A Shocking Command

A famous story in the Bible features God ordering the patriarch Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…” (Genesis 22:2). This command shocks the reader, ancient or modern, and has drawn the mockery of many skeptics. “Look!” they say. “What kind of god asks for child sacrifice?”

Did God require human sacrifice?

Suffice it to say that the Lord never intended Abraham to kill Isaac, and at the critical moment, when Abraham’s faith and obedience were altogether evident, he sent an angel to prevent any harm from being done to the boy. Child sacrifice is abhorrent to God, and he expresses this in the most emphatic terms in Jeremiah 32:35, where through the prophet Jeremiah, he condemns that pagan practice: “They built the high places of Baal … to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination…”

Truth lurks in the apparent absurdity

Even knowing the bloodless ending, we might still struggle to grasp God’s strange methodology. Abraham wrestled with this question for a night, but rose early in the morning to obey (Genesis 2:3) in full conviction that “the foolishness of God” (1 Corinthians 1:25) is simply wisdom that man has yet to comprehend. C.S. Lewis once pointed out that we should not shy away from divine actions or commands that deviate from our expectations; in fact, they may be the very key we need to understand great spiritual truths. Lewis stated, “The troublesome fact, the apparent absurdity…is precisely the one we must not ignore. Ten to one, it’s in that covert the fox is lurking” (Letters to Malcolm).

Did blessing result to Abraham from this test?

Abraham, for his part, concluded that God would simply raise Isaac back from the dead (Hebrew 11:17-19). Such faith was a true marvel, considering that before his time no one had ever been raised from the dead. God’s call to extreme devotion, then, enabled Abraham to glimpse by faith a reality that no one could have yet even dreamed of.

Moreover, God was raising up Abraham to the heights of his own divine love. Perhaps no one in history has been granted to mirror God’s perfect love to such a degree. For many centuries later, in that same land (here called Moriah, later Calvary), God would lay wood on the back of his Son, his only Son Jesus, whom he loves, and walk with him to offer him up for the sins of the world. No angel would stay this offering. Isaac, as a servant sacrificed, set the pattern for the ultimate chosen “seed.”

God doesn’t need to run his commands by us for approval

In the words of Derek Kidner, “From Abraham the harrowing demand evokes only love and faith….The test, instead of breaking him, brings him to the summit of his lifelong walk with God” (Genesis, an Introduction and Commentary). And so we consider our own tests. Shall we obey only where God’s demands make sense to us, are convenient enough, or pose no risk of exposing us to the world’s ridicule? Abraham’s complete certainty of God stands as a model for us all.

–Brigham Eubanks