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Why Did God Ask Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac?

by Joshua Tilghman on November 13, 2013

Abraham 300x225 Why Did God Ask Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac?One of the hardest stories in the Bible to swallow, especially for mothers, is when God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The whole idea of God asking Abraham to kill his most beloved son conjures up all kinds of monstrous thoughts about a being that is supposed to be the very essence of love. I recently received an e-mail from a reader about an article written by James Goodman in the Huffington Post, entitled, The Five Most Terrifying Words in the Bible. The title comes from five words quoted Genesis 22:7 where Isaac asks his father, “…but where is the lamb…” for the sacrifice. It does a good job of illustrating the emotional turmoil this Biblical scene has caused. Mr. Goodman’s very own mother was quoted as saying, “I hate that story. I can’t listen to another word.”

I believe this reader sent me the article because she shares that mother’s sentiment. Like many others who have read the story, she wonders if it really happened, and if it didn’t, why is it in the Bible?

Granted, God stops Abraham right before he stabs his son and we find out the entire incident was a test of faith. But if this scene historically happened, it poses two big problems for God:

1)      God commands us not to kill. Why would he contradict his very nature by telling Abraham to kill his own son?

And…

2)      Why would an omniscient God need to put Abraham through such a test in the first place?

Most Christians will defend God on the second point by saying that the incident had nothing to do with God. Rather, the test was for Abraham. But we must ask ourselves why would Abraham benefit from passing such a test? The emotional turmoil alone at the thought of killing your own son would be justification enough to say, “No, God, I can’t do it,” thus rendering any potential lesson learned obsolete. Any mother could understand that. At least this is the sentiment I get from many women.

So what’s this story really about? What’s the deeper meaning?

First of all I would like to say that this story was not meant to be taken literally. Just as God would never ask his people to kill innocent women, children, and animals when his people entered the Promised Land, a God of love would never ask one of his people to kill their own son. The story is one of metaphor and symbolism to teach us the deeper truths of reality. Like all Biblical stories, its true nature lies in the involution and evolution of the soul, and if we were taught the proper meanings of these symbols in church, we wouldn’t have so many people that cringe at portions of the Old Testament because of its seemingly barbaric nature.

The Story of the Christ in the Old Testament

Most Christian theologians believe that this story foreshadows the coming of Jesus who would take the place of humanity on the cross. The central theme of this Old Testament story then becomes the great faith of Abraham in knowing that God will provide the sacrifice. This is a wonderful way of viewing the story, but I want us to see the more correct way of understanding it. The truth is, the two stories of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross are actually one and the same. Abraham and Isaac’s story isn’t so much of a foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice as it is the same story being told again! What’s even more is the fact that both of these stories and the characters involved are telling YOUR story as well! Remember, each Biblical story brings us closer to the truth within us (the nature of the Christ) when we apply them to ourselves instead of thinking they are about someone else in another time and place.

Let’s begin by discussing some important concepts in theosophy. Then we’ll apply them to Abraham’s story.  When we’re finished, the story of Abraham asking to sacrifice his own son won’t sound so barbaric anymore.

The First, Second, and Third Logos

Most people are familiar with the Greek term “logos.” It’s translated as the “Word” in English, but this translation hardly does it justice. Today we’re going to expand the definition of the logos into three components.

Please bear in mind the terms first, second, and third logos were not used when the New Testament was written, but nonetheless the concepts will help us better understand the complicated nature of chapter one in the Gospel of John.

Within that chapter, the first logos represents the unmanifested Father, whereas the second logos represents the first ray (the son/the word/latent reason and thought) sent forth from the father into manifestation and duality, and the third logos represents the fully manifested son, or the “word (second logos) made flesh” (third logos).

Did you get that? Reread it again if you didn’t. Digest it for a moment. It will become important later.

If the above concepts still seems foreign to you, think of it like this, exactly as it is written according to the first chapter in the Gospel of John:

John 1:1

“In the beginning was the word (second logos), and the logos was with God (the first logos).

John 1:14:

“And the word (second logos) was made flesh (third logos) and dwelt among us (in the physical world)…”

Before we go any further, it is important to point out that the first, second, and third logos are ONE. The differentiation between the three seeks to convey how the energies of God manifest creation. It is similar to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Christianity. Many of the early Christian fathers understood this, but the meaning has been lost through centuries of distortion.

