Genesis 22:1-2, 9A, 10-12, 15-18
God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he replied.
Then God said:
“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a holocaust
on a height that I will point out to you.”
When they came to the place of which God had told him,
Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.
Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven,
“Here I am!” he answered.
“Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger.
“Do not do the least thing to him.
I know now how devoted you are to God,
since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”
Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said:
“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,
that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth
shall find blessing—
all this because you obeyed my command.”
There was a time when this passage from Genesis greatly troubled me. How could a loving God actually command a father to kill his son as a “holocaust,” a sacrificial offering to Him?
Note: The historical and original meaning of the word holocaust is “A Jewish sacrificial offering that is burned completely on an altar.”
Not just any son, but his only son, whom Abraham loved desperately, who was born when Sarah was 90 years old and Abraham was 100. I can’t even begin to imagine Abraham’s anguish . . . .
But then, of course, the answer is in St. Paul‘s Letter to the Romans 8:
Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?
Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.
In other words, God the Father asked of Abraham what He was prepared to do Himself — and did do, two thousand years later.
Not only is He a loving God, for He sent His messenger in the nick of time to stay Abraham’s hand, He sacrificed His only Son for us puny, puking, petty, congenitally ungrateful humans.
Why did God put Abraham to this horrible test?
The best explanation I’ve come across is the one by Roy H. Schoeman,* a Jew who converted to Christianity (Catholicism). It is also the best accounting of what Jews as God’s “chosen people” means.
In his book, Salvation is from the Jews: The Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham to the Second Coming, Schoeman writes (pp. 19, 20, 23):
This story illustrates the quality for which Abraham was chosen to start the Jewish race — his total dedication to God. This quality was also to be the central characteristic of the entire race, the quality that would enable it to undertake all that was necessary to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah . . . . The Scripture makes it clear that it was Abraham’s behavior during this test that would earn for him, and hence for the Jewish race, the honor of bringing forth the Messiah — “and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:18) . . . .
God would need a people to provide a temporal home for the Messiah when He came and to announce His arrival to the world . . . . The Jews were to host the Incarnation itself, to be the people among whom God would become man . . . a people of sufficient spiritual purity, virtue and morality . . . . This role . . . was entrusted to the Jews.
Put simply, Hebrews were “chosen” by God the Father to be the “people” — a spiritually pure (no false idols: “thou shalt not have strange gods before Me”) biological line among whom His only Son would be incarnate as man.
* Roy Schoeman grew up studying Judaism under the most prominent rabbis in American Judaism. After receiving a B.S. from M.I.T. and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, he taught at Harvard. His unexpected conversion to Catholicism led to a dramatic refocus of his activities. Schoeman now hosts a Catholic TV show, studies, and writes on religious topics.
Our Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, I love You with my whole heart, my whole soul, my whole mind, and with all my strength.
Jesus, I trust in You!
May the Peace and Love of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you on this glorious joyous Sunday, a day of worship in memory of His Resurrection!