Lesson 7: The Near Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)

A straight reading of the chapter has God testing Abraham by seeing if he will kill his beloved son. Scholars differ widely on what to make of it. Some think it indicates the great demands God makes on us. Some think it describes how God provides animal sacrifice to cover human sin. And others even see it as a model for Jesus’ dying for us. I experienced how much many can get worked up about it when one of my associate pastors accused me of heresy for preaching a sermon based on the following ideas.

I began by confessing I did not think God would ever ask any of us to kill our children or anyone else for that matter. I supported that with the fact that child sacrifice is always called an abomination in the rest of the Bible. I also refuse to believe God toys with us in such an I-give-you and then an I-take-it-away manner. The meaning of the episode is bound up in the repeated line, “The Lord will provide.”

I also acknowledged I do not think God spoke to people in those days any differently than he speaks to us in ours. Abraham might have imagined God wanted the sacrifice of his firstborn because that was the practice in those days. However, the story reveals why Abraham discontinued that practice. He discerned God does not approve of sacrificing our children.

In the sermon, I suggested the story captures the drama of this when Abraham raises the knife before perceiving this can’t be right. The God who made promises to bless all the people of all nations can’t be involved in killing children. God’s way is not to demand that which we love most. Just the opposite. He provides so we do not have to give up everything for him.

I find this to be a wonderful story when viewed in this way. The history of salvation begins with Abraham transforming primitive understandings of God demanding child sacrifice. Of course, my associate, who did not last long, bought none of this. He kept insisting, “Our God is a jealous God!” I just don’t see how that in any way jives with Jesus’ understanding of God as a loving father.

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  1. Kerry says:

    Excellent! Grateful for your “heresy” here, Fritz!

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