Why does Abraham get told to sacrifice Isaac? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
In Genesis 22, God calls Abraham to go and sacrifice his only son to Him. What is going on here? Nothing in the text has indicated that God accepts human sacrifices. Sure, the gods of Canaan and others do, but not YHWH. The fact that we see that should strike us right at the beginning. This is supremely out of character.
It’s interesting that this is one rare state where we don’t see Abraham giving some pushback, but we can assume there was some. If he gave pushback on every other incident, why not this one? What was it that was making this request so hard? Was it just the sacrifice of the son?
Isaac was the son of the promise. God has had a habit in Genesis of keeping His promises to Abraham. His wife wound up giving birth at 90 and he was there to witness the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Nothing in the text then indicates Abraham was mentally ill. Being mentally ill doesn’t make a 90 year-old woman pregnant.
Isaac wasn’t just the son of Abraham. He was the promised son of Abraham. Abraham had been told that it was through Isaac that his offspring would be reckoned. Isaac would be the one through whom Abraham’s legacy would continue.
Kind of hard to do that if the son is dead.
Nevertheless, Abraham does obey. Notice also what he tells his servants. He assures them that he and his boy will return to them. Abraham is confident even here that somehow, Isaac will be brought back.
Now what about Isaac? Was this child abuse? No. Isaac at this point would have been a strapping teenager with a Dad nearly 100 years older than he was. Had Isaac wanted to, he could have easily taken down Abraham in a fight. In our world, we often think of Isaac being psychologically scarred, but in his world, survival everyday was a part of life and death was always just around the corner. You could say Isaac would do this for an afterdeath experience, but at this point in Biblical history, very little if anything had been revealed about such a state.
We know the story. Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac when the Angel of the Lord stops him, the Angel who I take to be an early appearance of Christ Himself, and tells him not to sacrifice Isaac and reveals a ram with his head in the thicket. (Yes. A male lamb with its head caught in thorns. That should sound familiar.) That ram is sacrificed.
Then the Angel says “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Was God ignorant of the state of Abraham’s heart?
Of course not. We already know through Scripture that God knows the hearts of men. God knew that Abraham’s descendants would be captives for 400 years in another year and mistreated there. The position that God doesn’t know the future would prove too much. Based on other events in Genesis, we would have to say God doesn’t know the present either, such as how many righteous people are in Sodom and Gomorrah or whether Adam had sinned or what was going on at Babel.
So what is going on? God is speaking in a way Abraham can relate to. He is not speaking to teach deep theology or metaphysics. What is going on is a review of sorts. Abraham had proven his faith to be true. He had proven that he believed God could even raise the dead, quite astounding at that point in time.
It is also a reminder of the faith we are to have. If Abraham can believe God can raise the dead even long before Jesus, how much more should we believe in what God can do after the resurrection? There is no reason none of us can have faith in God like Abraham had.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)