Genesis 24:61–67

2461 Rebekah rose, with her maids, mounted the camels, and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.
     62 Now Isaac had come from the region of Beer-lahai-roi and was settled in the Negeb. 63 Isaac went out to stroll the field at the turning of sunset. He raised his eyes and saw camels approaching. 
     64 Rebekah raised her eyes and saw Isaac. She got down from the camel 65 and said to the servant, “Who is this man walking through the field toward us?”
     The servant said, “He is my master.” She took a veil and covered her face. 66 The servant recounted to Isaac all that he had done. 67 Isaac brought Rebekah into the tent of Sarah, his mother. He took Rebekah; she became his wife, and he loved her. Thus was Isaac comforted after the death of his mother.

This story can be seen as a tale of the rich and famous. Abraham has demonstrated his wealth and position. Rebekah also comes with her servants/slaves. Historically, royal weddings are not about personal relations, but backroom orchestrated deals based on the realpolitik of the moment.

The last we heard of Isaac, he was trussed and laid on a pile of wood, about to be sacrificed. We don’t hear about his being rolled off the wood to make room for a ram. Here, Rebekah rises from her decision and proceeds to implement it. In short order, the trip to Canaan happens in a flash. Rebekah’s leaving to her arriving takes no time in this story-telling universe.

Isaac appears to have taken up residence at a distance from Abraham at the place where Hagar was seen and saw a well, just as Abraham was seen and saw a ram. He likely had no clue a wife was being prepared for him. His first glance and sight of camels may well have been considered a mirage. What’s up?

Rebekah dismounts a camel and sees someone walking toward her. What’s up?

Learning the stranger is Isaac, the one she is to wed, Rebekah distances herself with a veil over her face. She is as indistinguishable close up as she was when far away.

Abraham’s servant/slave does his final task of telling the whole story, one more time. This time we only hear that he told the tale and we know from his last telling how detail-oriented he is. With his task completed, we can also stop referring to him by his position and remember his name from 15:2, Eliezer. His full identifier is Dammesk Eliezer. This is often transcribed as a reference to Damascus, but his name is not Damascan. In Hebrew, this could be a simple play on “household maintenance.” His actions are worthy of a remembered name, even if he is not of Abraham’s seed.

Isaac, psychologically, weds his mother and continues in his passive ways. Rebekah will take care of things.

Genesis 24:28–60

2428 The maiden ran and told her mother’s household everything that had happened. 29 Rebekah had a brother named Laban, and Laban ran out to the man by the spring. 30 When he saw the nose ring and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and when he had heard the words of Rebekah, his sister, say, “Thus the man spoke to me,” he came out to the man, who was still standing by the camels, by the spring. 31 Laban said, “Come in, you blessed by YHWH! Why are you standing outside? The house is readied and a place made for the camels.” 32 So the man entered the house. The camels were unbridled and provided straw and feed. Water was given for the man to wash his feet and also the feet of the men with him. 33 Food was set before him to eat.
     But the man said, “I won’t eat until I’ve spoken my word.”
     Laban replied, “Speak.”
     34 The man said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has exceedingly blessed my master, and he has become great with flocks, cattle, silver, gold, men servants, women servants, camels, and donkeys. 36 Sarah, my master’s wife, bore a son for my master after she had grown old, and he’s given him all that is his. 37 My master made me swear: ‘You shall not choose a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I dwell. 38 No, you are to go to my father’s household, to my clan, and choose a wife for my son.’ 39 I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not come with me’ 40 He said to me, ‘YHWH, in whose presence I have walked, will send a messenger with you and grant success to your journey. You will choose a wife for my son from my clan and my father’s household. 41 You shall only be clear of my oath-curse if you come to my clan. If they provide no one for you, you will be clear of my oath.’
     42 “Today I came to the spring, and I said, ‘YHWH, God of my master Abraham, if you are going to grant me success on this journey, 43 when I have stationed myself by the spring, let it be that the young woman who comes out to draw water and to whom I say, “Please give me a little drink of water from your pitcher,” 44 and she responds to me, “Drink, and for your camels I will draw water, too,” may she be the wife whom YHWH has marked for my master’s son.’ 45 Even before I finished speaking in my heart, Rebekah came out with her pitcher on her shoulder and went down to the spring to draw water. And I said to her, ‘Pray, give me to drink.’ 46 She hurried to lower her pitcher and said, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels to drink.’ So I drank, and she also gave water to the camels. 47 I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, son of Nahor whom Milcah bore him.’ I put the ring in her nose and bracelets on her arms. 48 In homage, I bowed before YHWH and blessed YHWH, the God of my master Abraham, who led me in the right way to choose the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son. 49 Now if you shall act with steadfast kindness toward my master, tell me. If not, tell me so I may turn elsewhere.”
     50 Laban [and Bethuel] both responded, “This has come from YHWH. We have nothing more to say. 51 Here is Rebekah before you. Take her and go. She will be the wife of your master’s son, just as YHWH said.” 52 When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed to the ground before YHWH. 
     53 The servant brought out ornaments of silver and ornaments of gold and garments and gave them to Rebekah. He gave presents to her brother and to her mother. 
     54 They ate and drank, he and the men with him, and they spent the night.
     When they rose in the morning, the servant said, “Send me off to my master.”
     55 Her brother and mother said, “Let the maiden stay with us a few days, perhaps ten, then she may go.”
     56 But he said to them, “Don’t delay me for YHWH has granted success to my journey. Send me off to go to my master.”
     57 They said, “Let us call the maiden and ask an answer from her own mouth.” 58 They called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?”
     She said, “I will go.”
     59 They sent off Rebekah, their sister, and her nurse, Abraham’s servant, and his men. 60 They blessed Rebekah, and said to her,
     “Our sister, become thousands myriads!
      May your seed inherit the gate of their haters.”

