ARTICLE IN PROGRESS
For centuries perhaps no other story from the Bible has drawn more attention more so than the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Issac at the apparent request of God in Genesis 22:1-19. And Understandably so as the events weave together a complex narrative whose implications even philosophers have wrestled with.
If you’re familiar with the story then you’re likely aware that this request by God really seems to come out of nowhere. In fact it enters the story so abruptly it’s hard not see the pottential incongruity between God’s words and the character we ascribe to Him.
Which is likely why for generations many of the Bibles most vocal critics have found this story to be one of their most compelling and devastating arguments against not only the Bible itself but also against the very God that it proclaims. But despite the seeming complexity and the arguments of it’s critics, I firmly believe that this story, quite to the contrary, is both beautiful in it’s simplicity and powerful in it’s example of the Bible’s internal consistency and credibility.
every story in the Bible is meant to be understood and if you can accept that the Bible itself is one, albeit very long, coherent story, and two, that it can speak for itself, I think you will find
But, if the Bible is indeed a coherent story, as I believe it is, then we must immediately rule out the idea that God is tempting Abraham here to break one of His own (at the time unwritten) laws. After all remember that this story is written by Moses, in the desert, for Israel who has already received God’s written law in the 10 commandments.
James 1:13 ESV
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one [with evil].
Although the very first sentence of Chapter 22 tells us that the story that follows is a test and as 1 Peter 1:7 tells us
“the testing of the “genuineness of our faith is more precious than gold“ because it results “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
This test certainly seems to exceed anything else in the Bible with the exception of perhaps the story of Job. But even Job’s testing was part of a much larger story and serves to vindicate the goodness and worthiness of God. It would be hard to arrive at those same conclusions as easily from the surrounding verses alone.
So how is it that I believe I know the key to interpreting this story when it seems so complex? It really is quite simple as I promised, it is because Jesus told me. Not personally of course, He told all of us in the book of John.
“Your father Abraham rejoiced [desired] to see my day, and he saw it and was glad
So here we have a statement from Jesus that seems almost as incongruous to the events in the story John is telling as does Abraham’s test in the story that Moses is telling. it’s clear nobody understands what Jesus is getting at because as soon as Jesus attempts to give them a clue to what He is in fact saying they try to kill Him.
So what was Jesus getting at? If you accept Jesus for who He says He is, then the idea that he existed and even conversed with Abraham before he came as the Son of Mary and Joseph is not really a problem. However what is curious is that in the midst of this statement Jesus drops some personal information about Abraham in the sort of way you’d expect a good friend might about another in conversation. Oh… Abraham… Yeah… You know, he really wanted to be here for all this… He really wanted to see how it would all go down….
Consider that, if Jesus is telling us about a conversation He had with Abraham, what was it exactly that Abraham was saying? It’s seems pretty clear to me that it is this
“Lord, What will it be like when you redeem this world, How will you do it? Oh I so DESIRE to see it and experience what it is You will do”
James 2:23 NLT
“And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God.”
God considered Abraham a friend, so much so that in Genesis 18 He apparently even came down and ate with him, warned Him of the destruction of Sodom, and blessed him with the news that he would indeed have a son. And when this friend of God asked to see the Messiah’s Day and to understand it’s work and it’s cost, Jesus says that God obliged, and that Abraham indeed SAW IT.
But how did he see it? It’s highly unlikely that time travel was involved, Moses never describes any dream or vision, and if there had been I can’t see how something that important would not have at the very least have been alluded to by Moses in the Bible. All were given is this almost out of place story of the testing of Abraham.
So back to Abraham’s story then, what exactly do we know about this test?
- Isaac is called Abraham’s only son (22:2), despite the fact that we know he had two, even if he did send one of them off (Ishmael).
- Isaac was to be sacrificed in the “region of Moriah” on some mountain that God would point out to him. (22.2)
- The entire ordeal surround Isaac’s sacrifice that Abraham experienced lasted 3 days (22:4)
- Isaac appears to submit to his father’s apparent will (22:9-11)
- God promises that because Abraham was willing to give up his only son, all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. (22:18)
I think that is probably enough to draw the following striking comparisons. Consider the following.
- Jesus is called God’s “only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16)
- Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion all happened within walking distance of the Temple mount which according to 2 Chronicles 3:1 was built on a mountain in the region of Moriah.
- From the time Jesus was taken into custody until His resurrection was 3 days
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth
- Jesus asks for “this cup to be taken away from Him” but ends by saying “yet not My will, but Your will be done” (Luke 22:42)
- Jesus is “… the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” (1 Tim 4:10)
I’m certain you noticed the similarities between these two events, they are unmistakable! I also doubt much explaining is necessary at this point to see that Jesus’s own testimony about His friend Abraham’s strong desire to actually “see” and understand exactly how God intended to redeem the world is was set up the events we see in Genesis 22. Since time travel didn’t seem to be on the table God apparently honors His friends request to see by doing the next best thing, He re-creates the event in a way that Abraham would be able to understand, God immersed Abraham into the story of the coming Messiah and his work, and further put Abraham into a position to understand the very experience of God the Father.
In doing this God indeed “tested” Abraham, in that he tested just how badly he really desired to “see” and understand what his friend God was going to do. In completing the test Abraham not only came to see Jesus’s day and be glad for it, but he also unknowingly left behind one of the clearest most compelling pictures of not only God’s plan of redemption, but of God’s great great love and sacrifice.
The only thing missing from the Biblical record in Genesis is this conversation between God and Abraham. Certainly it’s inclusion could have made the situation more plain, perhaps even obvious to the succeeding generations who have studied it. But as is often the case, it was likely left out is because the story of the Bible IS the story of Jesus and this conversation between friends wouldn’t really be understood by the rest of us until the other half of the conversation was revealed by Jesus when he dropped that one short sentence about His good friend Abraham from a conversation that started nearly 2000 years before.
With this story of Jesus in place the back cover of the story Moses started was brought to it’s close by John when he reveals that the entire event was just one very long conversation between two very good friends. And thanks to these two authors who never met, and yet began and completed one of the greatest stories of the Bible, we gain an even deeper understanding of the greater story that the Bible is trying to tell.