Saturday, October 2, 2010

Testing Abraham

Genesis 22: Abraham Tested

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

[2] Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

[3] Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. [4] On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. [5] He said to 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.”

[10] Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. [11] But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

[12] “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

[13] Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.

[You should read the whole story. I would suggest reading the entire Abraham story.]

Like many people, I wonder about this story in the Bible. People could come away with so many different interpretations, which one is the true one? I have no idea. I think I’m better at knowing which is not a true interpretation than which is true. As a believing layperson, how can I know?

I read someone else’s blog about this testing of Abraham. Her non-Christian friend interpreted that Abraham had failed God’s test because he was going through with the sacrifice. And what kind of god tells a father to sacrifice his son, his ONLY son? It doesn’t make sense. I found this interpretation interesting.

As the blogger noted also, some Christians will say that Abraham knew God would stop him. There is the evidence of God’s promise of many nations through Isaac.

I would add that during the testing, the Bible shows Abraham saying, “We will come back to you [v.5]” and “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering [v.8].” Do not these things say that Abraham knew God would save Isaac?

[This is merely my amateur attempt to work this out. Whatever the conclusion, it is not to be taken as absolute truth.]

As to the first part, of God’s promise to Abraham for nations, this doesn’t say to me that Abraham knew God would save Isaac.

I first read of this promise in Genesis 12: 2-3 ~ “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. [3] I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

The promise is repeated in Gen. 13: 14-17; 15:4 &5; and in chapter 17, God says that Sarah will give Abraham a son [v.16]; the son is to be called Isaac and God will establish the covenant with Isaac for Isaac’s descendants after him [19].

From Abraham’s viewpoint, he followed God in Genesis 12:4; feared man’s harm instead of trusting God’s protection in Genesis 12:10-20 and chapter 20; upheld God’s providence in 14:22-24; questions God in 15:2&3, 17:17 &18. Sarah doesn’t believe the promise in ch. 16, instructing Abraham to make a son through Hagar, and Abraham agreed and obeyed Sarah.

Abraham’s trust in God has been unsteady. God repeated his promise several times, giving more detail and yet Abraham wavered between obedience and doubt, saying to me that he didn’t know what God would do in the past and didn’t know this time, which brings me to the second part: Abraham’s words during the testing.

Isaac’s birth is told in Genesis chapter 21 and the test comes in chapter 22, as some parts were given earlier in this entry [again, I suggest reading the whole chapter yourself; test what I write here].

I don’t know what Abraham actually thought. However, verse 5 could be read as Abraham not wanting to alarm his servants. If he had told them what he had set out to do or what God told him to do, his servants might have caused a commotion.

Verse 8 could be read as Abraham not wanting to alarm Isaac until the very moment of obedience. We don’t know how Isaac reacted in verses 9&10, as his father tied him, placed him on the altar, and raised a knife-wielding hand towards him. Isaac was bound, so one could imagine he might have struggled.

And throughout all this, Abraham went about obeying what God told him to do. It might have had more weight if we read that God said he would provide a way out or if Abraham had said that God said that, but we don’t. Abraham didn’t repeat the promise of 17:19 regarding Isaac and his descendants. Isaac isn’t married at this point nor does it say that Isaac has children by any means.

If Abraham knew God would provide a sacrifice other than Isaac, how would this be a test at all?

So given different possible interpretations of Abraham’s words, added to his record of wavering, I think it’s a safe guess that Abraham didn’t know what God would do.

On top of this incident, elsewhere in scripture says that God is all-knowing while man doesn’t know or understand God’s ways. For instance, Isaiah 55:8 &9 says, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. [9] ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” Isaiah 40: 13 &14 says, “Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor? [14] Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?”

One might think, well, if God knows everything, why did he test Abraham?

Genesis 22: 1 says that God tested Abraham, but it doesn’t say that God did so in order for God to find out what Abraham would do. When God stops the sacrifice, in verse 12 God’s angel says, “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son,” but the “now” came from the angel and doesn’t exclude God from having already known that Abraham feared him. It could read that God knew before and God knows now that Abraham feared him; God knew always knew and this is possibly why God saw fit to “test” Abraham.

Perhaps, PERHAPS, God instructed the angel that if Abraham obeys God, stop Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. This still doesn’t say that God didn’t know what Abraham would do.

My thoughts are that God tested Abraham for Abraham’s sake. If we try to take this test from God’s view [as imperfectly as we might, as we cannot know definitely and as it is God’s story], I don’t know for sure, but I think that Abraham needed the test in order to know his own heart. If such a test had come earlier, Abraham might have balked; the test here let Abraham know how far he has come with faith, in obedience, with God.

I think Abraham needed a moment of absolute faith and obedience in the face of doubt, to be assured of how far he has come. I think he needed to solidify in his heart and mind that God hasn’t made much sense to him before and yet God has always provided and protected him. God has always come through on his promises. I think Abraham needed to tell himself that the instructions don’t make sense, but he’s going to follow no matter what.

If the non-believer was right about Abraham failing the test because he was willing to sacrifice his son, I wonder that God would repeat the promise of blessing Abraham’s descendants in Gen. 22: 15- 18? It’s not that God would repeal his promise if Abraham had failed, either way that one looks at the test, but the words of God after the test say to me that Abraham did pass the test.

Or at least, I think that Abraham wasn’t being tested by human standards, since only he and Isaac were there. All in all, I really don’t know.

And all this, Isaac was witness to. I wonder what it did to his faith. I wonder how much of this he was aware of. Was he able to hear the angel commend his father for his faith?

I must also wonder, if Isaac had been sacrificed, how did God intend to fulfill the promise of nations through Isaac? In truth, it doesn’t matter to me since Isaac wasn’t sacrificed; though I will say that even if Isaac had been killed, God does what God does in his way. In John 11, Lazarus was raised from the dead, so how would Isaac’s death prevent God from fulfilling his promise?

What do I take from this? I mean, the test is in the Bible for a reason, right? Or we’re just supposed to read it and say “so this happened to Abraham. So what?”

It may be that God will have an assignment for me someday, whether it makes sense or not, and I will have to ask myself if I’m willing to obey. Do I really trust God? Do I believe that God will provide the way as he did for Abraham, though his instructions do not make sense to me?

I’ve been unsteady in my walk with God, but I think after each difficulty, I’m becoming more confident in trusting God because he’s in control. The more confident I become, the more I find the ability to obey.

So in summary, what I read is that I am to:
-know that God is watching, he’s with me, he will provide
-obey even though it doesn’t make sense to me
-obey because God knows, he is in control, and he will bring about what is best for me
-I only need to trust and obey

What do you think? Is any of this plausible? How would you interpret the test?

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