The plan to find a wife for Isaac has cleared its first hurdles. The maiden Rebekah has run ahead to tell her mother’s family about the emissary from Abraham—not about their purpose but the wonder of their presence—camels and gold.

Rebekah’s brother, Laban, seeing the jewelry on Rebekah, runs out to the caravan still mobilizing at the well. Laban is quick with a confirmation of Rebekah’s invitation and claims the role of welcoming that is due the head of the household.

The visitors are brought to the household and the initial settling-in proceeds. Care is given for the camels and water provided to wash off the dust of journey. Before a feast, Abraham’s servant/slave speaks of the purpose of his journey and recapitulates in great detail the initial impetus of his quest and the recent encounter at the well. In this recounting, it becomes clear that Rebekah has been identified as the maiden being invited to return with Abraham’s servant/slave to wed Isaac, sight unseen.

When the ask is finally made, it is Laban who responds by agreeing that Rebekah will go to be Isaac’s wife [Note: Bethuel’s name appears to be a later insertion, as every indication is that he died before this. Except, of course, for the Midrash that notes his greed and attempts to poison Abraham’s servant/slave to get all the goods for himself but an angelic intervention made an inconceivable switch, and Bethuel died from his own poison.]

With Laban’s agreement, there come additional gifts to Rebekah, Laban, and Rebekah’s unnamed mother.

The next morning brought a request to stay for “some days, ten or so. ” This is an enigmatic phrase. In Bible-talk, “Days” sometimes means a year. Speculation also can suggest the “ten” may be ten months. At any rate, a longer time than ten regular days seems more likely, and a delaying process will also come into play when next we encounter Laban.

Abraham’s servant/slave asks not to be held back from completing his task. The matter is then put before Rebekah, who is again shown as a decider. Rebekah agrees to go with Abraham’s servant/slave.

Rebekah is sent off with her wet nurse and a blessing reminiscent of the one Abraham received in 22:17, after sacrificing a ram instead of Isaac.

