In the sermon on Chapter 2 of The Story at Garnett I committed to put something on my blog about Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah . . .
Abraham and Isaac are walking up a mountain together in a region called Moriah. The Dome of the Rock, a most holy place for Muslims marks this approximate spot.
Father and son. Abraham and Isaac. What a joyful, warm picture . . .
Or is it?
Why does Genesis 22 bring out doubt in me and in some of you?
Because . . . Abraham and Isaac are climbing the mountain to offer a sacrifice to God. But not an animal sacrifice. God had told Abraham to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering! How could God ask this? Had the boy’s mother, Sarah, known, would she have allowed it?
Genesis 22 says God spoke directly to Abraham and said, “Take your son, you 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.”
Even God spoke of the great love between Abraham and this boy he’d waited for more than twenty-five years!
Yes, twenty-five years had passed from the time God said to Abram, “Leave your country . . . and go to the land I will show you” and the time Isaac was born. In those years before Abram’s land was deeded and a baby bawled against his wrinkled face, he doubted and now more than ever . . . this turn of events grieved Abraham on this long trip up the hill. Isaac himself wondered what they were doing, what they would sacrifice. Abraham just told him, “God will provide.” Indeed God did provide.
Still we ask, “How could God have asked this?” Frankly, this is one of the most troubling passages in the Bible for me. How to explain it!?
One way we can view this passage is through twenty-first century glasses. With our current views of a person or even animals, could we ever conscience any kind of sacrifice . . . specially human sacrifice . . . and an innocent child? All religions could agree in principle that sacrificing children would be wrong.
Second, we could view it from Isaac’s standpoint. Josephus, an ancient historian, thinks Isaac would have been in his twenties, not a little boy. Regardless of age, through his eyes we’re concerned about where the animal for sacrifice is. We feel the wood placed on our back and the glint of the knife as Abraham, our beloved father raises it to kill us. We’re terrified.
Third, is Sarah’s view. Sarah is not heard from in this passage. I can imagine that she would have objected to Abraham was going to do on that mountain. Does this speak to the way we go about “doing God’s will” alone? What if he’d asked Sarah in the first place?
Fourth, through Abraham’s eyes. As parents, we can easily imagine the grief, the torn faith between the love for our children and devotion to our God. But God promised this son to Abraham, then to just take him away?!
Fifth, we could look through eyes of the society of Abraham’s day. He was not a sophisticated Asian or European business man. He was a nomad living in a time when child sacrifice was practiced. This is still not to diminish the terrible nature of child sacrifice. It is abhorrent to us today . . . and God never asked anyone in Scripture to carry through child sacrifice.
That brings us to the sixth view: God’s.
God never intended for Abraham to sacrifice his son, yet God knows what this is like, for he did that very thing: he offered his only son, Jesus. This is what John 3:16 says in the King James Version: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
God gave up the part of him—Jesus was with the Father from the beginning—to be a substitution sacrifice to remove the sins of the world, for those who would have the faith of Abraham and believe and withhold nothing from God.
Perhaps God also wanted to show Abraham and all of us, dramatically, that child sacrifice was not the way of God, though it was common in that culture.
Abraham’s journey with Isaac to Moriah was a test of his faith. He did obey and believe and held nothing back. So he is the father of all who believe. In fact, three major religions claim him as their father: Israel, Islam, Christianity.
The story is also about God’s provision. An angel held back Abraham’s hand from slaying Isaac, then he saw in a thicket a ram that God provided for the burnt offering instead of Isaac, just as Jesus took our place. Abraham called the place, “The Lord will provide.” Solomon built God’s temple there. And to this day, it is a place where people go up to the mountain of the Lord.
The Mountain of “The Lord will provide.”