Genesis 22:1-18 is, on the surface, a startling, disturbing and somewhat confusing story.
In short, after God gives Abraham and Sarah a son in their old age, God tells Abraham to go to a certain mountain and offer Isaac (their son) as a burnt offering. Abraham goes and just as he lifts the knife, God says “stop, there’s a ram caught in the thicket behind you, use that instead.” So the Ram gets offered, Isaac is spared and God praises Abraham for his obedience and faith.
Yes, it is a weird story and one that has made a lot of people question the whole “God thing”, in as much as “if this God is so Loving why would he put someone through that, why would he ask that of someone” etc. etc.
To understand this passage properly, we must look at the cultural context. Abraham lived as a nomad in lands that were full of other people that worshipped other gods. A number of these gods, notably Molech required child sacrifices as part of worshipping them. Abraham would have been very familiar with this concept, very knowledgeable about the practices of these gods and their followers. Therefore, when God asks Abraham to take Isaac to the mountain and offer him as a sacrifice, it is likely that he wasn’t shocked or surprised, he probably thought: “well, all the other gods ask it of their followers, why not this one?”
What would have been surprising for Abraham was the moment when the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham… Do not lay a hand on the boy. 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.”
Abraham was just about to kill Isaac and he gets told to stop just at the last moment, leaving him probably temporarily confused.
God was not playing a mean trick on Abraham, he was not messing with his head, and he was not just testing his faith and obedience.
God was making an announcement to Abraham and to the rest of ‘future history’ from that point onwards. The announcement was of two things:
Firstly that “Child sacrifice stops here with this God, he is not interested in ‘consuming your children’ this God does not want human sacrifice.”
Secondly that “This God is the provider and redeemer, he is the one who provides for all the needs of his followers, even though the journey may be sometimes painful and hard”.
When we grasp the historical and cultural context of this story, we can see much more of what is being done in the life of Abraham and Isaac (who was probably a strong man in his 20s by then).
God proclaims an end to human sacrifice and the continual provision to all that rely on him, and incidentally, many that try to rely on themselves.
(Part 2 Here)
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