Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Kind of God Would Tell Abraham to Sacrifice His Son?

Reading: Genesis 22  
Have you ever read the story of Abraham setting out to sacrifice Isaac and questioned the character of God that He would require someone to sacrifice his own child? Of course, we are all glad that the angel stopped him. Maybe you've heard believers refer to this story saying, “That was my Isaac,” meaning that God was calling them to sacrifice something in their life which they loved too much.

Is that what this story is all about? Is it about God requiring us to give up what we love too much? Possibly, but I'm not sure the text itself indicates that. I think we read that into the text (isogesis), more than we get that out of the text (exegesis). Let me propose a different take that I believe is more likely to come out of the text.

When reading narrative (stories) in the Scripture, it is important to pay attention to what is actually being said by the people in the story. Also, things that are repeated are important, and in Genesis, any time we see one of the names by which God reveals Himself, that is a hint at the key meaning of the section.

Abraham came out of a culture of idol worshippers and dwelling in a land of idol worshipers. The Israelites, the audience to whom this was first written, would live in a land of idol worshipers, some who sacrificed their children to Molech (see Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5). The false religions of the nations were about gods who were angry at their followers and would require them to appease them. They would sacrifice to them, and it was evidently not unusual to require the sacrifice of their children. God set out to test Abraham, but it becomes apparent that in the process of testing Abraham, God is really going to teach Abraham something different about His nature, and the nature of His covenant.

While Yahweh, the real God, is worthy of love and devotion greater than any of the false gods of the nations, part of why He is worthy of such worship is because of how different He is than the idols of the nations, and how different is His worship. This is revealed in the dialogue between Abraham and Isaac. Let's look at this story, as Abraham and Isaac set out to Mount Moriah.

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, 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?” Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:6-8)

Abraham may not have known He was being prophetic, but He was indeed being prophetic. It may well be like the time when Caiaphas, the high priest, unknowingly prophesied that Jesus would die in the place of the whole nation of Israel, and the scattered children of God throughout the world (John 11:49-52). “God Himself will provide the lamb...”

As we read what follows (Genesis 22:9-13), we discover that Abraham wasn't really going to have to sacrifice Isaac, but that God would provide a ram in his place. Then this key point is confirmed in the name of God which Abraham gave to that place.

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.” (Genesis 22:14)

Yahweh, and the covenant He made with Abraham, is not about how we will appease God, or provide for Him (like the idols of the nations), but rather about how God will provide for us. We are the ones who need to be provided for. And on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided. Interestingly, based on the location from which Abraham set out from and how far he traveled, Mount Moriah is at or around the same place Christ was crucified. Indeed the Lord has provided, and He has provided the Lamb that takes away our sins through His Son, His only Son.

Of course, our God is worthy of any sacrifice, and is worthy of the love and devotion which is willing to give it to Him. However, our relationship to Him is not rooted in how we loved Him first, or even how Abraham loved Him first, but in how He loved us and gave His Son for us (1 John 4:10, 19). And devotion to God is to be shown largely in our love one for another (1 John 4:11).  And what this chapter tells us about God, is far more significant than what it tells us about Abraham, or man. 

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