Narrative Analysis: Covenant and Sacrifice in the Story of Abraham and Isaac

Since the onset of the Jewish history, the narrative on the sacrifice of Isaac has raised more questions than answers. However, the story has remained powerful as manifested by the spreading of monotheistic religions (Rosenberg 12). However, as professor Miles argues in his lectures, God always enters covenants with his people. Through diligent and constant reading, the understanding of man, God and the covenant becomes complex as dynamism engenders the issue. Consequently, at times the understanding becomes muddled in ambiguity.

The order by God to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac was a stern test. In fact, the sacrifice did not materialize as anticipated since the angel sent by God asked Abraham not to harm the boy, Isaac (Rosenberg 1). This illustrates a crucial point, that intent and desire are important elements in reference to relations between God and his people. It equally emerges that the killing presents the conclusion of a planned activity. As such, it is evident that Abraham was intent on obeying God irrespective of the consequences.

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Having obeyed and shown the desire to take God’s commands, the next step was to kill Isaac as instructed. However, killing Isaac could not do anything further to convince God, as the main issue was the intent and the desire by Abraham. More concisely, Abraham had demonstrated to God that he was willing and ready to do as directed. Since the actual killing was only to mark the end of the mission, it was not necessary. God was satisfied by Abraham’s intent and desire.

Based on the above discourse, it remains unclear what side of the argument is preferable. To begin, God is the one who ordered Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. On the basis of this account, it is easy to point out that God favored such sacrifices. Thus, the covenant supports the use of human sacrifices.

On the contrary, it would be naive to leave the discussion at that point. This view is held since it is the same God who offered a ram for sacrifice. The act of replacing Isaac with the ram may explain a shift in the nature of sacrifices. At this point, it is discernable that God was pointing out the need to move away from offering human sacrifices.

It is important to note that God instructed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. However, God offered an alternative sacrificial object to Abraham. This point clearly underscores the aim of God. God was not interested in the actual act of killing Isaac. Instead, God was examining the extent to which Abraham would go towards obeying his commands.

Using this illustration, it is arguable that the covenant between God and Abraham annuls the need to offer human sacrifice. By offering an alternative sacrificial object, God was ending human sacrifice. This point is further augmented by the idea that if God was tempting Abraham, then he could have just told Abraham to stop at the point where the angel appeared and go home or proceed to the day’s activities without having to sacrifice the animal.

In the covenant, God promises to make Abraham a father of many descendants (Thompson 3). In addition, God promised Abraham unmatched prosperity in the future. Based on the circumstances, it emerges that the promises were implicit since at that time it was difficult to establish how the promises would happen. The distinction between implicit and explicit promises is valuable as it goes a long way to reflect the status of Abraham in reference to holding faith and trust upon God.

In the narrative, it is clear that Abraham has only one son. Apparently, God asks Abraham to sacrifice the only son. Later, God offers a ram for sacrifice.

It should be noted that the instructions are coming from God. As such, it is easy to develop two viewpoints regarding the place of human sacrifice. On the one hand, circumstances allow for human sacrifice and on the other hand, the offering of the ram serves as a substitute for humans when sacrificing. It is important to maintain focus while analyzing this case in order to avoid having a selective view.

This covenant underscores the element of obedience, intention and desire. God was taking Abraham through trials to establish his suitability to carry out his will. Thus, the bottom-line is on the desire to obey God and the intention to carry out his will. To God, an exercise like killing/sacrificing a person/animal is not important, as obeying him is. Based on this evidence, it is observable that the covenant between God and Abraham presents a reason to do way with human sacrifice.

The covenant between God and Abraham clearly illustrates that the focus is on the obedience. God is faithful and always fulfills his promises. However, God looks for people who are ready to carry on any tasks he wants accomplished. It is also held that God used this covenant to do away with human sacrifices. As such, those who use this covenant to support offering human sacrifices are likely to run into major problems should they attempt to persuade believers.

Works Cited

Rosenberg, David. Abraham: the first historical biography. New York: Basic Books, 2006.

Thompson, Thomas. The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives: The Quest for the Historical Abraham. Valley Forge, Pa: Trinity Press International, 2002.