The Ram

Once you’ve digested the concept of the first, second, and third logos, we can define the symbol of the ram. In the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac, the ram represents the second logos. The ram symbolizes the divine life involved (descending) down into matter, just as Jesus was sent from the father and descended to take on flesh in the first chapter of John.

Remember, before the Word became “flesh,” it was simply “with God,” but was also separate from God. Everything in the world was made by this Word, meaning that this divine life was the energy blueprint of all creation. This is why “everything” was made through the Word.

Isaac

If the ram represents the second logos, then Isaac represents the third logos, or “the son” fully manifested, as did Jesus and all of us who are also in the flesh. Therefore, the ram is sacrificed (involved life) for the son (evolved life), so that the evolution of the soul can take place. The sacrifice has to take place in order for the soul to evolve. There is always a sacrifice in order to grow. Whether this is the consumption of energy from food or the consumption of raw material, everything requires a sacrifice. For the soul, this sacrifice comes in the form of experience on the lowest plane of manifestation.

The Thicket

Now consider the scene that takes place after God tells Abraham not to go through with the sacrifice:

“And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son” (Gen. 22:13).

This story utilizes the symbol of the thicket because the thicket represents the world of matter and duality, where the soul is caught is trapped until it completes its cycle and can cast off the flesh.

The Hebrew word for thicket comes from the word seb-awk, which means entwined, wrapped up. It is the soul that is entwined in matter and duality.

Abraham sacrifices the ram (the second logos involved in matter) so that the evolved life (the son and third logos) can begin the process of ascension back to God.

The Number Three

The number three denotes the completion of a period of activity. Jesus was three days and nights in the tomb (symbolic of the body of flesh) before his resurrection. In other words, it was three days before his resurrection because three represents the completion of his cycle of activity in the flesh.

In the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the number of three is also used.

“And Abraham rose up early in the morning…and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off” (Gen. 22:3-4).

Just as Jesus was three days in the tomb, so did Abraham travel for three days before reaching the destination where Isaac was to become the sacrifice. Abraham is symbolic of the phase of the divine nature active in the soul. That is why he is the central figure of this story. It is through the divine phases of involution and evolution that the process of God manifests as man and then man ascends back to God. If we are honest, the New Testament teaches that we are to become the image of Christ, the one who ascended. WE are to ascend, as shown in the story of Christ, back to the father through the death, burial, and resurrection of the ego.

The Lamb of God

We have all heard the expression, “The Lamb of God.” This expression represents Christ, of course, who was “crucified before the foundation of the world.”

In the story of Genesis 22 Abraham tells Isaac not to worry about the lamb, because “God will provide himself the lamb.”

What many people who read the Bible fail to realize about reality is that we have all been crucified since the foundation of the world. This is the divine plan all along. The very fact that our eternal souls have taken on flesh and come into the world of duality or matter from the first and second logos means that all of us have our cross to bear if we wish to ascend.

This is what Jesus meant when he said, take up your cross and follow me. It is a call for us to realize that HIS story is our story. His ascension is to become our ascension. Abraham’s sacrifice for Isaac to become the “promised son” is also our story because we are to manifest the Son within us.

Closing Thoughts

Studio del Corpo Umano   Leonardo da Vinci 200x300 Why Did God Ask Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac?The real meaning of the story then is not that a higher being asked his devotee to kill his son, but rather the story reveals that within us is contained the divine nature of God. The story brings a whole new meaning to the famous phrase by the Greek philosopher Protagorus, who stated that “Man is the measure of all things.”

Think of it like this: contained within all men is the truth of the first, second, and third logos.

Hopefully you now see this story as one of peace and comfort instead of the barbarism of a supreme being! And if you know any mothers who have struggled with this story, don’t forget to send them this article!

Blessings!

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brian November 14, 2013 at 2:08 am

Much of the Bible makes a whole lot more sense if we are honest about where God comes from.

He exists, at our behest, within our consciousness, be it individual or collective. He is a product of our imaginations. As an anthropomorphic being his only rational or emotional justification is his value as a comforter. There is absolutely no evidence of a far off being running the Universe.

To continue to think of an anthropomorphic God who might demand one human to murder another for whatever reason is infantile.

What we are left with is an abstract set of laws, many as yet still to be elucidated, as to how the Universe operates and our particular role within the big picture. And one of the best tools with which to investigate an abstraction is the symbol.

Like a lot of other abstract literature, such as Shakespeare, the Bible is a collection of symbolic stories and it is up to us to make our own ideosyncratic sense of what they might me to me.

