Chapter IV

 

 

The Bible states that the son, who was to be offered for sacrifice, was the only son whom Abraham loved. It is a conspicuous point and is to be taken properly.

‘Whom did Abraham love?’ is to be keenly explored before passing some judgement on it. The first thing to be noted is that ‘Whom thou lovest,’ is not a simple remark about the relevant son; it is rather a distinguishing attribute. It should not be loosely applied to any of the sons of Abraham. It should be applied very conscientiously to the pertinent son of Abraham after thrashing out his relevance carefully.

As far as Isaac is concerned, the phrase ‘Whom thou lovest,’ cannot positively be applied to him. No doubt Abraham might have been showing due paternal affection towards Isaac—which he ought to have shown—but he did not have any extra-ordinary love and attachment for him. When Abraham was told about the birth of Isaac:

As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her[2];

 he was not pleased with it. He rather showed indifference towards the forthcoming son—his sole desire and topmost priority being Ishma‘el—as has been reported in the Bible:

And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you![Abraham’s deep concern for Ishma‘el and his indifference towards Isaac is particularly to be noticed]’ (…). And as for Ishma‘el, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.[3]

Commentators of the Bible have genuinely taken it as a love token by Abraham in favor of Ishma‘el . The  Nelson Study Bible has observed:

What is more, he still lovedhis son Ishma‘el(16:15; 17:18).[4]

The Wycliffe Bible Com. has noted it as:

Sarah may have feared that Abraham, out of love for Ishmael, would give the older lad the prominent place in the inheritance. (…). To drive them out must have been exceedingly grievous to Abraham, for he loved the boy.[5]

It shows that Abraham’s love for Ishma‘el was so obvious that even Sarah was fully aware of it. J. Fawsett puts it as:

He [Abraham] bears Ishma‘el upon his heart, and expresses a laudable concern for him.[6]

Marcus Dods has recorded beautiful comments to show that Ishma‘el was the son whom Abraham loved very much. He has also recorded the justifications for this immense love. He comments:

Abram’s state of mind is disclosed in the exclamation: ‘Oh, that Ishmael might live before Thee!’ He had learned to love the bold, brilliant, domineering boy. (…). But there he was, in actual flesh and blood, full of life and interest in everything, daily getting deeper into the affections of Abram, who allowed and could not but allow his own life to revolve very much around the dashing, attractive lad [It may be noted that when Ishma‘el was still a ‘lad’, Isaac had either not been born, or would have been still a suckling baby]. (…). ‘Oh, that Ishmael might serve Thy turn!’ Why call me again off from this actual attainment to the vague, shadowy, non-existent heir of promise, who surely can never have the brightness of eye and force of limb and lordly ways of this Ishmael? Would that what already exists in actual substance before the eye might satisfy Thee and fulfil Thine intention and supersede the necessity of further waiting! Must I again loosen my hold, and part with my chief attainment?[7]

It may be appreciated that Abraham shows profound love for Ishma‘el  on account of his being full of promise, potentate and talent, as has been recorded above. Seventh Day Adventist BD asserts:

When13 years later, God announced the imminent birth of Isaac (ch 17:1-8, 15-17), Abraham interceded on behalf of Ishma‘el, whom he dearly loved.[8]

Dr. Cohn asserts:

I (…) would be satisfied if only Ishma‘el lived before Thee.[9]

As for Isaac, Abraham, according to Hasting, showed an indifference towards him due to lack of these traits in him. Scholars have plainly acknowledged the weaknesses of Isaac. J. Hastings states in his DB:

Isaac is a less striking personality than his father is. Deficient in the heroic qualities, he suffered indisposition from an excess of mildness, and the love of quiet (…). He was rather shifty and timid in his relations with Abimelech (26:1-22), too easily imposed upon, and not a good ruler of his household–a gracious and kindly but not a strong man.[10]

 Similar views have been expressed by William Neil about Isaac:

Isaac is generally referred to in the commentaries as a colourless personality. Certainly when we compare him with Abraham and Jacob it is impossible to form a clear picture of him. Few stories are recorded about him, presumably because there was little known of him that was worth recording, and in those stories in which he does feature he is generally a minor participant in the narratives dealing with his more notable father or son.[11]

It shows that according to the scholars of the Bible Isaac had a less attractive and impressive personality than Ishma‘el, although, according to the Islamic tradition one cannot endorse it. According to Islam both of them were the prophets of equal status and it is not proper to prefer one on the other. It may only be due to physical strength and practical support that Abraham felt more love and attachment towards him.

There is another evidence that confirms the love of Abraham for Ishma‘el . When Sarah asked Abraham to expel Ishma‘el and his mother Hagar, Abraham was very much disturbed at it, which showed his grave concern for his son Ishma‘el. The event has been  recorded in the Bible as follows:

Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.’ And the matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son [The editor has recorded here a note: ‘lit., was very grievous in Abraham’s sight.’].[12]

The love of Abraham for his son Ishma‘el is so evident here that even the Jewish commentators of the Bible did not fail to appreciate it. Dr. Cohen makes the following comment on it:

Scripture points out that this grief was caused not by the prospect of loosing the woman but on account of Ishmael.[13]

It will be appreciated from the entire above discussion that ‘Whom thou lovest,’ could have only been spoken of Ishma‘el and not of Isaac; and it was only Ishma‘el who was really offered for sacrifice by Abraham because it was Ishma‘el who was Abraham’s ‘beloved son’.

As far as the theme of Abraham’s offering his ‘only son’ for sacrifice is concerned, fairly sufficient discussions have been undertaken in the above four chapters. Some relevant points will be studied in detail in the coming chapters. At the end of this part of the book it would be pertinent that a concluding note be recorded as an epilogue to this story of offering and as the last scene of the episode.


 

 

Abraham Returned Alone

Without the ‘Only Son’

 

The story concludes with the following last sentence:

So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beer-sheba. (Gen 22:19 KJV)

The reflective and conscientious consideration of the verse guides the heedful reader to these points:

(1) ‘So Abraham returned unto his young men’ shows that during his return home, the ‘only son’, whosever the ‘only son’ had been, was not with him. W. Gunther Plaut observes:

The text says that Abraham returned from Moriah but omits a mention of Isaac. (…) Isaac did not come back with his father.[14]

 Ignoring the word Isaac, as discussed in detail in this book at various places, the verse asserts that the ‘only son’ did not return with Abraham, because his abode was here near Moriah. Had it been Isaac who was to be offered for sacrifice, he must have returned with his father. It shows that the ‘only son’ was Ishma‘el, who dwelt near Moriah, and as such he had not to return with Abraham.

(2) It may be noted here that Abraham’s family lived at Hebron; but he spent most of his time at Beer-sheba with his herds and flocks. He went back there leaving his only son, Ishma‘el, at his residence at Moriah.

(3) Had it been Isaac who was to be offered for sacrifice, it was not like him to show any displeasure or disregard towards his father by parting company with him.

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