Genesis 24:11–27

2411 He had the camels kneel down outside the town by the well of water; it was the evening hour when the town’s women go out to draw water.
     12 He said, “YHWH, God of my master Abraham, let it happen today for me and deal kindly with my master Abraham. 13 Here, I stand beside this spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the town are coming out to draw water. 14 May it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please lower your pitcher that I may have a drink,’ if she says, ‘Drink, and your camels I’ll water, too’—let her be the one you have marked for your servant, for Isaac. By this, I will know that you have dealt faithfully with my master.”
     15 So it was: Before he had finished speaking, Rebekah came out—she had been born to Behuel, son of Milkah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother—with her pitcher on her shoulder. 16 The maiden was very beautiful to look at, a virgin; no man had known her. She went down to the spring, filled her pitcher, and came up again.
     17 The servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me sip water from your pitcher.”
     18 “Drink, my lord,” she said and hurried to lower the jar to her hand and let him drink.
     19 After she let him drink his fill, she said, “I will draw water for your camels, too, until they drink their fill.” 20 So she quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough, ran again to the well to draw water and drew water for all his camels. 21 The man stared at her, keeping silent, watching closely to know whether or not YHWH had granted success to his journey.
     22 Then, when the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets, ten gold shekels in weight.23 Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”
     24 She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milkah bore to Nahor.” 25 And she said, “Yes, we have an abundance of straw and fodder and room to spend the night.”
     26 The man did homage and bowed before YHWH, 27 saying, “Blessed be YHWH, God of my master Abraham, who has not refused kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, on this journey, YHWH has led me to the house of my master’s relatives.”

A long journey has ended at a place of refreshment—a well. This ending place is also the beginning of a motif—a betrothal scene. At a well in a foreign land, single people meet, water is drawn, running to the local family head occurs, a feast is held, a dowry arranged, and a betrothal made.

This particular scene is different in that a surrogate is present for the male (Isaac) and the woman (Rebekah) is the active one drawing water. This characterization accords well with a traumatized and passive Isaac and an arranging Rebekah.

Abraham’s servant/slave as well understood the source of their master’s concern—completing his god’s promise—and begins with a calling of that god’s attention to the servant now being in place and outlining a process whereby they will interpret everyday actions into a discernment larger than routine would predict.

The criteria for success are that the servant/slave will receive a drink and that the camels would also be watered. Rebekah does raise an anxious moment as she waits sometime before offering to water the camels. Ten camels, each holding gallons of water, provide a daunting task for a “comely maiden.” Rebekah seems to have stamina as well as beauty.

Upon further inquiry, this journey for a wife for Isaac has come to the exact place it needed to be to rejoin a divided family. This reunion is in place of rejoining all the families divided at Babel. Readers might also hear overtones of a passive ’adam and action-oriented Eve* as a betrothal scene is reminiscent of a new creation with a bone-sharing parallel to a water-sharing.

In today’s world, we travel by instructions from a disembodied voice that can be disappointed when the driver goes astray, and a recalculation is needed. We might wonder how many times the servant/slave had to ask the way. Were they given a divine GPS or were non-Aramaic persons helpful along the way? Perhaps a Reader will be inspired to write the parts missing between the setting out and the coming to rest.

Genesis 23:1–20

231AndSarah’s life was 127 years; thus her age. 2 Sarah died in Kiriath-Arba or Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham began to lament and weep for Sarah. After Abraham rose from the presence of his dead, he spoke with the Hittites, “I am a resident alien among you. Grant me a burial-holding with you so that I can bury my dead.”
     And the Hittites responded to Abraham, “Hear us, my lord. You are one favored by God among us. Take your pick of our burial sites and bury your dead. No man among us would deny you his own burial plots for burying your dead.”
     Abraham rose, bowed to the local citizens—the Hittites, and spoke with them, “If it accords with your wish that I bury my dead near me, listen to me and entreat Ephron, son of Zohar, to give me title to his own cave of Machpelah that is at the far end of his field. In your presence, I will pay the full price for a title for a burial-holding.”
     10 Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites, and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham publicly in the hearing of the Hittites and at the city’s gate, 11 “Not so, my lord. Listen, I grant you the field and the cave in it. I grant this in the presence of my kinfolk. Bury your dead!”
     12 Abraham bowed before the People of the Land 13 and spoke to Ephron publicly in the presence of the People of the Land, “If only you would hear me out. I will give you the price of the field. Take it from me and let me bury my dead there.”
     14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “My lord, hear me! A piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? Go bury your dead!” 16 Abraham heard Ephron’s offer and weighed out to Ephron the silver he had spoken of publicly before the Hittites: four hundred silver shekels at the going merchant’s rate.
     17 Thus Ephron’s field at Machpelah near Mamre—the field and the cave in it, and every tree in the field— 18 passed to Abraham as his property, in full view of the Hittites and of everyone at the city’s gate. 19 Then Abraham buried Sarah, his wife, in the cave of the Machpelah field near Mamre, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan. 20 The field and the cave in it passed over to Abraham as a burial-holding from the Hittites.

