In Genesis 22 we read of how God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. It sounds like the beginning of a terrible story, but God intervenes, stops Abraham from killing Isaac and provides a ram to take his place and they all lived happily ever after.
When discussing this passage, the question often asked is: could you take the life of your only son? Could you have the faith of Abraham?
What’s So Great About Abraham’s Faith?
I don’t want to take away anything from Abraham, he is a hero of the faith, after all, but I don’t think it’s very fair to marvel at Abraham’s faith without considering all of the history Abraham had with God. Without this consideration, the mistake of understanding Abraham’s faith as a force or some mysterious feeling or emotion rather than as a belief in something real and objective becomes a real possibility.
Unfortunately this is how many modern Christians view faith. It’s just some force that comes from God that allows you to believe fantastical things for which there is no proof.
NO! NO! A thousand times, NO!
This is not the kind of faith that God gives us. God gives us promises and then gives us evidences of those promises. He makes things very obvious for us, but then the gift of faith allows us to believe that those promises didn’t just happen without a reason, but were specifically for us.
If you take the Genesis 22 passage in context, rather than just ripping it out of the entire story of Abraham, including his journey from Abram to Abraham, and if you studied a little bit about early man, covenants and suzerainty treaties, you might have a better understanding of what’s actually go on in the heart of Abraham.
If a voice in my head told me to kill my own son, I’d probably think I was crazy and hopefully I’d seek help and not do anything the voice told me to do.
However, if I had been visited, physcially by God, as the Scriptures state happened to Abram/Abraham, not just once, but multiple times over the course of his life, the story would look a bit different:
God appears to Abram and tells him to leave his father and go to another land, and that he would be prosperous, and it happens.
Not only does He tell him he’ll be prosperous, but he also tells Abram he’ll have more descendants than he can count, and He tells Abram this several times throughout his life.
He also tells him that if anyone does anything wrong towards him, God will curse them, and if anyone blesses him, they would be blessed, and it happens just like God says… multiple times. Once, Abram even defeated multiple kings and rescued his nephew Lot with only 318 men at his disposal.
After a while, Abram started to despair that he would really experience what God had promised him. He was nearing the age where he wouldn’t be able to produce seed anymore and his wife Sara was already too old to have children. So God did something really interesting. He cut a covenant with Abraham in the form of a suzerainty treaty.
God, Abraham and the Suzerainty Treaty
Briefly, a suzerainty treaty was a type of ancient contract (except much more binding) made between a greater king and a lesser king wherein the greater would make promises to the lesser as long as certain stipulations would be met.
Typically a number of animals would be killed and cut in half and the pieces laid out in parallel rows. The members of the treaty would pass between the cut halves of animals essentially saying, if this covenant is broken, by either side, then let all who pass between these animals suffer the same fate and be torn assunder.
God initiates this type of agreement with Abraham promising that he would have innumerable descendants and the nations of the whole world would be blessed by him, and he assures him that this would be by way of a child born of Abraham’s seed.
Then God puts Abraham to sleep and passes between the pieces all by himself. God put the onus of responsibility solely on His own shoulders. This is really important. God doesn’t make Abraham pass between the pieces. If Abraham, or any of his descendants, breaks the covenant then God would be torn apart, not Abraham.
Sara, Abraham’s wife thinks that this promised son will have to come from someone other than herself, so she gave a servant of hers to lay with Abraham and conceive a son for him. Who knows why Abraham would go along with this except maybe God hadn’t specifically told him that the son would be born of Sara. Hagar bears Ishmael, but later, God assures Abraham that it is Sara who will bear the promised son.
God Appears, Promises and Delivers
Then God appears physically to Abraham once again, except this time he appears to Sara too and tells her to stop laughing about the fact that she’s going to bear a son.
Then God an Abraham go back and forth about whether or not God should destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
Then, Isaac is born after both Sara and Abraham are at 100 years old.
All this history over the course of Abraham’s entire adult life is the context you have to take this story in.
God has made numerous promises to Abraham and kept every single one of them, not the least of which being the promise of how Isaac would be the offspring by which numerous decsendants would come and the whole world would be blessed.
Do you think Abraham suddenly forgot this promise at the time God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? Don’t you think maybe, by this point, Abraham knew that if God was going to take the life of Isaac that He would give it back and raise him from the dead?
Frankly, we don’t know what Abraham thought except we’re told that Abraham lived by faith, but the beautiful thing is, he didn’t live by a blind faith in a kind of fate.
Abraham’s faith was completely objective in a thing outside of himself.
So what if God told me to kill my son? Would I do it?
All I know is, if I’d had the life of Abraham and had personally been visited by God and God had made numerous promises to me and kept every single one of them, and then asked me to sacrifice the son that had come to me by miracle after miracle after miracle, I’d make the sacrifice and I’d expect another miracle.
But thankfully, instead of letting Abraham go through with it and sacrifice Isaac for Him, God instead sacrificed His own son for you and for me and a miracle happened.