Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

You Have a Choice

Posted by BrianJ on May 30, 2010

(This is an epilogue to two previous posts: When Abraham Knew and What if Abraham Failed the Test?)
It’s possible to conceive of a different version of the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, one where Abraham makes a different decision (and we learn a different lesson):

Instead of obeying, Abraham refuses on the grounds that killing the innocent is unjust. God persists, even threatens Abraham—to revoke the covenant, even to smite Abraham—yet, Abraham ultimately responds with something like, “Please forsake this command—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Compare, Exodus 32:32) God sees what is in Abraham’s heart and relents, praising Abraham for his willingness to sacrifice himself to protect another.

How would we view the story then? Is there still a type of Christ to be found?

But that’s not how Abraham responded. We know the story. However, as discussed in the previous post, we don’t have a lot of detail about what God or Abraham were thinking. So let’s imagine that the text let’s us in a bit more on God’s plan. Suppose that the text tells us that God was actually hoping all along that Abraham would refuse (as imagined above). With that information, we might imagine that when Abraham went ahead with the sacrifice, God was horrified. Nevertheless, we know that God didn’t dismiss Abraham for his “wrong” decision—anymore than he rejected, say, Adam and Eve for theirs—but rather God provided a way out for Abraham, as well as a powerful lesson that, unlike other gods, Jehovah doesn’t want human sacrifice. Abraham returns from the mount a bit scolded, very relieved, and thoroughly pleased with his “new” God.

Final Conclusions

What I’ve learned from this exercise is that I’m more interested in thinking through someone else’s thinking than I am in making judgments or extracting morals from their stories. I don’t really care whether Abraham made the right or wrong choice—that’s his business, not mine. Abraham was placed in a tough spot, but he still had a choice. Adam and Eve had a choice. Achan had a choice. Joseph Smith had a choice. And when placed in any similar situations, I know that I too have a choice.

6 Responses to “You Have a Choice”

  1. Robert C. said

    Brian, thanks for this series of posts. Very interesting to think about. I’d be more willing to follow your disinterest in an actual moral, except I keep hearing Abraham 3:25 ringing in my ears as a kind of commentary on the Akedah:

    And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

    This verse suggests to me that there is something unique about obedience vis-a-vis other ethical virtues (emphasis for Joe’s benefit, who wrote a comment about ethics on your previous post…).

    On the other hand, I will confess your emphasizing Exodus 32:32 has me rethinking the meaning of the repeated phrase in Mormon scripture, “one like unto Moses”—could it have been Moses’s loyal commitment to the Israelites’ salvation that is being invoked, more than his faith per se? (I still doubt it, but you do have me wondering.)

  2. J. Madson said

    enjoyed the posts. I have always felt that the Akedah was more about ending human sacrifice than some Abrahamic model to follow. It seems crucial that God didnt allow Isaac to be killed. He stopped it. What is truly revolutionary, imho, in a world of rampant human sacrifice is that Abraham did not sacrifice his son to the Gods of his time.

    If Abraham had killed his son it would be just one more child offered to false gods in my view. His God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob seems to differentiate himself from those gods in that he stops the sacrifice and puts and end to it for good.

  3. BrianJ said

    Matthew: “This verse suggests to me that there is something unique about obedience vis-a-vis other ethical virtues.”

    Agreed. And I’m still trying to sort out the tension that that creates. Why insist that only a “slothful servant must be commanded in all things” and then insist upon obedience that comes at the expense of other morally high ground? I realize that’s not exactly the same thing—following a commandment versus always having to be commanded—but I think it’s part of the larger point that we are “agents unto ourselves” to “act and not to be acted upon.”

    In another Abraham story—and I realize the problem of comparing two different stories—we see him bartering and haggling with God to save souls in Sodom. Why don’t we see that here when Isaac is offered up? What do the two stories, together, teach us about obedience versus…other virtues?

    J Madsen: well said.

  4. Matthew said

    Brian, I think you meant Robert not Matthew. I don’t mind taking credit for Robert’s comments though:)

  5. kirkcaudle said

    Great series Brian, but I think I should have read these posts backward (3-1, not 1-3). After every response I thought of something I should add after reading the next in the series!

    Robert, your comments on Abr. 3:25 and Ex. 32:32 have me now questionings some of my own ideas.

  6. BrianJ said

    A friend just wrote this to me, in a completely different conversation: “”Our choices [don't] guarantee our future, but rather demonstrate our priorities.”

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