Genesis 22:2 (NRSV)

He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”

This is such an unsual request, and the only one of its kind in the Scriptures. Some might say it is a horrible thing for God to ask, especially when God knew that Abraham loved his son so dearly.

So, why did God ask Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering?

  • 2
    Because such sacrifices were quite common in Abraham's time in the Middle East, as is attested elsewhere in Scripture. God is simultaneously testing his faith, and abolishing pagan practices, by ultimately refusing the human sacrifice, and providing a ram instead (the ancient Hebrews were nomadic shepherds, see Abel).
    – Lucian
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 21:51
  • God never intended to sacrifice Issac, he was just testing his faith as the bible itself testifies in the beginning of the story. Alternatively, god never told him to sacrifice, it is rather a poetic description of Abraham's evolution from his paganistic roots to his enlightened belief in a merciful god.
    – bach
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 3:45
  • @NigelJ et al. - how is the question not about the text? It is a question regarding the interpretation of a specific Bible passage (Genesis 22:2). I don't see the question having been edited, so I assume you are addressing the same question I am looking at. What am I missing here?
    – user33515
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 19:37
  • 1
    @user33515 Yes. Point taken. This is about 'the interpretation of a bible passage' which is definitely on-topic as described in the Tour. I have retracted my close vote. Agreed.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 19:55
  • @Bach: Paul made comments on the faith of Abraham, Hebrews 6:13-18 and 11:17-19 and he believed that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, so the scriptures leave no doubt about it. Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 20:14

5 Answers 5


2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION Abraham trusted God and knew that God had promised to bless him through Issac so Abraham knew God would keep His promise. See what Abraham tells Issac in vs. 8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.

I'm not sure if Abraham knew exactly what God would do but he knew God keeps promises. God provided the Lamb! HIMSELF in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. The story illustrates God's plan of redemption and the need for us to totally trust His promises and DO what He tells us.

Until we stop sacraficing OUR son's and daughters on the battlefields in this world we cannot receive HIS SON. The one he gave to redeem us. Until we accept the SON who died for us we will continue to sacrafice our children on alters trying to rule the world.

The story just illustrates God's love and that God gave all for us. He did not take Abraham's son. Abraham had total faith in God and God's promises and He obeyed and was willing to give his Son, his only Son. God stopped him and gave us JESUS. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

God needs us to trust and obey him the same way and with the same heart Abraham had. Had God just given us a story where He rides in to save the day the lesson of total faith in God would not be there. Sadly most in the world are still sacraficing their son's and daughters on the battlefield to try to rule the world or save the world or for whatever misguided reason conquere the world, but we are more than conquerers when we simply believe every promise and obey.

  • It is indeed a very good answer,may I suggest to you to quote the scriptures(Hebrews 4:12) to make your answers convincing. Scriptures that you may have mentioned are Hebrews 6:13-18 and 11:17-19 . To find the scriptures you do a keyword word search "Abraham", "faith" etc. on BIblegateway . You have certainly shown that you have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:14-16 . God is the Greater Abraham who also gave his only begotten son Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 21:03

Deploring child sacrifice and the strength of the covenant

The story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac serves two main purposes, not the least of which would have been to provide the people of Israel with a satisfactory cultural explanation as to why they do not condone the sacrifice of children apparently performed by the native tribes around them. The use of dramatic tension presents the emotional side of child sacrifice from the point of view of Abraham, whose only son was not only long awaited and miraculous, but also promised - the presumed lynchpin of his covenant with God and assurance of both his numerous descendants and future status as a 'father of many nations'. But the story also serves to demonstrate the strength of Abraham's covenant with God, outlasting any human standards of trust.

In the story, for reasons that are not mentioned, Abraham determines that God is asking him to offer his beloved son as sacrifice. That no reason needed to be given suggests that this was not an unusual request assumed from deities in Abraham's time (although in Moses' time, when Genesis was supposedly written, child sacrifice was considered common practice only among the enemies of Israel, and is expressly forbidden under Hebrew law).

Abraham has already entered into a covenant with God at this stage, a common practice in those times between individuals, tribes or families that confirms trust by both parties in the integrity of their communication channels. Abraham's end of the bargain is to trust that anything he is instructed to perform will not compromise what he has been promised, even though it appears as if he is being told to destroy the only chance he sees of achieving it.

The trust demonstrated by Abraham is essential for a covenant like this to work. It is not a blind trust (as shown by Abraham's intervention in the story of Sodom), but one built on a history of honest and respectful communication. In a tribal situation, for instance, the communication channel would often begin as a single marriage between individuals from both tribes - if you cannot completely trust the accepted communication channels, then there is no covenant. Because if it looks like your neighbour is preparing for war, you want to be able to trust that their intentions are not against you. The audience would be well aware of many instances where covenants have failed due to miscommunication, fear and lack of trust, with often tragic results.

By Abraham's actions in the story, and his statement to Isaac that "God himself will provide a lamb for the offering", he demonstrates complete trust in the communication he has with God, even when it seems as if he is going to have to go through with the sacrifice which, from Abraham's point of view, would have destroyed the covenant. No covenant between families or tribes could be expected to survive this level of trust.

Despite the dramatic tension, it is also clear from Abraham's words to his son, mentioning the lamb, that the intended audience already knows the ending. The ramifications of this story, like Just So stories or World War II films, are expected because they are inherent in the audiences' cultural framework and worldview. The appearance of a ram at the opportune time provides the accepted substitute to child sacrifice now decreed in Hebrew law, and the covenant remains intact.

