Creatures are contingent. Creatures who have sinned against their holy Creator are most certainly contingent, only breathing by the mercy of their kind Creator who desires their repentance.
In Genesis 22 Moses recounts the history of God’s testing of Abraham. The test consisted of God’s commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. God’s command was therefore in direct conflict with his promise that through Isaac would come about a great nation that would bless all other nations. As Israel first listened to this account, they would have sensed the contingency of their own lives, as they imagined Isaac bound on the altar with a knife barreling down towards his throat. They would have been relieved when the angel of the LORD declared that Abraham need not touch Isaac and that through Isaac the covenant for creation’s renewal would continue. (The covenant with Abraham can be termed “the covenant for creation’s renewal,” as that is God’s purpose for entering into this covenant: to renew all of creation back to its original harmony). Yet, God’s command could still be kept, for the LORD provided a ram to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place. Not only so, but the ram was provided in the exact place (Moriah) that would later be the location of the temple where the LORD accepted the sacrifices of Israel for their sins. Even more significant is that just outside the walls of the same city is where the LORD provided a sacrifice on behalf of the life of his people: Jesus Christ, crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem.
The covenant of creation’s renewal could only continue through Isaac, Israel and Jesus’ people today because of the LORD’s provision. Jesus Christ, the Ram of God, sacrificed in the place of the people of God so that God’s good intentions for the nations can be accomplished by his grace and through his people. If the ram had not been provided, then the covenant promises could not have been accomplished and the world would have reverted back to Genesis 11. But I wonder if we really believe that. Do we really think that without the offspring of Abraham the world would revert back to the chaos of the Tower of Babel? Do we really feel the full impact of what was on the line as Isaac was on the altar? Do we sense the need for the Church, or do we think that the world will get along just fine by virtue of good governments, good schools and strong individual responsibility and hard work? Have we slipped into thinking that individual responsibility and ingenuity are the answer to the world’s problems? If so, we ought to be reminded that the LORD is the one who provides for the world’s true, deepest problems – and he does so through Jesus Christ: who gives life to his people for the sake of renewing creation by God’s power.
Questions for Conversation
- Can you think of a movie, TV show or recent book in which the answer to the world’s problems came through individual responsibility and ingenuity?
- How would you counter that philosophy using the book of Genesis and God’s covenant with Abraham?
- This passage can be troubling. If you are troubled by it can you explain why? Does knowing that this is a test of Abraham help you? How?
- Where would you go in the Scripture to defend God’s honor regarding child sacrifice?
- How does this passage help you to better understand God the Father’s intention in Christ’s sacrifice?