A God of Love
THE Bible identifies Jehovah as a “God of love.” “God is love,” wrote the apostle John. And Moses recorded: “Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth.”—2 Cor. 13:11; 1 John 4:8; Ex. 34:6.
But some persons object: A God of love would never ask one of his servants to do what Jehovah required of Abraham. He would never ask that a man offer up his only son as a burnt offering. Some people feel that way, but what about you? Does this incident in the Bible increase your love for Jehovah, or does it make God repulsive to you?
It is to our everlasting welfare to cultivate an appreciation for everything God says and does. Therefore, instead of allowing this occurrence to turn us away from Jehovah, we should want to gain a better understanding of it so that it draws us closer to him in love. Viewed properly, what Jehovah required of Abraham, not only will build up our faith in Him as the Life-giver, but will also demonstrate the extent of His own love for mankind.
According to the Bible account, Jehovah instructed Abraham: “‘Take, please, your son, your only son whom you so love, Isaac, and make a trip to the land of Moriah and there offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall designate to you.’ . . . Finally they reached the place that the true God had designated to him, and Abraham built an altar there and set the wood in order and bound Isaac his son hand and foot and put him upon the altar on top of the wood. Then Abraham put out his hand and took the slaughtering knife to kill his son. But Jehovah’s angel began calling to him out of the heavens and saying: ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ to which he answered: ‘Here I am!’ And he went on to say: ‘Do not put out your hand against the boy and do not do anything at all to him, for now I do know that you are God-fearing in that you have not withheld your son, your only one, from me.’”—Gen. 22:1-14.
But why did Jehovah ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, and why is this record preserved in the Bible? The apostle Paul used the incident as an example to encourage fellow Christians to faithfulness. He recalled to their attention Jehovah’s promise to Abraham to make a great nation from the descendants of this miraculously born child of his. Paul quoted the promise: “What will be called ‘your seed’ will be through Isaac.” (Heb. 11:17, 18; Gen. 12:2, 3; 15:18; 21:12) But how could such a nation be produced if Isaac were dead? It could not be. And yet God told Abraham to kill Isaac. Did this not appear inconsistent on God’s part? How did Abraham react?
The Bible does not record Abraham’s inner feelings as he made his way to the sacrificial site, or how he felt as he tied his son on the altar and raised the knife to slit his throat. One can only imagine the mental anguish he must have suffered! Yet Paul pointed out that Abraham was confident. Had not Jehovah promised to make a great nation from his son Isaac? Yes! So how else could God fulfill his promise except by resurrecting Isaac? Yes, Abraham “reckoned that God was able to raise him up even from the dead”; no, not in the new world, but in God’s due time, so that his promise regarding Isaac could be fulfilled.—Heb. 11:19.
What effect did Paul produce in the Hebrew Christians by citing this incident? Were they stumbled and turned away from Jehovah because of what He required Abraham to do? Certainly not! Their faith was strengthened and they were stimulated to serve their great Life-giver Jehovah. They learned from it that obedience to God’s law was more important than the preservation of life, even as Jesus taught: ‘Whoever tries to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’—Luke 9:24.
What trust and confidence this example taught one to have in Jehovah! Even when faced with death or, perhaps worse still, the death of a loved one, a Christian can rely on Jehovah, and Jehovah will sustain him. So consider Abraham’s example, Paul urged. Copy it. Have the same faith he demonstrated and you will win Jehovah’s good pleasure, and the everlasting reward of life in his new world.—Heb. 11:6.
But Jehovah did not ask Abraham to offer his son merely to test his faith. No, there was more to it than that. He was making a prophetic picture demonstrating, not what human parents would have to do to their children, no, but, rather, what he himself was going to do on behalf of believing mankind. It was illustrated in a way that would touch the hearts of human parents, so they would realize that it was not a small thing that God had done. But, rather, as stated at John 3:16: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” How much love did He show? So much that it makes men today draw back at the thought of doing as much as God did.
But was it loving on Jehovah’s part to offer his Son Jesus as a sacrifice? Yes, because billions of human creatures would continue to die unless some provision were made to deliver them from the condemnation to sin and death. In order to save them God’s righteous law required that a ransom be paid. (Deut. 19:21; Ps. 51:5; 49:6, 7) So instead of abandoning mankind, Jehovah lovingly gave his most precious possession, his only-begotten Son, to rescue them from certain death. Was that not the supreme sacrifice, the superlative expression of love? If a man were to imitate Jehovah’s example, would he not be praised?
For example, if a fire or flood were to threaten the lives of many persons and a man and his son were in position to help, would it not be an act of love for them to make an effort to save their friends and neighbors? And if the son should lose his own life in the process of saving hundreds of others, would it not be considered heroic? Certainly it would. Of course, God’s sacrifice of his son is of so much greater worth. Also, it was not that the loss was permanent, for Jehovah restored the life of his Son by raising him from the dead, even as Abraham had complete confidence that Jehovah would do to Isaac.
So how should this prophetic drama involving Abraham make us feel? First, it should teach us to be like Abraham, to give our great Life-giver unquestioning obedience. He is our Maker, and even if obedience to his law should result in our death, we can rely with confidence on his power to restore life. In particular, this incident should not turn us away from Jehovah, but should make us love him more than ever, because, in terms that we can grasp, he has helped us to realize what he himself did on our behalf.