Abraham and Sarah were willing to sacrifice the safety and well-being of Hagar and Ishmael, abusing them to get the blessings on their own terms. Here, God asks them to completely surrender the future blessing of their family over to God in the form of a sacrifice, only to receive it back by God’s grace with not just a promise of blessing but a covenant oath of blessing. It creates this pattern: because humans are so screwed up and hurt each other so much, it seems like the only way forward is when God’s chosen ones are willing to surrender everything over to God. Those are the moments when God’s Eden blessing can break out to the nations.
In part one (00:00-13:50), Tim, Jon, and Carissa continue the discussion we began in our last episode, tracing the theme of trees through the second movement of Genesis, which focuses on the life of Abraham.
In the Bible, trees represent both God’s blessing and testing of humanity, and they also become an ongoing reminder of Eden, the place where God and humanity lived in perfect unity. In Hebrew, the word for tree (etz) can mean what we think of as a tree in English, but it can also refer to bushes and wood.
In the last episode, we talked about how Abraham is portrayed as a new Adam (and a new Noah), and trees pop up all over the story of his life. Abraham is another chosen human through whom God intends to bless all nations. But sometimes Abraham acts more like the Genesis 3 serpent than God’s chosen one.
In part two (13:50-27:45), Tim, Jon, and Carissa explore Genesis 21. Sarah gives birth to Isaac, the son Yahweh promised to her and Abraham, and she becomes full of contempt for Ishmael, the son born to Hagar and Abraham.
There’s a major conflict in this chapter—Ishmael is Abraham’s first-born son, but Isaac is the son chosen by Yahweh. (This continues the pattern of second-born sons being chosen by God.) Abraham’s failure to trust God’s word has created problems for everyone involved.
God tests Abraham by telling him to listen to the voice of his wife, which got them in trouble last time (Gen. 16:2). Abraham, like Adam, doesn’t resist his wife’s voice, and he exiles Hagar and Ishmael, essentially sending them to their deaths. He gives them only a skin of water as he sends them into the wilderness, and it immediately drains, putting Hagar and Ishmael in mortal danger. However, God himself provides for Hagar and Ishmael by leading them to a well near a tree and giving them the Eden blessing, which concludes with the promise of a wife for Ishmael.
This sequence maps onto both the first and last moments of the opening movement of the Eden narrative, which also begins with God’s provision of water in the wilderness (Gen. 2:4-6) and concludes with the provision of a wife (Gen. 2:24). God provides an Eden blessing for the non-chosen son.
In part three (27:45-36:30), the team discusses the second part of Genesis 21, starting in verse 22, where the Philistine king Abimelech initiates a covenant of peace with Abraham.
In the process, Abraham brings up a dispute between his and Abimelech’s servants over a well in the wilderness—the same well where Hagar found water. But once again, Abimelech shows himself favorable to Abraham as he confesses his ignorance about the well.
It would make sense for a conflict over resources between two rival families to end in violence. But in this case, the families achieve peace through just dealings that lead to a covenant of peace. Note that this is the opposite of what happened at this well just a few verses previously—two brothers, Isaac and Ishmael, divided near this well. Now God’s chosen one and the nations make a peaceful covenant at this same well. The fact that the story ends with Eden and tree imagery (Abraham meets with Yahweh under a tree that he plants) shows that matters have reached an ideal resolution.
In part four (36:30-53:45), Tim, Jon, and Carissa explore the iconic (and troubling) story of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22.
It’s not only Isaac’s life that’s in jeopardy here (although that would be devastating enough), but God’s very promise to Abraham to multiply his descendants and bless the nations was supposed to come through Isaac. But this is another test (Gen. 22:1). God’s seemingly severe test here is possibly in response to Abraham and Sarah’s severity in dealing with Hagar and Ishmael.
All along, Abraham has been meeting God by trees on mountains. And here, God calls Abraham to Mount Moriah (“land of vision”), a name that sounds similar to the hill and tree in Genesis 12 where he also built an altar. This is all building anticipation—will Abraham worship God here on this mountain?
The narrator draws the reader’s focus to the tree/wood in this story—the wood of the burnt offering, taken along, placed on Isaac, and arranged on the altar. Additionally, the ram in the thicket on the mountain is an inverted image of the tree of life. In Hebrew, “ram” is spelled with the same letters as “oak.” Isaac’s life is spared, and his substitute is the “tree.”
The narrator’s comment in verse 14 draws a direct analogy between Yahweh’s provision of a substitute on Mount Moriah and a future sacrifice that will be offered on this same mountain, the temple in Jerusalem. Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac becomes an image of a future faithful descendent, who will offer a sacrifice of great cost in Jerusalem and release the blessings of Eden’s tree of life to all nations.
In part five (53:45-1:05:28), Tim, Jon, and Carissa look at the final mention of the tree of life in the second movement of Genesis. Ironically, it occurs in the account of Sarah’s death.
After Abraham’s great act of faithfulness, we’re told that his beloved wife dies near the sacred tree that Abraham had camped by all the way back in Genesis 14. The design of this story emphasizes the special importance of this location by repeating the mention of Hebron in the opening and closing of the chapter.
The narrative highlights that Abraham worshiped and met with God near trees when he was living near Hebron/Mamre. This is a clear Eden motif, as Abraham and Sarah are presented as a new Adam and Eve, living in the promised garden land and communing with God by the trees of Hebron. Sadly, the wife of the new Adam eventually dies by the sacred trees of Mamre. This is a vivid and potent image that recalls the woman eating from the tree that leads to death. But there is a shred of hope because it is also by the sacred trees of Mamre/Hebron that Sarah is buried.
This story of Sarah’s burial is a full-scale replay of the core themes at work in the garden of Eden story. Through wordplays, hyperlinks, and narrative analogies, Abraham’s loss of Sarah is compared to both the loss of eternal life in Eden and also the hope of God’s promise to restore life.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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