Abraham and his wife Sarah, together, had been childless, with the exception of Abraham's son, Ishmael, whom Abraham had with Hagar, Sarah's maid servant. Sarah had requested this affair because she, herself, had been barren. Good, old fashioned, Biblical family values; marriage is between one man, one woman, and her maid servant.
Anyway, God grants Abraham and Sarah a miracle child, Isaac, when they were 100 and 90 years old respectively. You can bet they were amazed at the power of God, and overjoyed with the son they had wanted all their lives.
The stage is set for one of the most perverse displays of God's true nature.
The Sacrifice of Isaac
“Some time later God tested Abraham” begins Chapter 22 of Genesis. And what a test it would prove to be! As it is written in Genesis 22:2, God's test of Abraham is as follows:
Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." NIVThere are a couple points to examine here; omniscience and methodology.
Why would God need to test Abraham, or anyone for that matter? God is omniscient, even down to knowing what is in our very hearts. The Old Testament, such as in 1 Kings 8:39, and the New Testament, such as in Acts 15:8, both claim repetitively that God knows the hearts of man. So there is no need for any test to see if Abraham, or anyone else, has the right stuff. God should just know it.
The only justification I can see for a test is to fully reveal the heart of the individual to the individual being tested, as well as to those that know the individual being tested. It is true that sometimes you don't realize what you are capable of doing until you do it. It is also true that the faith displayed by Abraham here served as, and continues to serve as, an inspiration to many. But this justification is not the case described here, as we will soon see.
God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac by the method of a burnt offering. That seems odd when you consider God finds the practice detestable according to Deuteronomy 12:31. Really odd. It's about the equivalent of God saying to Abraham “go have sex with a sheep” or “go worship another god”. Why would God command someone to do something that He doesn't want them to do, and even has great disdain for them doing? God only knows.
It gets me thinking; WWJD? What would Jesus do? Apparently, because Jesus is God, He would ask you to sacrifice your only son in a manner that He found detestable. Yet, when the “WWJD” is asked, somehow this is not one of the thoughts that runs through your mind. The image of Jesus has been cleansed and purged of all the really nasty stuff God used to do.
The scene progresses. Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac per God's instructions.
Consider the child, Isaac. We are not given the age of Isaac, but we know he is old enough to talk and old enough to know what is involved in making a burnt sacrifice to God. He asked Abraham “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” So Isaac was old enough to know what was going on, and, in turn, old enough to be mentally scarred for life by the events that would follow.
The scene progresses. Abraham bounds up Isaac, and puts him on top of the firewood. By now, Isaac must know that he is the lamb for the offering. Abraham grabs a knife to kill his only son.
At that point, the angel of God stops Abraham, saying “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Unmistakably, we see that this test was for God to know Abraham's heart, and for no other reason. Somehow, God can be omniscient, and yet not know everything. Go figure.
God, always in the mood to smell burnt flesh, provides a ram that is stuck in a nearby thicket for Abraham to sacrifice instead of Isaac. So Abraham does this, and God is happy. How happy? I'll let God's words explain it. From Genesis 22:15-18:
The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by Myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 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, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me." NIVThis is very interesting when you consider that God had already promised in Genesis 15:5, 15:18-20, and 17:4-8 that Abraham would have a large number of descendants and would own the land of his enemies. It's interesting, because what if Abraham had said to God “No, I'm not going to sacrifice my son as a burnt offering!” What if Abraham had shown that he had a better set of morals about this matter than God? Would God then have gone back on His promise?
The way the Scripture reads in Genesis 22:15-18 certainly suggests that if Abraham had failed the test, God would not have blessed Abraham and fulfilled these promises. So we see that God can add conditions to His promises at His will. What good, then, is the Word of God, if it is not necessarily eternally stable and true?