He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”
From the first taste of forbidden fruit we have been imbued with firsthand knowledge of good and evil. We not only know in our conscience the difference between good and evil, we interpret the world and all of our relationships and endeavors in terms of this knowledge. We are not legalists because we attended a legalistic church, or are members of a legalistic religious organization. We are foundationally legalistic, it is the warp and woof of our thinking. Our sense of right and wrong, our attempts to hide our sin and shame, our drive to view all of the world and all of life through a moral lens is the thing that is chiefly wrong with us.
Let’s take Soren Kierkegaard’s lead and think about what God is asking Abraham to do here. God is taking Abraham’s faithless reliance on his own efforts, his own sense of morals and human normalcy, and is putting him under the mortar and pestle to crush them down to their basic elements. He is asking him to murder his son. However, it is stronger than this. Abraham and Sarah have been childless many many years, and were promised a great number of descendants, like the sand on the shore. They have eagerly anticipated this son for many decades, their life has revolved around this child. When it seemed too late, when it was finally miraculous, Sarah conceived, and Isaac was born. He is their only chance at seeing this great promise fulfilled. God asks him to kill his hopes and dreams and joy. So God asks Abraham the unthinkable. It is morally reprehensible. God asks him to destroy their only hope, their only visible representation of God’s promise.
God asks Abraham to move beyond the realm of law, beyond the knowledge of good and evil, to the realm of faith. God seeks to forge a raw faith, a trust in God beyond all evidence. He is asked to sacrifice his conscience, his joy, his hope, his future, his legacy, his very sanity. No sane person sacrifices their son. God seeks to crush his dependence on normal views of right and wrong and to rely purely on faith.
We see this with other figures, such as Peter:
5“I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7“I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8“But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9“But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ Acts 11:5-9, NASB
Peter had already been eating with uncircumcised men, living with leather tanners (which was apparently anathema to Jews). Adherence to his culture of law prevented him from entering the service of God in passing the message of the gospel on to non-Jews, and God had to give him a vision to finally break him of such dead works. The gospel of so great a salvation is greater than the law, and so the power of the law, of our innate love of the knowledge of good and evil, must be broken over us so we can enter the universe of grace and life.
We are asked, amazingly, like Jesus, to enter a place like these great men, where we pass beyond mere lawfulness to a place of mystery. It is a place where the only hope we have of blessing is the supernatural intervention of God. It is a place that dry and unhearing lawfulness cannot enter. We are asked to come to a place of utter hopelessness, indeed of death, where our only hope is that the Father will resurrect us. Salvation by human sacrifice is not a moral position. It is not a sane position. It is not a rational position. It is a place that can only be entered by faith, that God is able to resurrect. It is a place where all other hope dies, where all trust is placed only in God alone.
In Christ, we are asked to have the faith to drop our own cleverness, our own manipulations, our own trust in our sense of right and wrong. The cross screams this. We are asked to enter a realm of raw faith, of pure yieldedness, where only His power and grace and life can prevail. We die to our own moral efforts and ingenuities and strength, where we have no other hope at all except His supernatural intervention. This is the faith of Abraham, who in this sense is our father, the first to submit to this crushing revelation and to enter beyond it into a kingdom beyond the knowledge of good and evil.