Devotional Stories: Taking Inspiration From the Story of Abraham Sacrificing Isaac
The Bible tells the story of Abraham. When Abraham was one hundred years old, God gave him a son, Isaac. However, when Isaac had grown up, God commanded Abraham to offer him as a sacrifice. Yet when Abraham placed his only son on God’s altar and raised his knife ready to slay the boy, God stopped him. In fact, not only did God stop Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, He also lavished Abraham with great blessings and made his descendants into a great nation.
Every time I used to read this story, I always had heartfelt admiration for Abraham, because I feel that he had great faith in God. He was able to submit to God’s plan and offer up his only son, whom he dearly loved, as a sacrifice. He thereby proved himself worthy of the title “father of faith.” However, what I didn’t understand was this: Why did God give Abraham a son when he was a hundred years old, and then command him to sacrifice the boy? What, ultimately, was God’s intention?
For a long time, I didn’t understand. It was only recently, when I read a text online, “God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself II,” that I understood that God’s work with Abraham holds deep meaning and also is imbued with God’s intention. Now I intend to make a written record of the insight that I received.
1. No Person or Thing Can Influence God’s Decision to Do Something
In the Bible, the Book of Genesis chapter 17, verses 15–17 says: “And God said to Abraham, As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give you a son also of her: yes, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell on his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born to him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?”
Chapter 17, verse 21 says: “But My covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear to you at this set time in the next year.”
Chapter 21, verses 2–3 says: “For Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.”
When God told Abraham that He would give him a son, Abraham didn’t believe Him, thinking that he and his wife Sarah had already passed child-bearing age and couldn’t possibly have a child. Then to their surprise, in the second year, Sarah really did give birth to a son. Every time I read those verses of scripture, I always thought: If it had been me, I would have reacted the same way as Abraham; so why did God work this way with Abraham?
“God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself II” explains it this way: “What man does or thinks, what man understands, the plans of man—none of this bears any relation to God. Everything proceeds according to God’s plan, in keeping with the times and stages set by God. Such is the principle of God’s work. God does not interfere in whatever man thinks or knows, yet neither does He forgo His plan or abandon His work just because man does not believe or understand. The facts are thus accomplished according to the plan and thoughts of God. This is precisely what we see in the Bible: God caused Isaac to be born at the time He had set. Do the facts prove that the behavior and conduct of man hindered the work of God? They did not hinder the work of God! Did man’s little faith in God, and his notions and imaginings about God affect God’s work? No, they did not! Not in the least! God’s management plan is unaffected by any man, matter, or environment. All that He resolves to do will be completed and accomplished on time and according to His plan, and His work cannot be interfered with by any man. God ignores certain aspects of man’s foolishness and ignorance, and even certain aspects of man’s resistance and notions toward Him, and He does the work that He must do regardless. This is God’s disposition, and it is a reflection of His omnipotence.”
After reading this passage, I understood: We humans do not understand God’s almightiness and sovereignty; our faith in God is insufficient. As such, when God’s words or God’s work doesn’t fit with our ideas, or exceeds our capacity to accept, then our attitudes become suspicious, and we think that God could not possibly accomplish that which He sets out to do. However, God is almighty—that which He sets out to achieve is not subject to the influence of any person or thing, and certainly He could never be hindered by any power that exists. It was then that I saw that God’s almightiness and wisdom are truly miraculous, truly unfathomable. God’s work exceeds human imagination; we have absolutely no way of comprehending it.
2. God Treasures and Loves People’s Sincerity; God Blesses Those Who Listen to His Words and Obey Him
The Bible says, “And He said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and get you into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of” (Genesis 22:2).
“And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar on the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son” (Genesis 22:9–10).
“And said, By Myself have I sworn, said Jehovah, for because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son: That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:16–18).
From these scriptural passages we can see that when Jehovah God commanded Abraham to offer his son as a burnt offering, Abraham obeyed His command with complete obedience. However, in the end God didn’t ask Abraham to kill Isaac at all. Instead God promised He would make Abraham’s descendants a great nation. In the past, I hadn’t understood: Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, only to stop Abraham when he raised his knife to slay his son? Moreover, why did God then lavish blessings upon Abraham?
These two sections of the text, “God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself II,” say that: “When Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slay his son, were his actions seen by God? They were. The entire process—from the start, when God asked that Abraham sacrifice Isaac, to when Abraham actually raised his knife to slay his son—showed God the heart of Abraham, and regardless of his former foolishness, ignorance, and misunderstanding of God, at that time Abraham’s heart for God was true, and honest, and he truly was going to return Isaac, the son given to him by God, back to God. In him, God saw obedience, the very obedience that He desired.”
