Sometime later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called. “Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.” “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.” So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together. (NLT)
Those who reckon God as revealed in the Old Testament is a bit of a monster use passages like this to reinforce their view. The long-awaited son of Abraham is to be sacrificed simply to get evidence of Abraham’s faith. But it isn’t quite as it seems.
First, God elsewhere condemns human sacrifice so why would he advocate it now? Second, it seems Abraham assumed he and Isaac would return when he gave instructions to his servants. Third, he assumes that God would provide a suitable sacrifice at the right time as he responds to Isaac’s query. And granted that God abhors human sacrifice, he would provide something else.
Which in fact is what happens: a ram is on the scene and is offered. So what is the point of it all? It is certainly clear that the offering of the ram somehow anticipates Jesus’ own death in our place many years later. It is also an enacted drama giving us an example of how trust in God is a challenge for us.
God is no cosmic sadist pushing us to do intolerable things to prove our fidelity to him. But he will at times have us do things or go in certain directions that puzzle us. There are times when God seems to make no sense at all. This tests our faith because our own insights and assumptions are being challenged. At such times we have to conclude that he knows what he is doing even when we don’t.