Today, we look at the account of God’s testing Abraham in Genesis 22:1-14. Many have a hard time with this passage. “How could God ask Abraham to kill his son?” “What kind of God do we worship that would test his follower in this way?” The questions go on and on. However, I think that we can gain a better understanding of God and Abraham if we do a little digging.
At the time of this account, Abraham was old… really old. How old? Well, he was about 100 years old when his son Isaac was born! We are first introduced to Abram in chapter 12 where God commands him to travel to a new country. Abram and his family have a few adventures along the way and we then have an interaction between God and Abram.
In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abram to make a great nation from his decendents. Abram is confused because he is old and has no children, but God promises that he will have a son and that his lineage will number as the stars (15:5). Then God does something that’s a bit confusing:
So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
God “cut a contract” according to the custom of the time. The two parties would divide the animals and walk between them as a symbol of the agreement, something like “May what happens to these happen to him who breaks the agreement”. But notice that two parties didn’t make this contract; only God did! God, using a form that Abram would recognize, took sole responsibility to uphold the promise that He had made.
A year (and a false start) later, Abraham and Sarah have Isaac and another physical reinforcement of God’s covenant.
Fast forward to Genesis 22. Here God asks the unthinkable, That Abraham sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering.
Abraham must be a little confused at first. God knows that Isaac is the son that He promised would provide lineage for the fulfillment of the covenant. Why would he want him to sacrifice him? Doesn’t he need to be alive to have offspring? What many people tend to overlook is that Abraham has been living with this manifestation of God’s covenant for over two decades! For nearly 25 years, Abraham has seen the terms of God’s contract walking, talking, and living right in front of him. He knows that, whatever God wants, he will keep his word.
So what does Abraham do? He, Isaac, and two servants head out for history’s first recorded father/son camping trip. The only sense of concern we see in the account is when Isaac asks where the lamb was for the sacrifice (22:7). You even see that Abraham has no doubt that Isaac will not die (22:5). Once they reach the appointed place, There is no question from either what is going on (You would think that if Isaac had doubts, a 24-year-old man would be able to overcome one that is one-hundred and twenty-five).
At the last minute, God intervenes. He is pleased that Abraham was willing to sacrifice anything that was asked of him and provides a ram to complete the sacrifice. He then re-affirms the promise saying, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22:16-18)
Abraham’s faith was such that, even if he had sacrificed Isaac, he believed the Lord would keep His word and raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:17–19). God uses Abraham’s faith as an example of the type of faith required for salvation. Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” This truth is the basis of the Christian faith, as reiterated in Romans 4:3 and James 2:23. The righteousness that was credited to Abraham is the same righteousness credited to us when we receive by faith the sacrifice God provided for our sins—Jesus Christ. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Also, the account of Abraham is the basis of the New Testament teaching of atonement, the sacrificial offering of the Lord Jesus on the cross for the sins of mankind. Jesus himself said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).