Summary: Genesis 22:1-19. The familiar story of the (almost) sacrifice of Isaac and what it means for today.
LESSONS FROM THE LIVES OF THE PATRIARCHS
GENESIS PART 2 – POSTDILUVIAN/PATRIARCHAL HISTORY
ABRAHAM & ISAAC: A PICTURE OF FAITH IN ACTION
- As we begin our short look at Isaac today you will notice that this portion of Scripture is really just as much about Abraham as it is Isaac. In fact, this is the only glimpse of Isaac that we are going to get in this look at Genesis. Next time we will be moving on to Jacob and eventually Joseph, simply because they lend themselves so well to character studies. But this is by far one of the most important instances in the life of Isaac; and it doesn’t take us very long to figure out why.
- Now for some of us, this is not only an important occurrence in Isaac’s life, but it is also a confusing one. For in this account, Abraham is told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering. Immediately everything inside of us wonders how God could demand such a thing. This is one of those stories that unbelievers and atheists pounce on in order to try to attack God’s character.
- One of my favorite people of an opposing viewpoint to quote, as you know, is Richard Dawkins. Here is what he writes on p.31 of his book The God Delusion about God as revealed in the Old Testament in accounts like the one we will be looking at today: The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
- Now for those of us who have not received our Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the University of Oxford, here is what Dawkins said: God is jealous, petty, unjust, unforgiving, revengeful; a bloodthirsty racist, a hater of women, fearful of homosexuals, a baby killer, a mass murderer, someone who commands people to kill their own children, having an inflated ego while enjoying watching others endure pain. He is a mean-hearted, evil bully and loves himself for it.
- I cannot imagine a more twisted and erroneous understanding of God. But that’s what certain intellectuals think about our God. And this story is one of the accounts they use to justify this understanding. So we must take great care in understanding, interpreting, and applying it. Let’s read the passage first, then we will see if the God Dawkins sees is really there. And if not (and most of us are already assuming not), what does this actually tell us about God?
[READ GENESIS 22:1-19]
- What I want us to notice right off the bat here is that God never intended for Abraham to kill Isaac. Even Abraham seems to recognize this. He tells Isaac that God is going to provide the lamb for the offering. He tells his servants that both he and the boy will return to them when the sacrifice is complete. God has no desire for Abraham to commit filicide. In other words, he doesn’t want to see Abraham kill his own son. What he does want to see is Abraham’s faith, which was credited to him as righteousness, in action. So he asks Abraham to do the most unimaginable thing we could think of in order to reveal the genuineness of Abraham’s faith. And that is the first thing we should notice about this passage:
GOD REVEALS THE AUTHENTICITY OF OUR FAITH BY TESTING IT
- That first verse of Genesis 22 is very important. It says that God tested Abraham. Moses, the author of this account gives us an explanatory statement before the story begins. It’s almost as if he knows the story is going to raise eyebrows, so he helps us out. He gives us information that Abraham didn’t have. He tells us that what God is doing is testing Abraham’s faith.
- Now what was it about this situation that tested Abraham’s faith? Well the answer is rather obvious isn’t it? Having sent Ishmael away with Hagar, Abraham now only has one son, Isaac; and the future of the covenant promise rested with him. He was the child that God gave to Abraham and Sarah in their old age by a supernatural work. All of the promises of God were to come to pass, according to God himself, through Isaac and his seed. Killing Isaac would ruin everything. So there was no greater thing God could have asked Abraham to do than to sacrifice his son Isaac.
- Dr. Warren Wiersbe writes this in his commentary on the Pentateuch: Our faith is not really tested until God asks us to bear what seems unbearable, do what seems unreasonable, and expect what seems impossible. We need to understand that God does to us what he did here to Abraham. He tests us through various difficulties and trials. He does this, according to James 1, in order to perfect our character and our faith. And according to 1 Peter 1, that perfected, genuine faith will glorify Jesus Christ when he returns to this earth.