Was Abraham a Psychotic Child Murderer?

Continuing a plan to get through the entire Bible in a year, follow as I journal through the reading. I have chosen a straightforward approach that begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation. This will not be an in-depth study or a comprehensive commentary. There are plenty of sources for such material. This is stage one Bible reading, taking the text at face value and sharing impressions.


Today’s reading comes from the book of Genesis, chapters 22 through 24, and covers Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac, along with the selection of Rebekah for Isaac’s wife. Some impressions from the text:

  • Many critics cite the account in Genesis 22 as evidence that the God of the Bible is immoral. Abraham is told to take his son Isaac up to a mountain and offer him as a burnt sacrifice. On its face, it seems utterly abhorrent. No mentally healthy parent would kill his own child, and anyone who today claimed to do so because God told him to would be be rightly regarded as insane. So what makes Abraham different?
  • The difference between Abraham and everyone else is that he was Abraham. Seriously, that’s the difference. He alone was chosen of God to be the patriarch of many nations, most notably the nation of Israel from which Jesus Christ would descend. Abraham had often shown doubt in that promise, repeatedly attempting to outmaneuver God with feeble schemes. He had twice presented his wife Sarah to others as his sister, demonstrating a lack of faith in God. He had taken Sarah’s servant Hagar and fathered Ishmael, demonstrating a lack of faith in God’s ability to provide an heir through Sarah. Here God challenged Abraham’s faith once more.
  • It made no sense for God to order Issac’s death, since He had promised to make a great nation from the boy. Abraham knew that, yet he obeyed anyway. Why? Because Abraham knew that Issac would live. He tells the men attending him that “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” He knows that they will both return, together and alive. He doesn’t know how in that moment. But he has faith that it must be so, because he believes that God will prove faithful and make a nation from Issac.
  • From this we should note that Abraham was not a psychotic murderer or a thoughtless cult follower, as many have sought to portray him from this account. He was a believer in the one true God, a god who had proven Himself time and again, a god whose promise assured Abraham that Issac would be delivered one way or another.
  • Along with serving as a test of Abraham’s faith, the trip up the mountain to sacrifice Issac makes clear allusions to the sacrificial death of Christ. Issac carries the wood upon which he is meant to burn, as Christ later carries the cross upon which He is to hang. Abraham did not withhold his only son from God, just as God did not withhold his only son from us.
  • The selection of Rebekah for Issac’s wife sets the tone for how the nation of Israel would cloister itself in the future. Abraham was clearly opposed to his son taking a wife from among the local Canaanites, wanting instead for Issac to take a wife from their kinsmen back near Nahor. Some have misinterpreted this and similar incidents in the biblical narrative as an affirmation of racialism. The Israelites wanted to preserve their race, the argument goes. However, the real concern had nothing whatsoever to do with meaningless racial distinctions. Indeed, the lineage of Abraham through David to Christ included notable non-Jews. The concern was preserving a distinction between those chosen by God to follow Him and those who followed dead pagan idols. It was about worship, not race.

Return soon as we continue our year-long journey through the text of the Bible.

Catch up on the previous entries:

In the Beginning: The Creation, His Rest, Our Fall – Genesis 1-3

An End of All Flesh: Abel’s Murder, Man’s Corruption, and the Great Flood – Genesis 4-7

Noah’s Flood Led to History’s First Post-Apocalyptic Society – Genesis 8-11

Abram Believed: The Pre-Gospel Gospel – Genesis 12-15

Abraham, the Father of Faith, Also Harbored Doubt – Genesis 16-18

Twin Cities of Sin: The Judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah – Genesis 19-21


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