Sometimes there’s nothing crueller than a writer. Whether it’s a book, a TV show, or a movie, one day, out of the blue, they throw you completely off. A character’s life falls apart. Or worse, the character is brutally murdered. It’s truly offensive when a writer does you like that, but soon you come to expect it. Authors come to be known for their twists.
The Author and Finisher of Abraham’s faith was preparing His own twist. One day, he asks Abraham to do something truly bizarre, strangely inhuman, and deeply disturbing. Sacrifice. Your. Son. The command is given in what feels almost like a cruelly matter-of-fact way. God even points out that Isaac is beloved to Abraham (verse 2) before telling him to take a trip to a mountain and slit his throat.
Abraham immediately obeys. He gathers his son and the servants, telling them as much of the truth as he could, that they were going to make a sacrifice unto God. I cannot imagine the torture he endured. The trip up to the mountain took three days. The man probably did not sleep. He had no one to turn to, no one to vent to. He kept his terrible secret from the servants, his wife, and the son whose days were now numbered.
On the final stretch of the trip, Isaac questions his dad about how they are going to complete a sacrifice without any lamb. It must have taken all of Abraham’s strength to respond without falling apart. He says that God will provide the sacrifice. Finally, the two arrive at their destination and our dramatic irony is brought to an end once Isaac finally realizes that he is to be the sacrifice. I wonder how he reacted when his father told him and began to tie him up? Did Isaac resist? Was that why he needed to be tied?
Somehow, Abraham grips the knife. Somehow, Abraham lifts the knife. Somehow, he decides to obey God and slay his son. Then God steps in.
Imagine the relief flooding Abraham’s soul as God’s angel tells him not to hurt his son. God had used this experience to determine whether or not Abraham feared Him above all others. And now before Isaac, God, Satan, and all the angels, the truth was plain. Abraham absolutely feared His Lord. For this, God promises to bless him (verses 17-18). God places a ram on the mountain so that His children can finish the sacrifice, and the chapter closes on Abraham and a very alive Isaac returning home.
The Treasures Within:
Thou Shalt Not Murder
Horror. Shock. Fear. Denial. These are some of the emotions that might have filled Abraham as he heard God’s command. There was also confusion. How could God? Really, how could He? Why would a loving God ask Abraham to do this? Why would a righteous God ask His child to sin?
But is that really what happened? According to James 1:13-15, God doesn’t tempt us to sin. Ever. Unless the Bible is contradicting itself, this situation must lead us to consider killing in a completely different light. It must not be automatically sinful to take someone’s life. After all, this isn’t the only time God asks someone to cause someone else’s death. In a few books, God will be frequently asking His children to kill others, and those times they’ll actually do it.
Yet this doesn’t change the fact that the Ten Commandments boldly and clearly declare that we shall not murder. The only explanation I can think of is that there is a clear line between killing that is moral and killing that is immoral. When we kill because we’re angry or because we’re bored or for some other sick and twisted reason, there’s no question that it is a sin. Yet killing ordered by God? That’s different. That kind of killing becomes just, right, and even moral.
It’s a strange concept. What does this say about how God feels about capital punishment? What does this say about abortion and the belief in the sanctity of life? These are difficult questions. Yet no question is too difficult for our God. As we continue through His Word, our understanding can only increase.
Best Prank Ever?
God’s command to Abraham may not have been a command to sin, but that does not make it much less horrifying. It’s jarring to hear the God we believe to be loving and righteous ask something that seems so much like the opposite. It’s hard to swallow. The easy way out is to denounce God as cruel and reject His word. Or to brush this story under the rug and pretend it never happened. It is much more difficult to confront this narrative head on and ask what God wanted us to learn from it.
If our God is truly loving and righteous, then He couldn’t have given this command to Abraham in a callous way. He couldn’t have been in heaven chuckling, thinking how badly he’d punk’d Abraham. This serious command was given by a serious God for a serious reason. There was something He wanted Abraham – and all of us – to understand: there is no one and no thing we can love more than God.
This isn’t a new concept. We all claim to feel this way about God. It’s plastered all over our Instagram bios, we declare the same every now and then on our Snap stories. But far too often, we don’t think very deeply about what “God = #1” or “God over everything” really means. We read Bible verses about forsaking all for God, but the reality of what that means is something most of us have not experienced. Thus, the idea of putting God first is a hard one to wrap our heads around. We’re supposed to love God how much exactly? He’s supposed to rank how high on our priority lists? Apparently, enough to sacrifice the ones we love the most. Can we quantify that? Can mere words broach the depth of such devotion and commitment? I don’t think so. Thus, this story. It makes it clear. How much? That much.
This kind of love is superhuman – it’s impossible for us to drum up that kind of commitment to God on our own. I mean, the thought of giving up favorite TV shows, fried chicken, or pet sins for God is enough to launch us into frivolous conversations about “legalism” and “perfectionism”. But imagine if God asked you to do what He asked Abraham. Could you do it? Could I do it? The question is not worth answering without inviting God to effect a transformation in our lives unlike anything we could have ever imagined. If we are willing to let that happen, if we are willing to leave behind everything we knew and walk into a completely new existence with God, then it is absolutely possible for us to do what Abraham did. If God could transform fearful, lying, doubtful Abraham, He can transform us. The only thing stopping Him is us. So what are we waiting for?
God’s Message To Us:
“Make Me your number one priority.” If we want to be transformed, we must be willing. We can show our willingness by doing what we can to put God first in our lives. Is God first in our time, or are most of our hours devoted to Netflix? Is God the cosigner on all our decisions, or do we act first and ask God for forgiveness later? Is God the subject of our thoughts or do celebrities and crushes fill our daydreams? There are so many choices we make throughout our day that push God away that changing these decisions would feel downright unnatural and almost impossible. But we cannot forget that we are not asked to do this alone. No change and no transformation is impossible with God. What will our lives look like when God is the most important Person in it? The possibilities are endless.
What do you think? What was your reaction to God’s request for Abraham? What do you think it would take for you to do something like that? What message is God giving you through this chapter?
2 thoughts on “An Ultimatum (Genesis 22)”
I believe that God asked Abraham to kill his son because all of us deserve death. It would have been just for Isaac to die because Isaac was a sinner and the wages of sin is death. God asked Abraham to kill his son because Abraham was also a sinner, who passed his sinful traits to Isaac, which means that Abraham is rresponsible for Isaac’s sinful condition. Abraham has basically killed his son, by giving him sinful traits. This is just and fair. But God did not do what was just and fair. He gave His son to die in our place. That is unfair. Jesus was innocent. That is not just. The sinner should die, not God’s son. God also wanted Abraham, and all who readthis story to have an inkling of what God did when He gave His only begotten son to die for us all.
Denee, you left out the most important part of this story. The part where Abraham finds a substitute. A ram, stuck by his horns in a bush. This is a symbol of Christ. The ram, as a substitute, makes this whole story make sense to us, through faith in Jesus Christ.
I agree with you – what you are saying definitely explains why God asking Abraham to kill his son is not an unjust or unfair thing to do – we all deserve death. It’s a hard truth to swallow, but what you’re saying is absolutely true. However, this is not, in my opinion, a complete explanation for why God asked Abraham to kill his son – we get that explanation in verse 12 when God says “Now I know that you fear God…”. The ram is an important part of this story, you’re right – there are plenty of important lessons in this story that unfortunately cannot be fully fleshed out in less than 2000 words!