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Abraham’s Ultimate Test

17 Aug

Occasionally, we’ll read in the newspaper or hear on the evening news that a certain deluded person murdered someone and claimed: “God told me to do it!” We may even recall at such times that the Bible records God telling Abraham to slay his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to him. Some biblical scholars claim that Abraham failed the test by being willing to sacrifice his son; others wonder how this act could serve as a test for godliness,[1] implying that such a cruel deed could only be sought by a malevolent being. So, we are left with the question: should Abraham be admired or despised for what he did?The account of Abraham’s test can be found in Genesis 22, but the language is such that the reader seems to be alerted that, although God is testing Abraham, God doesn’t intend to allow Abraham to slay Isaac. Notice the how God words his request:

And He saith, `Take, I pray thee, thy son, thine only one, whom thou hast loved, even Isaac, and go for thyself unto the land of Moriah, and cause him to ascend there for a burnt-offering on one of the mountains of which I speak unto thee.’ (Genesis 22:2 YLT)

The NWT says: “Take, please, your son…” With this we are able to see that God was making a request and not giving a command. In other words, if Abraham wasn’t able to comprehend the end of God’s intention, he was not bound to comply with God’s request. The point being, if Abraham refused, he could not have been charged with sin; no personal blame could have been incurred. Moreover, we are able to detect in the language God uses that he was reminding Abraham of his being called out of Ur. “Go to the land of Moriah… to one of the mountains I will show you” (Genesis 22:2) is very similar to “Go from your country… to a land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). God was reminding Abraham of his promise to him, while at the same time asking him to sacrifice Isaac, his beloved son, which would nullify any prospect of fulfillment of that promise. To believe that Abraham simply obeyed God without any forethought is to fail to read the record in its context.

The text seems to continually emphasize God’s own understanding of Abraham’s struggle between his bond to his son and his covenant with the Lord (Genesis 22:2-3, 6-10, 12-13, 16). Abraham would have recalled that Isaac’s birth was a miraculous birth—God gave Isaac to Sarah who was well beyond childbearing age. Abraham would have recalled God’s words in Genesis 17:18-19, 21 that he would fulfill his covenant with Abraham through Isaac; and not only so, but God bound himself to this covenant (Genesis 15:8-18), so that he would fulfill it even if Abraham and / or his descendents would fall short. In other words, God made himself the surety of the covenant. Abraham would have recalled all of this as he and Isaac walked toward Moriah, the place of sacrifice.

It is rather easy for us to make judgments against Abraham or even against God, when we take only our own modern worldview into consideration. In doing so, we fail to put ourselves into Abraham’s culture and ask what is God doing, or what is Abraham thinking? In my previous posting I made a case for God wanting to break into Abraham’s culture and show that human sacrifice was not acceptable to him. It was wrong, but how could he have done this if Abraham wasn’t willing to comply with God’s request and intention to make it very clear?

We are able to see Abraham’s perspective in his words to his servants in Genesis 22:5 “The lad and I… will worship and return to you!” Again, when Isaac inquired of his father where the lamb was to be sacrificed, Abraham replied: “God will provide for himself the lamb…” In other words, even if Abraham couldn’t take in the entire meaning of the Lord’s request, he knew that both he and Isaac would return to his servants. Whatever occurred, or whatever he thought necessary to do, Abraham believed the covenant would be fulfilled in Isaac, even if that meant God would raise him from the dead. This idea was a wholly new idea that had no place in anyone’s worldview up to this point. The idea is bound in God’s request for Abraham to take his son, his only son… Freedom is implied; force has no place here. God couldn’t command such a thing and get these results. What we see here is a Father (God) reaching out to his son (Abraham) and asking him to walk with him in a thing he cannot understand at the moment, but the results would prove worthy of the sacrifice made. The more Abraham pondered God’s request, and his original call and the promises God made along the way, the more he was able to comprehend a new thought–God must resurrect Isaac, if he is to keep his promises (cp. Hebrews 11:17-19). The whole point of the test is: could man (Abraham) comprehend that God is trustworthy? Through Abraham we conclude God is trustworthy in all things, even in those we hold most dear.

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[1] Paul Copan: Is God a Moral Monster; page 43; 2011; Baker Books

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Posted by on August 17, 2014 in Abraham, Walking with God

 

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