Child Sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible

You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me.  You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me.

~ Exodus 22:29-30

Jon Levenson argues, in his The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son, that this passage shows that Yahweh actually did require human sacrifice, specifically that of the Hebrew firstborns.  This was a commemoration of the original passover, of course, and Levenson goes on to explain that Israel as a nation was God’s own firstborn son, also to be sacrificed.

The various animal sacrifices were all substitutes, with the animal representing the one who brought it.  Through the sacrificial system, Israel continued to live the life of Isaac.

Levenson also argues that, according to Paul, Jesus becomes the new Isaac, and the Church, following after Israel’s older example, now lives the life of Isaac:

Now if Jesus is the true Isaac, and the Church is the body of Jesus, it follows as night the day that the Church, when it turns its attention to Genesis, must see itself in the role of Isaac, that is, as the promised son of the freeborn woman who, with God’s full endorsement, demands nothing less than the expulsion of the rival claimant to her husband’s estate.  (217)

Levenson, interested as he is in Christian-Jewish relations, focuses on Paul’s emphasis that the Church supersedes the old people of Isaac, yet we could also dwell on the simple fact of the Church as ongoing sacrifice.  As the beloved son, we all must be killed and given to God.

We are the children to be sacrificed on behalf of the world and all creation.

This entry was posted in atonement, biblical narrative by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

4 thoughts on “Child Sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible

  1. So the phase, “you are all sons of Abraham” then would mean, not that we are just vaguely associated with Judaism, but that we are all Isaacs? We are all sacrificial victims? We are all living sacrifices? All conformed to the image of the sacrificed Son? Good stuff.

  2. Steven,

    I’m really glad to see the Levenson reference. We used several of his books in OT class last semester and I was continually amazed at the quality of his textual readings. Any particular reason you’re reading him now?

  3. I’ve been a fan of Levenson’s work for some time now. I read this book a while back, as well, but I was reviewing it for last week’s sermon on Jesus’ baptism. I was interested in the connection between “beloved” and Isaac.

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