It is one of the most enigmatic and yet unforgettable stories in the Old Testament. Many people in history tried to provide their interpretations.
Sarah and Abraham had no child for many years. At the age of ninety, finally, Sarah conceived her first and only child, Isaac. When Isaac was born, Abraham was already one hundred years old. Isaac was the only son whom God promised Abraham. Abraham loved him so much.
One day, however, Abraham heard the voice of God:
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.Genesis 22:1-2
What God said to Abraham was beyond comprehension. It sounds insane. God is asking Abraham to offer his beloved Isaac for a burnt offering.
Not only insane but even it sounds cruel and crazy. Is it God’s will? If so, why? Why is He acting like that? Abraham questioned and struggled a lot painfully, which reminds me of what Jesus uttered on the Crucifixion.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?Matthew 27:46
It seemed Jesus also questioned and struggled painfully to understand his Father’s will. He knew it; nevertheless, He needed to suffer from this pain and struggle. And as we know, it is also his reciting of Psalm 22, which ends in praising God eventually.
As both Abraham and Jesus questioned and struggled painfully, God’s will is such enigmatic and beyond comprehension. God’s will means life. Life is beyond comprehension.
We know there are numerous tragedies in this world. Innocent people suffer and die. Cruel and wicked people thrive. Where is the justice of God? Life is so unfair.
What God said to Abraham is the very symbol of our pain and struggle in our lives and this world. Why does God act like this? Why does life go this way? Does nobody control life and this world?
After hearing the voice of God, Abraham traveled to Mount Moriah with his beloved Isaac. It took almost three days. Walking with innocent Isaac, Abraham’s pain and struggle were unimaginable.
I’m sure he kept talking to himself: Why is God commanding this? That means collectively and symbolically to say for all of us: Why is life suffering?
And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.Genesis 22:3-4
Upon reaching Mount Moriah, young Isaac wondered why there was no lamb for a burnt offering. So, he asked his father innocently without knowing what would happen to him and his father’s pain.
And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?Genesis 22:7
And Abraham answered Isaac as follows:
And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.Genesis 22:8
I believe it is the key to this story. Without noticing, Abraham said to his beloved Isaac that God would provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.
It reminds me of this verse, which is the core of the whole Bible and Christianity.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.John 3:16
God’s will is beyond comprehension. Life is beyond comprehension. It’s often cruel and insane from our perspective. In our faith; moreover, in fear and trembling, we know that God provides Himself as His only begotten Son.
The burnt offering is not the possession we love and attach. It is His begotten Son; moreover, God Himself. Consciously or unconsciously, Abraham knew it in talking with his beloved Isaac.
At the very last moment, then, not God Himself, but the angel appeared and talked to Abraham.
And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.Genesis 22:10-12
Abraham finally understood the true meaning of God provides Himself. Life is by itself God’s will, which is beyond comprehension. It often looks cruel and insane in our perspective. In fear and trembling, however, our faith sees how and why God provides Himself.
And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.Genesis 22:14
Jehovah-jireh (יהוה יראה) means God will provide.
Image: Abraham and Isaac by Rembrandt, 1634