Genesis 22:1–24: The Cure of Abraham
The sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 is one of the most well known stories in the Bible. Abraham exercises extraordinary faith by not sparing his only son as a sacrifice to God. Abraham demonstrates his willingness to obey whatever the Lord asks him to do, up until the point when God intervenes to stop Abraham going through with the actual sacrifice. Why, though, does God ask Abraham to make this kind of sacrifice? Why does God test (Gen. 22:1) Abraham in this way? Furthermore, what should we learn from this story to understand how God works in our own lives?
Certainly, God does not ask Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice because God needs something. Indeed, God does not need the blood of the animal sacrifices he demands (Ps. 50:12–15), and God is in no way “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). It is not God who needs this sacrifice, then, but Abraham. Over the course of Abraham’s walk with the Lord, we have seen him trust and obey for the most part. Nevertheless, there are a few cases where Abraham has chosen to obey his fears regarding famine (Gen. 12:10–20), infertility (Gen. 16), and his own safety (Gen. 20) rather than trusting and obeying God. Therefore, for as much as the Lord has accomplished in Abraham, God recognizes that Abraham still needs more sanctification. Along these lines, the Lord gives Abraham a test—not to trick Abraham, but to heal the deep wounds of sin in his soul. Along these lines, the 16th century German Protestant Reformer Martin Bucer insightfully notes that our sins wound and injure our souls:
The injured and broken sheep are all those who while remaining in the fellowship of Christ are hurt and injured in their inner being; it is as if they have destroyed and shattered a spiritual limb, i.e. the virtuous and godly ability to do those things which are excellent and right….These parts and limbs of the inner heavenly being are injured, shattered, destroyed and broken through serious and gross failings and sins. (Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, trans. Peter Beale (Edinburgh, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 71–72.)
By this test, God will heal the wounds that sin has inflicted on Abraham’s soul. In Genesis 22, then, we learn that God heals our innermost injuries by calling us to sacrifice our most precious possessions.
1. What kind of injuries do we inflict on ourselves from our sin? How does God go about healing our sin-inflicted injuries? In what sense does this test of sacrificing Isaac “heal” Abraham? In what sense do our own sacrifices “heal” us? Why does God prescribe this medicine? What does this tell us about the depth of our sin? What does this tell us about God’s love for us?
2. What do you think happens in Abraham as he obeys God in every step of this passage? How does God stretch his faith in the promises (Gen. 22:5, 8)? Similarly, what happens in Isaac as he trustingly permits himself to be bound sacrificially? How does this stretch his faith in the promises of God about him? How has God used tests to stretch your own faith in his promises for you?
3. Why does God provide a substitute to spare Isaac? What does that tell us about why God tested Abraham here? What does this tell us about why God tests us? What does this substitute sacrifice teach us about the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross? Why does God spare Isaac (and you and me), but not his own Son, Jesus Christ? What do we learn about this passage from Romans 8:32?
4. Is it true that unhindered obedience to God can bring us the greatest possible satisfaction in this life? Why, then, do we struggle to believe this? What precious possessions are you most fearful to sacrifice in any sense? How does your affection for them lead you away from fully trusting and obeying God? How might God be calling you to entrust them to him?