Questions, and More Questions
Week 2, Day 3
Genesis 22. 1-3
1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 2He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him.
Why is Abraham silent when God gives the command to sacrifice Isaac? This questions has puzzled readers since the story first appeared. Just 4 chapters earlier, God appears to Abraham and tells him he is going down to Sodom to see for himself whether the people there are as wicked as he has heard. Abraham plants himself in God’s path and refuses to budge till he has negotiated a promise—that God will not destroy the city if even 10 righteous people are found there.
Yet here, with the life of his own son—the one he loves, on the line, Abraham falls silent and obeys. Why? Is this what faithfulness looks like? Have you ever had to choose between obeying God and doing the right thing? One irony (of many) in this story is that this is the first time the word “love” appears in the Bible. The first time God speaks of love is to take away the object of that love from Abraham.
What was going through Abraham’s mind? Did he have a choice? Did he perceive a concealed threat in God’s command—was it Isaac or him? Did he believe this God would actually follow through on the command for a child sacrifice? That would have been consistent with the character of the gods of other nations, but his God? Did he have any doubts?
God “tested” Abraham. To what end? Did God want to find out what Abraham would do? Did God not know already what Abraham would do? Or is Abraham being tested so Abraham himself could see what he would do? Why would Abraham need to know how far he would go in trusting God? Do we need to know how far we would go in trusting God? If Abraham had sacrificed Isaac to please God, what would his relationship with God have been like afterward?
What, in heaven’s name (quite literally) could God learn by the death of Isaac at Abraham’s hand? Isn’t it interesting that the only love in this story is between Abraham and Isaac? Is there love between Abraham and God? Is God commanding obedience over love, or at the expense of love? What did Isaac think of this command? What about Sarah? Why was Abraham not completely honest with either of them?
And finally—what if Abraham had said “No”? What if he had taken a stand against child abuse and child sacrifice on moral grounds? What if he had argued, as he did for Sodom, that God was better than that? What would the relationship between Abraham and God have been like then? What would his relationship with Isaac have been like then?
See what I mean about questions? I count 30 so far and we’re only 3 verses into the story. Don’t give up, though. And don’t rush through hoping for a clean and simple explanation. You won’t find it in this story.
You won’t find it in real life, either. Isn’t that why we have to keep asking questions?
Prayer: When we are bold enough to look beneath the surface of our lives we find this messiness and uncertainty. God, is this where we are called to trust you? Is it in the absence of answers that we feel your embrace? Could you maybe give us a clue? Amen.