Summary: Abraham was never closer to God than when told to sacrifice his son Isaac. Though anguished he was aware of God’s presence and promise. The offering of Isaac is the climax of Abraham’s life of faith; this was his “moment of truth”.
“The Offering of Isaac,” Genesis 22.
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Abraham was never closer to God than when told to sacrifice his son Isaac. Though anguished he was aware of God’s presence and promise. The offering of Isaac is the climax of Abraham’s life of faith; this was his “moment of truth”, the supreme test, in which he demonstrates his devotion to God. God brings trials into our lives that overwhelm us. Yet we trust Him nonetheless, even through our pain.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do? In Abraham’s life we see how far he was willing to go in his obedience and trust. God “tested” Abraham, to demonstrate the quality of his character. What God really wanted was not the sacrifice of Isaac, but the personal, total surrender of Abraham. When God tests us, it’s not to find out how strong we are; He already knows. It’s so we can discover how strong we are. God never sends a test until He knows we’re ready for it.
Abraham by this time was a very old man. God appeared to him, calling his name. This was the last of eight times God directly spoke to Abraham. In delight, Abraham responded, “Here I am!” God then told His friend to take Isaac to the region of Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. God calls Isaac Abraham’s “only son”, meaning his only “covenant” son, born of Sarah as promised. Ishmael was the son of unbelief, born of Hagar. No reason is given for this command, and we don’t know Abraham’s emotional response—we can only imagine the turmoil he felt. Could any request be more difficult?
God’s command seems to threaten all Abraham has lived for, fought for and prayed for, from the moment he left Ur. When Abraham started out on his journey, he sacrificed his present security for the hope of blessing. Now it appears that God is telling him to sacrifice his future. This would seem to make God’s promise a lie. All future blessings were to come through Isaac. God asks Abraham to bear the unbearable and expect the impossible.
In Abraham’s time animal and even human sacrifice were common, to appease the pagan gods and secure their favor. It times of crisis, people thought they had to offer the most precious thing in life; it’s hard to imagine what could be more important than your children.
God expects the first place in our lives. If anything might become an idol in Abraham’s heart, it was Isaac. Perhaps Isaac was starting to replace God in Abraham’s life. God seems to be telling Abraham, “Show Me you love Me more than you love your son.” By binding his son, Abraham bound himself forever to God. It is the ego of Abraham that was sacrificed on the mountain.
Abraham set out for Moriah the next day. He announced to his household that Isaac would accompany him. That wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, as Abraham had built several altars to God over the years. He didn’t tell anyone what he was planning to do; he couldn’t tell Sarah. Moriah was about 55 miles from Beersheba, a hilly area in the northern part of Jerusalem. Here the Jewish Temple was built, and today is the site of the Islamic Dome of the Rock. When I went there, you could see inside the mosque a rough piece of exposed ground, the very spot where it’s believed Abraham offered Isaac.
Abraham argued with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, yet when asked to kill his son, he was silent. With the destruction of those cities, Abraham learned it’s futile to argue with God’s plan, so he submitted. It was up to God, his Friend, to resolve this crisis. Abraham left the problem with God, which is the essence of faith. What will God do to retain His promise and honor?
Look carefully at Abraham’s final words before he began the journey, vs 5: “We will worship and then we will come back to you.” He was counting on this. These words convey a powerful expression of trust. Abraham knew that Isaac was irreplaceable, so he concluded that God would raise Isaac back to life and thus keep His covenant. It’s a small matter for the One who created the universe and all human life to bring life back to a dead body. Rabbinic scholars state that the story of Isaac teaches the resurrection of the dead, that there’s never a loss of descendants. Since Isaac’s birth was a miracle, so shall he return from death.
Nonetheless, imagining that death made every step of the 3-day journey an untold anguish for Abraham. He appeared strangely quiet and he and Isaac set out. Every detail of Isaac’s life was etched in his memory. And God understood--He loved Isaac, even more than Abraham did.