@Adaml108, Good question! The best way to respond to this is by understanding the context. Isaac is not just any son but the promised son through whom the nations were to be blessed (Gen 12:2-3). From Isaac descend the Jews and salvation was to come from the Jews (John 4:22). When God asks Abraham to sacrifice his promised son, it is a shadow of what is to come in Jesus. God planned to save the world through a similar sacrifice of the promised Son, Jesus. The book of Hebrews praises Abraham’s faith in being willing to offer his promised son, Isaac. In what way did Abraham show faith? Hebrews 11:19 says Abraham believed that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead. And indeed, God raised Isaac in a figurative sense by providing the ram. So, Abraham understood God’s character as the One who provides and had faith in what God must have already revealed to him but he had to go through the test of faith. So, the sacrifice of Isaac is no endorsement of child sacrifice but a test of faith for Abraham and a demonstration of the faithfulness of God that was planned over many generations and progressively revealed and fulfilled in Christ .
Here’s a link on Bible project website that explains it clearly.
Excellent question, @Adaml108 - and one that you’ll certainly want to be prepared to answer since it is a favorite among Bible critics!
Actually, there is one Child sacrifice in the Bible that God really does support - it’s His own sacrifice of his Son Jesus Christ. The phrase only begotten son appears five times in the Bible - four times meaning Christ, but once referring to Isaac when he was offered on Mount Moriah.
And when God called upon Father Abraham to offer his son, Abraham was acting out beforehand how the heavenly Father would offer His Son Jesus Christ.
Many people think that this was a cruel test to put Abraham through. They picture Abraham as being tormented with his struggle to obey this seemingly impossible demand. Hollywood has really contributed to this misperception.
But Hebrews 11 reveals a very different picture. Verses 17-19 explain that Abraham had confident faith that God would fulfill His promises to make him the father of multitudes like the stars of heaven and the sands of the seashore (Hebrews 11:12) - through this son Isaac that he was now called upon to sacrifice. Verse 19 shows that Abraham actually expected God to raise his son from the dead in order to do this! And the truly amazing thing about that is that until then, God had never actually raised anyone from the dead before! Abraham was believing God for something completely unprecedented!
And the verse ends by saying that, figuratively speaking, Isaac was raised from the dead when God aborted the sacrifice.
So this whole scene was a prophecy - not a spoken prophecy, but one acted out. It foreshadowed what the Father and His Son Jesus would someday do on Calvary. Which gives a new depth of meaning to Abraham’s words to his son as they ascended the mountain and Isaac asked where the sacrifice was. Genesis 22:8 records him saying, God will provide himself a sacrifice. Now you could take that as meaning that the Father would provide a Sacrifice for Himself, or you could take it as the Son would provide Himself for a sacrifice. But either way, or even both, the statement is remarkably prophetic whether Abraham himself understood it all or not!
Furthermore, you may be surprised to learn that Mt. Moriah is exactly where Calvary would be located 2,000 years later! The only other place where it is mentioned in the Bible is in II Chronicles 3:1 - it’s where Solomon would build his temple - where the sacrifices of Israel, all pointing toward Christ, would be offered for centuries. And within easy sight of the temple, some 300 yards away on that same Mt. Moriah, was the hill of the skull, Golgotha, where Jesus would hang.
As Abraham and Isaac walked away from the mountain with the ram burning on the altar behind them, it seems that the spirit of prophecy came upon Abraham, and in Genesis 22:14, he calls the place where this all happened Jehovah-Jireh - the Lord will provide. And he says to his son, In the mount of the Lord, it shall be seen. Did Abraham have some insight from God that right here was where it would all be fulfilled? I believe he did!
Now, sometimes critics will ask what’s to keep some crackpot from reading this story and imagining that God wants him to kill his child from Abraham’s example? Well, I’d say crackpots don’t really need much of an excuse to act crazy.
But if you see a man who’s 100 years old with a pregnant 90 year old wife who could never have a child back when they were fertile finally expecting one long after her child bearing years have ended - a man who has experienced the kinds of miracles and spoken the kinds of prophecies that Abraham has for half a lifetime - if he tells you at the age of about 120 or so that God wants him to sacrifice the son through whom God will make him a great nation… well, come back when you find him and we can talk about it then!
I hope this helps you to deal with this question!
Hi Adam, reasonable questions!
Here’s my simple answer: God asked that because He knew that He would never allow Abraham to do it! He was testing him and giving “a shadow of the things to come” to us.
