Genesis 21-24: Human sacrifice and sacred marriage

Sarah becomes jealous of Hagar’s son and demands that Abraham cast out Hagar and his son.  God agrees with Sarah, but helps Hagar survive in the desert, and promises to make Hagar’s descendents into a nation.  Abimelech and Abraham swear an oath: the latter promises not to deal falsely with the former, and the former acknowledges the latter’s rights to the wells he dug.  Shortly afterwards, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering.  At the last moment, an angel intervenes and stops him, blessing him for being willing to sacrifice his son.  At 127, Sarah dies in Hebron.  Abraham purchases a cave from the Hittites to bury her, even though they insist on giving it to him for free.  Abraham then sends his servant to Mesopotamia (specifically the city Aram-naharaim) to find a wife for Isaac.  By divine intervention, the first woman that came out of the city and offered water to him was a second cousin of Isaac.  This woman, Rebekah, agreed to go with the servant and become Isaac’s wife, and Isaac loved her.

Commentary:

  • Abraham provisions Hagar with only “some bread and a skin of water”, presumably expecting her to die.
  • 21:9-21 (E source) is the second account of the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, the first being chapter 16 (J source).  Notice that the former uses “God”, while the latter uses “LORD”.  Also notice that 21:15 supposes that Ishmael was a small child that her mother was carrying around, even though 17:25 says that he was 13 before Isaac was even born.
  • The binding of Isaac may be a memory of human sacrifice in the Israelite religion.  Notice that Abraham is not only ordered to carry out the sacrifice, but commended by an angel for being willing to carry it out.  There is no condemnation of human sacrifice.
  • Rebekah not only draws water for the servant to drink, but draws water for his camels as well.  Her generosity parallels Abraham’s own.
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