An Apocryphal Book Highlights the Connection between the Binding of Isaac and the Exodus

April 8 2020

Written around 170 BCE, the book of Jubilees appears to have been venerated by many Jews (and later Christians) in ancient times, although it never became part of the Hebrew Bible. While its author differs from what would become the rabbinic tradition on several important points, some of its readings of the Bible found their way into rabbinic literature, including one that sees the story of the binding of Isaac as resulting from a challenge (like that in the book of Job) issued to God by Satan. But Jubilees adds an additional twist in its version of the story: Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of his son took place on Passover. Stuart Halpern comments:

[Jubilees] did this to tie the story, ever so subtly, to another, similar biblical tale, the commandment the Israelites received, in the book of Exodus, to slaughter the paschal lamb and smear the blood on their doorposts. In that tale, a seemingly demonic figure makes an appearance. We read, in Exodus 12:23 [that God] “will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the Lord will pass over the door and not let the Destroyer enter and smite your home.”

Whoever, or whatever, the Destroyer was, credited with laying waste to the Egyptian firstborns, he seems to be under the employ of God. Jubilees, not surprisingly, says, in its retelling, that it was the “powers of Mastema” [its name for Satan] who were “let loose” upon the enslavers. (The Passover Haggadah, hundreds of years later, seems to have been so disturbed by the reference to a “Destroyer,” it assures us, repeatedly, that it was none other than God Himself who had done the damage.)

Furthermore, [the author of] Jubilees had noticed something when reading the Exodus story. He had seen this episode before. Here, in Egypt, there was the narrow avoidance of the death of the favored children (Exodus 4:22 has God instructing Moses to tell Pharaoh “Israel is my first-born son”) and the sacrifice, in place of said chosen son, of a lamb.

Though Jubilees never did make it into the Bible, maybe it’s time to restore Satan to the seder. Or at the very least, remind ourselves that on the night that commemorates God’s passing over, in protection, of the houses of Israel, the night the Destroyer didn’t harm us, it was because God asked us to be willing to sacrifice for Him. And we listened. And we were redeemed.

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More about: Apocrypha, Binding of Isaac, Exodus, Haggadah, Midrash, Satan

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy