Why Did God Tell Abraham to Offer Isaac as a Sacrifice

By: Rev. Sam Harris; ©2002
Even though God finally provided another sacrifice, why would He want Abraham to kill his only son? Does God approve of human sacrifice?

Why Did God Tell Abraham to Offer Isaac as a Sacrifice?


In Genesis 22, why would God command Abraham with these words in verse 2: “Take now your son, your only son, 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 will show you”? Even though God finally provided another sacrifice, why would He want Abraham to kill his only son?


You are not the only one who has asked about this difficult story, so thanks for reminding us of the importance of looking at the total passage. One of this first things that you must notice as you read through the entire passage (Gen. 22:1-14) is that God never commanded Abraham to kill Isaac—only to offer him up as a burnt offering. This is very critical in our understanding of the passage and God’s requirements of Abraham and us: unquestioned obedience!

Bible critics would want the world to believe that God wants human sacrifices and this justifies the killing of a human being to appease Him. This is simply not so! Actually the entire passage speaks against such a sacrifice.

Isaac wanted to know where the lamb was that would be offered as a sacrifice (vs. 7). When God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, He seemed to be undermining His own purposes. Isaac was the son of promise through whom God would bless the world. Yet Abraham’s faith had grown strong over the years, and baffled though he must have been, he replied: “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering” (vs. 8). As you remember the story, they climbed the mountain to the place where the offering would be made, Abraham built the altar, arranged the wood, and bound his son and laid him on the altar.

I can only imagine the look in Isaac’s eyes and the terror in his face as this was being done by his father who loved him. Abraham’s heart must have pounded as he stood on Mt. Moriah; sweat had to be rolling down his face. He had offered many sacrifices during his lifetime, but this was different.

When it was clear that Abraham, with arm raised and knife in hand, was ready to kill Isaac, an angel stopped him and provided a ram instead. Abraham had totally surrendered his all to the Lord, and his son Isaac was returned to him. In verse 14 Abraham named that place “The Lord will provide.” This is still another name for God: “Jehovah-Jireh.” God is our provider when we are totally submitted to Him. Recall Philippians 4:19—”And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

This idea of total submission is illustrated in the animal world. When two wolves fight over a territorial boundary, the conflict ends in an unusual way. When one animal realizes that he can’t win, he indicates surrender by exposing the underside of his neck to the teeth of his adversary. For some unexplained reason, the victor does not kill him. Instead, he allows him to go free.

Like Abraham, we must be willing to give Jesus everything that is precious to us. He desires more than our “leftovers,” He wants to be Lord of everything in our lives. Surren­der is the secret to life at its best!

Remember this: Where God guides, He provides. He is Jehovah-Jireh.

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