Genesis 22:2—Why did God tell Abraham to sacrifice his son when God condemned human sacrifice in Leviticus 18 and 20?
Problem: In both Leviticus 18:21 and 20:2, God specifically denounced human sacrifice when He commanded Israel, “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech” (Lev. 18:21, niv), and “Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel, who gives any of his children to Molech, must be put to death; the people of the community are to stone him” (Lev. 20:2, niv). Yet, in Genesis 22:2, God commanded Abraham to “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” This appears to contradict His command not to offer human sacrifices.
Solution: First, God was not interested, nor did He plan, that Abraham should actually kill his son. The fact that the angel of the Lord prevented Abraham from killing Isaac (22:12) demonstrates this. God’s purpose was to test Abraham’s faith by asking him to completely surrender his only son to God. The angel of the Lord declared that it was Abraham’s willingness to surrender his son, not the actual killing of him, that satisfied God’s expectations for Abraham. God said explicitly, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad ... for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Gen. 22:12, nasb).
Second, the prohibitions in both Leviticus 18:21 and 20:2 were specifically against the offering of one’s offspring to the pagan god Molech. So it is not strictly a contradiction for God to prohibit offering one’s offspring to Molech and yet asking Abraham to offer Isaac to Him, the only true God. After all, offering Isaac to the Lord is not offering one’s offspring to Molech, since the Lord is not Molech. God alone is sovereign over life (Deut. 32:39; Job 1:21), and therefore He alone has the right to demand when it should be taken. Indeed, He has appointed the day of everyone’s death (Ps. 90:10; Heb. 9:27).
Third, Abraham so trusted in God’s love and power that he willingly obeyed because he believed God would raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:17–19). This is implied in the fact that, though Abraham intended to kill Isaac, he told his servants, “I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship and we will return to you” (Gen. 22:5, nasb).
Finally, it is not morally wrong for God to order the sacrifice of our sons. He offered His own Son on Calvary (John 3:16). Indeed, even our governments sometimes call upon us to sacrifice our sons for our country. Certainly God has an even greater right to do so.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.