Monday, September 29, 2014

Feast of Eid al-Adha: Can we find the sacrifice of Ishmael in the Bible?

A. Abraham's Two Wives: Hagar and Sarah

Next Monday, October 5, 2014, Muslims in the Philippines shall celebrate the Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice and Pres. Noynoy Aquino declared October 6, 2014 as a regular holiday. The description of the first part of the Eid al-Adha story in Wikipedia is similar to the story described in the Bible:
According to Islamic tradition, approximately four thousand years ago, the valley of Mecca (in present-day Saudi Arabia) was a dry, rocky and uninhabited place. God instructed Abraham to bring Hagar (Hājar), his Arabian (Adnan) wife, and Ishmael, his only child at the time, to Arabia from the land of Canaan. As Abraham was preparing for his return journey back to Canaan, Hagar asked him, "Did God order you to leave us here? Or are you leaving us here to die." Abraham didn't even look back. He just nodded, afraid that he would be too sad and that he would disobey God. Hagar said, "Then God will not waste us; you can go". Though Abraham had left a large quantity of food and water with Hagar and Ishmael, the supplies quickly ran out, and within a few days the two began to feel the pangs of hunger and dehydration. Hagar ran up and down between two hills called Al-Safa and Al-Marwah seven times, in her desperate quest for water. Exhausted, she finally collapsed beside her baby Ishmael and prayed to God for deliverance. Miraculously, a spring of water gushed forth from the earth at the feet of baby Ishmael. Other accounts have the angel Gabriel (Jibrail) striking the earth and causing the spring to flow in abundance. With this secure water supply, known as the Zamzam Well, they were not only able to provide for their own needs, but were also able to trade water with passing nomads for food and supplies.
This story is similar to that in the Book of Genesis, except that Abraham did not accompany Hagar and her son into the desert but simply gave them food and sent them away on their own:
Early the next morning Abraham got some bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. Then, placing the child on her back,* he sent her away. As she roamed aimlessly in the wilderness of Beer-sheba, 15 the water in the skin was used up. So she put the child down under one of the bushes, 16 and then went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away; for she said to herself, “I cannot watch the child die.” As she sat opposite him, she wept aloud. 17 God heard the boy’s voice, and God’s angel called to Hagar from heaven: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not fear; God has heard the boy’s voice in this plight of his.h 18 Get up, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and then let the boy drink. 20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert bowman. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran. His mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt. (Gen 21:14-21)
In the story related in Wikipedia, it is not clear why Abraham wishes to leave his wife Hagar and his son Ishmael in the desert of Arabia to die.  If we read the Book of Genesis, the reason for this is clear:
Sarah noticed the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing with her son Isaac; 10 so she demanded of Abraham: “Drive out that slave and her son! No son of that slave is going to share the inheritance with my son Isaac!”f 11 Abraham was greatly distressed because it concerned a son of his.* 12 But God said to Abraham: Do not be distressed about the boy or about your slave woman. Obey Sarah, no matter what she asks of you; for it is through Isaac that descendants will bear your name.g 13 As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also,* since he too is your offspring. (Gen 21:9-13)
Actually, this is not the first time that Hagar left.  The first time was when she became pregnant when Sarah gave her to Abraham so that a child can be born through her:
Thus, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, his wife Sarai took her maid, Hagar the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. 4 He had intercourse with her, and she became pregnant. As soon as Hagar knew she was pregnant, her mistress lost stature in her eyes.* c 5 d So Sarai said to Abram: “This outrage against me is your fault. I myself gave my maid to your embrace; but ever since she knew she was pregnant, I have lost stature in her eyes. May the LORD decide between you and me!” Abram told Sarai: “Your maid is in your power. Do to her what you regard as right.” Sarai then mistreated her so much that Hagar ran away from her. (Gen 16:3-5)
Hagar left and found a fountain, but this time she is still pregnant. And the Angel of the Lord comforted her with a promise of a son named Ishmael:

But the LORD’s angel told her: “Go back to your mistress and submit to her authority. 10 I will make your descendants so numerous,” added the LORD’s angel, “that they will be too many to count.”f 11 Then the LORD’s angel said to her: “You are now pregnant and shall bear a son; you shall name him Ishmael,* For the LORD has heeded your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; Alongside* all his kindred shall he encamp. (Gen 16:9-12)

