As a parent, one of the most agonizing and painful things that I can think of would be losing a child. Death at any age is difficult, but when people die young it’s harder to deal with. Even when it’s not someone that you know or are close to, it’s devastating. One of my friends from college lost her daughter, who was 25 at the time, in a car accident. I have a daughter, so for a moment I thought about the unthinkable. What if that was me? Of course, any empathy that I could attempt to muster wouldn’t be enough. That kind of pain is incomprehensible unless you’ve experienced it. It’s impossible to know what to say, but I sent this message.
“For some reason the Lord had you on my mind this morning and then I saw the post on Facebook. I am so sorry. I can’t imagine. No parent should have too. I’ll be praying for you and your family.”
There was nothing that I could say to assuage her grief. Her pain was beyond my understanding. It is also incomprehensible or inconceivable that God would ask a parent to sacrifice a child as an offering in His name. Surely God would not do something like that, but He did in Genesis 22.
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 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.” Genesis 22:1-2 NIV
The Bible has many difficult passages for modern readers, but few are more challenging than the moment when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. I can’t begin to understand God’s reasoning in this passage or explain it, but it is a part of Biblical theology or the “study of the nature of God”. There is also a deep connection between this passage and the new covenant in Christ that we will see at the end.
Abraham is asked to do the unthinkable. It’s even more puzzling when we consider the circumstances that lead up to this event. Many of us know the story, so I’ll just hit the highlights for those who don’t know. You can read all about Abraham in Genesis 12-25.
- God calls Abraham, promises him blessings and that he will make him into a great nation. (Genesis 12) Abraham is 75 years old.
- God promised Abraham that his descendants would be so numerous that he wouldn’t be able to count them all, like the stars in the sky, and yet Abraham has no children. (Genesis 15).
- God promises Abraham a son and heir. (Genesis 15 &17) Abraham and Sara are amused that they will have a child in their old age.
- When Isaac is born, Abraham is 100 years old and Sarah is 90. 25 years passed before the promise of a son was fulfilled. That’s a long time to wait.
- Abraham finally has a son and heir and then God asks Abraham to sacrifice or kill that son as a burnt offering.
God indeed works in mysterious ways. To say that it is difficult to understand God’s purpose in this would be an understatement. I’ll admit that it makes me very uncomfortable. Why would God make all of those promises and covenants with Abraham and then do this? Why would God ask for this kind of sacrifice in the first place? Like I said earlier, this passage is challenging. While I don’t have all the answers or any way to make this go down easier, there are a couple of important points in Genesis 22 to consider.
- God was testing Abraham. Some test, right? I don’t think I would have passed this test. Abraham is not the only person in the Bible that God puts to the test. (Read the book of Job.)
- Abraham is trusting God that everything will be okay, and he won’t have to go through with it.
Of course #2 is purely speculation, but let’s take a closer look at Genesis 22.
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. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 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.” Genesis 22:3-5 NIV
“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.” And the two of them went on together.” Genesis 22:7-8 NIV
There are two statements in these verses that give evidence that Abraham believes that God will not make him go through with it. He is trusting that God will provide, and that everything is going to be okay. Abraham tells his servant, “we’ll be right back” as in, Isaac and me, plural. Not two go out and one comes back. They are both coming back. Then Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answers, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Is Abraham lying to his son? I guess it’s possible, but I really believe that Abraham’s relationship with God was such that he really trusted that God would work it all out. God would provide, and Isaac would be okay. As the events unfolded, we discover that Abraham didn’t have to kill his son Isaac. At the last minute God sends and Angel to stop him. Abraham passes this unbelievable test, and the Lord did provide a lamb for the burnt offering. Abraham names the place “yireh” the Hebrew word for “provide”. This is where we get one of the Hebrew names for God, “Jehovah Jireh” or “God will provide”.
While this story is disturbing and difficult to understand God’s intentions, we learn that Abraham has incredible faith. His trust in the Lord’s providential care is remarkable. We also get a glimpse of what one writer calls a “Prophetic reenactment of God sacrificing His own son, Jesus, on the cross”. This may have been lost on Abraham and his immediate descendants, but the connection between this passage and the new covenant through Christ are striking. God providing a lamb to take Isaac’s place on the altar, just as He provided the spotless lamb, Jesus, to take our place on the cross.
There are more connections between the old and new covenants that are found throughout the Bible. We need to continue to explore them. Our knowledge of the old gives a greater appreciation for the new. Some may say that the Old Testament is out of date and obsolete, but as we’ve seen in our study they are unequivocally linked. They are literally united by blood. Jesus roots go deep, all the way back to the beginning.
Love y’all! Have a great weekend!
Weekly Devotional by Robby Morris, Director of Family Ministry & Facility Coordinator @ Andrews UMC.