Saturday, March 10, 2012

Abraham's Sacrifice of Isaac

Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?  Even if it was a test of Abraham's love for God, why would God choose such a test?  What purpose did such a test serve?

1 comment:

Daniel Kim said...

This is a tough question. But as we answer the question, 2 crucial facts that we need to maintain in the back of our minds is that 1) God is the Creator and ultimately has the prerogative to give and take life, and 2) In the end, God did NOT allow Abraham to carry out His command. The second fact ought to ease the discomfort we have toward this account, but the question still stands in that it's a "test" of sorts that seems immoral -- child sacrifice was something that God Himself would forbid and consider as an abomination. So why test Abraham by telling to do something that God Himself considered as an abomination?

There are 3 ways that we could answer this question.

1) God’s test was not simply about Abraham’s love for God. We need to remember that this “test” caused a direct contradiction with God’s prior promises to Abraham that He will create a nation out of Isaac. This placed Abraham in an odd situation, but I think it can be argued that Abraham knew that God would not go back on his previous promises, and that Abraham knew that God was not going to actually demand Isaac’s life in the end. (ref: Gen 22:5 – the use of “we”; Heb 11:17-19 – Abraham’s reasoning). So in a sense, the “test” was actually regarding Abraham’s faith in God’s previous promises about Isaac and how he was going to resolve this contradiction.

2) Another answer is to observe that Abraham comes from a polytheistic, Ancient Near East culture where child sacrifice is common and even expected at times. So when God tells Abraham to do this, Abraham just assumes that this is how we are to approach this deity and does it. That’s why we can detect Abraham’s cognitive dissonance in terms of God’s prior promise and Abraham’s heartache, but we don’t detect any “moral” struggle that he goes through… because Abraham just assumes that this is the kind of power dynamic between deity and mankind, which was the norm back then. But in the end, God stops him from doing this act, and in the process teaches Abraham and the descendants of Abraham very poignantly (through enacting the whole scene) from that point on that this is NOT how they are to approach the True God. In a way, God enacts the culture’s expectations of child sacrifice, and then puts a definite end to it, thus making it clear that no one is to approach Him in that way.

3) There is also an answer that appeals to our sense of aesthetics: In the process of this test/lesson, God gives a foreshadow of His own sacrifice, that there will be a substitute sacrifice of His own son. I guess God could have chosen another way to give this prophecy about what He will do without having His servant actually go through some kind of a enactment of what God will do. Maybe God could have just said it, or maybe God could have enacted the scene in some other way (with animals) that wouldn't have provoked any moral problems – but when we take into account the gruesomeness, bewilderment, unfairness and immorality of the cross… and when we also take into the account that God ultimately stopped Abraham from doing this yet did not stop Himself from going to the cross, I think we can suspend our bewilderment at this scene on Moriah and become truly bewildered at the scene on Calvary.