Without thinking Angels (or even Abraham or Isaac) are or were real, and without feeling it is strictly necessary to go find a positive message where nothing truly positive was originally intended in passages from the Jewish and Christian scriptures, I’m nonetheless moved by this (reformed) Rabbinic take on the Abraham / Isaac story, left as a comment by Paul Oakley on James McGrath’s blog here:
I had heard the interpretation several times before that, despite the praise for Abraham in the text, the fact was that Abraham FAILED the test, that God wanted Abraham to make the ethical choice and refuse the order to do evil. After all, in Nuremberg the world decided that obedience is not an ethical act and the individual has the ethical responsibility to disobey unethical orders – at least when they rise to a certain level.
But a reading of the story that I hadn’t heard several times before came from a sermon preached by a Reform rabbi, a great preacher and a real mensh, with whom my Unitarian Universalist congregation had a wonderful relationship. As he presented it, it is really a question of whom the reader of story should identify with.
- Do we identify with Abraham, who is either a dupe of a mischievous God or self-righteous, seeing himself as incapable of misunderstanding instructions handed down by a wholly Other deity?
- Do we identify with Isaac, the intended victim, and mourn our lot in life, mistreated, even by the one we should most be able to trust but who treated our life itself as a proving ground for himself rather than as our life?
- Or do we identify with the angel, the only other thinking character physically present in the story, who physically stops Abraham’s act of violence once he has begun to act, who orders Abraham not to harm the boy.
For my rabbi friend, this story is not a celebration of blind obedience to God but a call for us to act for social justice, preventing harm of the weaker members of society where possible and being a voice speaking out against harm that might be lessened or stopped in response to our voice drawing awareness to situations needing to be fixed or avoided.
The rabbi’s sermon was titled “Be the Angel.”
Scripture, like literature, may have a place in our lives… but sometimes you have to turn it on its ear to make it really work. The real “scripture” here, I believe, is the thinking of the Rabbi. I endorse his view wholeheartedly.