This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Bible: Child sacrifice, then and now

Lessons for our spring quarter are titled “Acknowledging God,” a broad theme that includes both familiar and lesser-known texts. The subtitle for our March lessons is “Follow in My Ways,” and includes stories of two men who are following God — Abraham and King Solomon. However, readers today must wrestle with huge cultural shifts since these texts were written. What “following God” meant for these men would not be appropriate for us to imitate.

Reta Halteman Finger

In Genesis 22, God “tests” Abraham by asking him to “take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love . . . and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” The story is told in excruciating detail. On the third day, they leave the servants and donkeys behind. Abraham and Isaac trudge up the mountain, Isaac carrying the wood, Abraham the fire and the knife. God only acts at the very last second.

Today, child murder is an unthinkable crime. Yet there are other forms of child sacrifice, like sexual abuse. We are learning to listen to young victims’ stories of trauma — from girls in gymnastics the age of Isaac abused by Larry Nassar to even a report about Pope Francis possibly protecting a priest in Chile who abused boys.

Was Isaac worried when he asked his father where was the lamb for sacrificing? Did he resist in terror as his father tied him up, laid him on the wood, and raised his knife?

And what about Sarah? Had she known, she never would have let Isaac go. What did her son tell her when he returned? Would their marriage have survived had Abraham returned alone or carrying a bundle of charred bones?

Many have theologized about this story; the New Testament refers to it in James 2:21 and Heb. 11:17-19. The angle I prefer is that Abraham was confused by customs from his pagan background, and the story is told to teach that Yahweh rejects child sacrifice. A later Mosaic law in Lev. 18:21 forbids child sacrifice as blasphemy. What do you think?

Fast forward nearly 1,000 years to the beginning of the kingdom of Israel. David, Israel’s greatest king, had been a talented politician, poet and mystic. But, as a warrior, he did not qualify as a temple builder. That privilege was given to Solomon, David’s son, who beat out his brothers to become the next king. He builds a glorious temple in Jerusalem — the city built upon the very mountain where Isaac nearly lost his life.

Our text comprises the prayer of dedication that Solomon offers to honor Yahweh. It is almost word-for-word the same prayer included in 1 Kings 8:22-30. Chronicles was put into final form by the end of the Exile in the late sixth century B.C. and draws much from the earlier books of 2 Samuel and Kings. However, 2 Chronicles places more emphasis on the greatness of Solomon and his temple, while omitting some of Solomon’s warts. Even as a child in Sunday school, I learned of his forced labor, his 700 wives and 300 concubines and bad parenting of his son Rehoboam.

Accolades to this great temple in 2 Chronicles testify to the “theology of place” as important. Even today we know how much Jerusalem and the Temple Mount mean to Jews, Muslims and Christian Zionists. Yet this theology is challenged in Scripture. Representing the Jerusa­lem church in Acts, Stephen rebuts the charge by opponents that he is “saying things against this holy place” (Acts 6:13). His entire sermon in Acts 7:2-50 uses Scripture to assert that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands.”

What is your “theology of place”?

Since retiring from Messiah College, Reta Halteman Finger teaches part-time at Eastern Mennonite University, writes a Bible study blog at and is a contributing editor at Sojourners.

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