The Bible is full of mystery. Of course we’ve got our theologians and pastors to untangle some of the knots, but certain stories seem to defy what we know and understand about who God is and how He works in this world. Today’s narrative of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac has been described as one of the Bible’s most challenging passages. In Eugene Peterson’s words, “God seems to us to behave outrageously out of character.”
For all of our shock, surprise, and even outrage as readers, Abraham himself seemed to have no hesitation when God asked him to sacrifice his son. Although it seemed utterly at odds with everything that God had yet revealed of Himself and His plans, Abraham obeyed, making thorough preparation for an unthinkable act.
The narrative is remarkably tight-lipped. We don’t know Abraham’s thoughts; we hear only one simple exchange between Isaac and Abraham. But what is clear is the cost of the sacrifice. Four times, in a single sentence, it crescendoes: “your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac” (v. 2). Abraham must give up, indeed must kill, the person whom he loves most.
It’s not simply that Abraham loved Isaac. It’s that Isaac embodied the very promises of God. God had promised to bless Abraham and to build him a family through Isaac. What would now become of the promise? What if God meant for Isaac to die? What if the promise failed? What if God failed?
Fear is faith’s hungry predator. Fear threatens to devour our resolve to trust God and to risk obeying Him. For Abraham, the stakes were infinitely high. He had already forsaken his native land and sacrificed time and again before he began the climb up Mount Moriah. Was it for nothing?
Abraham models for us what it means to fear the Lord: we readily obey and willingly sacrifice. We reject the “what ifs” of fear, and we keep on believing that God is good even when life doesn’t make sense.
Apply the Word
Fear is an opportunity for each of us to grow a deeper, more persevering faith. The question underneath our fears is simply this: who is God? Is God big enough, good enough, and faithful enough to handle what I fear? Are His intentions towards me ultimately for my good? Will I continue believing the promises of God, or will I believe somehow that He’s failed? Our battle with fear requires us to be deeply rooted in the truth of Scripture.