I suspect this may be where the concept of three comes in.

Thomas Kuhn in his book “The Structure of a Scientific Revolution”, talks about the three stages in conceptual evolution; (1)thesis, opposed by (2) counter-thesis, ultimately resolved by (3) synthesis.

And this is my take on the sacrifice of the son. The thesis is somebody’s baby. According to the laws of science, my precious theory must be offered for sacrificial killing at the hands of the counter-thesis. And this tension is typically resolved by the acceptance of some mutant synthesis of the two competing ideas.

I am sure our religious instincts will prove far more productive, if and when we start to play by these less-dogmatic rules!

Why do the Churches continue to act as if the Enlightenment never happened, when it has achieved more in 350 years than several millenia of praying to an anthropomorphic God who appears not to be really there?

How much heartache and slaughter have humans created when God failed to deliver as the Priesthood had predicted? Was Jesus not murdered because his face did not fit the views of the Pharisees?

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2 Justin November 14, 2013 at 9:32 am

Brain,

You make some very powerful statements here. I specifically enjoyed the view of the laws of Science showing that every idea must bear its cross(thesis), be put up for sacrifice(counter – thesis), and in the end become truth(synthesis). And I agree with you that man has created an Image of God, and that the god the average christian worships is some off shoot of that image. However, I must disagree that man created God. For it is not man that lives but God.

It is not often a popular opinion within science circles, though it is gaining in popularity the more we learn about quantum physics, but what we think of as the universe is a lie. Its a hologram created by the mind. Whats more is that the Mind is a lie as well, for your individual thoughts are not real either, instead it is only God that is real. His dreams create ‘man’, man’s dreams creates the universe. This is why we are all gods and all one with God.

Live Blessed;
Justin

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3 anny November 15, 2013 at 3:43 am

Hi Justin,

Are you playing word games on Brian, calling him Brain which is very to the point here?

I like the way you explain your view only I would not use the term lie but rather illusion. I have heard it called not only a hologram but a fractal hologram, which of course means that every little piece, caused by a fracture, still contains all potential of the whole. You say the same by calling all of us gods, all One with God.

Anny

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4 Justin November 19, 2013 at 5:24 pm

That was a mistype, I meant Brian.

I agree that Illusion is better word than Lie, more because of the emotional response associated with the two words than the actual meaning of them.

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5 Ant November 14, 2013 at 7:41 am

Interesting article to read, I respect the views that you have put out there and the two interesting questions you asked. However I feel the story of Abraham and his son was actually to do with Abraham and was a real event. We were given an excellent insight into the deepened relationship that Abraham already had with God. A lot of my views that I’m going to point out have come through studying scripture and some excerpts of A.W Tozer’s pursuit of God. (Which I may add is an absolutely fantastic book).

Scripture interprets scripture so to continue we can look at a scripture Matthew 5:3 one of the beatitudes from the sermon on the mount ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. The blessed one is the one who has exterminated every external thing and has rooted from his/her heart all sense of possessing. They have reached an inward state paralleling a beggar seen on the streets.

These are the poor in spirit those that are no longer slaves to the tyranny of things so although free from all sense of possessing they yet possess all things.

This is what God was trying to achieve with Abraham. Remember Abraham was at the point he had already seen God move mightily in his life he was an old man by this stage and he most certainly knew when his God was speaking to him.Not to go too much into detail but basically when Isaac was born he was Abraham’s delight (which is expected). But Isaac represented everything that was sacred to Abraham God’s promise, the covenants and his heart connected with his son in a most powerful way but the relationship was beginning to reach a point where Abraham would start to idolise his son and God knew this. Remember God is a jealous God and there shall be no idols before him. An idol being ANYTHING that is worshipped over God himself not necessarily a carved out object.

You see the whole story is to do with Abraham’s heart. An omniscient God knew how much Abraham held Isaac in his heart but he wanted to take him through this painful process. So when the instruction came to Abraham he struggled with the atrocity of it all but he came to the conclusion that God would have to raise him from the dead because of the promise ‘In Isaac shall thy seed be called’. I want to add more things but I’ll be here forever.

God does not contradict himself he let Abraham go through with it up until the point where he knew there would be no going back and then forbade him to lay a hand on Isaac. Tozer puts it in a great way how God would have spoke to him after “It’s all right Abraham. I never intended that you should actually slay the lad. I only wanted to remove him from the temple of your heart that I might reign unchallenged there.”

