Genesis 22:15-18 - "I swear by myself, declares the LORD ... "

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me." (Genesis 22:15-18)

Does God test us like this?

Such a statement by the Supreme Being - supposedly conferred to Abraham by an angel of God - misconstrues the relationship between God and His loving servants. It communicates that a person should be ready to slaughter those around him - even their family members - should God request it.

It also suggests that the Supreme Being does not already know our hearts. That the Supreme Being needed to test Abraham's devotion by commanding him to kill his son. This would mean that the Supreme Being didn't already know whether Abraham would follow God's instruction. He had to test him in order to know it.

This would also mean that the Supreme Being is not omniscient. That He cannot see into our hearts.

Such a notion not only misrepresents the Supreme Being. It also misrepresents the very nature of loving service to God. Loving service to God means to love and care for God's children. It means to take care of others as we would take care of ourselves. The Supreme Being would never ask one of His loving servants to slaughter their own children as part of a test.

A literal interpretation of this event also confers the notion that human sacrifice was an acceptable ritual to Abraham and his associates. As if people would regularly sacrifice those who were dear to them by murdering them and burning them in a sacrificial fire. Such a gruesome ritual would never be promulgated by the Supreme Being.

Such an interpretation portrays the Supreme Being as some sort of maniacal overlord who cruelly requests servants to kill their own family members, then pulls them away at the last minute and rewards them with a big family and control over cities because they were ready to kill on His behalf.

What about practical sacrifice?

As discussed with the previous verse, this entire parable has stretched what originally was an allegorical teaching handed down orally from generation to generation. That original portrayal told of Abraham making a practical sacrifice that related to his son. But not about almost killing his son.

There are many sacrifices that people make in their daily lives. A typical sacrifice for a parent would be going to work each day and having to leave a child with a daycare or babysitter. This would be considered a sacrifice because the parent would rather stay with the child, but they have to go to work in order to put food on the table. This is certainly a sacrifice.

In the case of a person devoted to God, a common sacrifice of a missionary is to leave one's family to go out to preach.

This is the type of sacrifice indicated by the origins of this story - of Abraham going off to preach to others and build altars while leaving his son behind. Such a sacrifice to God - Abraham's putting God before his family - was a difficult one, and it shows Abraham's devotion to God.

But this was apparently not legendary enough for some who were passing on this story. As we often see among those who have utilized devotional teachings to secure their own positions of power, the story morphed into a cruel and gruesome tale of an event that nearly resulted in human sacrifice.

This illustrates something important about those institutional scribes - whom Jesus also criticized - who had manipulated these teachings: They maintained positions of power by portraying a maniacal and vengeful Supreme Being.

The Supreme Being is not maniacal and vengeful. He is kind and merciful. It is humans who can get maniacal and vengeful. Those who try to paint God as maniacal and vengeful are simply not seeing the Supreme Being.

Anyway, why would God even need to test Abraham? God already knew Abraham's heart. He didn't need to cruelly test him by commanding him to murder his son. Besides that, would God really need to swear by Himself to emphasize the importance of His statement?

Did God reward Abraham for almost slaughtering his son?

First, God did not instruct Abraham to slaughter his son as portrayed in so many translations like this. This was about Abraham not forcing his son to take part in an offering to God. Abraham could have pressed his son’s head to the ground and forced him to bow down to God to make the offering, if this is translated correctly.

But he didn’t force his son to bow his head during the offering. This is a cardinal rule in worshiping God – that no one can be forced to love God and thus should never be forced to worship God or bow down to God. This is the true meaning of the original story behind these verses.

We can clearly see that this story was mis-transcribed by the repeated theoretical promise to Abraham regarding descendants and land. First, we know this statement is not true because God had already supposedly awarded Abraham many descendants and control over lands and cities. So why would God reward Abraham with these same things again?

This inconsistency not only illustrates the fallacy of this portrayal. It also illustrates the erroneous suggestion that God was awarding Abraham with a large dynasty of future descendants and a bunch of land and control over cities.

This notion of God giving Abraham many descendants and control over lands is repeated throughout Genesis. Yet this verse makes it seem that God only rewarded Abraham with these because Abraham was prepared to murder his son in a theoretical sacrifice to God.

For example, we find this verse:
The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:7)

"Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever." (Genesis 13:14)
He also already supposedly offered many offspring:
He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5)
These are only a few of the contradictions among these verses, some of which we discussed with the previous verse.

Why so many promises to offspring?

The translation indicates that because God was so grateful for Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to God at the altar, God was going to reward Abraham with many descendants in the future. Really?

While this benediction might sound nice to those who might be Abraham's descendants, how would this benefit Abraham? Was Abraham that interested in his descendants becoming numerous?

This very concept, in fact, contradicts the lesson of the story being told here - that Abraham was willing to forego having descendants by killing his son at the altar in order to please God.

If Abraham's commitment to God was so great that he was willing to sacrifice his son, why would God promise him with having many powerful descendants - descendants of his son? Such a notion contradicts the very premise of this parable - which was to illustrate Abraham's devotion to God.

