One of the biblical stories that presents an odd and, frankly, even disturbing picture of God is from Genesis 22 where the Bible says that God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac on an altar.
Why did God command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? In fact, I’d even expand that question to say, “What in the world was going on?” This command seems to violate the very nature of God. God literally commanded Abraham to murder his son! But what if I told you that that is the very point of the story?
You see, Abraham did not have scrolls containing stories about God’s actions or words. He didn’t have the Old Testament or the New Testament or any “testament.” He didn’t have prophets or preachers to give him a frame of reference concerning God’s behavior. All that Abraham had to go on was his own experience with God. But he also had no choice but to be familiar with the religions and customs of the people surrounding him. And THAT is a major and largely unknown key to this story.
When God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, note that the Bible doesn’t record Abraham being shocked or questioning God. Maybe this was because he feared God. But one of the overlooked factors in this story is that the idols and gods of the cultures surrounding Abraham routinely demanded child sacrifice. Or at least that’s what the priests and leaders who claimed to represent those alleged deities said. So people would throw their children in fire or in the ocean or kill them with a weapon to appease or win favor from a god.
So when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, it likely didn’t come as a surprise to him. He probably figured that this God, who, at the time, was still in many ways new to Abraham, was probably like the other gods that people worshipped in that day. Why would this God be any different?
And that is the key to this story. God drew a line in the sand. He established himself as something much different than the other claimed deities.
God made a profound distinction in that the Bible says that HE provided the sacrifice himself rather than sitting by while Abraham murdered his son.
So while our Sunday school teachers were right in saying that God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in order to test his faith, he also planned for Abraham to learn another lesson. God taught Abraham, possibly the first theologian ever, that God wanted a sacrifice of faith.
And it was God who sacrificed his own son, rather than God demanding that a human sacrifice his. It’s actually extremely profound and shows the beauty of the story in ways that typically aren’t considered today.