The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac January 9, 2010
The Sacrifice of Isaac by Rembrandt

I’m leading what we call “sermon time” at Solomon’s Porch tomorrow night, and the text is Abraham’s “binding of Isaac.”  I’m most interested in why this story was so intriguing to Kierkegaard that he wrote an entire book, Fear and Trembling, about it.

Has anyone read that?  What are your thoughts?

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  • Dave H

    Haven’t read F&T. I did really like Buechner’s take on this horror story in “Son of Laughter.” The opening chapters reflect on this incident as opening up wounds in Isaac that spread through his family for generations. How does someone recover from this kind of betrayal and pain? Buechner suggests: we don’t; hence the need for redemption and reconciliation. The binding of Isaac is precisely what we need to be saved from.

  • I read Fear and Trembling in one of my Theology classes at Campbell. I remember there being a debate about the significance of the story. Should we accept that we need to to what God asks of us, even if it leads us to kill? or Is this indeed a horror story and Why would God ask us to kill anyone? All that being said… I need to read Fear and Trembling again.

  • Troy Blomquist

    The story quite frightened me as a child; later when I read Fear & Trembling in college I was confused and disheartened about the story, what it might have meant about the nature of God. I am sure these reactions are because of reading the Binding within an angry holiness God framework (i.e., if God could warrant or even predestine the slaughter of the children of Jericho at the hand of Joshua and his men he could quite easily have Abraham kill Isaac).

    I don’t hold this angry Calvinist view of God now, and I wonder what the biblical story (and F & T) would look like now? Certainly much more complicated.

  • I think in that book I remember that Soren took the view that isaac was a child (in contrast to the rabbinic midrashim or Talmud saying isaac may have been in his thirties). I suppose being a child makes sense if you mmaje much of “binding”- Isaac was struggling, so he had to be bound and if so, he had to be you for a 100+ yr old Abraham to subdue him.

    Soren makes much of how The ends justifying Abraham. If Abraham had misheard god, then he would be just another religios lunatic killing kids bc god told him too. Abraham, writes kierkegaard, is only remebered as righteous in his actions bc of the result in hindsight- hence the semi-existentialist tilt to it

  • Haha sorry for all those impressive typos- the iPhone doesn’t always catch me

  • Lisa Domke

    Hi Tony: Have not read F&T, but would love to hear your thoughts on the binding of Isaac. A Rabbi friend was telling me that they don’t teach those stories to kids at Temple School…too scary. (yet my 2-yr-old was handed a nail once at Easter) I am deeply troubled by the Isaac story and have been wondering what to make of it in light of my newer understandings of God and Jesus. I’m sure you’ve got it all figured out, so DO share please! =)

  • I like Dylan’s version of the story at the start of “Highway 61 Revisited.” And Woody Allen’s version — I *think* it’s in *Without Feathers*.
    I guess Kierkegaard does some interesting things with it, too.

    You can do what you want, Abe, but

  • Dude, you must have drawn the short straw…

    I don’t know about Soren, but I blogged about that awful story after visiting SP a few months ago. I think it was Ben’s song that did me in:

  • I read F&T about 15 years ago, around the time Pam and I were thinking about having kids. I was in favor of waiting but the book changed my mind. I don’t remember much about the book except that it made me realize that Abraham didn’t know how the story would turn out. Somehow I always had assumed that Abraham knew God would stop him at the last minute. Anyway, after reading it I came away with a new attitude about not having to have everything all figured out and a sure thing before going forward. Aside from all the problematic aspects of the story, it did lead me to become a father, and to name our son Isaac.

  • duhsciple

    Rob Bell does a good job with this story in “the gods are not angry”. It is about how human being feel powerless before the powers. There is an anxiety. Have we done enough to deserve love? Have we been thankful enough for the love we have received? A cycle begins where you offer more and more and more until you are sacrificing your firstborn. That’s what Abraham’s father’s gods demanded. Now, in this story, Abraham is moving further away from his father’s house. The God of Abraham does not demand sacrifices like this. But it took this story to learn it.

    Meanwhile, the sacrifice thread continues to play itself out in the rest of the Bible. As Jesus followers, we are to offer our lives as a “living sacrifice” (= loving others as we have been loved)

    Bottom line for me. It is problematic to worship a god who demands murder, genocide, abuse, violence, or any kind of “sacrifice” that leads to death. I believe in the God of Resurrection and Life. Amen!

  • i am doing some research on this right now and getting some interesting insight to this from a jewish perspective. would love to hear your guys thoughts on this too as i am going to be teaching on this, more from a progressive/process theology perspective…check this link out for a midrashic approach: