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Allow me to explain (3 of 439)

November 30, 2010
tags: ,

We’re contradicting Bible contradictions. You can catch up here.

3. How many sons did Abraham have? Heb 11:17, Gen 22:2, 16:15, 21:2-3, 25:1-2, 4:22

That’s a lot of scripture references, and I’m honestly not sure how they all apply. Someone fill me in.

Hebrews 11:17//
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son;

Genesis 22:2//
And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

Genesis 16:15//
So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.

Genesis 21:2-3//
For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. 3 And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him— Isaac.

Genesis 25:1-2//
Abraham again took a wife, and her name was Keturah.2 And she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.

Genesis 4:22//
And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron. And the sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah.

Some of these we can just cross off the list of “contradictions” immediately.

Genesis 4:22 is before Abraham even enters the story. Zillah was a wife of Lamech, who was a son of Enoch, who was a son of Cain, who was a son of Adam and Eve. Abraham is not even breathing at this stage of the game, so I think Genesis 4:22 was probably a misprint on the poster.

Working backwards, up the list, Genesis 25 is later in the story. Twenty-five comes after 16, 21 and 22, and the wife and children mentioned are after the part of Abraham’s story being told in Hebrews 11. It’s not at all a contradiction to say that a man had one son before he had others. I have a younger brother, but if I told you that my dad used to bring his only kid to school with him when he was coaching, would I necessarily be lying? Not if it were before my little brother were born.

The verses from Genesis 21 and 22, and the one taken from Hebrews 11, are all talking about Abraham’s son, Isaac. Genesis 16 is talking about Abraham’s son, Ishmael. The supposed “contradiction” could have been equally expressed by quoting only two verses, but six apparently looks better in print.

If the question were an honest one, in modern context, the short answer would be eight: Ishmael, Isaac and the six that came later as mentioned in Genesis 25:2.

Why, then, do passages such as Hebrews 11 and Genesis 22 call Isaac his “only” son?

You just have to know Abraham’s story to understand this one. (And remember that they didn’t operate according to modern, Western social norms.)

God called Abraham out of his family and his land so that God could use him to start a new nation on the earth. He moved Abraham and his wife to a nice new place, and told him that he would father a nation.

Abraham was 90 when they had this conversation, and he and his wife had a hard time believing it. Sarah came up with this idea that Abraham could have a son through her female servant – which was a legitimate way for a barren woman at the time to “have” children.

And it kind of worked. Abraham had Ishmael, but God was not about to ditch His plan for Abraham’s. Ishmael was not the son that God wanted to use, and though He promised to bless Ishmael at Abraham’s request, Ishmael was conceived in doubt and unbelief when God wanted faith.

A decade later, God came to visit, reminded Abraham of the promise, and Sarah was soon pregnant. Isaac was born. Isaac not only had preference as an heir because he was born through Abraham’s real wife, he was born according to God’s promise and Sarah’s faith – not compromise and a couple of people’s efforts to “help” God.

(There are all kinds of lessons in here that we’re not getting into. Much of the Old Testament seems weird until you realize it’s setting up for Jesus.)

Ishmael, however, was already 10 and kind of a punk (Genesis 21:9). Sarah got upset and asked Abraham to send Ishmael and his mother away so there wouldn’t be problems about inheritance, etc. Abraham consulted God, and God gave him the green light. Abraham wasn’t thrilled about it, but he packed some provisions, trusted God, and sent Ishmael and his mother away.

So at the point in Genesis 22, when God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, which is when we get these references to Abraham’s “only” son, Isaac really is Abraham’s only son. Ishmael is gone and the others haven’t been born.

If we did a deep study of the scriptures, we’d talk about all the spiritual and symbolic meaning as well – that God’s promise to Abraham was only going to be fulfilled in Isaac, that Isaac is symbolic of Jesus as God’s only begotten Son, that Abraham was technically “Abram” when Ishmael was born, etc.

Abraham fathered eight sons. Isaac is called his “only” son because, in the simplest terms, he was the only one Abraham really had at the time being referenced by those scriptures.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jacob permalink
    December 4, 2010 2:00 pm

    Because Isaac was born because of a promise, and the promise child that God would bless the whole world with. So to some degree the only son that mattered. The other sons were born without the promise.

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