Today, I am reading and commenting on Genesis 21-23.
When we read the story of Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael away we have a tendency to think of Ishmael as a young boy. However, this happened when Isaac was weaned, which means that Ishmael would have been at least 14 years old but probably 15. In other words, he was old enough to know better than to make fun of his baby brother (admittedly step-brother). This is just another example from the fallout from Sarah and Abraham not trusting that God would provide Abraham a son through Sarah.
The part of this passage where Abraham takes Isaac with the intent to sacrifice him to God is one of the portions of the Bible most misunderstood by atheists. We know that child sacrifice was common among the peoples of the Land of Canaan. Since my experience of God speaking to me often involves things said by the people around me and the circumstances I find myself in, I have no problem with thinking that the same thing happened here. I can easily see Abraham hearing, either directly or indirectly, the people around him questioning his worship of God because he “refused” to sacrifice his son Isaac. The other gods of the area demanded the sacrifice of children, surely if Abraham truly worshiped God he would not hold back his son.
As an aside, I want to note that there is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus here as well.
I do however believe that the exchange between Abraham and Isaac actually took place. From that it seems to me that when Abraham saw the ram caught by its horns in a thicket as he was about to sacrifice Isaac, he realized that what he had told Isaac was prophetic. I also want to point out that, while I tend towards thinking that the words attributed to God in this passage were never spoken out loud (that instead they represent Abraham’s interpretation of events going on around him, and perhaps the internal dialogue he was having with himself), I would not try to convince anyone that such was the case. So, we have Abraham struggling with the idea of sacrificing Isaac as he stands over Isaac preparing to sacrifice him as he has become convinced by his neighbors is the correct thing to do, but not really believing it in his heart, when he looks up and sees a ram caught by its horns in the thicket nearby. He remembers his throw away comment to Isaac as they traveled to this remote location, “God will provide,” and realizes that what he felt in his heart was correct and that God had provided. The lesson from this passage is thus: Abraham’s love of God was sufficient that he was willing to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, but God did not desire such a sacrifice.
The message here is that God desires us to not sacrifice our children in service to Him. The first lesson was to the people of Israel who lived among those who believed in and practices child sacrifice: it is NEVER God’s will that we sacrifice children to Him, and any god which demands such sacrifice is evil, not worthy of worship. There is a further lesson for those who are called to ministry today. They should not sacrifice the well-being of their marriage or their children to their service to God. Does your ministry have you too busy to go to your child’s sporting event? Unless this is the exception rather than the rule, you have your priorities wrong. Does your child have to misbehave to get your attention? You have your priorities wrong. I could go on, but I think parents will get my point. I will make one final point. The more important you are in the Church, the more important it is that you put aside your duties to the Church to make time for your children.