Yesterday, we talked about the Book of Job, which teaches us that we’re supposed to trust God regardless of circumstances. But when it comes to the way this story discusses Job’s children, that is a difficult test.
The testing of Abraham disturbs me for similar reasons.
In Genesis 22:1-19, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, just to see if he will obey.
It’s a watershed moment for Abraham, who has made some tremendous leaps of faith to this point, and also made some tremendously doubt-filled blunders. When push comes to shove, where does Abraham really stand?
Abraham passes the test when he raises the knife to slay his favourite son.
He stands with God.
But who needed this assurance, really?
Didn’t God, being all-knowing, know whether Abraham’s heart was truly with Him? Couldn’t He just look into the future and see what would happen if Abraham were put into this situation?
Of course He could. But Abraham couldn’t.
Maybe this wasn’t an ‘Abraham, I believe in you, but do you believe in me?’ test. Perhaps it was an ‘Abraham, I believe in you, but do you believe in you?’ test. And without this trial, maybe Abraham wouldn’t have been galvanized into living truly, actively and deliberately, for God for the rest of his life.
That would be a credible argument, except for the fact Abraham pretty much goes into retirement after Genesis 22. He buries Sarah in Chapter 23, and sends his servant to find Isaac a wife in Chapter 24. In Chapter 25 we get less than a paragraph about the fact that he got married again after Sarah and had a half-dozen more children – and then he died. The vast majority of Abraham’s many trials and adventures happened long before he brought Isaac to Mount Moriah.
Was this test, then, God’s way of setting the tone for Abraham’s life, not in foresight, but in hindsight, so he could look back on his ‘career’ appropriately, and know that despite the setbacks and stumbles, Abraham had been God’s man all along?
Either way, Abraham passes the test – and just as he’s about to bring the knife down, God stops him and provides a ram for the sacrifice instead.
Whew! The reality is that Isaac was never in any danger. Either Abraham would disobey and Isaac would be safe, or Abraham would obey and God would stop him, without any harm ever coming to Isaac.
… Well, not his body, anyway.
The thought that your dad is ready, willing and able to kill you on his God’s sayso has to be pretty unnerving, doesn’t it? Especially if we think of Isaac as being just a few years out of diapers.
Scarred for life much, Isaac?
But some scholars theorize Isaac was in his teens or 20s, based partly on the fact he was instructed to carry enough firewood for a human sacrifice, and this is no job for a preschooler. And the fact he apparently didn’t struggle suggests he may even have been willing to die this way, or that he trusted Abraham and/or God to take care of him, one way or another.
On the other hand …
- At the end of this passage, Genesis 22:19 says ‘… they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.‘ Maybe in the last sentence, the word ‘Abraham’ means ‘Abraham, his family and their servants’, but it’s also easy to wonder if only Abraham stayed at Beersheba, and Sarah and Isaac moved on – and to wonder why.
- In Genesis 23, Sarah died in Hebron, and ‘Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her‘. Why did he have to go to Hebron to mourn her? Didn’t they live together? Similarly, in Genesis 25:11, it says Isaac lived near Beer Lahai Roi – neither Hebron with his mom, nor Beersheba with his dad.
- A chapter earlier, Rebekah’s presence comforted Isaac after his mother’s death, but Genesis 25:1-11 doesn’t say anything about Isaac receiving – or needing– comfort when his father died.
As Mars Hill Bible Church Pastor Kent Dobson asked in a sermon a few months ago after pointing out these geographic anomalies: Was there some estrangement in the House of Abraham? And if so, was it related to Abraham’s test on Mount Moriah?
Abraham passed this test of faith, but did it cost him the love of his family?
If so, what tests does God have in store for you and me? And if we pass them, will the result feel like a reward, or a punishment?
Peace be with you.