“To man, God does much that is incomprehensible and even unbelievable. When God wishes to orchestrate someone, this orchestration is often at odds with man’s notions and incomprehensible to him, yet it is precisely this dissonance and incomprehensibility that are God’s trial and test of man. Abraham, meanwhile, was able to demonstrate obedience to God within himself, which was the most fundamental condition of his being able to satisfy God’s requirement. … At the moment that Abraham lifted up his knife to slay Isaac, did God stop him? God did not let Abraham sacrifice Isaac, for God simply had no intention of taking Isaac’s life. Thus, God stopped Abraham just in time. For God, Abraham’s obedience had already passed the test, what he did was sufficient, and God had already seen the outcome of what He intended to do. Was this outcome satisfactory to God? It can be said that this outcome was satisfactory to God, that it was what God wanted, and was what God had longed to see. Is this true? Although, in different contexts, God uses different ways of testing each person, in Abraham God saw what He wanted, He saw that Abraham’s heart was true, and that his obedience was unconditional. It was precisely this ‘unconditional’ that God desired.”
After contemplating these two sections, I understood: What God wanted all along was for people to be sincere toward Him. God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, certainly not because He wanted Abraham to kill his son, but rather because He wanted to use this command to test Abraham, to see whether Abraham would truly trust in and obey God. Abraham’s son Isaac was given to him when he was one hundred years old, so we can imagine how much he loved him. We could even say that Abraham considered Isaac’s life more important than his own. Yet when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham didn’t complain to God, nor did he ask Him to explain His reasons, even though his heart was aching. Abraham knew Isaac was a gift from God. If God now wanted him to make a sacrifice, Abraham knew he must obey. Thus without hesitation, Abraham took Isaac to the place where burnt offerings were made. He raised his knife ready to return Isaac to God. However, God could now see Abraham’s sincerity and obedience, so at that moment, He stopped him, gave him His blessings, and promised that his descendants would become a great nation. I saw in God’s blessing of and promise to Abraham the delight God feels when people are sincere toward Him. He is delighted when people come before Him without conditions, and worship and obey Him without demanding something in return.
3. Finding Insight in Abraham’s Story
Seeing how Abraham received a son at one hundred years of age, I really understood something of God’s almightiness and sovereignty; I understood that when God has decided to do something, no person or thing can possibly divert or impede Him. At the same time, I also identified some rules to put into practice: Even when God’s words or work don’t fit with our ideas, or when we don’t understand them or can’t accept them, still, we must not approach God’s words or work in terms of our own concepts and thinking. Instead, we should maintain a reverence for God in our hearts and seek to know His intention. We should accept God’s work and submit to His orchestrations and arrangements. That is the kind of rationality that we ought to have as humans.
Seeing how God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, I also understood God’s earnest intention in setting difficulties before us and subjecting us to trials. Looking from the outside, these difficulties and refinements cause us physical pain. However, it is with these difficulties and trials that God tests whether we are sincere toward Him, transforms impurities in the way we believe in Him in our hearts, and enables us to truly submit to God’s orchestrations and arrangements and stand and bear witness to God. Thus we can come before God and earnestly reflect on ourselves. We have always followed God, but what kind of attitude have we held toward Him? In our lives, what has been our attitude when we underwent His trials?
As I think of myself and the brothers and sisters around me, when our family life is peaceful and our work is going smoothly, we often sing hymns in praise of God, pray to Him and thank Him and go out to preach the salvation of our Lord Jesus. But when work isn’t going smoothly, and our family life isn’t peaceful, we complain to God and blame Him for not caring for and protecting us. When we face illness, we pray to God and as time passes with no sign of recovery, then we lose faith in Him. We don’t even feel like reading scripture or praying…. From this we can see that when facing difficulties, we don’t accept and obey God as Abraham did. Rather, we complain to God, and try to reason with Him. There is simply no comparison between us and Abraham. When Abraham underwent his trial, he willingly obeyed God. He didn’t complain. And he didn’t act this way because he wanted blessings or rewards in return—all he wanted was to satisfy God. But not us—when we have faith in God, it is because we want to receive God’s blessings and grace. When we face some trial or difficulty, we don’t come to God with any true reverence or obedience. Our faith in God is so messed up. Even when we give up things that are important to us and make difficult commitments for the sake of God, we still are trying to make a deal with Him. How could this kind of “faith” earn us the approval of God?
It was only then I realized that, in believing in God, we should follow Abraham’s example—respect God’s greatness and come to God’s words and all His earthly arrangements with a pure, loyal and obedient heart. When undergoing God’s trials, we should not complain to Him. Instead we should take our place as created beings before the Lord of creation and stand and bear witness to God. Only in this way can we receive God’s approval.
Thanks to God’s direction and through reading “God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself II,” I recognized in God’s work with Abraham a little of God’s authority and God’s intention. Amen!