He’s amazing that way.
I agree with your replies.
God bless you all.
Thank you for your post, pls explain again what kinds of critics regarding the scene on Mount Moriah are to be expected. Maybe you habe some experience or even the gift if anticipation. Remember there are persons behind critics and we need to understand their points more. So are there any commen critics first or also special critics regarding the abortet sacrifice
A quote from your post:
‘Many people think that this was a cruel test to put Abraham through. They picture Abraham as being tormented with his struggle to obey this seemingly impossible demand. Hollywood has really contributed to this misperception.’
So do you mean Abraham acted very faithfully and mastered this test?
And are you adressing hollywood as a system?
Good questions, @michaelpriebe.
Who are the critics you should be prepared for regarding Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac?
The atheists. It is a common tactic for atheists to try and make God look bad by hunting for incidents in the Bible that they can characterize as barbaric, primitive and unworthy of any God whom we should worship. And one of the most common is God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son. They ignore the context of what was going on, and frame the event in the most critical light against God.
And when I say that Hollywood is complicit in promoting their false perceptions, I mean that I have never yet seen a Hollywood movie portray Abraham’s action as a display of faith. It is always presented as a tortured father being forced to commit an atrocity or face the displeasure of God.
Did Abraham act faithfully and master this test? Absolutely! He fully expected the God Who gave this miracle child to miraculously resurrect him. Why? Because his son Isaac still had a big job to do - there was a nation of innumerable descendants that had to be begotten!
I hope this helps answer your questions.
While studying the Bible it is imperative for us to ask questions like what, why, where, when, which and who. It then must end with the question of “wherefore”. The study becomes more meaningful when we place our ourselves in the shoes of the people we are reading about. We are not told about the personal feelings Abraham but we can get some ideas if we put ourselves in the place of Abraham.
Abraham was surrounded by pagans. He was probably aware of child sacrifice among these pagans. But our focus is on his faith and obedience without hesitation. He did not question God. We can take Job as a similar example. Job never questioned God, he didn’t consider it’s important to learn the reason for his suffering.
Obeying God was more important to Abraham than anything else. To do so by sacrificing his son was worship.
Genesis 22:5 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.”
Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
God did provide the burnt offering. God don’t need to explain himself. The ram, the burnt offering is a type or a shadow of Christ. God sacrificed his only begotten son to save us from sin, to make us righteous and reconcile us to himself.
This is a very interesting discussion on a really challenging topic (same here). Thanks a lot @Lakshmismehta, @jlyons and @Peter_Zanias for your answers. They are very helpful to study this bible passage in depth.
There is also an extensive Ask Away Podcast on this very topic by Vince and Jo Vitale.
They go into detail about the challenges of this biblical passage. I like the following quote from Vince Vitale:
@Vince_Vitale: It’s not a celebration of blind faith. It’s not a celebration of faith that says, God, I will follow you even if you’re not good. God, I will follow you irrationally. That’s not what this passage is about. It’s the exact opposite. Abraham reasoned that God had proven in his life that he was good. He reasoned that God could raise the dead. He reasoned that it was safer for Isaac to be in the center of God’s will than to be anywhere else. And even as he raised that knife, the test of faith was not whether he would be willing to cause the death of his son. The test of faith was really whether he finally believed God for the life of his son.
I see it the same way. I don’t think it is about Abraham blindly and without thinking simply doing what God tells him to do. Rather, he shows great confidence in God’s sovereignty. Everything that he has experienced in his life with God so far showed him that God means well with him, even if Abraham cannot understand that at this moment.
As James also said, this bible passage is often used to attribute negative qualities to God. And @michaelpriebe, you asked what people are behind it. One example is Richard Dawkins. In his book “Outgrowing God” he tries to transfer this event to the present time without considering the situation at that time and the historical context.
Jo and Vince on the other hand shed light on the background and finally come to this conclusion:
It’s a passage which is so full of the richness of the gospel. And then all of a sudden things change. And I get excited about people potentially asking me this question because I want to tell them about Abraham. I want to tell them about a man who even in his very old age, finally figured out what it looked like to put his full trust in God. About a beautiful partnership and trust between a father and a son. About a God who provides, who does not ask us to provide a sacrifice for him, but who provided a sacrifice for us.
This gives a coherent picture throughout the Bible of a God who rejoices when people turn to him and accept the sacrifice HE has made for them.