About two weeks ago New Testament scholar Scot McKnight interviewed me about my recent book Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God (Baker Academic, 2021).
In the book I suggest that we have misunderstood the nature of the test God gave Abraham in Genesis 22 and that Abraham failed (or barely passed) the real test. I argue that the test was not whether Abraham would obey God, but whether he could discern that God’s character as merciful (that is, God wanted Abraham to realize that he didn’t really require child sacrifice).
The way Abraham would have shown that would have been by protesting the command God gave him to sacrifice his son; he should have interceded on behalf of Isaac. And God would have granted his request.
Of course, this goes against much traditional interpretation of Genesis 22. So if you want to understand why I read Genesis 22 differently, you might be interested in the podcast.
The podcast is now available on a variety of platforms, including Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podbeam, etc.
It was one of the more enjoyable podcast interviews I’ve done.
This is the description Scot has of the interview on the “Kingdom Roots” website:
It is traditional to think we should praise Abraham for his willingness to sacrifice his son as proof of his love for God. But have we misread the point of the story? Is it possible that a careful reading of Genesis 22 could reveal that God was not pleased with Abraham’s silent obedience?
Richard Middleton provides a fresh interpretation of Genesis 22 and reinforces the church’s resurgent interest in lament as an appropriate response to God. Belief in God doesn’t mean you’re forced to say what you think God wants you to say. God can and wants to hear your raw and honest requests.
Scot previously wrote a blog post about the book (and the upcoming podcast), called, “Was Abraham a Good Example?” I reposted it on my own blog site.
If you listened to the podcast, I would be interested in comments.
Great podcast interview!
Thanks for your continued scholarship Dr. Middleton.
I wished there would have been more time for you to further distinguish the differences in testing Abraham’s faith in God (something Abraham might have earned a C+ in as celebrated in Hebrews and James) and testing Abraham’s understanding of Yahweh’s loving character (as well as Abraham’s love for Isaac) when compared to the gods of the other nations to whom children were sacrificed. For me, this helps contextualize what the New Testament writers were celebrating in Abraham. Abraham failed this latter test by not arguing with Yahweh because (in addition to not loving Isaac) he misunderstood Yahweh’s character, equating it to that of other ruthless gods desiring human sacrifice.
While somewhat removed from your narratological approach, what are your thoughts about Abraham potentially hearing a divine voice other than Yahweh’s (angel) in Genesis 22:1-8 with regard to later Second Temple dualism represented in pseudepigrapha like Jubilees 17:15-16? Just curious if you have time for such a consideration.
Regardless, wonderful discussion in this podcast and looking forward to the 17 minute sermon adaptation!
I do mention Jubilees 17:15-16 as an example of how a later Jewish author transfers some of the introductory narrative of Job to Genesis 22. In Jubilees Prince Mastema (=Satan) doesn’t speak to Abraham directly, but incites God to test him.
Thanks Dr. Middleton for referring me to your mention of Jubilees on page 157.
As you’ve insightfully observed, it is interesting that “elohim” is testing, speaking, and identified by Abraham in Genesis 22:1-10 but it is the “malak” of “YHWH” who intervenes (verse 11) and notes Abraham’s fear of “elohim” (verse 12), but Abraham concludes it was “YHWH” who provided the sacrificial substitute (verse 14). I have always presumed it is one divine voice, that of Yahweh’s, speaking to Abraham in Genesis 22.
I’m curious how this passage may have been understood in light of 2TP attempts to distance Yahweh from the Jewish experiences of evil by attributing the causes of their suffering to other free-will spiritual beings such as Mastema, Belial, or the impure spirits of the Watcher tradition.
I’m wondering if there’s any writing that might identity the “elohim” in this passage as a distinctly different voice (i.e., Mastema speaking directly to Abraham) from that of the Angel of the LORD’s (mercifully intervening) as a means of distancing Yahweh from even suggesting child sacrifice.
Just my additional reflections in light of my current studies/reading.
As always, grateful for your pastoral scholarship.