Why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son?

We all know the story of the testing of Abraham. In Genesis 22, God instructs Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Even if you’ve heard the story many times, the idea of killing your own son to please God is startling, at best. Horrifying may be a better word to describe it. Why would our God who values human life ask someone to take an innocent life?

“Is this not human sacrifice? Is this not something that’s abhorrent to God? Well of course it is; of course it is,” says Cale Clarke, host of The Faith Explained on Relevant Radio®.

First, God doesn’t let Abraham go through with it. Second, later on in Scripture God explains very specifically “how detestable human sacrifice is to Him.”

In Abraham’s time, human sacrifice was a fairly common practice among the pagans. The idea was that the people would offer a life to the “gods” in thanksgiving or as a way to deflect their wrath. Clearly, this isn’t what God wants from us – He commands us not to kill – but the concept wouldn’t have been foreign to Abraham when he heard this request.

Abraham’s faith and trust here—he isn’t called our Father in Faith for nothing—is astounding. In Genesis 22:8 he tells Isaac, “God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.”

Clearly, this wasn’t easy for Abraham, but he trusted in God’s goodness and knew that He would keep His promises. He did what the Lord asked of him, even though he didn’t understand it, and displayed a massive amount of faith in offering his beloved son to God. As Cale explains, the word “provide” means “to see.” Abraham recognizes that God will see to it that his family is cared for, showing unwavering faith in the most difficult of circumstances.

We can all breathe a sigh of relief when God speaks to Abraham through one of His angels, telling him to not harm Isaac. This whole story is God’s test of Abraham’s faith, trust, and obedience. But does God really not know what Abraham will do?

“Of course He knew what he was going to do—He has omniscience, He sees everything, He is all-knowing,” explained Cale. But the reason God tests Abraham in this way is because “there’s a difference between knowing you’re going to do something and then having the person actually do it. Did God actually know this? Yes. But we still need to do it; we still need to be willing to make the sacrifices that God asks of us in real time.”

But here’s the real test, says Cale: “Are Abraham and by extension, his descendants—and us, too—are we more attached to the blessings that God gives than we are to God himself? Think about that for a minute. Do we love the gifts of God more than God himself?”

May we be as faithful to God in the small things as Abraham was in the big things. May we be detached from the blessings that God gives us and love God above all things.

Tune in to The Faith Explained with Cale Clarke weekdays at 12:30-1pm CT only on Relevant Radio®.

Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.