Biblical expressions of love: Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac


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Perhaps the greatest expression of love for God in the Old Testament is Abraham’s expression of devotion to God in his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, the miracle son he and his wife Sarah had been promised by God and waited for their entire lives. In Genesis 22 God tested Abraham, telling him to take his beloved son Isaac to a mountain in Moriah where the Temple would later be built (2 Chronicles 3:1) to sacrifice him as a burnt offering. There is no record in the Bible of Abraham even questioning God as to this unusual command. He simply got up the next morning, made the preparations to carry out God’s command, and off they went to the place God told them. After three days of travel, Abraham looked up and saw the place where he was to take Isaac. So he told his servants to stay behind while they went up on the mountain to worship and then come back. Abraham was not lying. It was an expression of faith. God bequeathed to Isaac’s lineage the same promise he made to Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3). This was a word of faith spoken by Abraham that they would both return. This faith is later expressed when Isaac basically says (paraphrasing), “We got all the stuff to make an offering except for the offering itself. Where is it?” Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself a lamb.” Abraham’s trust in God came from his love for God. Hebrews 11:19 says that Abraham trusted God to the point that even if he had to kill his son Isaac, that God would raise him from the dead. In this way, Isaac is a foreshadowing of what Jesus did by dying on the cross for the sins of all mankind, making a full pardon available to anyone who, like Abraham, would have righteousness accredited to them by faith (Romans 4:3).

This was not a quick process either. As was stated before, Abraham got this command at night. He had all night to think about it before they left the next morning. Then there was the three days journey to the mountain in Moriah where Abraham was to make the sacrifice. Then he went through the process of laying the wood on Isaac’s shoulders and taking the firepot and knife in his own hand before going up the mountain. Then when they got to the place on the mountain where they were supposed to be, Abraham had to take the time to build the altar, arrange the wood, tie up Isaac, and lay him on the altar. Imagine the thoughts Abraham could have had or at least would be tempted with and yet the biblical text shows no sign of apprehension or temptation to change his mind. Much like Noah, he was thoroughly determined to carry out God’s instructions regardless of how they sounded. Is there any greater expression of love for God? Jesus, God in human flesh, said, “If you really love me, you will keep and obey my commandments” (John 14:15). Just as he was about to fulfill God’s command to kill Isaac, the Angel of the LORD–a manifestation of God prior to Jesus’ birth–stopped Abraham because he had proven his faithfulness to God at all costs. Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket that God provided as a sacrifice, just as he believed God would provide. God honored Abraham’s love, faith, and obedience to him by making provision for him.

Several aspects of love are highlighted here:

  1. Abraham’s love for God- Jesus said that if our love for parents, spouses, children, siblings, even our own lives is not like hate, indifference, or relative disregard compared to our love for God, then you cannot follow him as a disciple (Luke 14:26). What better picture of this is there than this example from Abraham in what he was willing to do to his own son whom he loved more than anything in life except for God himself?
  2. God’s love for Abraham- God loved Abraham enough to not allow the test to go to the point where Isaac would actually be sacrificed. Even though God could bring him back from the dead easily, as later happened with Jesus, Abraham’s act of faith was rewarded with God’s loving mercy and provision.
  3. Isaac’s love for Abraham and for God. It is believed that Isaac could have been anywhere from a teenager to around 20 years old at the time of the events in Genesis 22. Yet not only do we see Abraham’s faithfulness to God, we see Isaac’s faithfulness to both his earthly father and his heavenly father. In this way, Isaac fulfilled the command that would later be given in the Law of Moses to “honor your father and mother.” His willingness once he realized what was happening to not fight, struggle, or even ask that this be stopped is just as much a testimony of Isaac’s love as Abraham’s.

So what can we learn from this great example of love from Abraham, the father of faithfulness? There are several questions we should be willing to answer in light of this question.

  1. God doesn’t test us to harm us or for his own amusement. He did not want Isaac sacrificed; he hates child sacrifice (Leviticus 20:1-5). He does it to deepen our ability to obey Him and develop our character, Faith is like the muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. The less you use it, the more it atrophies. How do you react when being tested by God?
  2. Do you struggle to obey God when it will cost you something that is very dear to you?
  3. What are you willing to give up for Jesus? Is there anything off limits to God that you need to surrender?