While this might seem to be a curious contradiction to some, the contradiction illustrates how the story has become distorted.

Why would Abraham care about having powerful descendants thousands of years later, after Abraham's physical body has long been buried, decomposed and turned to dust?

Just consider the concerns of most fathers: They are concerned for their direct children, and maybe when their kids have children, their grandchildren. But are parents focused upon future generations of children thousands of years later becoming some sort of a dynasty that rules the world? Typically not. Especially in the case of someone who is devoted to God.

Yet there is an obviously repetitive portrayal of God throughout Genesis, awarding Abraham with innumerable descendants and control over lands and cities sometime in the distant future. Why? And who are the beneficiaries of this portrayal?

Most certainly, the beneficiaries are Abraham's descendants, which conveniently included the scribes who recorded this event and others after being passed down orally for centuries.

This convenience encompasses what some Biblical scholars have termed, "Deuteronomistic History." That is, later authors, seeming around the 6th Century BCE, who wanted to promote the narrative that the Israelites were the rightful heirs of the lands throughout Canaan, Judah and Benjamin.

Did this prediction work out?

Actually, Abraham did not care about having a dynasty of descendants that would rule the world.

And history has played out quite the opposite over the centuries - that the descendants of Abraham were repeatedly persecuted and conquered by other tribes and nations over the centuries. We saw this with the Egyptians, who enslaved the Judeans. The Caananites also ruled over the Judeans. The Philistines also ruled over them. Then there were the Assyrians. And the Ammorites. The Babylonians conquered Judah. Then the Persians also ruled over the Israelites. Then there was Alexander and then Ptolemy. Later the Romans conquered Judea and ruled over the people for several centuries.

So it is not as if Abraham's descendants controlled all these cities and lands. But they certainly wanted to.

When the Assyrians conquered the Israelites during the 8th Century BCE, many fled to Judah, and brought their lineage of teachings about Yahweh. The Judeans at the time then merged their lineage of teachings and assume the inheritance of the Israelites. This philosophical and practical merger between the northern Israelites and the southern Judeans was consummated with the recording of oral traditions of both into what would later be called the Torah, under the governance of Josiah.

The Torah effectively bound together the northern Israelites with the southern Judeans as they brought together their oral traditions and assigned mutual ancestors to illustrate their identity as chosen by God.

But even with this, we continue to see long periods of control by foreigners mixed with a few years of self-government here and there. While they blamed these periods on certain kings that were not devoted enough, the contradiction remains. If God had duly selected the Israelites and Judeans as the chosen people over all others, with ownership of so many cities and lands, then there is a problem, because this is not what happened.

If one would accept that these foreign invasions were caused by a few of the kings offending God (such as Ahab), rather than God's benediction not working. This would mean that God would have offered these benedictions to Abraham with a contingency. This would sound like:

"I will give you many descendants and control over all the lands and the cities as long as the kings of the future do not offend me."

Is that what God said according to these Old Testament or Torah verses? No.

Rather, we find a repeated benediction given to Abraham of lands and cities, and descendants, without contingency.

Thus we cannot accept that these verses are accurately reflecting historical events. They reflect a legend conveniently created to promote the merging of two cultures under a common ancestor.

What about Abraham's descendants today?

Today there is a nation of Israel that was bound together under some of the same principles: Of being from a common ancestor and having rights to certain lands that were assumed to be bestowed by God.

Indeed, the land currently occupied is not all of those lands and cities that Abraham was supposedly awarded. Furthermore, there is no way to tell for sure whether the citizens of Israel are indeed the true descendants of Abraham. There is simply no way to tell for sure. Yes, they may have similar ancestry. But strictly being in line with Isaac or Lot?

By sheer statistics, from only two sons, Abraham's descendants could theoretically be spread all over the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, Australia and other locations around the world. There is not one nation of Abraham's descendants - just as there isn't one nation of any ancient family.

The reality is, there is no Jewish race. Being Jewish is about accepting a particular devotional philosophy. It is not about being a physical descendant of Abraham. This is not a new theory. This was stated by Paul:
Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. (Galatians 3:7)

Is this about the consolidation of power?

The obvious interpretation of these verses is related to seeking and maintaining power.

This is what the scribes of the 6th Century BCE were trying to establish - that their nation-tribe was the strongest, most powerful tribe in all the land. They wanted the people to rally around their tribe and fight with vigor against the other tribes. It was a rallying cry.

Conveniently, they oversaw the initial recording of these texts, taken from a variety of oral teachings that had been passed down within different lineages of teachings. These teachings were consolidated into the Torah in order to consolidate power.

With this consolidation, they conveniently manipulated the communications between God and Abraham to be all about God awarding Abraham's descendants - them - the title of being the most powerful nation-tribe.

Those scribes who first recorded these oral teachings under their tribal ruler - indeed consolidated power. And their texts supported their race as the greatest race, sanctioned by God.

It is quite obvious when one considers that this notion of the descendants becoming great was repeated no less than 28 different times in the Book of Genesis alone. It was also repeated throughout Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers - and well over a hundred times in Leviticus alone.

