A Test of Obedience

Rembrandt Abraham en Isaac, 1634
Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I have a hard time reading Genesis 22. The part Rembrandt depicts here, I can handle that part of the story. It’s the comforting part, the relief part, the it’s-all-okay part. It’s the whole story before the happy ending that’s hard for me.

Genesis 22 is the story of God testing Abraham’s obedience. God says, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2).

Even though I know the story well, I always reread this command. It makes me pause because of everything Abraham doesn’t do. Abraham doesn’t question the goodness of God. He doesn’t argue with the command. He doesn’t barter or beg.

He simply obeys

I know God is good…but I don’t know it like Abraham does.

Abraham’s faith makes my faith look like a speck of dust.

He trusted in the goodness of God so much that he was willing to sacrifice his own son.

Without hesitation.
Without apprehension.
Without confusion.

He simply obeys.

And Isaac follows. They travel for three days. Isaac carries the wood for the burnt offering while Abraham brings the fire and the knife.

In the text there is no indication of bitterness or fear. It is pure, radical, rapid obedience.

Isaac questions the lack of an animal for the burnt offering. Abraham replies, “God will provide” (Genesis 22: 7-8). They continue climbing the mountain.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. (Genesis 22:9-10)

No matter how many times I read this holy text, at this point, I still squeeze my eyes shut and think, He’s really going to do it.

It’s this resolve that landed Abraham a mention in Hebrews 11. There, it is revealed that Abraham believed God would bring Isaac back to life. Abraham never ceased to believe in the goodness of God.

He trusted God so much, that no matter the appointment, he would obey. God needed to know this. It is why he tested Abraham’s obedience (v. 1).

And it is why this story is hard for me. God wants our unconditional obedience and he will test it by asking for the things we love most. If I live with a faith like Abraham’s, then I know:

God will provide.
God is good.
God loves me.

It wasn’t until Abraham raised the knife that God intervened. It wasn’t enough for him to gather wood or to start the journey or to build the altar. God wanted to be sure of Abraham’s obedience, positive of his heart.

It reminds me of a trust fall — God style.

At the last moment, God catches Abraham. Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me. Abraham raises his eyes and in the brush is a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns (Genesis 22:12-13).

The Bible is intended to be read as a whole. This story is illuminated in Romans 8:32.

He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

It is about radical obedience and trusting God, knowing that God gave up his own son for me. If He is willing to do this, then He is willing to graciously give all things.

We know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Abraham loved God so much that he simply obeyed. His courage and faith and trust in the goodness of God is inspiring.

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