2.11 The Sacrifice of Isaac
The disinheritance of Ishmael was a precursor of the later sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22), when God demanded that Abraham offer up to him the very covenant promise and inheritance that God had given him. And yet, the disinheritance and the sacrifice -- were they not the same thing? In the first instance, Abraham had to surrender the son of his flesh, the plan of Sarah and the gift of Hagar, at the command of God. In the second instance, he had to surrender the son of the Promise, the miraculous gift of God. It is almost as if God was at war with Himself: in one Word He gave the child, and in a second Word He took him away. But no, another miracle -- God intervened again, and gave Isaac to Abraham a second time, as one raised from the dead. And in Ishmael's case, a similar miracle -- the ram was missing, but there was a well of water (Gen 21:19).
What sense does this make to us today? Why would God test a man in this way? God was showing us that we do not own the blessings He gives us. They are only loaned to us, the title remains in His hands. God wanted Abraham to get his eyes off his son and his desperate need for an heir, and look to God as his source. God was saying, "Do you trust Me with your most precious possession, your son?" "But," we object, "this was cruel, this was mental torment." Indeed, liberal theology finds in it echoes of child sacrifice, a contemporary religious practice. But the only person who would have suffered from such a test was an unbeliever, because God had told Abraham previously that He would establish His covenant with Isaac (Gen 17:19-21, Gen 21:12). A person who trusted God's promise would have remembered those words and been confident in Isaac's security. Indeed, there is no record in Scripture of Abraham's inner strivings at this command of God (no doubt, however, he did not tell Sarah where they were going!). Abraham showed an almost unbelievable equanimity:
"God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (Gen 22:8).
Still, by the time Isaac was bound on top of the altar, I think even a trusting soul would have wavered.