Positive law over moral law?

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chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
Why were God's positive commands obeyed over the moral law?
  • God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son. Abraham obeyed this positive command over the moral law to not kill.
  • Jesus obeys God's will to give himself for his people over the moral law to preserve his life.

It seems from Gal. 1:8 that it should be the other way around,
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
 

chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
My confusion lies in the fact that Abraham had two commands before him: positive to kill Isaac and moral to not kill Isaac. He chose positive over moral and did not sin, moreover it was credited to him as righteousness.

As I understand it, the positive command negated the sinfulness of disobeying the moral law because: it was God working "around, below, above, and beyond His laws to men?" And we can say it was God working since he gave the positive command even though Abraham actually "worked" in executing it?
 

jerubbaal

Puritan Board Freshman
The distinction between "murder" and "killing" in this particular case really doesn't seem to hold up.... The act of child sacrifice is frequently held up as one of worst acts of the later Kings of Israel and Judah, and this is precisely the same act.

Pointing out that Christ was a similar sacrifice does not make those who drove his nails any less guilty of an uncomprehensibly abhorrent crime.

I realize invoking Kierkegaard might be verboten in these circles, but I do think his whole interpretation of this as the "teleological suspension of the ethical" is a valid understanding. Essentially, the suggestion is that Abraham here is asked choose God even beyond Abraham's own ethics, his deeply held understanding of what is right and what is wrong. Abraham's faith is so great and prototypically Christian because it transcends mere ethics and chooses God above all else.
 

chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks Josh. That cleared things up. I'm still chewing on it so I may come back for more questions.
 

jerubbaal

Puritan Board Freshman
To follow the same line of thinking, were God to break his promises with all of us, he would be entirely justified in doing so, since he is clearly above the authority of covenant. I realize it is an absurdity to say so, but I believe it proves the point - God is not above his own character, he is his own character, perfectly and completely. We cannot do not know that character exhaustively, but he has certainly told us enough to let us know that child sacrifice is abhorrent to him. You concede the point yourself - it was not just idolatry, but murder also.

But Abraham's ethic is God's adaption of His own ethic to men, and God is not divided, but One, so I do not think we're free to understand that God is commanding something of Abraham contrary to His own ethic. Instead, we must understand it as stated previously, lest we interpret some schizophrenia in the Lord.
The point actually holds, regardless of whether one ends up believing that the command to sacrifice Isaac be evil or not. Certainly, slaying his own son, the son of his old age, promised by God, would have been an absolutely abhorrent act to Abraham, and one that flew in the face of everything which God had said to him up to this point. Even if it would have been justified, it remains a complete rejection of everything in Abraham's life other than God, which is the thrust of the interpretation.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Chuck's question is a good one. God is not of two minds. It's good for us to understand how his command regarding Isaac fits with his prohibition of murder. We don't want to simply dismiss such questions by suggesting God can make an executive decision that changes his ways whenever he wants. God doesn't do such things.

First, notice that God did not tell Abraham to murder Isaac or even to offer him as a child sacrifice. He told him to offer him as a burnt offering. This makes it (1) an act to bring propitiation for sin and (2) an act testing the entire consecration of the worshiper to the Lord. Not only does the text tell us this was such a test, Abraham also clearly understood it as such. He didn't believe he was taking Isaac's life for good, but rather that God intended to bring Isaac back to life (Hebrews 11:17-19) after testing Abraham's full devotion. The Bible never, anywhere, portrays this act as an attempted murder or child sacrifice; only as a great example of the full devotion to God represented by a burnt offering.

Second, the propitiatory nature of the burnt offering fits God's holiness. It shows how horribly serious sin is and how terrible the cost of paying for it is. The fact that all along God was not planning to go through with it, but rather to provide a weak substitute, only underscores the need for a sacrifice valuable enough to truly pay for sin. The whole incident points us to Christ, the Sacrifice of infinite value who finally did pay for the horrors of sin. So God's holiness, his perfect love, and his justice are all on display in this account. Far from undermining the moral character of God, this passage underscores its most central aspects.

Finally, we see here that the heart of the moral law is and always has been faith. Abraham's faith in God's promises (including his belief that his actions ultimately would not be murderous) is what makes his obedience righteous. God is not after a superficial, outward appearance of law-keeping, but rather a law-keeping that flows from a heart of faith.

The Isaac account is not about God's disregard for life, but rather about his loving determination to save us from sin and death, through faith in his Son. And the same could be said, obviously, about the death of Christ.
 
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