First, a note honoring Sarah: She is the only woman whose life span is recorded in the bible. Sarah dies seven years beyond the latest standard of one hundred twenty. Both these numbers are symbolic of completeness.

Abraham has completed his proof-of-trust in YHWH. This trust has come at the expense of Sarah and Isaac.

After Isaac was released, Abraham returned from the Land of Seeing (Moriah) to the Well of Seven Promises (Beer-Sheba). That is the last known residence of his sojourn in a foreign land that was promised to him.

We then hear that Sarah died in Kiriath-Arba. For the moment, this can be understood as Hebron, some thirty miles away from Beer-Sheba. We have not heard of Abraham moving to Hebron, back to the Terebinths of Mamre.

There is also a tradition that Sarah never spoke to Abraham again after the pain of Abraham’s intention to sacrifice Isaac. This silence may put her at a remove from Abraham and account for the difference in location between Abraham’s return to Beer-Sheba and Sarah’s death at Kiriath-Arba. Though, this is difficult to imagine in that patriarchal society. Sarah would be at risk of again falling into the hands of a local Pharaoh or King.

Whether or not Abraham is nearby or at a distance, he mourns Sarah and uses this as an opportunity to finally move beyond being a resident alien in a promised land to being a holder of property.

There ensues an elaborate dance of bargaining with the Hittites, in general, and Ephron, in particular, regarding the purchase of a burial site for his dead, for Sarah. The Hittites could understand this as room for one, and possibly two. They would have no understanding that it is the vanguard of a nation, a people numberless as sand and stars—a nose of a camel under the edge of their tent.

When compared with other recorded sales in the bible, this is an extravagant price of four hundredweight of silver. It probably was the cause of a grand gloat by Ephron for his deal-making. If it is this difficult to get a piece of property for the dead, imagine the difficulty of getting a place for living strangers. Eventually, a different way than economic purchase will be used—military might. 

This cave for burial will become a seed, justifying conquest (to care for our ancestors: Sarah, Abraham, Rebekah, Isaac, Leah, and Jacob). A stop to raise an altar at the Terebinths of Mamre has become the purchase of a burial cave of Machpelah at Mamre. The multiple uses of one location is but one repetitive theme in Genesis.

The “Tomb of the Patriarchs” is currently under a mosque and is a bone of contention in a larger socio-political tension. This cycle of ownership can lead Readers to consider the cycles in their own lives.

Genesis 22:20–24

2220 After these events, it was told to Abraham, saying: “Look, Milcah has also borne sons to Nahor, your brother. 21 Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” 23 Bethuel begot Rebekah. These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 His concubine Reumah gave birth to Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.

The inexplicable story of the Binding of Isaac or the Boundness of Abraham has come to its conclusion. There are still many loose ends. Where is Isaac? How is Sarah? Was this the last test of Abraham? Did they leave the wood, fire, and cleaver at the scene?

As is typical in Genesis, a transition brings with it a genealogy. This tracing of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, might seem out of place as we are about to trace the generations that will continue through Isaac (vs. Sarah through Isaac). The writers could have gone back to Noah but chose to start again with Abraham’s generation and his brother Nahor (his other brother, Haran, already dead). There was a judgment that Noah was simply a technician for G*D’s decision to Flood creation. Abraham moves in the direction of a partner with G*D as he acts and interacts with YHWH. Abraham both questions the justice of G*D and blindly follows G*D into disregard for Sarah and Isaac.

This generational change does take place within a larger context. This genealogy posits a confederation of twelve Mesopotamian tribes parallel to the coming twelve tribes eventuating from Abraham. We are set up for how these two will interact keeping G*D’s choice of one people to be of one people.

This genealogy contains people we never hear anything more about. It also brings us to a crux of multiplication to become a nation. How to have Isaac both breed true and follow the tradition of Abraham’s G*D. These criteria require both physical and psychic transitions.

To move on, the writers set a stage by referring to a genealogy back in Chapter 11. There we not only heard about Abram’s brother but Nahor’s wife, Milcah. In Midrash stories, there are references to Sarai and Milcah being sisters. We then have brothers (Abram and Nahor) taking to wife, half-sisters (Sarai, and Milcah).

