Q: How Could God Command Abraham to Kill His Son?

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How Could God Command Abraham to Kill His Son?

Let’s look at a few fundamental points to clarify this difficult, apparently contradictory, passage. First let’s look at the verse in question.

God’s Request

Genesis 22:2  (NIV)

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.”

As we look at the passage we can draw out a few observations in God’s request to Abraham:

  1. Abraham has been exposed to God’s testing before and he is being tested again.
  2. God softens the language when he talks about Isaac.
  3. God acknowledges that Isaac is Abrahams “only” son.
  4. God sends Abraham to the “region of Moriah,” intentionally.

Let’s look specifically at these four points.

1. Abraham has been exposed to God’s testing before and he is being tested again.

In Abraham’s previous tests he had been found faithful. When God called him to leave the land he was living in, he trusted God[1]. When God made a covenant with Abraham, Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness[2]. Abraham also trusted God for providing for their needs in a foreign land, for providing an heir and for the provision of Hagar and Ishmael when they were sent away[3]. With this backdrop in mind we can see that Abraham has good reason to trust God for the necessary provisions to be made

2. God softens the language when he talks about Isaac.

Notice that God does not say “take Isaac” in this passage, he says “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac.” This is a significant distinction. God carefully highlights the relationship between Abraham and Isaac. The words are affectionate and warm.

3. God acknowledges that Isaac is Abrahams “only” son.

Here God alludes to the promise he had made to Abraham that Isaac is the promised child, even though he is the younger half-brother of Ishmael. By calling Isaac “your only son,” God not only affirms the promise (1) that God would give Abraham a son but also the indirect promise that (2) he would bless all nations through Isaac.

4. God sends Abraham to the “region of Moriah,” intentionally.

God sent Abraham to a specific and significant location that Abraham does not yet know about. This is the first time “Moriah” appears in scripture and what makes it significant is that it would later become the region around the city of Jerusalem. This would become a significant place for Abraham’s descendants.

What God Did Not Request

First, we should realize what God was not doing:

God was not tempting Abraham. God was not enticing Abraham to do wrong, but was testing him to see if he would do what was right[4].

God was not instituting or condoning child sacrifice. As seen in Deuteronomy 12:31 and the other passages above, God abhors child sacrifice. It’s important to remember that God prevented the sacrifice from actually occurring. He did not desire the sacrifice as an act of worship or for any other reason beyond testing Abraham.

God was not telling Abraham to do wrong. God has the right to take human life[5] and could therefore authorize Abraham to do so in a particular case. Note that had Abraham decided of his own accord to sacrifice Isaac, he would have been wrong and his act would have been condemned by God (as were other human-initiated sacrifices).

Why then would God give this command? The point was for Abraham to demonstrate that he trusted God completely and placed him above all else, even his own son. Though God of course already knew that Abraham had faith in him, it was necessary for Abraham to prove it through action. “His faith was made complete by what he did”[6]. Because of his actions, not only God but Abraham, his family and future generations knew that Abraham trusted God. This trust was important because it indicated that Abraham had the proper relationship with God (he was treating God as God deserves to be treated) and could benefit from God’s good plans for his life[7].

Abrahams Response

Genesis 22:3 (NIV)

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.

The way that Abraham responds to God’s request is telling because Abraham had the most at stake. Abraham has an expectation that this will end well for him and Isaac, therefore, he gets up “early the next morning.” If Abraham had any doubts about God’s character he might have opted to wait a few days and contemplate the matter (wouldn’t you?). I find Abraham’s response as surprising as God’s request. Abraham demonstrates his confidence by explicitly stating that “we will come back.” Abraham certainly believed that Isaac would accompany him back to the servants. Abraham’s response gives us good reason to believe that he trusted God fully.

 God Provides

Genesis 22:7-8

Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“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.”

When confronted with Isaac’s question, Abraham answers directly “God will provide the lamb.” Abraham knows that his provision comes from God and faithfully responds, unwavering, that God has a plan in mind.

