Abraham, Acting, and Atheists

If you are reading this, then you may be confused at the title of this post. This is understandable since all three of these words are seemingly unrelated. However, they somehow came together through various circumstances to form an interesting narrative in my mind, which I will hopefully be able to convey in this blog post. The post may be slightly longer than usual, but it should be an interesting read.

Recently, I’ve been reading through Genesis, and what struck me again was the stunning story of the life of Abraham. To me, he is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and fascinating characters in the Old Testament narrative. After reading through the story of Abraham, I decided I wanted to write a blog post about him. I put it on the back-burner for a while, because I wasn’t sure exactly what I should write about concerning him. My thoughts and creativity was rekindled after I watched the first episode of “The Bible: The Epic Miniseries” created by the 20th Century Fox and featured on the History Channel. It is a 10-part miniseries of the entire bible with better than usual acting (for Christian media) and great visual effects. The major flaw, in my opinion, of the series (thus far) is that it is forced to skip over many of the intricate details of the biblical narrative due to time constraints. However, they did spent quite some time on the story of Abraham, and actually did quite a good job of telling his story, which made me think again of writing about him. With this in mind, I will share two themes that struck me in the story about Abraham.

Abraham called to a foreign land

In Hebrews we have a nice little summary of Abraham,

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Hebrews 11:8-11

Abraham was called out of ancient Babylonia (Ur of the Chaldees was part of ancient Babylonia) into the promised land Canaan. Babylon was a major hub for man-made religion, which can be seen in the previous chapter of Genesis (chapter 10), with the story of Babel. Canaan is the land God chose for His people. It was a place where His people could dwell together and enjoy the riches of the land. Canaan, the promised land, represents Christ. It is also the place God chose to have His dwelling place (the temple). God calling his people out of man-made religion/empires, to go to the promised land is a major theme throughout the bible. The call to leave Babylon and enter the promised land is as real today as it was for Abraham.

God calls us to forsake the world and it’s man-made systems and enter into the riches of Christ. It is a call to enter into the land where what is built has foundations, whose architect and builder is God, rather than remaining in the world with man-made foundations and buildings. It is by no means easy to leave what we know for something we cannot yet see. It is something that must be done out of faith in God and His promises. God promised that all of Abrahams descendants would inherit the land. Paul shows us how we are all heirs according to the promise God gave to Abraham, in Galatians. We all are heirs of the promised land, Christ. However, we must enter into the land and enjoy the riches of the land. We must inhabit the land, which means making Christ and Him alone our center, our food, and our enjoyment.

Abraham and Isaac

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. Hebrews 11:17-19

The story of Abraham offering his only begotten son is a profound narrative on many levels. I remember back to a conversation I had with a friend of mine who is a professing atheist. He challenged me one day and said, “How can this so called ‘loving’ God ask a father to kill his son? I can’t believe in a God like that”. My immediate thought while I was in the situation was, why does he see the story so differently to the way I do? I realized that he was looking at the story from a purely human understanding. On a that level, it is outrageous to sacrifice a child. From a spiritual level, it is completely different.

God put Abraham through the emotional experience of offering up his only son. The amount of pain and anguish Abraham as a father must of felt is beyond comprehension. Abraham never actually had to go through the experience, but this was a picture of what our heavenly Father went through when offering up His only Son. The only way God could test if Abraham had faith, that through Isaac he would be a father to many nations, was to ask him to give Isaac up. It tested Abraham to the point of seeing if he believed in the resurrection power of God. The only way the promise would be fulfilled, if he went through with offering up his son, was if God raised him from the dead.

The amazing thing is that God didn’t allow Abraham to kill his only son Isaac. God provided a substitute lamb. In fact, the substitute lamb was His only begotten son, Christ. God the Father went through the agony of offering up His only begotten son and Christ Himself went through death and resurrection. Through Isaac, many became part of God’s people, His family. Similarly, through Christ, God the Father gained many sons and daughters.

