Saturday, November 26, 2011

They even burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods

Abraham's sacrifice. Rembrandt
There are stories in the old testament that stand against our sensibilities. One of these is the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. 
Early next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he sent out for the place God had told him about [where he Isaac was to be sacrificed]. (Gn 22,3, NIV)
The story of the Binding of Isaac is well known. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son to him, and he accepted. At the last moment however an angel of the Lord stops the sacrifice of Isaac and in his place provides a ram. This is a very unsettling story, one that makes us ask what kind of God is this that demands the offering of a son? I will try (at least partially) to address this question here, possibly in more than one post. 

It would be quite convenient to start by looking at the context. We know that many cultures from the world have sacrificed humans to their gods. These cultures include the aztecs, past hinduism, original tribes from Canada, tribes from Africa, etc. It seems that sacrificing human beings is quite universal. It should then not come as a surprise to find that, in the Old Testament times, nations to which the Israelites relate do the same. For instance, take the nation of the Moabites. At a given time, according to what the book of Kings tells us, the Israelites attack the king of the Moabites because he decided to stop paying taxes to the king of Israel
When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they failed. Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a [burning] sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land. (2 Kings 26-27, NIV)
What we see here is a human sacrifice. The son of the Moabite King, the heir of the trone, is burnt on the city wall as an offering to the Moabite God, in order to invoke his favor. And, according to the story, it worked, even if it could have been because the israelites might have been horrified at the sight of this barbaric action.

In any case, the fact that the Israelites were in contact with nations that were offering their sons and daughters as sacrifices made the Israelites to wonder if they should do the same.  Fortunately, the religous sensibility of the Israelites had come to the understanding that human sacrifice is not what God wills. In the book of Deuteronomy, for instance, within other prescriptions to be observed in the promised land, we find the following:

The LORD your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess.But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. (Dt 12, 29-31)
And indeed. Some of the Israelites succumbed to the temptation, because otherwise we wouldn't find this next, neither the one in Levitic 18, where the sacrificing of sons or daughters is forbidden again.
The story of Abraham therefore, in this context, seems quite an appropriate one. When the Isrelites were tempted to burn their sons or daughters, they could turn their minds to this story and remember that this was not the will of God. Maybe this is what the Binding of Isaac tells us, even if it seems to us that God demans a human sacrifice, this is not so, this is not how God wants to be worshiped.

This is all for today.  I hope you liked this post.

Finally, Good advent everyone!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011