The biblical account of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son is packed with theological significance, serving as a foundational point on which concepts such as propitiation, ransom, redemption, forgiveness and reconciliation can be built.
The Old Testament sacrificial system provided access to God through sacrifice, serving as an indicator that sin warranted punishment and only by offering an acceptable sacrifice could forgiveness be secured.
Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son?
Abraham is one of the most beloved characters in biblical history, as his tale chronicles his startling obedience to God and near sacrifice of Isaac is one of its hallmarks. This powerful account provides us an example of what can happen when we place our trust in Him, while raising questions such as why he asked Abraham to do such a dangerous thing?
God was testing Abraham. In Hebrew, “nasah” meant that God was shaping someone closer to who they should be, which in this instance meant Abraham changed. After being put through such an ordeal he no longer treated God like before but also showed reverence that changed how he interacted with the world and others. (2) Abraham experienced this change and emerged transformed. He found himself being more faithful towards him while at the same time having an increased reverence towards him which changed how he interacted with them all around him.
Remind yourself that this was during an age in which pagan gods demanded human sacrifice as part of worship rituals. Even Abraham’s culture performed such sacrifices regularly. God wanted Abraham to understand that His religion differed from others by showing Abraham how different they were.
God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son so he could demonstrate just how deeply He loved him, but Abraham responded magnificently: he immediately got up, loaded his donkey with Isaac on it, and headed up a mountain as directed by God. Upon arrival he constructed an altar, tied up Isaac on it, raised a knife to cut into him but an angel intervened and stopped it (2)
God was testing Abraham by seeing whether or not he would obey his commands even when they seemed impossible. Abraham responded that he believed and trusted in God to keep his promise, so whatever God told him to do he would obey without question. Abraham’s faith was so great that even seemingly difficult tasks became possible under its direction.
God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son as a reminder that true love means giving up everything for someone you care for, something which God desires from us all. He knows it may not be easy, but He hopes we will have Abraham’s faith and trust Him with our entire lives, knowing He will bless us and expand His kingdom across the earth in turn – which was ultimately what this test meant for. At its core, God loves us unconditionally and never asks us to do anything that would not benefit our wellbeing. Although sometimes this may feel contrary, having faith that things will eventually work out is essential.