The life and times of Sarah and Abraham rolled on as they raised the son that had caused them so much waiting…and then so much laughter. The usual frustrations and tensions of life in the wilderness came and went. Abraham continued to live a life of righteous faith in the land for all to see. Treaties were made over water wells, animals were born and raised, the seasons came and went, and Isaac grew to become a young man.
Then, once again, God came to Abraham. This time, He came with the greatest test of all. He said, “‘Abraham!’” Abraham said, “‘I am here!’”
And then God gave him the most unimaginable instructions in history: “‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.’”
What? Read that again! What could God mean? This was the God of life, the God of the great and precious promises! Did He really want Abraham to kill his own son? Could it be possible? How could He be so cruel?
Now, the sacrifice of a child was nothing new to the people of the Ancient Near East, which is the time and place Abraham lived. Many of the gods of that region demanded the sacrifice of offspring. But this God, the God of Abraham, was different. He was righteous and generous, the God of creation who made the world to be good…a world without sin or death or sorrow. It took the mutiny of humans against this good God to bring all that is sad and destructive. So this command by God seems strange, barbaric…out of character. And not only that, but this God had promised Abraham this very son. It was from Isaac that He promised to raise up a mighty nation. Did He really mean what He said?
God made it clear that He knew exactly what He was demanding of His servant. He pointed out how precious Isaac was to Abraham all along the way. He repeated, “‘This is your only son…this is the son of your great love,’” and then said, “‘Now sacrifice him to Me.’” Abraham had waited twenty-five years for this child. He had loved him for seventeen more. It was an impossible request. It was radical obedience, the most extreme imaginable. In all likelihood, it would have been easier for Abraham to take his own life than to bring an end to Isaac’s.
When we read this story, we are supposed to gasp. We are meant to be shocked! For anyone else to command this of Abraham would have been a horrific sin! Through this story, God is pushing us…He is demanding more. He wants us to be disturbed…to fight through our understanding of Him and His ways. Just as Abraham had a response to give, so do we.
Faithfulness to the Most High God is the highest good. Trusting Him is more important than anything. Every other loyalty, even to the life of a son…even to a promise of God…must fall away, so that the Lord of all Creation Himself is our one true devotion. And God, the Maker of all things, has the right to command life or death as He pleases. He is not bound by the rules that humanity is bound by…the value we place on every human life is because of the value He places on every human life. It is His right to bring life and end it. It is the truth of every single day for every person in our world. Our role as His trusting servants is to stand before Him with humbled reverence and awe, and to obey. In this extreme command, God was requiring that Abraham surrender the depths of everything, even this deepest, most precious gift from God, even the most critical moral code, even the covenant…the his purpose in life…back to God.
It might have looked to Abraham like all was lost. If he obeyed his mighty, worthy Lord, he would be without the heir of the Promise. But he didn’t. Abraham had already learned through many trials that his Lord was the God of the impossible. Through each stage of his journey, God was training him and preparing his faith, stretching him and disciplining him to be his resilient, steadfast servant. Abraham grew in endurance and power to hold on to God’s promises even when he could not understand God’s plan.
Through it all, Abraham did not weaken in faith, but became stronger. He knew that God would keep His promises no matter what. With this new command, he did not argue and he did not complain. He did not even question God. He would not fail to step out in obedience now to this great and mighty Lord, even when His directions were horrifying.
Abraham’s loyalties belonged completely and utterly to God. His obedience was immediate. Early the very next morning, he prepared to go. He put a saddle on his donkey. He had two servants gather their things to come along. He cut the wood for the sacrificial offering of his son, fully preparing to carry out God’s strange and unimaginable command. And then they began their trek. It was to be a journey of almost fifty miles. What a lonely time it must have been for Abraham as they walked along through the heart of the Land of Promise.
The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about the journey. We don’t learn how Abraham felt, what he dreaded or imagined. We don’t know what he talked about with Isaac and their servants. The silence in the text is a piece of literary mastery, forcing us to wonder, to be uncomfortable with both God and Abraham…to ask, “How could they?” It is meant to provoke you and I to consider our own faith…to disciple us with the discipleship of Abraham. To measure our own lack of faith, our own judgment of God, against the maturity and trust of Abraham. Where we, in our lack of faith, might see a small and petty God, a cruel deity and a subservient and immoral Abraham…willing to kill his own child…the Bible casts a much grander possibility for life in relationship with God. Abraham’s vision went beyond the limits of this natural world and put faith in His supernatural power to accomplish His covenant. Abraham did not doubt that God could keep His covenant even now…that He could even raise Isaac from the dead.
It the process, Abraham demonstrated that his loyalty was to God himself, not to the promise of what he would gain from God…and not from the evidence of what could be seen, but from faith in that which is not seen.