The Horrible Story
The most difficult tasks in my life as a minister have come when I have been called upon by the Sheriff’s Department to notify a parent that his or her child has died, or when I have been asked to be with a mother whose baby has just died. The death of a child rips a parent’s heart apart. It is the most unfair, ugly, horrible thing that can happen to a person!
With that in mind, the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac (recorded in Genesis 22) has got to strike us as one of the most unfair, ugly, horrible passages in the Bible. We must be careful not to read this passage stoically, turning off our emotions, ignoring the horror of what is asked of Abraham.
If we are to read this passage honestly, we need to face the heartbreak, the pain, the agony, the anger, and the confusion of this passage.
Abraham’s neighbors believed in gods who were cruel and vicious, who demanded self-mutilation and child-sacrifice from their followers. But Abraham was under the impression that the God who had called him was different. Repeatedly Abraham had experienced this God to be a God of mercy, compassion, and justice. Yes, Abraham’s God had pronounced judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, but it was a judgment against their wickedness, not an act of spiteful jealousy. Even then, God announced His judgment to Abraham beforehand, and He swore to Abraham that He would spare the entire city if even 10 righteous people could be found in it.
Why would this God–the God of mercy, compassion, and justice—ask Abraham to take the life of his son, the child God had promised to him, the child for whom he had waited so many years? How could a father take the life of his only son whom he loved dearly?
As it turned out—after all the fear and agony of the passage—Abraham does not have to take his son’s life. Going into it, Abraham told his son, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8), and that’s exactly what happened. God provided a ram that was caught in a thicket.
Why, then, is this passage included in the Bible? Why are we forced to endure such heartbreak, pain, agony, anger and confusion as we read this story of Abraham and his son?
Because we need to understand and appreciate the travail of a Father who will actually make such a sacrifice of His Son.
Though Abraham did not have to go through with sacrificing his own son on Mount Moriah, he called the place “The Lord Will Provide,” and it continued to be said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided” (Genesis 22:14). It was on that mountain that Jesus gave His life for us.
All of the heartbreak, pain, agony, anger, and confusion we anticipated in the story of Abraham and Isaac is realized in the story of Jesus’ death for us:
Be careful not to read the story of Jesus’ death stoically, turning off our emotions, ignoring the horror of what takes place: Jesus sacrificed His life for us! Only one thing can account for this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son….” (John 3:16)