Surely God is against human sacrifice, yet he asks Abraham to be willing to commit human sacrifice. Why would he do this?
God is, in principle, against human sacrifice: the religious ritual killing of innocents to appease God, or any gods, for that matter. So it would be likewise true that God is, in principle, against anyone’s ever *thinking* that God is ever in favor of such sacrifice. So, if God caused Abraham to think that God wanted for Abraham to sacrifice an innocent, then the question arises: What was the principle according to which God was operating in Gen 22? Assuming that, given the above words, you understand the gist of my question, what would you say is the answer to the philosophical problem? Does Gen 22:18 (God praised Abraham for obeying God’s voice) constitute an answer to the problem? I notice that Hebrews 11:17-19 only tells us of Abraham’s point of view. But what is God’s point of view? Is the text of Gen 22 the whole story, or merely Abraham’s own account?
I definitely do see the logic of your question. However, I believe that the question implies two assumptions, at least as it seems to me, which I would like to question..
1. That God is against the sacrifice of a human life by another under any circumstances at all,
2. That the requested sacrifice of Isaac was to appease God.
Let me deal with the second point first.
Abraham was given no reason whatsoever to believe that the request from God had to do with appeasement for some sort of sin. Actually, from what we can tell, Abraham was not told the reason for the request. We, especially we readers of the New Testament, have the advantage of knowing the reason for God’s request. I will discuss this below, but let me repeat that there is indication from Genesis 22, either that wanted Abraham to think of the death as appeasement or that Abraham thought of it that way.
Then there is the implied assumption that God is against every single possible kind of human sacrifice at all. I believe that this is an EXTREMELY limited category. God certainly hates human sacrifice to an idol, and in general,the sacrifice of a human being, even to God himself would not be God’s will, but the fact is that God allowed that a human–Jesus Christ–would be killed as a kind of a sacrifice by human beings. God allowed that a human would kill another as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Nevertheless, I will have to say that your surprise that God would expect Abraham to be willing to kill his son is well founded, to say the least. This is truly a remarkable thing.
I believe that there were two purposes behind what God asked Abraham to do.
1. It was the ultimate way for Abraham to show his faith, and as Paul says in Romans 4:3, quoting Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Abraham serves as the ultimate prototype and prefigure of those who are saved by faith. In Romans 4:12 Paul tells us that Abraham is the “father” of all who believe and through that belief are credited as righteous. He is the “father of us all.” (Romans 4:16) Abraham’s willingness to leave Ur, and later Haran, combined with his willingness to go to Mt.Moriah qualify him to be the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5), to be the one through whom all nations will be blessed (Genesis 12:3) and the progenitor of Israel and of the Messiah himself. Is the call of God to Abraham to be willing, even to kill his own son, an extreme example of faith? To say the least, it is extreme to the point of being outrageous, but this is how God teaches what it means to put our faith in Him. In order to be his disciples, Jesus asks us to give up everything we have (Luke 14:33). It is extremely unlikely that God will require us to give up our children in the way that Abraham did, but God used Abraham as a type of the faith he requires of all of us. When God asks disciples of Jesus to give up everything, he is not speaking metaphorically. Is this extreme, bordering on shocking? Yes, it is, but we should bear in mind that Abraham reasoned that God would raise Isaac from the dead. God foreknew the mind of Abraham and that he would see the request as a test of his faith–that his son probably would not actually remain dead. This shows Abraham’s incredible faith, but not that God expects us to think of the idea of killing another human being as an appeasement.
2. This amazing story of Abraham’s faith, and Isaac’s faith as well, by the way, serves as a prefigure of the death of Jesus Christ, and of his resurrection. The parallels between what God asked Abraham to do and what God was willing to do for us are way too many to be coincidence. Like Abraham, God was willing to give up his “one and only son.” Like Abraham, God received his son back “from the dead” on the third day, as the Hebrews 11:17-19 passage you quote points out to us. These are not the only parallels. The location of Mount Moriah is Mount Zion. In other words, the place God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son is the same place where God offered his only Son as a sacrifice. That is not all. Abraham asked his only son to carry the wood up Mt. Moriah that was going to be used for his sacrifice. Similarly, God saw to it that Jesus carried the wood up the same mountain that was used for his sacrifice.
This event which is so disturbing to consider,as you well point out is the ultimate prophecy of what God has done to offer a sacrifice for our sins. The sacrifice of Abraham, which God prevented from being completed was not an appeasement for sin, but a test of faith. But it was not simply a test of faith. It was an intricate and amazing prefigure of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. By the way, I discuss all of this in my book, FromShadow to Reality, which is available at www.ipibooks.com
You may want to consider getting a copy of this book which details many other historical foreshadows and prefigures in the Old Testament which point toward Jesus.
I hope this helps.