When women show up in patriarchal genealogies, readers need to pay attention. Now we hear that Milcah is the grandmother of Rebekah. This notice prepares us for a coming story of Abraham sending for a wife for Isaac from the other half of his family of origin.

Rebekah and Isaac may be of similar ages. However, Rebekah will come with an extra generation of experience more than Isaac, whose birth was so long delayed. This wisdom of the world will come into play as generational changes continue.

For the moment, this brief genealogical account marks the end of one storyline and prepares us for a next.

Genesis 22:15–19

2215 Andthe Lord’s messenger called out to Abraham from heaven again 16 and said, “By myself I swear, as YHWH’s word, because you have done this deed and not held back your son, your only one, 17 I will bless you greatly, and I will multiply your seed, as many as stars in the heavens and as grains of sand on the shore of the sea. Your seed shall possess the gates of their enemies. 18 All nations of the earth shall be blessed through your seed because you listened to my voice.” 19 And Abraham returned to the lads; they rose, and went to Beer-Sheba where Abraham settled.

There, on the Mountain of Insight, we hear what this scene has been about—the ambiguity and churn of multiple promises, both in repetition and changing details. Grandiose promises are part of the continual testing autocrats do, lest they lose their power and a coup is raised.

There have been promises aplenty about prosperity and progeny. The prosperity promise has come to fruition, even after testings with time itself and risks with Pharaoh and Abimelech. The testing of descendants is now put to a test. Will Abraham kill Isaac in expectation that G*D will raise up another son out of an even older Sarah? Will Abraham refuse this test in trust that the impossible has already occurred and there is nothing to be gained by doubling-down on impossibilities?

This story has had the effect of Abraham overthinking these choices until he talks himself into hearing a test that wasn’t there and needs to be rescued from himself with an affirmation that there are no such tests as the one he misheard. [Yes, this questions the usual interpretation of the Binding as a historical event, to see this as an instructive dream, not a thriller.]

We are now hearing that the promise was already completed and there is no one but Isaac coming along. Unfortunately, Isaac is not a party to the refutation of the test and affirmation of his position or worth. Whether Isaac was there or not, Abraham’s narrow vision and primary relationship based on his covenant with YHWH can be seen by him and, eventually, by Sarah.

Abraham seems to take this all in stride, shrugs his shoulders, and returns from whence he came—Beer-Sheba—with no word about Isaac. Isaac is lost. No longer “Laughter,” Isaac has become The Pawn, The Laughed At, The One Who Doesn’t Count or Matter.

Readers who are tracking the variants of covenant promises may have noted the inclusion of military triumph that has snuck in this last promise. We have returned to imagery of the Flood that runs counter to G*D’s justification of using a new tribe to bring back together those scattered after Babel. A key question is whether community can be coerced into formation.

Instead of being called the Binding of Isaac, we may consider seeing this episode as an expression of Abraham Bound by fears of a never-ending promise, of not knowing the limits of promise.

Genesis 22:11–14

2211 And the Lord’s messenger called out to Abraham from the heavens, “Abraham! Abraham!”
     Abraham said, “Here I am.”
     12 The messenger said, “Do not reach out your hand against the lad; do not do anything to him. Now I know that you are in awe of God and did not hold back your son, your only son, from me.” 13 Abraham raised his eyes and saw a ram ]caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went, took the ram, and offered it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 Abraham named that place, “YHWH Sees.”As the saying is today:“On YHWH’s mountain is sight.”

Isaac is bound. Abraham is prepared to slaughter Isaac with an implement of the butchering trade. A cosmic pause.

A messenger from YHWH speaks from the heavens. Abraham has heard this voice in Haran and Mamre and other places. Hagar heard this voice at Beer-Lahai-Roi. This time the word from the messenger is, “Stop!”

What is revealed is a test. Later Job’s tester will not be called “messenger” but “satan.” How the messenger was able to divine Abraham’s intention to have his hand descend to slaughter Isaac is not known. If it could be told at this moment that Abraham was prepared to strike down Isaac and would not take the option to remain paused before the death blow, but extend it into eternity, why could that have not been called earlier—as he left Beer-Sheba?

