The Bible is perhaps the most-quoted book in circulation today. Verses crop up in government, on University mottos, and across many social events including baptisms, weddings, and funerals.
Aside from spurious quotations in Quentin Tarantino films (*) nearly all of what we snip out of this small library of books consists of nice, positive, heart-warming, soul-stirring platitudes.
But then we pick up a Bible and we read it and we realise there is more, much more, than may have appeared to us on first glance.
Take for example the story of Abraham and Isaac in the Old Testament. Now what on earth was going on there?! Abraham, chosen by God to be the father of a nation, takes his only son, Isaac, through which apparently that promise from God was to be fulfilled, and offers him to God as a sacrifice. Abraham was to kill his only son.
In The Bible through the eyes of an atheist Tom instinctively and correctly wants to know ‘why God would even think …’ about asking Abraham to kill his son, Isaac. In fact, much of the Bible elicits a ‘Why, God?’ response from its readers. Our cursory looks lead us to investigate the stories further and we are challenged to suspend judgement until we add context and place the challenging scriptures within the overall framework of the whole of Scripture. After all, the Bible is a unified document and needs to be taken as a complete work.
Backing up a bit, God speaks to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3, with a promise of blessing.
“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” (ESV)
God was going to bless the world, through the family of Abraham. We then skip to 22:2 and we read that God told Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, and, “offer him … as a burnt offering.
At this point Paul Copan in his book Is God A Moral Monster is very useful. He makes four points from the text, which I’ll summarise here:
- 1. The reader is informed straight away that this is a “test” for Abraham. God’s plan isn’t for Isaac to be killed.
- 2. When God requests of Abraham that Isaac be sacrificed his request is polite. “I beg of you” belies the gentleness of God at this point.
- 3. God knows full well what he’s asking. In v. 2 we read, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love …” Even in the request God is reminding Abraham of the promise he made to him in chapter 12. God hasn’t changed his mind, done a U-turn, or reneged on his word. God’s faithfulness – an overriding attribute that is demonstrated throughout Abraham’s life – is shown.
- 4. The place where Abraham is to take Isaac is named ‘Moriah’. This name speaks of ‘provision’. David Wenham is quoted by Copan in this, saying: “Salvation is promised in the very decree that sounds like annihilation.”
The story of Abraham is a story of a man who trusts God and obeys him. God led Abraham from his land, by his guidance, and through Abraham’s trust a nation was birthed and blessed. Abraham was, and remains, a story of faith in the character of God.
Furthermore, in the account of the offering of Isaac, we even see Abraham acknowledge before the sacrifice was to take place, that both he and Isaac were to return (22:5). Abraham knew God and knew the promise that was given to him. In trust he obeyed.
Isaac and Jesus
The parallels between Isaac and Jesus are strong and recurring. The Apostle Paul references Abraham repeatedly when talking about the life of faith (Romans 4). Additionally, the language of God sending his only son mirrors closely the language used of Abraham and Isaac. Not to mention that the sacrifice God used in place of Isaac was a Ram (22:13), another parallel to Jesus as the sacrificial lamb for our sins.
As Abraham trusted God and offered Isaac, Isaac trusted his father and willing went along. Jesus in the same was both sent by the Father, and came to earth to die of his own volition (See Why Did God Have To Die?).
The story of Abraham and Isaac sets a great theme of trust, faith, and salvation through God. It is central to the whole of the Bible and it is why Paul can call all people to trust in God, as provider, because He spared nothing but gave everything for us, as it is written:
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32, ESV)
(*) A little bit of Ezekiel (25:17) with a smidgen of embellishment, in Pulp Fiction