I was enlightened recently by the challenge put forth in a letter that I received which said, to the effect, that if the account of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah is a factual account, then God is a ‘pathetic’ God (in the words of the letter writer). I say, “enlightened”, because, of course, I took the person up on their challenge by explaining to them just exactly what that passage teaches.
First of all, the account in Genesis 22 of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah is, indeed, a factual one. There is no reason to doubt that. We always interpret Scripture according to the context within which it is given, and the context within which this particular passage is given is, indeed, a literal context. Unlike other passages of Scripture, for example, which may use sarcasm or allegory, or similitude, or metaphor, to get a point across, but which should not be interpreted literally. Two such passages that I can think of off the top of my head are Proverbs 31:6, “Give strong drink to him who is perishing,” and Matthew 5:30, “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off”.
Both of these passages should not be interpreted literally, and we know this because of the context within which they are given. And that really is the way it is with all letters that we write and receive. It is no different, in this respect, with regards to the Bible. The Bible is something which God penned by various individuals, which reaches us on “our level” — hence it is written with paper and ink (‘earthly’ materials). That is, it is designed for us ‘down here’. It is true, however, that the word of God is indelible — it shall never perish, even though the earth perishes, according to Matthew 24:35 (Jesus speaking): “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”
The Bible, then, is something that we should read in the same way that we would read any letter. That is, we should understand its context at ‘each step along the way’. The context is important, because it suggests for us what we should actually ‘do’ as a result of understanding a particular passage. The context of Philippians 4:19, for example, is that Paul has already been ‘amply supplied’ with provisions by his friends. He can therefore say, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Should we fail to understand, however, that the condition by which Paul said this was that the Philippians themselves had supplied Paul’s need, then we might be inclined to take this passage out of context, as many in fact do. It is not a blanket verse which guarantees us that God will meet all of our needs “no matter what”! Rather, it must be interpreted in the light in which it is given! A person who regularly goes out of his or her own way to meet OTHER people’s needs should feel comforted in knowing that God himself will meet THEIR needs. However, sorry to disappoint you, but the promise ends there, my friends! If you are not in the business of helping others out regularly, then this verse does not apply to your life!
Now, back to the Genesis 22 passage! The Genesis 22 passage is not one of those passages which is meant as allegory, but it is rather a factual account. We know this because the Bible clearly says, in Genesis 22:1, “… God tested Abraham, and said to him …”. That is, it is a literal, factual, declaration of what God did, and how Abraham responded. I don’t think it could be any plainer than that. You will recall that God asked (really, commanded) Abraham to take his son Isaac and sacrifice him on Mount Moriah. (Genesis 22:2) In the end, however, God did not require that Abraham actually slay his son, but rather, God provided the sacrifice himself, for we read, “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. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.” (Genesis 2:10-13)
Now compare this to John 3:16, if you will, which says, “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.” Both of these passages, in fact, teach one and the same thing. Specifically, that (1) God is a just God who requires a blood sacrifice for payment for sin, and (2) God is a merciful God who HIMSELF provides the sacrifice needed to pay for sins! Now I ask you, is this an example of a ‘pathetic’ God, as the writer of the letter indicated, or is this an example of a just and merciful God, who desires that all come to the knowledge of him and be saved, by the redemption (sacrifice) which he himself freely provides? I submit to you, this is an example of a just and merciful God, not a pathetic God! If you have not yet come to put your faith in such a wonderful God, I invite you today to do just that. For he freely pardons all who will call upon him, in sincerity and truth.
If you would like, you may pray the following (suggested) prayer:
“Dear Lord, I accept the fact that I am a sinner in need of salvation. I have done wrong. It is I who deserves to be punished. However, I understand that you sent Jesus Christ to die for my sins. Lord, today, I freely receive Jesus Christ into my life, and submit myself to you. I ask you to make all things new in my life and to change my heart. I welcome you as Lord and Savior of my life. Thank-you, Lord! Fill me now with your Holy Spirit and help me to live for you! For it is in Christ Jesus’ name that I pray. Amen!”