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One may read Genesis 22, where God orders Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and question whether to respect God or trust any of the Old Testament guidance. Who doesn’t know in their heart no loving God would order such an act. There may be plausible interpretations of this passage to suggest that the writers accurately recorded God testing Abraham in this manner but in fact would never approved of child sacrifice like the others gods during these times.

  • Scholars consider the first five books of the OT as a literary unit. The writers surely knew it had been written that God condemned child sacrifice (Lev. 18:21, Lev. 20:2-5, Deut. 12:31, 18:10). If the story were true the temptation would have been to not include this version of the story to protect God’s reputation. The writers weren’t mindless but may have understood the purpose and moral of the story was that God did not approve of this kind of sacrifice.
  • The story begins that God was testing Abraham (22:1). The rest of the story suggests Abraham either expected that they would not have to carry out this act at the last minute or that Abraham had faith that God could bring Isaac back from the dead (i.e. Heb. 11:17-19), unlike the other gods who required child sacrifice. Abraham told the servants he and Isaac would be back (5). Abraham fully expected God to provide a lamb instead for the altar and did so (8, 13). The story ended by the angel stopping Abraham before harming Isaac (11-12).
  • Why did God test Abraham with such a revolting temptation? Other gods demanded child sacrifices to quench their thirst for power. God may have used this extreme example to differentiate Himself. These were unique historical times. God was using Israel as a means to usher in the Messiah as a blessing to all nations. This event took place on Mount Moriah where the temple was to be built (2 Chron. 3:1), culminating in the arrival of the Messiah.
  • Abraham’s extraordinary faith in God was critical. This is the only time in history God would use a man and a nation to influence all nations of the world. A one-time test may be appropriate in such circumstances. Isaac’s sacrifice being carried out wasn’t mandatory as Abraham’s lack of obedience would have been a valuable lesson. Maybe Abraham wished to prove his God didn’t demand infant sacrifices and certainly not for self-gratification. Many translators advise “Now, take your son” (Gen. 22:2) in the Hebrew language suggests God is making more of a plea than demand. Freedom is at the very core of God’s character.
  • Isaac was not a child and most likely was an adult. The term boy or lad used for Isaac could refer to one of military age (I Chron. 12: 28). Kaiser suggests the term could mean that Isaac was easily in his twenties and possibly thirties (Hard Sayings Of The OT, p. 123). Isaac had a choice in this matter unlike the babies sacrificed by other cultures to their supposed gods.
  • No one can justify that God is commanding them to kill their child. God clearly spoke to Abraham as was God’s practice in the beginning of history with the Israelites. Abraham had experience in recognizing God’s voice. This wasn’t a hunch. Besides, it cannot be proven beyond a shadow of doubt that God indeed would have required the sacrifice.

Is it fair to say that this event between Abraham and God did not mirror other ancient sacrifices to gods as they would not have stopped the sacrifice for their own pleasures? Since Abraham knew his older son would either not die or come back from the dead right away, does this make God’s request not the wrong we may have felt initially? The editors weren’t necessarily letting their story-telling devices creep into the story. There are reasonable explanations that God was not approving of child sacrifice in this extreme test for Abraham and Isaac.

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