John 15:2- ‘Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.’

Abraham had now reached the point where he possessed nothing but in actual fact possessed all things. God being the master pruner knew the best way to get to his heart although from the offset seemed cruel and evil. This is seen throughout the scriptures I wish to talk about the other places it is seen, it also happens in this day and age. In my own life it has happened. I’m not saying I have reached the point where Abraham was but God has dealt with me to the same effect and it is truly a great thing and only enhances the beauty of the relationship with him.

Abraham had everything but he possessed nothing that is the spiritual secret behind it all. God helped him to reach such a state. God was now able to reign unchallenged in the heart of the patriarch.

I agree with you every biblical story, law and decree has a principle which is to be applied now. But I do believe myself that Abraham’s story was actually a real event and I hope my views give a different perspective to the two questions you posed in the beginning of the article.
God bless you.

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6 Justin November 19, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Ant,

This is a wonderful example of how the Bible presents itself to individuals on so many levels. The lesson may seem to be different but it always ends at the same point.

To look at this from another view point, my literal level interpretation of the Abraham and Issac story is that it is a precursor to the story of Jesus. We see a father, who is powerful beyond measure (look into exactly what Abraham reigned over), taking his “only” son (we are all sons of God so saying Jesus is the only begotten is like saying Issac is Abraham’s only son) to be sacrificed. In this case, God stopped the sacrifice, the willingness proved his love for God; in the case of Jesus, God did not stop the sacrifice, showing exactly how much more he loves us.

Justin

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7 sparks November 21, 2013 at 8:11 am

Ant,
Very accurate and heartfelt posts…thank you!
May I contribute some thoughts to add to your own?

I see the mother as being very intuitive, wrought with worry, concerning her husband Abraham, wondering “what is going on with him”, but dare she question him?
Then, the son, Isaac, takes his Fathers hand and walks along, probably chattering away :) and fully trusts the Father with a childlike nature (so very beautiful), he cooperates and has his childlike Faith! Does Isaac somehow know an Angel will come and rescue them? God has covered/sheltered the child with Grace!
Can you see a correlation here with Jesus and his Heavenly Father? he TRUSTS as well but yet is an adult man, he has never lost his childlike attributes and once again gives us the teaching of our responsibility to all our children and future generations.
Sparks

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8 anny November 15, 2013 at 3:30 am

Hi Josh,

You write: Most people are familiar with the Greek term “logos” as it’s presented in the New Testament. It’s translated as the “Word” in English, but this translation hardly does it justice.

I think you get it backwards here. The Greek word ‘logos’ does mean word, also outside of the Bible, as does the Hebrew word ‘dabar’.

There we see the same phenomenon that the description ‘word’ does not do it justice. After all it was the Word (let there be light) that created light. And the Ten Commandments are not commandments at all in Hebrew, they are the Ten Words that encompass worlds.

It is the meaning of the term ‘word’ that has been devalued (is that a word?) today in English but also in the other modern languages.

Anny

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9 Joshua Tilghman November 20, 2013 at 11:23 pm

Thanks Anny,

The way I have worded it does seem a little confusing. I made a minor correction.

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10 sparks November 20, 2013 at 8:10 am

Can anyone else see a test of evolution with Abraham & the sacrifice of the son
did not an Angel prevent the slaughter?
Abraham, Father of all, allowed his frontal (angelic) lobes to come into being
thus, fathering evolution, once again

“we have come far, but will go farther” (father)
any music fans…Big and Rich
“Holy Water” listen, awesome song

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11 Joshua Tilghman November 20, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Sparks,

Interesting. Abraham does represent a phase of the divine, but I have never made this connection. I’ll into this more.

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12 sparks November 20, 2013 at 8:13 am

sorry, on a roll here
the serpent is rising again :)

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13 Cindy November 26, 2013 at 6:30 pm

I would really enjoy hearing your take, Joshua, on “man’s image of God.” In my work as a therapist, I sometimes find myself, when appropriate, inquiring about one’s concept of God — it can be very revealing about much, including “The Self.” Thank you for your posts here and your extensive website — very informative and thought provoking!

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14 Joshua Tilghman November 27, 2013 at 10:13 am

Cindy,

You’re very welcome, and thanks for commenting. “Man made in God’s image” is an important phrase in Genesis that reveals much about our true nature. I have included this information in a few of my former posts. I believe if you do a search on the search bar a few post will be brought up on this topic where some detailed information is revealed.

