I have always struggled to understand the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis chapter 22. Why did the Lord ask Abraham to sacrifice his only son? Why would a loving God do such a thing? And then I read it again, first asking the Holy Spirit to help me understand and to teach me what He wanted me to learn. He showed me the beauty in this story, the faith, and the burning desire that the Lord has for relationship with us – He wants nothing to come before Him, nothing to stand in the way of seeking Him first.
The story begins with God asking Abraham to take Isaac to a certain mountain and offer him as a burnt sacrifice, an offering before God. Abraham’s response was obedience, but I wonder what he thought of as he waited for the morning to come. I wonder what went through his mind when he gathered his servants and his son, and began to chop the wood for the offering. Did he turn away from Isaac’s gaze?
On the third day of their journey, Abraham saw the place where the Lord wanted the sacrifice to be made. Carrying the fire and the knife, he told Isaac to continue up the mountain with him. Isaac was carrying the wood, but noticed there was no sheep for the sacrifice. Can you see them walking together and Isaac looking at his father? I wonder if he had a sense of what the Lord had asked his father to do. Abraham let Isaac know that God would provide. I wonder if there was any question in Abraham’s heart, or did he know God deeply, intimately enough to know that a sacrifice of his son was not really what the Lord was after.
As Abraham built the altar, was there an internal battle between fear and faith? I wonder what Isaac thought as his father worked? When God had not yet intervened, Abraham tied up his son. Did Isaac have faith like his father, or fear? Imagine the anguish Abraham experienced as he picked up the knife. Can you imagine how much he loved his son, his only son? Yet he demonstrated that all of his trust was in God, and even this beloved son wouldn’t come before Him.
In Exodus 34:14 we read, “You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.” In the notes of the Life Application Study Bible, it explains, “God did not want Isaac to die, but he wanted Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in his heart so it would be clear that Abraham loved God more than he loved his promised and long-awaited son. God was testing Abraham. The purpose of testing is to strengthen our character and deepen our commitment to God and his perfect timing.” God wants and requires that nothing come between our relationship with Him.
In verse 12, through an angel, God says to Abraham, “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!’ the angel said. ‘Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.” Abraham feared God. I’ve always wanted to understand more deeply what it means to fear God, because it is something He wants us to do. From looking at Abraham’s response to the testing of his faith, I believe to fear God means to have the willingness to sacrifice anything in your heart that might come before God and to trust Him completely; to withstand the testing of faith and remain resolute in the belief that God will provide what we need.
My prayer in response to this story that moved my heart is this: Lord, please search my heart and mind and show me what I have placed before you. Help me to trust you completely and know that you will provide all that I need, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. While I am waiting for your promises to come, help me to be faithful in acting on my trust in You. I lay the things that I have made to take precedence before you onto the altar. I choose you first, for you are jealous for me. No one loves me like you do. Help me to truly fear you. In Jesus name.
Looking at this story in the context of relationship with God the Father brings understanding. He doesn’t want the things that we put before Him, He wants our hearts to love Him most. He is a jealous God, jealous for our relationship with Him, because He loves us that much. When we lay the things down that we’ve put too much importance on, we see more clearly the face of our Father. We can trust Him completely.
When we trust Him and believe in His promises, then we act on that belief, we act out our faith. James 2:21-22 says, “Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.” Let us come before God, full of trust and with hearts ready to act on our faith. When we seek and obey Him with this kind of trust, God our Father will be found.