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.

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