Question: "Why did God command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?"
Answer: In the Bible Abraham is known as a man of faith. When the Lord called him to leave his country to go to a land He would show him, he obeyed. The Lord made a covenant with him and promised that he would be the father of many nations and have many descendants. However, he and his wife Sarah were childless. At age 86 he had a lapse of faith, and became the father of Ishmael, born to his Egyptian servant, but this was not according to God’s plan. At age 99 the Lord again appeared to him and confirmed His covenant, stating that his wife Sarah, age 90, would bear a son through whom His promises would be passed. One year later, as promised, their son Isaac was born. (Later Ishmael and his Egyptian mother were sent away.)
Then we read, “Some time later God tested Abraham.” (The story is in Genesis 22.) No test could have been more severe. God commanded, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.” This was an astounding request because Isaac was his son of promise. How did Abraham respond? With immediate obedience, for early the next morning Abraham started on his journey with two servants, a donkey and his beloved son Isaac, with firewood for the offering.
On the third day of the journey, Abraham saw in the distance his destination and told his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” His great faith in God assured him that all would be well for he trusted the Lord to keep His promises. When Isaac asked his father, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham calmly replied, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Though Abraham did no know how, he had full assurance that God was able to care for such details and provide whatever was necessary in His own way.
When everything was in place on the altar that Abraham had built, he bound his beloved son on the wood that he had carried on his shoulders. Then the father lifted high his trembling hand, holding the knife. Suddenly a voice from heaven called out, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not do anything. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.” There in the thicket Abraham saw a ram, and sacrificed it as a burnt offering on the altar instead of his son. What a reprieve!
This was Abraham’s highest and finest hour. Obeying God’s command revealed the greatness of his faith; he obeyed even if it meant sacrificing his son. It also revealed the greatness of Isaac’s faith in submission; he willingly followed his father’s words, believing that God would, indeed, provide a lamb.
This story also has another application. It is a portrayal in the Old Testament of the New Testament teaching of the Atonement, the sacrificial offering of the Lord Jesus on the cross for the sin of mankind. Jesus said, many centuries later, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing My day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Following are some of the parallels between the two Biblical accounts:
· “Take your son, your only son, Isaac” (vs.2); “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son. . .” (John 3:16).
· “Go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there. . .” (vs.2); it is believed that this area is where the city of Jerusalem was built many years later, where Jesus was crucified outside its city walls (Hebrews 13:12).
· “Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering” (vs.2); “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
· “Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac” (vs.6); Jesus, “Carrying His own cross. . .” (John 19:17).
· “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (vs.7); John said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
· Isaac, the son, acted in obedience to his father in becoming the sacrifice (vs.9); Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
· God spared Isaac’s life at the last minute by providing a substitute (vss.11-13); God was not able to do for Himself what He did for Abraham - “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all. . .” (Romans 8:32).
· Resurrection – Isaac by figure and Jesus in reality: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice His one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking he did received Isaac back from death” (Hebrews 11:17-19); Jesus, “that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4).
“What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” (Romans 4:3, quoted from Genesis 15:6)