The story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac is disturbing. While Abraham didn’t go through with it, he almost did, and he did so out of obedience to God’s command. So how should we teach this difficult story in Genesis 22? Here are four things to keep in mind when teaching the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac.
- God was only testing Abraham (v. 1). He didn’t want Abraham to actually kill Isaac and he showed that by stopping Abraham (v. 12).
- The name Moriah (v. 2), the place where God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac, comes from a Hebrew word meaning provide. Abraham was being tested to trust in God’s provision and he knew it from the name of the place where he was told to go. So God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son—the provision for his future—at a place called “provision.” The name Moriah, together with what Abraham was being commanded to do there, would have set off special signals in Abraham’s brain. Think of it this way: If God told you to go to a place called “Transportation” and burn your car, you would know something was up, even if you wouldn’t know exactly what it was. The sign of these special signals in Abraham’s brain can be found in a statement he made to Isaac. On their way to Moriah, Isaac asked, “where is the lamb?” and Abraham replied, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (v. 8).
- Although Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering he believed that somehow he would be returning with Isaac still alive. Abraham told his servants, “We will worship and then we will come back to you” (v. 5 NIV). Years earlier, Abraham had received God’s promise regarding Isaac: “I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him” (17:19). So God’s covenant would pass from Abraham to Isaac and to Isaac’s offspring. But when God commanded Abraham to offer up Isaac, Isaac didn’t have offspring so if he died at that point, God’s promise (17:19) would’ve been broken. And after his many years of walking with God, Abraham couldn’t have imagined that God would break his promise. Somehow, even if that meant that God would have to raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19), Abraham believed that Isaac would depart from Moriah on his own two feet.
- This is the only instance of God commanding someone to sacrifice a child. Furthermore, this command is contrary to God’s explicit command: “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). Those two facts should alert us to the unique nature of this story. So while this is arguably the most difficult command in the entire Bible, it was a one-time command, or better yet a one-time test, which ultimately pointed to Jesus. And Isaac reminds us of Jesus in the following ways:
- Isaac was Abraham’s beloved son (Gen. 22:2) and Jesus is God’s beloved Son (Mk. 1:11).
- Abraham was commanded to offer his son. Likewise God did offer up his one and only Son (Jn. 3:16).
- As Isaac walked up the mountain carrying the wood to the place where he would be sacrificed (22:6), Jesus carried the cross to the place of his crucifixion (Jn. 19:17).
- Both were innocent.
- Both were willing; there’s no record of either one resisting or running away.