You are angered. You are saddened. You are rightly incited that this is the way of the world—that in the world, evil happens. The news communicates that death and sorrow are the order; the world is out of order.
One day, evil unique to your circumstances, or death, or deep sorrow will extend to you, to your family—maybe it already has. It’s your trauma or your loss, and your life is affected. You are angered, and you are sorrowful—as was Jesus (Jn. 11:33).
When watching the news and feeling for those mourning or when mourning because of a personal experience, perhaps, you call your sense of right and wrong to come give a measure of circumstances. You begin to wonder and weigh how the all-powerful God can be good.
Yet, you know that you are not the measurer of the world—that it is all beyond you, just like it was beyond God’s servant Job (Job 38-41). So, you lean on His Word, and you call your knowledge of Scripture to come inform your system of measure.
At this moment and in these feelings, one passage to call is Genesis 22.
There we read: “And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slaughter his son” (Genesis 22:10).
Abraham was responding in obedience to God’s voice from earlier in the story: "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Genesis 22:3).
As Abraham raises his hand to kill his son, Isaac, my eyes want to look away. My heart wants to say that he knows God would provide a ram. My mind wants to say that he wouldn’t follow God there—to offer his son by setting in his mind to kill him.
Hebrews 11:19 tells me otherwise: “[Abraham] considered that God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Abraham believed that God would raise his son—after Abraham killed him. And because Abraham had so surrendered his son to the Lord, when God stopped Abraham’s swing from coming down, he—emotionally and mentally—received Isaac back from the dead.
The passage emphasizes that Abraham only offers his son because he believes that this was his instruction from God. The phrase in Genesis 22:10 “stretched out his hand” is notable. Later in the Pentateuch, Moses stretches out his hand against the Egyptians and stretches out his hand to part the red Sea (Exodus 14). Later, Isaiah uses this term to denote the works of God (Isaiah 23:17). This kind of language is even used in the New Testament when Luke discusses the miracles done by the apostles because of Jesus (Acts 4:30).
For Abraham to have “stretched out his hand” when killing Isaac, the text denotes that Abraham was solely completing this action because he believed from God that it was an extension of God’s hand and will.
Resolution and Celebration
The resolution to this story comes when Abraham is told in Genesis 22:12 to not stretch out his hand against Isaac—for, now, God is assured that Abraham fears Him. This verse clarifies that while the testing was from God, the act to kill Isaac was not from God. The phrase we noted above is repeated, emphasizing that the act of killing Isaac would not be an act in alignment with God and His ways. Yet, Abraham still obeys God because he willingly offers his only son whom he loves.
Then, Abraham is greatly celebrated by the Lord: “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:16-18).
Consider this kind of faith. It pleased God; it withheld no sacrifice; it trusted God’s voice. When we look at mankind’s first act of sin, we see why this—what Abraham did—is the substance of faith. In the garden of Eden, mankind did what was right in our own eyes. Genesis 3:6 recounts: “The woman saw that the tree’s fruit was good to eat and pleasing to look at. She also saw that it would make a person wise. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. And he ate it.” She saw something that was good and pleasing and wise for her outside of what God said would be good and pleasing and wise for her. She decided what was right.
Abraham’s kind of faith says that God answers what is good and pleasing and wise for us. God is glorified when we leave to Him the determination of circumstances—what is right or wrong to bring into any one of our lives.
As Abraham demonstrates his faith, we also see that God demonstrates His character. Yet, if we learn anything from Abraham, it must be this: faith trusts God before God demonstrates His character in a given circumstance. Faith trusts in the revealed Word of God, resting there and not in experiences. The voice of God that Abraham had was direct, special revelation to him. The Word of God that we have is recorded in Scripture, preserved and unfailing for us.
We can trust God like this because we have already trusted Him for the sacrifice. The offering of Abraham was to be a burnt offering, an offering of atonement for specific instances or an offering that could be made out of a personal desire of renewal to the Lord (Leviticus 1). Perhaps the offering here with Abraham signified a renewal after his lies (see Genesis 20). The aroma of a burnt offering ascended as a soothing aroma to the Lord (Leviticus 1:9); Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the burnt offering—He ascended to heaven personally.
In Abraham’s case, God provided a ram for the burnt offering and Abraham called the place Yahweh-jireh, “The Lord Will Provide.” A ram was provided in place of Isaac—in place of Abraham’s only son (Genesis 22:2; Hebrews 11:17). Yet, ultimately, a Lamb was provided in Isaac’s place. Isaac asked in Genesis 22:7—though he couldn’t yet see the One he was asking about: “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” You and I know how the Lord has provided for us in Christ.
The reason we can have faith with this kind of substance when circumstances do not make sense to us is because of what God has done through Christ.
When Abraham raised his hand to kill his son, Isaac, my eyes want to look away. My heart wants to say that he knew God would provide a ram. My mind wants to say that he wouldn’t follow God there—to offer his son by setting in his mind to kill his son. But then, I look back and see my Savior’s sacrifice. I see God abandon what He deserved; He abandoned His claim to what was right—that the Creator of the world not be murdered or receive punishment for all who would believe.
Eve saw pleasure outside of God’s provisions for her. But God saw pleasure in crushing His one and only Son for us: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him” (Isaiah 53:10).
At the scene of what is broken, evil, and sorrowful, faith trusts in God’s Word, God’s ways, and God’s sacrifice. It surrenders the seeking of what it feels is deserved. In place of weighing and measuring God, it can ask of Him in response how to be a living sacrifice unto Him.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”