Genesis 22 is without a doubt, one of the most important chapters in the book of Genesis, if not the entirely of Scripture. Yet, its fame and popularity is matched by its dangerous question of Why?
Why would God “test” Abraham like this? Why would God allow this if he already knows he is going to stop him? Why would he do this?
There are a wide variety of answers to this pertinent question. First, Rabbinic and Jewish interpreters tend to accentuate and almost deify Abraham as a par exemplar of faithfulness and a worthy recipient of Yahweh’s covenant. This interpretation has a slight bias, given the fact that Rabbinic and Jewish interpreters also tend to proudly claim their ancestral root back to Abraham. Second, some Christians interpret this scene as a type-scene, which foreshadows how God did not withhold his own hand when it came to his own son’s, Jesus Christ’s, death on the cross. In addition, with the editorial comment (comment made by the author of Genesis) at the end of the scene, “And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided'” (Genesis 22:14b NIV). Christians jump at this verse like a pack of hungry wolves and claim that “it” is Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sins for the mountain was actual the place of Jesus’ death. This is a grand interpretation, very defensible, but it would have made no sense to the original audience, as known as, “the original hearers of Genesis.” They did not know who Jesus was. Other Christians interpret this as God testing Abraham, which is the interpretation I take with a little more pull and push. Other interpreters include critical scholarship, which I would admit are creative and interesting (as a Learner; according to Strength Quest), but are not indicative for this blog post.
I believe God is testing Abraham in Genesis 22, but let us add some context and background to accentuate the full import of the interpretation with the best of our abilities.
In Genesis 21:33, Abraham plants a tree (he must have been eco-friendly) and called on the name of Yahweh and calls him (this is the important part) “the everlasting God.” What is given in quotation is a modifier (a phrase or word that describes another phrase or word) Yahweh. This is important! Genesis is telling us a characteristic about our Yahweh! He is “the everlasting God!” But of course you can say, “uhh…that’s great and all, but I kind of already knew that…” But do you really know the significance of it? Let’s try to fit ourselves in Ancient Near East Israelite shoes before say that. What did “everlasting” signify for the Israelites? In short, “everlasting” could reference the stabilization and sustaination of the status quo, which can be defined in numerous ways. For example, God proved his everlastingness to Abraham to cause Abraham to call upon him as “the everlasting God,” because God provided and sustained the covenant (the status quo) to Abraham. By the end of Genesis 21, Abraham has numerous sheep and goats (financial abundance), Isaac (an heir of both finances and the covenant), servants, treaties with neighboring tribes and nations, respect from kings, etc.
It is this “everlasting God” who challenges Abraham to sacrifice his only son (with Sarah) Isaac at the beginning of Genesis 22. Isaac is not just a representation of a precious and beloved son. Isaac represents the only possibility of covenantal fulfillment. There is no “descendants as numerous as the stars” without Isaac! There is no “land” to be given to Abraham’s descendants without Isaac! There is no blessing to all nations without Isaac! Isaac is the representation of the status quo defined at the end of Genesis 21.
Do you now see a glimpse of what Abraham has been challenged with? It’s not just giving up a son. No. It is so much more. Ever since Abraham’s departure from his father Terah’s house, Abraham has been promised great blessings (land, nation, and blessing). It’s giving up everything Abraham has believed, worked, and fought for his entire life.
So, what is God asking Abraham? What is the test?
To answer and close this post (because it’s getting too long, as per usual), I want to challenge you and myself what I believe Yahweh, the everlasting God challenged Abraham in monologue form:
Abraham, I need you to do something for me. This “something” will probably not make sense now or ever. But in doing so, I’m asking you a question. First, take your son, your precious and beloved son, your only son of Sarah, the promised one: Isaac. Then, bind him and sacrifice him as an offering.
Abraham, I’m asking you, “Why are you doing all this?” You left your father’s house. You followed a voice. You trusted me. But why? Are you in this for what I can offer you? Are you obeying and following me because I promised you these things?
Do you truly fear me? Do you truly love me?
In sum, are you in relationship with me because of what I can offer you or just because of me?