Meet Abraham, out on Highway 61…
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’
‘Here I am,’ he replied.
2 Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will show you.’
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.’
Today’s Complex Character is Abraham: great patriarch, wise leader, abusive father…The story that often sticks about him is that he’s the dad who heard a voice telling him to bind up his son, take him up a mountain and kill him… and this dude is a central hero of Islam, Judaism and Christianity?
Bob Dylan, another complex character, once sang:
’Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man you must be puttin’ me on”
God says, “You can do what you want Abe, but
the next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61”
Abe is the first in a series of complex characters in the song to face their reckoning out on Highway 61 - the near mythic route that stretches across America promising revelation and damnation, illumination and despair. Let’s look at the Bible passage:
“Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love - Isaac - and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you. Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.” Genesis: 22.2-3
We recoil in horror but Rob Bell points out that at the time and place this story was originally told child sacrifice was not uncommon. To folks originally hearing it an angry god wanting a sacrifice of a precious child would have been unremarkable, they would have taken it for granted.
They would have been freaked out by the twist - Isaac isn’t killed. The angel tells Abraham to stop - to not go through with it. It’s baffling to us that someone would sacrifice their child and it was baffling in the original culture for a compassionate god to intervene. We see here a new understanding of the divine emerging, that values human life. God does not want Abraham to guardedly withhold his family but to trust them to God - not so God can destroy them but so God can bless them.
So Abraham was a pretty messed up dude, unquestioningly agreeing to kill his son, at least Dylan makes Abe halfheartedly protest, but he was a product of a messed up environment. Nonetheless God led him to a new understanding, meeting him where he was… out on Highway 61.
I wasn’t half the man I’d hoped I’d be,
Not even half a man,
As I climbed that hill,
I was all at sea.
And I could see,
I was less than half of what I had hoped.
Lead me from here,