Until the strike is completed, there could always be a spasm of anticipatory regret and a misplaced blow that would only injure Isaac, making him unclean for further sacrifice. Whether Isaac was sacrificed or not, the family will not be the same. Abraham vindicated, does not take into account Sarah wounded unto death, and Isaac distanced from both his father and his father’s G*D.

Or was this a trick, not a test? The very vehicle of “multiply and be fruitful” appeared to be at risk. However, this magician god had already prepared the final reveal that dissolves the mark’s confusion, inattention, and tension. Just like pulling a rabbit from a hat, there appears a ram caught in a thicket.

Abraham unbinds Isaac, binds the ram, aids an exhausted Isaac off the wood, places the ram on the wood, and proceeds with his worship of YHWH.

With nary a word about Isaac, Abraham doubles-down on this event being about him. Abraham does a re-naming of this place, from Moriah to YHWH-Yireh (The Lord Sees).

G*D sees Abraham’s intention and invites Abraham to raise his eyes to see G*D’s intention to work through the seed of Isaac—even if he does not laugh anymore.

The covenant between G*D and Abraham has not changed. What has changed is the name of the “place of seeing” and the psyche of Sarah and Isaac. How has the Reader changed?

Genesis 22:6–10

226 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he took the fire and the knife in his hand. The two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?”
     Abraham said, “Here I am, my son.”
     Isaac said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
     8 Abraham said, “God will see to the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” The two of them walked on together.
     9 They arrived at the place God had described to him, and Abraham built an altar there. He arranged the wood, tied up his son Isaac, and laid him atop the wood at the slaughter-site. 10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.

As with all abused, weak, and dispossessed persons—they are loaded down with the very substance of their destruction. Isaac carries the wood (a not unsubstantial amount). He is not “loved son,” but slave.

Abraham carries fire to light the wood and a cleaver to do the butchering. Not mentioned, as it can be less conspicuously carried, is a cord to truss an animal’s legs.

Isaac’s call of “My father,” is an earlier version of a later word “abba” used by Jesus to intimately refer to G*D. This story is part of a stream that can lead to a later theory of blood atonement. In my view, such a theory is ultimately heretical because it doesn’t follow the story long enough.

In this episode, Isaac is never directly addressed by G*D. It is as though “He Laughs” means “He is not taken seriously.” As close as a connection between Isaac and G*D gets is Abraham’s response, “Here I am,” which will come to be G*D public name in the sequel of Exodus.

Loaded with wood and seeing fire and knife, Isaac raises a pertinent question about the whereabouts of an animal to be sacrificed. Undoubtedly Isaac has heard of child sacrifices that happen in adjacent cultures. While child sacrifice will later be spelled out as something not to be done by Israel, for now, it may be entirely too close to be avoided.

Here in the land of Moriah (Seeing) we hear Abraham respond to Isaac’s question with “seeing” what G*D will provide. This jumps us back to Hagar seeing a well when Ishmael is close to death. Sarah was not told of this journey. Echoes of Hagar arise. This is a tangled tale.

Abraham and Isaac continue to the place G*D identifies only to Abraham. In rapid-fire slow-motion, the story comes to a critical point. Arrive….build an altar or slaughter-site….lay out the wood….bind Isaac….place Isaac on the wood….reach out….take the cleaver….raise a butcher’s hand to strike. Without a pious cover for the Bible, consider what this does to Isaac. Is he still laughing?

Genesis 22:1–5

221 After these events, it was God who tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!”
     Abraham answered, “Here I am.”
     2 God said, “Do take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go-you-forth to the land of Moriah (“Seeing”). There, offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will tell you of.” 3 Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two lads with him, together with his son Isaac. He split wood for the offering, set out, and went to the place God had told to him.
     4 On the third day, Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Abraham said to his lads, “You sit here with the donkey. The lad and I will walk up yonder, bow in worship, and return to you.”

The previous scene indicated, “And Abraham settled in the land of the Philistines many days” (21:34). Thus ends the story begun in Haran. All’s well that ends well!

Well, no such settlement lasts long. With the covenant fulfilled, there is a test of its continuity. Is the deal between Abraham and YHWH still viable or will there be a parting of the ways? The story of the “Binding of Isaac” will mark a risky and traumatic transition to next generations. 

