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Known in Jewish tradition as the Aqedah, “the binding,” the account of Abraham’s journey to Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac recorded in Genesis 22 is unparalleled for its power and poignancy. Through the account’s masterful use of dramatic irony, readers know from the outset what Abraham did not know, that God’s command to sacrifice his son was a test of Abraham’s faith (v. 1). Nevertheless, we cannot help but be drawn into the fear, confusion, and faith of the patriarch as he obediently sets out on a journey that, as far as he knows, will culminate in the death of his son Isaac, who, we’re told at the very beginning, is his only son, the son whom he loves (v. 2). Will the patriarch sacrifice his only son whom he loves for the God whom he is supposed to love the most? The narrative tension is palpable.

The fact that God throughout the Bible unequivocally condemns child sacrifice (Deut. 12:31; 18:10; Ps. 106:37–38; Jer. 32:35) certainly makes His command to Abraham surprising. But what makes it even more bewildering is that Abraham is commanded to kill the very one through whom God had promised to establish His covenant (Gen. 17:19). Isaac was the son of the promise, the one through whom God had promised to accomplish His redemptive purposes to bless and redeem a sin-cursed world. God’s command didn’t make sense, yet amazingly, Abraham obeyed.

Isaac was the son of the promise, the one through whom God had promised to accomplish His redemptive purposes to bless and redeem a sin-cursed world.

Throughout his life, Abraham struggled to believe God’s promises and to live in light of them. On this occasion, however, Abraham set off in obedience to God to offer his son as a burnt offering to the Lord. This was undoubtedly an agonizing journey, but his words reveal his deep and profound faith that God would be faithful to keep His promise. Leaving his young men with the supplies, Abraham says to them, “I and the boy will go over there and worship and we will come again to you” (Gen. 22:5, author’s translation; emphasis added). Afterward, Isaac says to his father, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham responds, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (vv. 7–8). These remarks are not wishful thinking but reveal Abraham’s confidence that God will somehow restore to him the son whom he has been asked to lose. Abraham believes that his God is faithful and will fulfill His promise even if it means raising his child from the dead, as the author of Hebrews tells us that Abraham “considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb. 11:19).

To be sure, God did not test Abraham to discover something about the patriarch that He did not know. The God who knows all things, who knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), certainly knew the nature and character of Abraham’s faith. But God tested Abraham to reveal, strengthen, and prove the reality of his faith when he was called to trust God’s word of promise over his own fallible human reason. The Bible is clear that God tests our faith for the same reason. God at times allows His children to experience great trials and hardships because “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness . . . , that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3–4). Faith is strengthened through testing.

Nevertheless, God’s testing of Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22 was certainly unique, since it pointed forward to the Christ who was to come. After the angel of the Lord stays Abraham’s hand and provides a ram as a substitute for Isaac, God swears to him:

“Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Gen. 22:16–18)

The blessings of the covenant of grace would flow to Abraham’s offspring and through them to the world because Abraham sustained this test.

Abraham’s obedience, however, was a type or foreshadow of the Christ who would obey God perfectly His entire life, not only on one occasion. Jesus trusted His Father and was willing to obey Him even to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). The covenant blessings that Israel enjoyed on the basis of Abraham’s imperfect obedience were but a dim picture of the eternal and lasting blessings that God’s people receive on the basis of Christ’s personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience. God did provide for Abraham, for Isaac, and for us when He did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all (Rom. 8:32). In this way, Abraham’s test was unique in pointing believers in every era to the finished work of the Lamb of God, who was offered up for the sins of the world (John 1:29).

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From the August 2023 Issue
Aug 2023 Issue