Genesis 22:11-14

11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide

Here we see that God was faithful in sparing Isaac’s life and providing a ram as a substitute. This confirms that Abraham was justified in participating in a trust experiment with God. Though the request was threatening, it was not beyond the provisions of a supernatural God.

Everyone wins

God affirms his promise with Abraham and Isaac and blesses them from heaven.

Genesis 22:15-18

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 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, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

God affirms that through Abraham’s decedents the world will be blessed, speaking of Christ. God is pleased with Abraham and blesses him for his obedience.

The Hebraic Way of Thinking

God wants people to be aware of significant events and to be able to recognize them when they happen, consider:

Gen 1:14-15

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.”

This concept of “signs to mark sacred times” shapes the way God intends his people to think. The context and significance of events is esteemed in the Hebraic way of thinking, which makes it foreign to us who are considerably more Greek in our Western mentality[8]. The Hebraic way of thinking is characterized most simply by the statement “history repeats itself” compared to the “linear progression” form the Greek mindset.

In this passage God is allowing Abraham to participate in a significant event that will be a sign to the Hebrews, his descendants. Without knowing it at the time Abraham was allowing Isaac to become a “type” of Christ[9].

Isaac, a Type of Christ

Isaac is a type of Christ because both, Isaac and Jesus, were sons of promise, both were responsible for Abraham’s descendants, both were an only son, both carried wood for their sacrifice, both were sacrificed in Moriah, both were obedient to the point of death and both were miraculously raised up buy the power of God.

The Knife Keeps Falling

Isaac’s experience would be a sign, pointing to Christ. As for Jesus the knife doesn’t stop. It would be easy to view Christ as the victim of a heinous crime but Jesus claimed to be God and willingly laid down his life in obedience[10]. Jesus was willing to follow through with the ultimate self-sacrifice, in a divine act of love. The God who asked Isaac to climb on the alter was willing to see it through. The reason Jesus willingly died was simply to meet God’s perfect standard, that no human can meet. Jesus offers mankind reconciliation with God, without having to suffer the just punishment for our crimes committed against a Holy God. Christ lovingly and willingly paid my debt to God and offers me his perfection in exchange for my filth.

Conclusion

Abraham knew that God was trustworthy in the past and he had good reason to trust God now. God was in the process of doing something significant, rich in context and full of hope. God’s plan is to use significant signs to point to Christ. Isaac was able to honor God through obedience. God had sufficient reasons to request Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. God had good intentions regarding his request and at no time compromised his Holy character. God was foreshadowing a significant event in the future that would satisfy the demand of justice, crush the power of evil, extend true forgiveness and open our eyes to God’s great and glorious love. God was not tempting Abraham or condoning child sacrifice in any way. The account of Abraham and Isaac has far deeper significance than the superficial blade in the air. Abraham and his decedents are blessed because he trusted God’s plan for his life.

 


 

Sources

Dr. Paul Copan, How can God Command Abraham To Kill His Son?, at Red Mountain Community Church (October 2011), Click HERE for the video reference.

Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, Why did God Tell Abraham To Kill His Son Isaac?, Click HERE for Link

Bible Study Guide, Isaac Is a Type, Click HERE for Link

Wikipedia, Theological Type, Click HERE for Link

Godward, Hebrew Mind vs Western Mind, Click HERE for Link

Bible Gateway – Click HERE for Link


 

[1] Genesis 12 (NIV)

12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,     and I will bless you; I will make your name great,     and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you,     and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth     will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.

[2] Genesis 15:6 (NIV)

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

[3] Genesis 21:12-13 (NIV)

12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

[4] See the article on tempting

[5] See the article on God’s moral authority

[6] James 2:21-23 (NIV)

21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.

[7] Take a look at Rational Christianity

[8] Take a look at Hebrew Mind vs Western Mind

[9]Take a look at  Wikipedia

[10] John 10:18 (NIV)

18 “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

 

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