Sacrifice, Testing, and Reasoning

Paradox.

That’s what God presented to Abraham in the reading of Genesis 22-23. After a few years have passed, and Isaac grew to become a boy old enough to speak and reason on his own, God called to Abraham to test him and tells him: “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

Your son. Your only son, Isaac, for Ishmael is gone. Your only son whom you love.

And Abraham went – just as he had gone from his father’s land in Ur when God called; just as he had gone when famine threatened an only Egypt could feed; just as he had returned to the trees of Mamre to shepherd his flocks after Pharaoh had sent him away. It would seem that Abraham truly was a restless wanderer on the earth.

In going, he obeyed. He brought Isaac, two servants, the wood, and the fire. Father and son left behind the servants for a time, and Isaac pointed out what was missing:

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

Words of faith. Words of prophecy.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. ~ Genesis 22:7b-10

This was the son of promise, the one God specifically had said would receive the inheritance and through whom Abraham would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the heaves, and through whom all nations of the earth would be blessed.

What must have been going through Abraham’s mind as he grasped the knife in his hand and moved it toward his little boy?

The writer of this scripture, straight-journalism “just-the-facts-ma’am”-style never wavering, does not tell us. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, however, does so centuries later:

Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. ~ Hebrews 11:19

This was the son of promise, given to a couple whose reproductive cycle should have long since ceased. Yet life was given by grace. A word of commendation for Abraham’s faith, obedience, and ability to reason through a paradox in a moment when most of us would have been reduced to a puddle of worthlessness. But praise God from Whom all blessings flow for His merciful intervention!

An angel stopped Abraham in the very act of obedience. A ram, its horns caught in a bush nearby, served as the sacrifice. Through the voice of an angel, God called to Abraham a second time and swore by Himself to confirm His promise.

I believe that God never asks us to do anything that He is not willing to do Himself. It will be hundreds of years, and dozens of generations, but He will raise up a Son from among Abraham’s descendants, a Son of God and a Son of Man, to be given as a sin offering for the healing of the nations.

After a brief account of some family news among Abraham’s kin, scripture then fast-forwards at least twenty years later. Abraham had turned 137 years old; Isaac a century behind him; Sarah a decade. We don’t know how long they were married: fifty, sixty years … maybe a hundred. They had been through the worst and the best of times together – two attempts to wrest them apart by kings who admired her beauty, the challenge of an imbalanced family through a servant-wife and child, the traveling, the staying, the promises, the waiting, the extraordinary request of God to sacrifice their son. When the paradox of this life came to its close for her at age 127, Abraham mourned and wept over her – and went to great lengths in negotiating the purchase of a field with a cave tomb for her near those trees of Mamre which had been their home twice, and for so many years.

And for perhaps the first time, Abraham became a landowner in the land God had promised to give him: One small field.

It was enough.

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4 thoughts on “Sacrifice, Testing, and Reasoning

  1. My favorite verse in this story is chapter 22:5 “He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then WE will come back to you.”

    “The substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen.” By faith Abraham knew before he ascended the mountain his son would somehow be spared. That is faith in God’s promises.

    Oh that I can trust him more!

    Royce

  2. “I believe that God never asks us to do anything that He is not willing to do Himself. It will be hundreds of years, and dozens of generations, but He will raise up a Son from among Abraham’s descendants, a Son of God and a Son of Man, to be given as a sin offering for the healing of the nations.”

    If Ray Vander Laan is right about the significance of the bloodpath in Gen 15 (and I believe he is), then Abraham’s god had already promised to do what he was asking Abraham to do.

    And remember how many times Abraham has tried to go a different way and created a trainwreck — we’ve got a lot more learning to do before we’re ready for such a test.

    The verse that blows me away is 22:12 — how it enlightens God’s desire for relationship. “Know” in that verse is the same “know” as in Genesis 4:1 (yada) — could that reflect God saying that now He’d known Abraham’s faith by intimate experience rather than cunning or wit or head knowledge?

    I dunno, but it sounds awfully cool.

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