B. Abraham's Two Sons: Ishmael and Isaac

The story of Abraham's sacrifice of Ishmael is narrated in Wikipedia with accompanying quotes from Quran. Here I'll just cite the Wikipedia entry because the story is clearer:
Years later, Abraham was instructed by God to return from Canaan to build a place of worship adjacent to Hagar's well (the Zamzam Well). Abraham and Ishmael constructed a stone and mortar structure – known as the Kaaba – which was to be the gathering place for all who wished to strengthen their faith in God. As the years passed, Ishmael was blessed with prophethood (Nubuwwah) and gave the nomads of the desert his message of submission to God. After many centuries, Mecca became a thriving desert city and a major center for trade, thanks to its reliable water source, the well of Zamzam. One of the main trials of Abraham's life was to face the command of God to devote his dearest possession, his only son. Upon hearing this command, he prepared to submit to God's will. During this preparation, Satan (Shaitan) tempted Abraham and his family by trying to dissuade them from carrying out God's commandment, and Ibrahim drove Satan away by throwing pebbles at him. In commemoration of their rejection of Satan, stones are thrown at symbolic pillars signifying Satan during the Hajj rites. 
When Ishmael was about 13 (Abraham being 99), God decided to test their faith in public. Abraham had a recurring dream, in which God was commanding him to offer up for sacrifice – an unimaginable act – his son, whom God had granted him after many years of deep prayer. Abraham knew that the dreams of the prophets were divinely inspired, and one of the ways in which God communicated with his prophets. When the intent of the dreams became clear to him, Abraham decided to fulfill God's command and offer Ishmael for sacrifice. Although Abraham was ready to sacrifice his dearest for God's sake, he could not just bring his son to the place of sacrifice without his consent. Ishmael had to be consulted as to whether he was willing to give up his life in fulfillment of God's command. This consultation would be a major test of Ishmael's maturity in faith; love and commitment for God; willingness to obey his father; and readiness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of God. Abraham presented the matter to his son and asked for his opinion about the dreams of slaughtering him. Ishmael did not show any hesitation or reservation even for a moment. He said, "Father, do what you have been commanded. You will find me, Insha'Allah (God willing), to be very patient." His mature response, his deep insight into the nature of his father’s dreams, his commitment to God, and ultimately his willingness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of God were all unprecedented. When Abraham attempted to cut Ishmael's throat, he was astonished to see that Ishmael was unharmed and instead, he found a dead ram which was slaughtered. Abraham had passed the test by his willingness to carry out God's command.
Let's check if this is possible according to the chronology of events in the Book of Genesis.  We know that Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (Gen 16:16).  We also know that Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born (Gen 21:5).  This means that when Isaac was born, Ishmael was already 13 years old.  The Wikipedia entry claimed that a year before Isaac's birth, Ishmael was 13 years old and Abraham was 99 years old.  This is just a discrepancy of one year, so this is still acceptable margin of error.  But why would Abraham leave for Arabia with Hagar and Ishmael and leave Sarah behind before Isaac was born?  And why would Abraham leave Hagar and Ishmael  to go back to Sarah in Canaan?  These two questions cannot be answered through the Bible because they were not recorded in the Bible.

Regarding the sacrifice of Ishmael by Abraham, the Bible is also silent.  What the Bible only tells is the sacrifice of Isaac done in a similar fashion to that of Ishmael:
Some time afterward, God put Abraham to the test and said to him: Abraham! “Here I am!” he replied.a 2 Then God said: Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.b 3 Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey, took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac, and after cutting the wood for the burnt offering, set out for the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham caught sight of the place from a distance. 5 Abraham said to his servants: “Stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over there. We will worship and then come back to you.” 6 So Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two walked on together, 7 Isaac spoke to his father Abraham. “Father!” he said. “Here I am,” he replied. Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” 8 “My son,” Abraham answered, “God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.” Then the two walked on together. 9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Next he bound* his son Isaac, and put him on top of the wood on the altar.c 10 Then Abraham reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.d 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” “Here I am,” he answered. 12 “Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the angel. “Do not do the least thing to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you did not withhold from me your son, your only one.”e 13 Abraham looked up and saw a single ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.* 14 Abraham named that place Yahweh-yireh;* hence people today say, “On the mountain the LORD will provide.” (Gen 22:1-14)
Because of his obedience, Abraham was blessed by God:
 I swear by my very self—oracle of the LORD—that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your son, your only one, 17 I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants will take possession of the gates of their enemies,g 18 and in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing, because you obeyed my command. (Gen 22:16-18)

C. Ishmael, Isaac, and Christ

Notice that in the Islamic tradition, Abraham already cut the throat of Ishmael, but instead found a dead ram which was slaughtered and not his son.  In the Biblical tradition, Abraham was only in the about to kill Isaac, so that the knife did not yet touch Isaac before the Angel stopped Abraham and showed him a single ram caught in the thickets.  According to the Bible, it is through Isaac that God made his promise.  That is why, God introduced Himself to Moses as follows:
God spoke further to Moses: This is what you will say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever;e this is my title for all generations. ()
And in the Christian tradition, it is through the line of Isaac that Christ was born as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (1:1-17):
 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.* 2 b Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.c 3 Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.d Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4 e Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 f Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, 6 g Jesse the father of David the king. David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah. 7 * h Solomon became the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asaph. 8 Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah. 9 Uzziah became the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. 10 Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amos,* Amos the father of Josiah. 11 Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the Babylonian exile. 12 i After the Babylonian exile, Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 Zerubbabel the father of Abiud. Abiud became the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 Azor the father of Zadok. Zadok became the father of Achim, Achim the father of Eliud, 15 Eliud the father of Eleazar. Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah. 17 Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations. 
But unlike Abraham, God did not spare his only Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, from death on the cross in Calvary. As St. Paul writes:
He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?y 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.z 34 Who will condemn? It is Christ [Jesus] who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.a 35 What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? 36 As it is written:b “For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.c 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things,* nor future things, nor powers,d 39 nor height, nor depth,* nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:31-39)
Like Isaac, Christ brought the wood of the cross with him to Mount Calvary.  But unlike Isaac, Christ is also Himself the Lamb of Sacrifice.  And the Sacrifice of Christ is celebrated everyday all over the world in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. 
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