A test for Abraham…? (June 26, 2011)


If this is a test, then Abraham fails.

It is cruel to the point of absurdity

that God would require the sacrifice of a human being

in order to judge obedience and discover righteousness.

Abraham fails.

Never mind the narrator’s rationalizing –

“because you did not withhold your own son…”

the narrator is hoping that we will learn a lesson of faithfulness

but our attention is misdirected –

it is not Abraham’s faithfulness that should get our attention

The narrator wants us to let everyone off the hook:

God, for asking such a thing.

Abraham, for thinking such a thing.



This “test” sees Abraham think the unthinkable

(that God wants/needs Abraham to murder Isaac)

and it sees this murder nearly accomplished.

Isaac is led, bound and the knife is raised.

God is not rewarding Abraham for attempted murder –

God is saving Abraham from a fate worse than death.


Abraham goes too far – he asks no questions – he fails the test.

Did he really think that God would ask this of him?


The narrator is clear;

Abraham was convinced that he was following God’s instructions,

he has answered God’s call before – surely his judgement is sound –

surely he knows what is from God and what is not



A literal reading of this text is unacceptable to me.

My mind will not allow God to be this capricious – this spiteful –

though it is clear that life in any age is full of challenges,

I am not ready to describe God as the one

who imposes them without a thought for our well-being,

or with no regard to God’s own words of promise, protection and peace.


What, then, makes this such an important word from Scripture?


Forget about Abraham – and Isaac to, for that matter –

they are supporting characters at best in this drama

Characters who bear an uncanny resemblance to people like us

who do the wrong things for what we decide are the right reasons…


People who don’t (yet) understand that sometimes God’s call sounds like conscience

and sometimes it sounds like the voice of the people.

God may speak in the laughter of children, or the grumbling of grandparents

and sometimes, a thundering silence signals our contact with the almighty

but the God whose word brought light and life from nothingness

does not counsel cruelty – God’s call does not include murder.


This tale is told that we might see the frailty of our own kind,

and the gentleness of God, who would rescue us from our own foolishness

who would offer hope where none existed.

Though it is told as a story of beginnings – this, like all Scripture,

is given that we might see God more clearly,

The story reminds us that God’s presence knows no boundaries.

In our own darkness and distorted reality, God is there – ready to offer a path to freedom.

When we misunderstand, or even worse,

misrepresent our experience of God and our divine call

God is prepared to set the record straight.


A ram caught by its horns in a thicket is more than “fortunate timing”

as far as Isaac is concerned,

that ram was the gift of life.

For Abraham too, the place of this disaster

becomes the place of God’s providing –

“Jehovah Jireh” (The Lord sees/provides) offers future generations

a geographical reminder of the power of God.


We need no place names to keep our minds on the truth

We have Christ – Risen – ascended – ever ready to answer our call of distress

always ready to supply grace when our graceless nature reveals itself

God’s provision has for us taken flesh and stepped into our story.

Because of Christ, that story is forever changed. Amen



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