would have let Abraham finish the job, but an angel shows up and puts a stop to the whole affair. Abrahamic faiths have long attested that God is compassionate and good and that he looks after the people of Earth but stories like this tend to throw a wrench into the works. Sure, it’d be a lot worse if the Big Guy had actually let Abraham kill his son, but it still doesn’t look good.
What I’m saying is that this story doesn’t really help Yahweh’s public image.
The general consensus from the sort of people that discuss this type of thing at length is that God was simply testing the faith and loyalty of Abraham. By demanding an outrageous act, God hoped to see whether or not this supposedly righteous man were as true of spirit as he appeared. It just so happens that Abraham was faithful enough (or crazy enough) to go through with it right up until the very last minute when the angel stops his blade.
That’s dedication, yo.
Now, why God needed a demonstration of faith rather than simply KNOWING Abraham was faithful and true is beyond me and, in fact, is something some religious scholars have spent a lot of time thinking about. An all powerful, all knowing deity that can do anything he wants shouldn’t have to test people, right? Well, there’s another interpretation of the story that takes this into account. See, Yahweh was just one of many deities amongst the many clans and tribes of the Middle East. In that part of the world, as in many others, gods demanded sacrifice and, sometimes, that sacrifice was one of human flesh. In an area rife with such barbarism, the argument goes, it’s far more likely that God was demonstrating to his followers that he was unlike the other deities in the area. By stopping Abraham and refusing to take the sacrifice of Isaac’s life, Yahweh was showing that he was a different sort of God, one that objected to sacrificial killings. Really, a stand up sort of fellow.
Of course, God didn’t seem to care too much about killing folks when he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah…or when he flooded the entire earth and killed everyone except the people and animals on Noah’s Ark…or when he murdered countless innocent Egyptian children to punish Pharaoh for being a total dickweed to Moses…or when…
But hey, at least he didn’t ask the ancient Hebrews to kill their own in his name, right? No, He only went around terrorizing them to make a bunch of points he could have made by sitting down and talking to them instead.
I guess that’s cool.