“‘Take your son, your only son–yes, Isaac, whom you love so much–and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.'” – Genesis 22:2; NLT
One of the biggest issues that people have with God are His seemingly ridiculous commands, particularly the commands that call for the murder of other people (the sacrifice of Isaac, the Flood, the Death of the First Born: all of these will be explored in upcoming posts). The overwhelming question is always the same: how can a God who claims to be a God of love and justice dictate the death of human beings?
I want to first explore the command to sacrifice Isaac and the intent behind this seemingly cruel command.
You know the story: God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations with numerous descendants (Gen. 15:5). God promises Abraham a son in his old age (Gen. 18:10). Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah when Abraham was 100 years old (Gen. 21:1-7).
Suddenly, God does the unthinkable: He commands Abraham to sacrifice this promised son, this miracle child, on a mountain.
Many see this as a foreshadowing of the sending of Christ, God’s one and only as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Others see this as a cruel joke on God’s part, since God does not allow Abraham to go through with the sacrifice, claiming it is severe emotional abuse, putting Abraham through so much pain only to say it was never supposed to happen.
However, Scripture tells us a completely different story.
Looking at right before the knife reaches Isaac, an angel of the LORD tells Abraham that the whole point of this event was for Abraham to show his faith in God. You see, in those moments, Abraham proved one thing: he truly feared and trusted God.
He feared God in that he wasn’t sure what might occur if he disobeyed God’s command, but he knew it couldn’t be good, based off of first hand experiences of seeing God mete out justice.
He trusted God in that he believed that God would be able to do anything, including raise Isaac from the dead. The author of the book of Hebrews says, “Abraham was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, ‘Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.’ Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again.” (Hebrews 11:18-19a)
You see, the command to sacrifice Isaac, this seemingly sadistic request, is not about God asking Abraham to prove his love for God, but rather a turning point for Abraham.
If we keep to the belief that God is all-knowing, He already knew that Abraham would obey His command, so God didn’t need Abraham to do it to prove anything to Him. He needed Abraham to prove something to himself.
This may seem unbiblical, but think about it: up to this point, Abraham trusted God, but he did not necessarily trust God with everything. In this moment, up on the mountain in the land of Moriah, Abraham learned something about himself: he truly trusted God. As a matter of fact, Abraham learned a new name for God in those moments: Jehovah-Jireh: “God will provide” or “The God Who Provides”.
Now, this is not to say that this is the rationale behind every seemingly sadistic request/command of God, but this is the lesson behind the command to Abraham to sacrifice his promised child: so Abraham can truly learn to let go of his own plans and truly surrender to God’s call and God’s leading.