In Haran there was no calling of a name, only a call received directly. With a change in name comes a test, not unlike that of Abram who had a dark dread with a fire moving between split-open animals.

This emotionally fraught experience will set another stage. Further distance is put between Ishmael and Isaac with G*D’s identifying Isaac as Abraham’s only son (Sarah’s only son, Abraham’s second) as the one he loves (Abraham could claim his love of both sons), and, finally, just Isaac. The command is to take Isaac to a wilderness place of seeing or discerning, and there divide him and burn him as a sacrificial offering. The promise to Abraham was only that he would have a son who would become a nation. That is already underway with Ishmael. With Isaac removed, G*D and Abraham will be back to their buddy-movie.

This command comes only to Abraham, not Sarah, and he does not pass this latest state-of-affairs to his wife.

There is an overtone of kidnapping as the instructions indicate a general location and later instructions about where to drop the ransom. Except here the kidnapper uses the parent both to kidnap their own child and to kill the child before getting their cut.

Abraham makes preparations and begins on his way. Some three days later (three being a symbol for just enough days to arrive) the entourage arrives in the general location. Leaving the rest behind Abraham takes Isaac, and they go to listen for further instructions.

The claim is “worship”, the picture is “they will both return.” Readers are recommended to engage their suspension of disbelief.

Genesis 21:22–34

2122 At that time Abimelech, and Phicol commander of his troops, said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do. 23 So swear to me by God that you will not falsely deal with me, my children, or my descendants. Just as I have treated you faithfully, so you must treat me and the land in which you are a sojourner.”
     24 Abraham said, “I swear it.” 25 Then Abraham rebuked Abimelech about a well that Abimelech’s servants had seized.
     26 Abimelech said, “I don’t know who has done this, nor have you told me. I never heard about it until today.” 27 Abraham took flocks and cattle, gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them cut a covenant. 28 Abraham set aside seven ewes, 29 and Abimelech said to Abraham, “What are these seven lambs you’ve set apart?”
     30 Abraham said, “These seven lambs you shall take from me; they will witness that I dug this well.” 31 Therefore, that place is called Beer-sheba (Well of the Seven-Swearing) because there they swore each other their word. 32 After they cut a covenant[c] at Beer-sheba, Abimelech, and Phicol commander of his forces, rose and returned to the land of the Philistines. 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and he worshipped there in the name of YHWH, God of the Ages. 34 Abraham sojourned in the Philistines’ land for many days.

After an interlude of Isaac’s birth and Ishmael’s exile, we are returned to the story of Abimelech. It takes a moment to remember that all wombs, even Sarah’s, were opened. It is that result from the false story to Abimelech that led to Isaac.

There were two involved with tricking Abimelech. Now we turn to resolve matters between Abraham and Abimelech. Abimelech and his military general set about formalizing a treaty with Abraham that builds on the gift of sheep, cattle, slaves, and land he was given.

Abraham is pointedly asked not to lie to Abimelech again. This treaty will set a trade agreement regarding sheep, cattle, slaves, and land. In each case, preference will be given to the other.

Without a moment to catch the significance of this agreement, we are thrown into its first crisis—water. Abimelech again claims innocence. After Abraham’s face-saving issue has been dealt with, Abraham and Abimelech seal the deal with a nominal purchase of the well in question. Abraham has claimed his portion of Abimelech’s offer of land.

Another well comes into focus and will return in subsequent tales. Beer-Sheba means either Well of Oath/Promise/Treaty or Well of Seven (for the purchase price of seven ewes).

Two geographic notes: First, the reference to the land of the Philistines is anachronistic as the Philistines will not arrive on Canaan’s coast for another four hundred years. Abimelech is not a king of the Philistines. This misreporting reminds us that, regardless of whatever archeological connections can be made, this is a story larger than any fact or lack of fact. Every telling and retelling of stories-of-origin carry more than provable points.Second, the tamarisk tree is seldom mentioned and functions as a cultic marker, much like the Terebinths (Oaks) of Mamre. It marks a place of life in a dry place, a well that can be seen at some distance. It might be seen as Abraham alongside YHWH (a well of creation where set-apart water allows life to rise from soil). Life in the wilderness needs its well.