Why would God have to make this point over and over again - that the descendants of Abraham were going to be the greatest people on earth?

It makes no sense. The primary teachings of the Prophets relate to humility and reverence to God. Not becoming some powerful nation of chosen people who are better than everyone else.

But isn't this what God is telling Abraham?

The reality is that the teachings being passed down by Abraham, Isaac, Lot, Moses, Joshua, David and so many others including Jesus teach the opposite of such a tribalist 'chosen people' agenda. They teach that we are spiritual beings - not these temporary physical bodies. They teach that we are more than just physical bodies that will decompose at the time of death. They teach that we continue to live after the body dies.

They teach that we are eternal, and we are all God's children - His spiritual children.

We can see some of this as we look closely at the Hebrew of these verses:

The key word translated to "descendants" is the Hebrew word זרע (zera`). This word means, according to Gesenius' lexicon, "sowing," "seedtime, "the time of sowing," or "a planting."

While such a seed that is planted can imply the seed of semen or progeny, there are many other types of seeds. There are seeds that plant trees and gardens, seed money, and seeds that plant knowledge.

In fact, sowing seeds of knowledge is a common metaphor that has been used for thousands of years in many languages - including some of the oldest known. And Jesus utilized this metaphor frequently - including the parable of the farmer and his seeds. (This parable, in fact, was specifically comparing planting seeds to giving knowledge - teaching about God. Those who embraced the teachings were compared seeds that sprouted into plants which then produced their own seeds.)

The ancient metaphor of comparing the passing on of spiritual knowledge to sowing seeds has also been repeated in multiple languages around the world, giving rise to the typical expressions: Sowing the seeds of knowledge - or disseminating knowledge. In fact, even the word "disseminating" contains the root word "semen."

This is confirmed by the other scriptural uses of the word זרע (zera`) meaning "of moral quality 1) a practitioner of righteousness."

What is the connection between "seed" and "a practitioner of righteousness?" It is the fact that a person who is practicing righteousness as Abraham was doing is sowing seeds of knowledge - showing by example and teaching others to grow spiritually.

And this is the missing link that has been subterfuged by those intent on making the relationship between God and Abraham all about Abraham having a big, strong nation of descendants.

In reality, the relationship between God and Abraham was about love. And devotion. Abraham loved God. He was devoted to God and wanted to please God. He therefore wanted to teach others about God and wanted those he taught to teach still others to love God.

In other words, Abraham wanted his teachings to be disseminated far and wide because he wanted God's glory to be passed on to others. He wanted his teachings to reach others, in other words.

And this is precisely the benediction that God was granting to Abraham.

In the last sentence, for example, God is supposed to have said: "through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me."

Now how is it that all nations on earth become blessed because of Abraham's offspring? What will make them blessed? Is it like magic wand or something?

This sentence can only make sense when זרע (zera`) is interpreted correctly. It is not Abraham's offspring that will make people of the earth blessed - it is Abraham's teachings: his sowing the seeds of knowledge amongst his followers. Abraham's philosophy of love for God and devotion to God is what will "bless" everyone of the earth.

This means everyone, not just those who are Abraham's supposed descendants.

The word "bless" comes from the Hebrew word ברך (barak), which means "to kneel," "to cause to kneel" "to praise" and "to salute." It is thus a devotional word relating to the worship of God.

Abraham's teachings were originally intended to teach others to praise and worship God. And when a person is praising and worshiping God - that person is to be considered "blessed."

This is why Abraham was always "calling upon the Name of the LORD." And why he traveled from place to place to erect altars. He was praising God:
From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the Name of the LORD. (Genesis 12:8)

From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the Name of the LORD. (Genesis 13:3-4)

Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the Name of the LORD, the Eternal God. (Genesis 21:33)
Consider these verses carefully. What is the role of a person who travels from place to place erecting altars and worshiping God?

A missionary. Abraham (Abram) was a missionary.

This means that Abraham was a preacher. He was God's representative, traveling from place to place reaching out to people, teaching others to come to love and serve God.

This means that Abraham had to make sacrifices - including leaving his young son to go out and preach to others.

And what did Abraham's sincere followers do over the centuries? They passed on Abraham's teachings. They also became preachers, as did their followers and their follower's followers. They all passed on Abraham's teachings, forming a great multitude of followers - a nation of followers, spread out throughout the world.

This is what was originally being discussed in this event. God tells Abraham that because of Abraham's devotion and his willingness to leave his son and preach on God's behalf, from Abraham's teachings will come a great number of followers throughout the world.

Think about it. It is a practical reality that an exalted person's devotion to God would result in a great number of followers for many generations. Historically we have seen this also occur amongst so many great devoted persons. Practically every prophet was such. This is why they are so respected by followers many centuries later: Because of their absolute devotion to God: Their love of God. Their willingness to sacrifice everything (but not in the literal sense by killing people) to please God.
Consider another translation of these verses in Chapter 22 of the New Book of Genesis.