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God instructs Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice

KJV Genesis 22 : 2

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.

But when Abraham relates the information to Isaac he doesn't reveal the truth about what was said

KJV Genesis 22 : 7 - 8

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 ? 8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

Why didn't Abraham tell Isaac the truth?

2 Answers 2

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There are at least two, possibly three answers to this, none fully satisfactory.

Answer #1

The first answer is provided, in part, by Heb 11:17-19 -

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac on the altar. He who had received the promises was ready to offer his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “Through Isaac your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and in a sense, he did receive Isaac back from death.

In this case, Abraham's reply to Isaac in Gen 22:8 could be as a prophecy of Messiah. In support of this answer, note Abraham's other prophecy in Gen 22:5 -

“Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told his servants. “The boy and I will go over there to worship, and then we will return to you.”

Answer #2

Note the final point of the story as recorded in gen 22:12-14 -

“Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him,” said the angel, “for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from Me.”

Then Abraham looked up and saw behind him a ram in a thicket, caught by its horns. So he went and took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son. And Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide.

Note that we have the same phrase that encloses the story:

  • in V8 Abraham says to Isaac, "the LORD will provide"
  • in V14 we have the same idea of the substitute ram, "the LORD will provide"

In this answer, Abraham's answer to Isaac can be seen as prophetic, even though neither Abraham nor Isaac fully understood the import of what Abraham unwittingly prophesied.

Benson offers a third answer without excluding the other two:

Genesis 22:8. My son, God will provide himself a lamb — This was the language either, 1st, Of his obedience; we must offer the lamb which God has appointed now to be offered; thus giving Isaac this general rule of submission to the divine will, to prepare him for the application of it to himself: or, 2d, Of his faith; whether he intended them so or not, the meaning of his words proved to be that a sacrifice was provided instead of Isaac. Thus, 1st, Christ, the great sacrifice of atonement, was of God’s providing: when none in heaven or earth could have found a lamb for that burnt-offering, God himself found the ransom. 2d, All our “sacrifices of acknowledgment” are of God’s providing too; it is he that “prepares the heart.” The broken and contrite spirit is a sacrifice of God, of his providing.

The Cambridge commentary offers a similar view:

8. provide himself Heb. see for himself, cf. Genesis 41:33. Abraham’s words express his self-control and his faith, and have a reference to Genesis 22:14. The provision by God of a lamb for a burnt-offering lies at the root of the interpretation of the present passage in its typical application to the Sacrifice of Christ. Cf. the mention of the Lamb in John 1:29; John 1:36; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5:12.

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Had he told, Isaac would have got afraid and run away, for it would have been impossible to explain to a kid that God wants him to be sacrificed instead of a lamb, as was the usual habit.

As Kierkegaard says, Abraham was given an honor by God to be exposed to a paradox beyond human limited rationality. How could Isaac understand this paradox? He would by all means utterly failed, but rather think that his father went crazy and would run away from him as from a dangerous lunatic, as you and me also would in Isaac's place. As simple as that. However, human wisdom is craziness before God, while divine craziness surpasses all human wisdom beyond any comparison (Cf. 1 Cor. 1:25).

Otherwise, is not Abraham a crazed murderer according to a common sense? Can any priest or pastor now say these words in a sermon: "When we shall be commanded by God to kill our children, we should be ready to do it, and whether God will rescind His command - like in Abraham's case - or not, we shall never know before He rescinds, so the killing of our children is a really real dutiful possibility" - any such priest or pastor will be taken to a custody for propagating a dangerous fanaticism. It is better to shut up together with Kierkegaard in face of a horrid mystery, than be as smugly insolent (and as a matter of fact vast majority of the theologians are such) as to offer humanly understood shallow trifles that are as far from God as mediocrity is far from J.S.Bach's "Erbarme dich, mein Gott" or Allegri's "Miserere", no, far farther even.

Abraham, to be sure, knew this and that's why gave an elusive answer to Isaac, whom he never ceased to love even while intending to murder him, and that was not a lie, but definitely was not a plainly said factual truth either.

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