What sort of God would test a man by asking him to sacrifice a child on a mountain? One not worth following, that's for sure.
I believe that Jesus is God (I'm of the Christian trinitarian persuasion) and can you ever imagine Jesus testing a man by telling him to go sacrifice his kid on a mountain? That sounds more like Satan than it does Jesus.
So what's up with the Abraham, Isaac, and God story in Genesis 22? Isn't that what we've been told about this story? That God wanted to test Abraham's devotion by telling him to sacrifice Isaac, the son he had waited many years for? The same son whom God promised to bless the world with?
That's how this story starts.
But then we skip to the end of the story and miss the middle.
What if this isn't a story about testing Abraham's devotion or faithfulness or obedience and that we've been telling the story wrong for many years now?
What if this isn't a story about Abraham at all and instead, it's a story about the character of God? It's like the story about David and Goliath that really isn't a story about David being the hero but instead is a story really about God being the hero. If you don't believe me, read Genesis 22:5 and figure out what was going on between Abraham and God that we don't know about:
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.
Catch that WE part?
Abraham knows he's coming back with Isaac to his servants after he goes up the mountain. Abraham knows he's not coming back by himself. Even the writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham knew he was coming back with Isaac alive. He knows that no matter what happens on the mountain, Isaac is coming back with him because God had already promised to bless the world through Isaac.
Some would argue that maybe Abraham was lying so he could safely get away from his servants and to not cause Isaac unneeded emotional harm. But wouldn't lying about it go against the devotion and faithfulness that God is supposedly testing?
If this isn't a story about Abraham's devotion or Abraham's faithfulness or sacrificing Isaac then what in the world is it a story about?
It's a story about who God is.
Abraham knows the story isn't about him, but about God. Abraham of course travels to Moriah (which happens to loosely mean "where God is revealed" and of course follows suit with what God says because Abraham knows God has already made a promise to bless the world through this child (foreshadowing of the God-Father-Son?).
It seems like Abraham knows God's not going to allow him to kill his son.
So what gives?
It's not a story about Abraham. That's what gives. It's a story about God.
So what does this story say about God (besides God provides)?
Let's step back 4,000 years into the Phoenician culture. People in this era believed that the god who provided fertility was also entitled to demand a portion of what was produced (IVP OT Background Commentary). If you want to continue having children then the gods wanted your firstborn.
But not the God of Abraham. Isaac was a gift. Not a sacrifice.
This God, God over everything under and above the sun, isn't like all of these other gods of the time. You could say the God of Abraham was counter-god to the rest of societies' notions of the gods. The God of Abraham isn't like the other gods because this God doesn't need or want child sacrifice to bless people or be pleased. Our God blesses people because that's who God is. That's God's character.
So why did God instruct Abraham to do all of this in the first place? It's a pretty crazy setup. It's pretty dramatic and maybe that's the point. To capture our attention. To show the world that the GREAT I AM is unlike anything we've ever seen or concocted.
Abraham, it's time. I'm going to ask for a child sacrifice like all of the other gods. You want to keep multiplying your family like the stars yes?
Now look, look.
I'm not like these other gods. Children are sacred. Never would I ask you to kill your firstborn to bestow a blessing on you. I don't need your sacrifice or devotion or faithfulness to be loving and compassionate. That's just who I am. I am a God, unlike all these quote-unquote other gods.
This truly is a story about the one true God.
Reflections on Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14
Why did people find this important to write down? To show that God is different. That God is unlike the others. Imagine someone 4,000 years ago hearing this story about a God that doesn't require child sacrifice and what would have raced through their mind.
Why did this passage endure? It's a dramatic story. If we were to play it out in real life, the tension would be so thick. We'd be asking questions like, “Would a loving God really do that?” It's a beautifully dramatic story about how God works in the world despite popular notions.
What is it that is true from them then that is true for us now? We have a lot of misconceptions about who God is. We project our bad experiences on God to try and define who God is and what God wants. Abraham encountered a God who wanted to bless the world whether or not he was faithful. God will still bless the world whether or not we believe it or can accept it. That makes Jesus all the more worth following.
How does this help me love God more? It's a story that shows just how much God values human life. God isn't willing that any would perish and God doesn't need our sacrifices in order for him to love us. God's love isn't self-gaining. That makes it easier for us to love God back in a way that isn't about gaining for ourselves.
How does this help me love people better? God finds life valuable. God doesn't need our sacrifice to be worth loving. I shouldn't need someone's sacrifice or devotion to find them worth loving. Throwing back to Genesis 1, I should find people worth loving simply because they're created in the image of God.