No passage can give a reader a more eerie feeling than Genesis 22 when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his own son.
As the Bible says, Abraham and his wife had no children their whole lives, until they reached 90, bordering on 100 when Sarah bore a miracle child, Isaac. Abraham loved Isaac with all of his being, and in fact, perhaps idolized him a little too much, because God put Abraham to the test, telling him to sacrifice his only son.
Distraught but obedient, Abraham sets forth to complete the deed until an angel of the Lord intervenes, and God provides a ram to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place.
But why in the world would God go about testing Abraham in this way? Why couldn’t God test Abraham in another way that didn’t involve nearly killing his son?
This article will dive into the reasons why God decided to test Abraham in such an extreme way. We’ll also look into the symbolism of the test and why it matters for Christians today.
Why Would God Do Such an Extreme Test?
As stated in Matthew Henry’s concise commentary on this passage, “Strong faith is often exercised with strong trials.”
This means that sometimes we have to go through fire to reveal the true nature of our faith and whether we’ve built a strong foundation of trust in the Lord. In the case of Abraham, God had located the number one idol in his heart: His only son. He wanted to test Abraham’s loyalties by showing him the one area of his life where he’d held back.
As stated later on in the Matthew Henry commentary, about Abraham, “Never was any gold tried in so hot a fire.”
We should also keep in mind a number of other things as we approach this test. As stated in Hebrews, Abraham had an enormous amount of faith that no matter what the outcome (Hebrews 11:17-19) that God could somehow raise Isaac from the dead.
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
Abraham had also heard God promise him that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Knowing God’s truthful and unchanging character, he had to have rationalized that God would follow through and save his son, even if Isaac died on the altar.
Knowing God’s character, we know that the Lord would never participate in child sacrifice.
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “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 22:15-18).
So, besides testing Abraham’s faith, why do we have such an odd passage in Scripture?
Often, as Christians, we can think of the Old and New Testament as separate entities, but they point to each other, and this passage exemplifies that. Abraham and Isaac reenact something that would take place a millennium later. On the same hill in which Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, Jesus died for our sins.
In the same way that Abraham is tested, God also faced the ultimate test. He sacrificed his only Son for us.
Abraham received a free pass by a substitute ram sacrifice, but Jesus is both the ram and Isaac for us.
Why Does This Matter?
Whenever we encounter a difficult passage in Scripture, we need to look at the bigger picture. Knowing God’s character, we know that he wouldn’t follow through with making Abraham commit human sacrifice. After all, he later talks against the detestable practice (Leviticus 18:21).
In the case of this passage, Abraham’s actions mirror those of God in the New Testament. Those who witnessed Jesus’ death in the Jewish community would’ve known their roots. They would’ve remembered that on the same hill, God had asked Abraham to give up his only son.
This story also matters because we need to understand the nature of tests and trials.
God has a funny way of being able to locate where our loyalties lie. And if we want to commit to him and go all in, we often have to give up something we’ve put on the same pedestal as the Lord. This, of course, won’t mean sacrificing our children.
But it might mean giving up idolizing something, even a good thing, to focus more on our relationship with God.
Photo Credit: Metal relief of Abraham and Isaac from baroque main altar in the cathedral by Johannes Szilassy (1705-1782) ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/sedmak
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Crosswalk.com, literary agent at C.Y.L.E., and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,000 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in October of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.