The situation in which Abraham is compelled to sacrifice his son - and the dramatic tension that takes the characters right to the limit before making the expected substitution - are actions taken not so much by God, but by the author. They serve to illustrate the deplorability of child sacrifice and the strength of Abraham's covenant with God over any other.


James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone”. But in Genesis chapter 22, God told Abraham to offer his son as a burnt offering. Isn’t this murder? Actually, in Jeremiah 7:31, God Himself said, “They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind”. So how can God command Abraham to do something that is so abhorrent to Him?

Murder is someone taking another person’s life by one’s own decision and will. It is not murder, however, to kill another person if God commanded so. For example, God commanded in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” As a matter of fact, not putting the murderer to death is sin that will pollute the land as God stated in Numbers 35:30-33, “If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death . . . So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it”. Similarly, God commanded in the old testament to put to death people who committed many other sins, such as, adultery (Leviticus 20:10), kidnapping another person (Exodus 21:16), cursing father or mother (Leviticus 20:9), and many other sins.

Someone may object that Isaac was not a murderer, an adulterer, or one who committed sins deserving capital punishment for God to demand from Abraham to kill him. Since God created every human being, He has the right to do with them anything He desires through any means He chooses. God has the right to take any person’s life at any time, but man does not have this right. When God takes people’s lives, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a punishment for their sins. God’s saints die continuously by martyrdom, sickness, accidents, old age, etc., and nothing happens without God permission. God may use other people to fulfil His purpose of ending people’s lives. So, when God demanded from Abraham to offer his son, it was within God’s prerogative and rights to do so. God’s purpose in asking Abraham to offer His innocent son is to give a picture of what God actually did by offering His own sinless Son to save sinful people. This is the more difficult dilemma to understand, which can only be explained by knowing that God is love. This love has to come from His character and not from our lovability since, before salvation, we were sinful creatures who were abhorrent to His holiness. This is the amazing grace that we don’t deserve when we sincerely ask Christ to be the Lord of our lives and believe in His death on the cross in our place to be saved from the judgement for our sinfulness, which is hell.

  • Welcome to BHSE! Please make sure you take our Tour. (See below left) Thanks. Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 19:45

There are two aspects to this story.

The first is that God was testing Abraham. Not in the sense that God needed to know whether or not Abraham would do what he asked. But rather in the sense of giving Abraham a challenge - with a beneficial outcome - that would strengthen his faith. It is the outcome described in Sirach 2:1:

My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be hasty in time of calamity. Cleave to him and do not depart, that you may be honored at the end of your life. Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient. For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.

Abraham's steadfastness is described in Hebrews (6:13-15):

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise.

John Chrysostom (c 349-407) described how each time Abraham accepted the challenges God placed before him, even when they seemed to go against his own self-interest:

Great indeed was the faith of Abraham. For while in the case of Abel, and of Noah, and of Enoch, there was an opposition of reasonings only, and it was necessary to go beyond human reasonings; in this case it was necessary not only to go beyond human reasonings, but to manifest also something more. For what was of God seemed to be opposed to what was of God; and faith opposed faith, and command promise.

I mean this: He had said, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and I will give thee this land.1 He gave him none inheritance in it, no not so much as to set his foot on.2 Seest thou how what was done was opposed to the promise? Again He said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called,3 and he believed: and again He says, Sacrifice to Me this one, who was to fill all the world from his seed. Thou seest the opposition between the commands and the promise? He enjoined things that were in contradiction to the promises, and yet not even so did the righteous man stagger, nor say he had been deceived.4

One connection here with the lessons of the New Testament is Abraham's example of self-abnegation. Chrysostom further writes:

For you could not say that He promised ease and gave tribulation. For in our case, the things which He promised, these also He performs. How so? In the world, He says, ye shall have tribulation.5 He that taketh not his cross and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me.6 He that hateth not his life shall not find it.7 And, He that forsaketh not all that he hath, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me.8

The second aspect to the story is the obvious typology. Abraham sacrificing Isaac foreshadows God the Father sacrificing His own Son.

Augustine writes:

Who does not see whose figure Abraham’s only son was, he who bore the wood for the sacrifice of himself, to that place whither he was being led to be offered up? For the Lord bore his own cross, as the Gospel tells us.9

1. Genesis 12:1,7
2. Acts 7:5
3. Genesis 21:12
4. Homily XXV on Hebrews (tr. from the Greek)
5. John 6:33
6. Matthew 10:38
7. John 12:25
8. Luke 14:27,33
9. Tractate IX on John


It was a covenant crisis test to be solved by Abraham using the covenant. The test "was not a test requiring mute compliance to destroy the covenant as embodied in Isaac but was a covenant crisis test to be solved by Abraham embodying the covenant. In other words, God's purpose was to test Abraham's covenant identity by eliciting a compassionate response of integrated covenant revelations (Genesis 23:1-3; 12:7; 13:14-17, 15, 17, 18, 21:12-13). Had Abraham actualized all seven covenant lessons in his test response, it could have culminated in a covenant-driven intercession for Isaac at the altar site, a mediation appealing to God's character of justice and mercy (covenant lesson of Genesis 18). In that scenario, the discovery of God's provided ram was set up to be the climax of Abraham's test as the grace-filled test solution (God will provide) given as the anticipated answer to Abraham's prophetic mediation."

Excerpt from dissertation abstract, Arlyn Drew, "A Hermeneutic for the Aqedah Test: A Way beyond Jon Levenson's and Terence Fretheim's Models."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.