There are passages of Scripture that are profoundly rich, deep and endlessly expansive. They seem to tower over other texts and have a life of their own. They challenge, inspire and speak to us on multiple levels. That’s more than a subjective impression, Christ said as much in Matthew 22:34ff and again in 23:23. I think Genesis 22 belongs in this category. What we read there transcends the Genesis account, foreshadows the cross and speaks in ultimate terms to who God is and what it means to put our trust in Him.
Who is God? This story tells us some things that are initially quite disturbing. God is Someone who told Abraham his son Isaac must be sacrificed. If that wasn’t devastating enough, He also wanted Abraham to be the one to put him to death. And, He wanted it done in the region of Moriah—meaning Abraham had three torturous days to think about all of this while they traveled there.
But there’s more. Abraham and Sarah had been childless, well past the child-bearing age when God promised them a son. Despite the obvious obstacles, Abraham believed God could and would do this (15:1-6). True to His word, Isaac was born, and God later promised Abraham his descendants would be named through him (21:12). Now years later, He commanded that Isaac’s life be taken. How could God say Abraham’s descendants would be named through Isaac and yet tell Abraham to sacrifice him (Hebrews 11:17-18)? What kind of sense does that make?
We expect this kind of talk from humans owing to our corruption, confusion or being conflicted, but not from God. How was Abraham to understand this? The man who was declared righteous on the basis of believing that God would make his descendants as numerous as the stars, is now asked to believe that God is returning he and Sarah to their barrenness. The promise and the command, given by the same holy God, were spinning uncontrollably in seemingly irresolvable conflict with each other and Abraham was placed in the position of having to choose one or the other.
What kind of God would ask this of a father and a friend (2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23)? What kind of God would put someone through this—someone who had been faithful to Him?
The answer is a God (and Father) who would do the same thing Himself. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how what took place at Moriah prefigured what would happen at a hill called Golgotha. It would also involve a Father and Son, a sacrifice, a painful question, three days and God providing.
If we see this in its most narrow terms (as something solely between God and Abraham), we’re tempted to interpret it in the harshest and cruelest terms. If we look at it on a broader scale as God intended, it is something between He and Abraham that would be used to give the world a window into Who He is.
God trusted Abraham to look at it that way and that’s exactly what he did (22:8)!