Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 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.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
9 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. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “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.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 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, 18 and through your offspring[b] all nations on earth will be blessed,[c] because you have obeyed me.”
19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.
Heartlessness or hope
Genesis 22 can be a difficult chapter for many of us given the tall order God sends to Abraham as well as the potential danger that a child’s life is put within.
While Abraham’s act of slaying his son as a sacrifice to God is a visceral hypothetical for us to imagine, we should give some pause to the thought: what truly belongs to us?
Abraham and Sarah have miraculously conceived of Isaac in a very old age. God has shown His power in being able to give life to barrenness, and in so doing He shows that life belongs to Him.
Too often we become attached and possessive towards the things we have, and strong feelings emerge from this in a negative way when those things are endangered. We tend to think of our wealth, our possessions, our flesh and blood as belonging to us. We may have manmade laws that deem these things as possessions or responsibilities, but in the end nature will show to us that all matter is a gift to us meant to be stewarded, not clung to. Though we may toil to put together aluminum, steel, and rubber together to make an automobile, those raw materials were not our making, but rather our own ingenuity manipulating the earth that was lended to us.
Such is the case for our children too, which is a sobering thing for myself to consider as a father. Though I pray that the Lord gives my child abundant years and a blessed life, I realize it is my duty to merely be a steward of this gift of life (and joy), to take care of it and do what I may in leading it into a consecrated life.
When we speak of “consecrated” we are saying “set aside.” We intend for that which is consecrated to be transformed and dignified, to have its proper belonging with its Creator and thereby intend for it to bring peace and goodness. That which is consecrated is not commercial, not profane, not clung to. By merely asking God, “how may I consecrate this to you” will we find new opportunities to give to God and to become more proper stewards of what He has given to us.
Abraham Finally Gets It
Abraham suffers a great deal of imperfection in this grand adventure he leads. On two occasions he uses his wife to protect his own life, and also commits infidelity which leads to a fatherless and husbandless household. What is interesting about these cases is that Abraham is a character susceptible to anxiety, performing some brash deeds out of fret for his own well-being.
In this story, we see Abraham comes to an epiphany, wherein the marvels he has experienced through God are finally congruent with his own actions: God tells him he will have a great lineage and a great nation, and God also tells him to sacrifice his only son whom all this is to come through.
I think it is fair for us to assume that Abraham goes up to this place of sacrifice with his son out of great fear, out of much grief. He by no means is looking forward to this act of sacrifice. That being said, Abraham has accepted that His God has been good to him, that something will resolve the dissonance of the circumstances. He ends up proclaiming, “God will provide.” Abraham’s prior experiences of God finally meets his hope in what God will do for him, and instead of acting out of anxiety he acts on faith.
God and Man Seeing Eye To Eye
It’s also important for us to keep in mind that this act of Abraham to sacrifice his only son is not a mere test, but God inviting Abraham into a privileged place of empathy, for Abraham to begin to feel God.
Abraham’s given task of sacrificing his son is a symbolic archetype of God the Father sacrificing His Son.
The donkey with his servants is a symbol of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, the wood on Isaac’s back is a symbol of the cross, their ascent of the mountain is Christ’s walk up to Golgotha, and the relationship of Abraham sacrificing his son is a symbol of God the Father’s most gracious act of love to sacrifice His Son.
God is the only person who can truly understand how we feel at any given moment, in any given understanding. His vast understanding allows Him to know the grief we lament about, the hopelessness that we despair of, the torture we are subject to, the list goes on. Only God can know these experiences by merit of being God, whereas no other human could possibly conceive of the unique hardships we encounter, even if they have suffered similarly. In times of distress, we should rest assured God can know those big feelings.
That being said, God in this moment with Abraham extends the possibility for mankind to experience the difficult task of giving up one’s son. God invites intimacy with Abraham by giving Abraham this hard task, though God does not make Abraham see the act through, but rather allows him only to experience the anticipatory grief/loss.
The opportunity for all of us here is to extend our experience and pain to God, to ask Him to visit us in our circumstances, to know that He can totally understand our pain, and that only in His company can such pain be navigated through.
Today, consider the following:
- What are the things in my life that I treasure the most, that I would become very upset (mad, sad, afraid) if I lost? What assumptions do I have of these things?
- How do I give what I have to God? How can I consecrate the things that I have?
- What times have I acted out of anxiety instead of acting as though God was in control (or as though God would have the last say)? What times have I acted not out of anxiety but trusting God would navigate difficult paths with me, and what good things might come from this?
- When have I reached out to God in a time of great hardship? What did I do to reach out? What expectations did I have in reaching out?