Thanks again!

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15 Cherie Erten January 18, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Joshua, The story of Abraham and Issac was one of the most traumatic as a child. Imagine being a child and this story of a father going to stab his son, I can remember thinking could I be a scarifice someday. Which was ridiculous but I was a child. Not to mention how it feels to be a mother, no way. When taken out of the literal sense, it is no wonder so many walked away. Another ghost to the light.

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16 Mary Ann Chatman March 18, 2014 at 2:13 am

I could never kill my child either and I love my god more than my child of course but just don’t believe God would tell him do that he could been bipolar hearing bad voices telling him bad things people was crazy now driving their kids off ocean devil spirits could told him do that you know not God God would never tell someone do that Never!!!! I eman if people can hear gods voice could been devil making hisself sound like God I meN he was in heaven with god you know before he got kicked out!!! Could been devil telling Abraham that. Think about it god will never tell you do a test like that . Gives us kids love not kill!!

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17 Joshua Tilghman March 22, 2014 at 11:38 pm

So true, Mary.

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18 Sparks March 23, 2014 at 3:36 am

Hi Mary Ann,
We see this happening on such a large scale now, and yes, I can agree with all that you say.
Especially, that there is much darkness, suffering and evil going on in this time and space.
I cannot even watch the news and only take on reading on the net that is not going to place fear & hurt in my heart.
It can be very gruesome for those of us that are especially sensitive, so my advise is for you to stay away from mainstream media for a bit and read the headline before going into read on the net, this will help draw you back to the beauty of your life.
Which I know this is how God wants us to respond, it is all a test for all of here right now.
God gifted us with free will and that does in fact factor into much of what we are each are experiencing in many different ways.
Quietly engage your discernment and go to your heart and soul to seek answers to any conflict or hurts that may be going on in your life.

I just happened to catch the “Bible” series about Abraham and Isaac the other night, and as I was contemplating the entire story, I truly feel he was distraught about losing his other son, Ismael. Whom I believe he truly loved as much as any Father can love his son.
Remember, he and his mother left because Sarah was jealous, and to top it off she was the one who encouraged it. Abraham really did not want to go there but did so upon Sarah’s prompting.
After Abraham took off with Isaac, Sarah went into an immediate panic attack, knowing her part in all of it had something do with her husband’s behavior.
I personally don’t think she should of made Ismael and the mother leave, that was a cruel and ruthless act on her part and by doing this, she hurt Abraham immensely, his guilt and grieving about not standing up to Sarah and the first son, left him wide open for dark spiritual influences.
But not for long, as his divine goodness overruled the dark ones. The better Angel showed up and saved Isaac and Abraham as well, just in the knick of time, as they also saved Lot’s family, although the wife turned into a pillar of salt, it still stands today, reminding us not to look back.
Abraham so loved Lot and I feel his grief of Lot’s leaving against Abraham’s wishes, also weighed heavy on his heart.
His entire mission was about keeping the tribe and especially the families together during their journey. This was a major disappointment, losing his beloved Lot, his kin.
For all its worth, Abraham was a great leader, but he was human, which is precisely why he was chosen for a seemingly impossible task.
At that time and now there are more atrocities committed against the very dearest of humanity, the children.
Unfortunately, we can only protect and love our own and send prayer out to help the rest of them. If you are well and can do it, you can volunteer at a local shelter and help some of the women and their children by giving them hope and love.

Thanks for your post, as it gave me an opportunity to reply, perhaps not in such a philosophical rendering of Scripture, but with a more humane aspect as to what may have been going on in their hearts and minds as I try to stand in their shoes/sandals
Which I suppose is what the entire Bible is all about, when the sky kisses the sea…
With Love,
Sparks

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19 Andrew Davis May 18, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Isn’t it strange, that God who is Purely Good, would order Abraham to Kill his innocent son, Isaac?
Would our loving Father, God, play a “Trick” like this on His loyal servant?
Could it be that God NEVER told Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac?

All of these questions are answered in this Teaching:
http://bibleofgod.org/did-god-tell-abraham-to-kill-isaac/

• The Common Understanding of this record
• Why is this “Test” Questionable?
• Did God Tempt Abraham?
• Burnt Offering vs. Sacrifice
• Satan’s Deception
• Not the first time Abraham Miscomprehended
• How old was Isaac?
• Other Important things to Note

-Andrew Davis

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