One of the most difficult passages for some people to comprehend in the Bible is when God asked Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering. I can remember studying with various people over the years and this incident be brought up to try and show that there is something wrong with a God who would ask that you sacrifice your only son. I would suggest that if this is all we take from this scripture, that we have missed what is going on.
From the introduction of this scripture (Genesis 22:1-2), we find that this was a test. The question that needs to be asked is who this test was for. As God knows everything, he would already know the result of this test. I would suggest that this test was really for Abraham to realise his true devotion to the God he had been serving. And it was a great test – God asked Abraham to offer as a burnt offering his only son, the son who had been promised, the son through whom all people would be blessed. To Abraham’s credit, it does not seem that he questioned God and what God asked him to do.
We see more of Abraham’s thought process when they arrive at the mountain. “So he said to his servants, ‘You two stay here with the donkey while the boy and I go up there. We will worship and then return to you.’ Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and put it on his son Isaac. Then he took the fire and the knife in his hand, and the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father?’ ‘What is it, my son?’ he replied. ‘Here is the fire and the wood,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,’ Abraham replied. The two of them continued on together” (Genesis 22:5-8 NET).
Abraham believed that both he and Isaac would be coming back together – he told his servants to wait while they went and worshipped and returned. There does not seem to be any doubt in Abraham’s mind as to their both coming back down the mountain. The writer of Hebrews gives us a bit more insight here: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, ‘Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,’ and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there” (Hebrews 11:17-19).
The bottom line was that Abraham believed God. God had said that it would be through Isaac that his descendants would carry his name. Abraham believed that. He reasoned that if God wanted him to sacrifice Isaac, and that Isaac was the one through whom he would have descendants, then God must be going to raise Isaac from the dead. Little did he realize how true his statement to Isaac was: “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering” (see Genesis 22:9-14).
Abraham had faith in God. What Abraham did showed that he truly had faith. “You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Now Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:20-24).
What about our faith? Do our works back up what we say we believe? Or do our works show that we really do not believe what God has said? Our faith and works must work together, complementing each other, if we are to be faithful to God.
Readings for next week:
3 August – Genesis 25
4 August – Genesis 26
5 August – Genesis 27:1-29
6 August – Genesis 27:30-46
7 August – Genesis 28