Many times my fellow Christian bloggers give me the inordinate blessing of leading me to consider more thoughtfully where before I ran roughshod, and so it was with a post I read today. It had to do with Abraham’s silence in the face of God’s demand that he sacrifice Isaac, a difficult passage to read, as TwitchTheThread rightly notes. Please be sure and look at the whole post but here are the crucial points concerning Genesis 22: 1-19:
Excerpt from “Silence,” A Twitch upon the Thread
Abraham does as God asks, and does it in silence. …
This leaves me viewing this as one of the most uncomfortable silences in the Bible. It is the moment when God is the most unreasonable, the most warranting of the often unfair description of Him as capricious and tyrannical, and yet we are given nothing but silence in response to it. It makes God seem unjust and unmerciful, and presents Abraham as terribly inconsistent, sometimes arguing against God’s unjustness and something (sic) abiding by it. Yet still, despite these apparent problems with the story, I find myself drawn to it again and again as an example of…what, exactly? I don’t know, but I’m constantly drawn back to and intrigued by it in a way I simply cannot articulate.
The question of Abraham’s silence is an interesting one. It bears similarity to Job’s response to the Lord when He spoke to him out of the whirlwind. With God we are confronted by the ultimate Other – holy and wholly other, if I may. There are limits to our understanding: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law”(Deut. 29:29).
That being said, by the time Abraham was called on to take the long walk up Mt. Moriah, he had walked with God a long time; after many lapses of faith, he had grown in his trust (confident dependence) and knowledge of God, so that “he was called a friend of God” (James 2:23; cf. 2 Chron. 20:7). He had talked with God under the tree of Mamre. There is an intimacy he had with God. Abraham’s silence when told to do the unthinkable—a child sacrifice such as the pagan gods of Canaan demanded—was one borne of hard won trust, faith, if you will. Faith in—not his friend—but his Friend. A Friend who, for all Abraham loved Him, was still God, the one, true God, the creator of the universe. Abraham’s silence was one of humility in face of the ultimate test of his faith.
Job had demanded answers for his suffering but when confronted by the holy God, cried out to be relieved of such an unequal contention with a sudden apprehension of his creature-liness and unworthiness:
“Then Job answered the LORD and said:
‘Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.’” (Job 40:3-5)
So Abraham humbly obeyed, knowing that obedience is the only fitting sacrifice before a holy God—wherever that obedience calls you to go. Because, as the author of Hebrews takes great pains to point out, faith comprises two elements: trust and obedience. Note God’s response to this act of faith: “He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’” (Gen. 22:12). Humility engenders an obedience that comes from the fear of God, an infinite, eternally self-existent, immortal being so far above us who are contingent, finite, and fallen beings that all our attempts to apprehend him without His own aid are meaningless and futile.
What’s more, by this time Abraham had come to love God even more than he loved his beloved son, something we too are called upon to do in the sense that we are to love God more than any of his creations, including ourselves (see Luke 14:26).
This to me is the only satisfying answer to Abraham’s silent obedience in the light of the whole of Scripture. Especially when confronted with the silence of God’s own Son, His only Son, as he hung on a cross for six hours one Friday, out of love for you and for me.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. (Is. 53:7)