Studying Scripture like this is one of my favorite things to do in the whold world. Nice little tidbits pop out, like the one I found yesterday.
When God said to Abraham: ”Take Isaac, your only son, the one whom you love, and offer him up on a mountain which I will show you,” he did not give Abraham a firm command, but rather a request. This being the case, it makes Abraham’s response all the more impressive. Abraham had been agonizing over a son for more than 25 years and well after childbearing years, 90 year old Sarah is finally granted the joy of a son.
We have no idea today of the importance of that son to Abraham; all of his hopes and dreams were centered on that son. All of God’s promises, his covenant, his possessions, the land — all that would be fulfilled through Isaac. And now God asks Isaac to sacrifice him on an altar and burn his body. )By the way, human sacrifice was not uncommon in Canaan at the time, though it was an abomination to God and he never intended Abraham to actually sacrifice his son.)
It is one thing to say OK when God when he gives a pure and deliberate command, but in the nuances of the Hebrew language, God’s “command” to Abraham actually have the effect of a request. It is like God is saying “Please.” And to a “please” one can say “no” without violating a law or incurring guilt. Here is what Jewish Publications Society commentary on Genesis says,
The Hebrew adds the participle na to the imperative which usually softens the command to an entreaty, as noted in Sanhedrin 89b, Genesis Rabba 55:7, and Rashi’s commentary. Abraham has absolute freedom of choice. Should he refuse, he would not incur any guilt. (For imperative with na cf. Num. 20:10; Judg. 13:4; 16:6, 10, 28; 18:5; Isa. 1:18; Amos 7:2, 5.) (The JPS Torah commentary (151). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.)
Word Biblical Commentary says,
The reader has been alerted by the verb “test” that something difficult is about to be asked of Abraham, while he [Abraham], of course, is quite in the dark. The way the command is put here tries to soften the blow for Abraham while maximizing our realization of its enormity. “Please take.” The use of the enclitic “please” is rare in a divine command and makes it more like an entreaty, another hint that the Lord appreciates the costliness of what he is asking. (Wenham, G. J. (2002). Vol. 2: Word Biblical Commentary : Genesis 16-50. Word Biblical Commentary (104). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)
I was impressed with Abraham’s utter docility and obedience to God before, but even more so now. He said “Yes” to God’s request even when it was not commanded in strong terms. A descendant of Abraham, a young Jewish, a young girl also said “Yes” to God, as did her Son. She said, “Let it be done to me as you have spoken,” and he said, “Not my will but thine be done.”
These shining examples call us to a higher obedience and love for God. We must aspire to do – not only what he commands, but also what he wishes. In the end, we are the ones who are blessed beyond measure.