The Sacrifice of Abraham

Charles Shelton

In chapter 22 of the book of Genesis is the story of Abraham’s offering of his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. Many fail to look beneath the surface of the story because they stumble over a God who would ask for a human sacrifice. Surely, this is not the God of the New Testament – rather, more of a primitive concept of deity, not worthy of true enlightened worship.

But I believe that the major point of the story is in this way missed, and that the story is profoundly relevant for all of us. It’s not the human element of the sacrifice that’s so important; rather, it is the sacrifice of hope, of vision, the sacrifice of the most valuable, the most cherished in this life.

When God asked Abraham to “take your only son, Isaac, the one you love” and offer him for a sacrifice, he was asking him to give up to destruction the one thing, or person, that meant the most to Abraham.
The words of God’s request make it clear what He meant – “your ONLY son… the ONE you love.” Isaac was possibly the strongest ‘earthly’ or human love in Abraham’s heart, the most important person in
Abraham’s life. It was extremely important for a man in Abraham’s time and culture to have children to carry on his name when he was gone. One of the worst curses one could place upon a man was that his
‘seed’ might be destroyed, that his name no longer be remembered and known after he was dead.

Therefore, besides the fact that Abraham loved him so dearly, Isaac also represented all of Abraham’s hopes and dreams for his posterity, and even more if it was felt that a man somehow lived on
through his seed. Abraham had waited for this son for years, even decades. The one thing that had always been on Abraham’s mind when he conversed with God was, “You promised me a son – when will I have a son?” In Abraham’s old age, Isaac probably meant more to him than did his own life. There was also the fact that God had said that He would fulfill His promises to Abraham through Isaac’s seed. Isaac himself had been a miraculous gift of God’s grace. How could God give such a miraculous gift and then turn around and take it back?

It wasn’t Isaac with which God was concerned, but the attachments of Abraham’s heart. Did Abraham love, was he committed to, any one or any thing more than to God? Was Abraham willing to lay his most
cherished hopes and dreams permanently aside if it were thus necessary in order to fulfill God’s will?

I had been a Christian for quite a few years before I began to sincerely appreciate this story. Before that, it had been quite mysterious to me – how could God ask for such a thing? It defied my concept of God. But when certain of my own most cherished hopes and dreams began to be crushed and placed on the altar of sacrifice, I began to understand a little bit of what Abraham must have gone through, and what God was doing. Could I make the decision to consciously put these dreams aside, to sacrifice them for God’s “more perfect” will, although I wasn’t even sure what that will was?

Material blessings are not the only things that we can come to value more highly than our relationship with God. People, ideas, goals and hopes can become idols, and we are often not aware how highly they are valued until it seems that God may be asking us to give them up to Him. “Surely, that’s not GOD asking me to do this?  HE’s the one who GAVE me this dream, isn’t He?”

Although the thing asked for at such a time may or may not be very important to God, our hearts are, and sometimes He can only get to our heart through what our heart cherishes. It’s what God wants to
do in our heart – to set our priorities and commitments straight, to draw us closer to Him – that is the important thing when circumstances similar to Abraham’s arise in our lives. I must confess: I haven’t
always held up very well in trials like this. But then, I don’t really think that it was very easy for Abraham, either.

Computers for Christ – Chicago