Genesis 22 – Faith, Doubt, and the Edge of the Knife

Genesis 22 Bible with Equal Exchange Panama Extra Dark Chocolate

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Today’s PassageGenesis 22

Today’s chapter tells the story of the Binding of Isaac, in which God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, Abraham goes to do it, and the angel of the Lord tells him that he doesn’t actually have to sacrifice his son. It’s one of the better-known passages from the Bible, and with good reason. An ostensibly all-loving God calling for human sacrifice, only to turn around and say, “No, wait, sacrifice this ram instead,” has a way of arresting our attention. But I feel like the story, in its magnitude, has me hemmed in on all sides. How can I adequately address its scope? How can I say something worthy of the monumental matters it raises?

Part of the problem is that I’ve grown up with this story. I’ve asked the questions, I’ve considered the answers, I’ve combed the words and read the commentaries, and I’ve come to a place where I’m satisfied with the conclusions I’ve reached. How do I speak to those who still have questions, doubts, even hostilities? How do I actually communicate my answers, reach back to where they are and show them what brought me to where I am with the passage today? And is it even worth doing, when some people think that anything less than a rejection of this sacrifice-commanding God is an inadequate response? Perhaps I should try another approach to the passage, think of something else to say about it, set aside the elephant.

Because I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like when someone comes to a passage like this and presents their answers. I know what it’s like to ask questions and feel like people aren’t really hearing you, to feel like they just want to hear the sound of their own smart voices. I know how everyone’s response can sound like endless jumping through hoops: contorting the text to fit their own preconceived ideas of how things should be, or contorting their own convoluted, inconceivably elaborate interpretation to try to make sense of the text. I’ve been there. And I know how responses that aren’t responses can be less than no help at all.

I’ve heard my share of unsatisfactory responses to the Binding of Isaac. And I can’t guarantee that you won’t lump my own in with them, but at the end of the day, what makes the most sense to me is Hebrews 11:17-19. God promises to Abraham that through Isaac he’ll be the father of a great nation, but God appears to be playing with fire, in that if Abraham obeys God’s command, he’s killed the promise–and his only son. But the author of Hebrews observes: “God is able to raise people even from the dead” (Heb. 11:19). If Abraham hadn’t stopped and listened to the angel of the Lord, if he’d gone through with the sacrifice, God could have kept his promise and simply raised Isaac from the dead. And then the complaint would not be that the story seems cruel and borderline barbaric, but that the resurrection seems an implausible miracle and too good to be true. Some people are never satisfied.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re not satisfied with my answer. Was it deceptive of God to give Abraham a command that he had no intention of allowing him to carry out? Why would God need to test Abraham if he already knew the outcome? There are outstanding and legitimate questions that I haven’t begun to answer. I would point you to GotQuestions.org, as usual, but I feel their response doesn’t sufficiently address the matters of deception and testing. David Guzik’s commentary seems to get closer to the heart of the issue. But forgive me; as I write this, I am tired and weak, and I cannot hope to give all of you the answers your questions deserve. I was doomed to fail from the beginning, for I am a worm, and not a man.

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