There are many other profound details to the story, but the main point of the story (in my opinion) is to foreshadow what the Father would go through with His own son. God did not offer up His Son because He was an advocate of Child sacrifice. He offered up His Son, so that He could bring many more sons and daughters into His family. Instead of losing a son He gained a family. In fact, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. It was not a vindictive act, but a redemptive act.

I’d love to explore more aspects of the life of Abraham (Sarah and Hagar, Melchizedek, etc.), but I’ll leave it here for now. I hope you enjoyed my thoughts. If this has provoked any additional thoughts on the life of Abraham or you have any comments on what I’ve said feel free to post a comment.


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Nathan Odell Nathan Odell is the author of Joined to Him. You can connect with him on

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  1. Forget how abraham felt in this fictitious story. His son would have felt much more emotional torment, if your father was about to kill you because he claims god told him too, you would think hes absolutely insane and would definitely damage your relationship with him, something this god doesn’t really seem to bother about. What kind of god needs these sort of tests that will do more harm then good?

    • Thanks for the comment Geoff. You illustrated nicely my point on how many people see this on a human level. You actually brought up a good point, which I failed to mention in my post. Isaac was actually quite old at the time – in his thirties. Abraham was an old man. Isaac could easily have overpowered his Father if he so desired. But he didn’t. He was obedient to the point of death, just like Christ was obedient to the point of death. Isaac also would have known the promise God made, that through him, he would be the father of many nations, which also shows that he had faith in God’s promises. I’d also like to point out again that God did not allow Abraham to kill his son.. that was obviously never His desire. He provided a substitute lamb instead, foreshadowing that God would provide a substitute lamb, His own Son, Christ. In the end the test did much good in that it showed God that Abraham had faith and believed God and His promises. It also showed Abraham that God was faithful in keeping His promises.

  2. There is no indication that I can see that the son knew he was going to be killed (I do know he wasn’t killed). It is also quite disgusting that this god still needs a sacrifice (the ram) – I don’t know what it is about this obsession with blood sacrifice in the bible (especially old testament), but it isn’t very pleasant. PS I like that there is a spell checker on here.

    • I pretty sure he knew what was happening when his father started tying him up and laying him on the alter. As I said, he could have resisted this easily. Also, as I said earlier, the ram represents the substitute God would provide – Christ. The topic of animal sacrifice in the bible is quite detailed and would need a long post to explain, but i’ll try give a simple explanation. The reason God instituted the sacrificial system in the Old Testament was for a temporary means of atonement for sins. The net result of human sin is death (Sin is like a deadly poison, its net result is death) . Sin and death are intimately related. Thus, to atone for sin or put another way – give sin what it requires – meant the death of something sinless. Since animals did not sin, they could be sacrificed as a payment for sins. Why did it have to be a blood sacrifice? Because the life is in the blood (this actually has scientific evidence). Life had to be exchanged for death as a consequence of sin. The life of an animal was thus exchanged for death, which satisfied the consequence of sin. Without going into vast detail, Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. He atoned for sin, once and for all time. Hence, we don’t need any more animal sacrifices. Sin and it’s requirement was destroyed in the body of Christ and through the resurrection, death lost it’s power over humanity. That is why there is eternal life in the Son. When we put our faith in Christ, we receive His life and are set free from the power or consequence of sin. The book of Hebrews goes into great detail of what the death of Christ meant in relation to the sacrificial system.

  3. In Gen22:7 his son even asks him what will be sacrificed and good old Abe doesn’t break the news to him. Two verses later his knife is out ready to kill the boy. This aside this whole doctrine of an eye for an eye with regards to sin (someone sinned so someone else must die) is just so obvious of a morally unevolved culture that was so predominant in those times. I would also hate to be a poor animal in those times just killing them because you did something bad, is a cruel cruel thing indeed.

    • Please read the text again: Genesis 22:9 “When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.”

      He bound his son and laid him on the altar before he whipped the knife out. I’ll say it again, Isaac would have known what was happening at this point and could have resisted this.

      As I said earlier… it is SIN as an entity that causes death, not some form of retribution for sin. Like the analogy of poison, it is the poison that kills you. Whether you like the idea of it or not, sin causes death. That is the very reason Christ came to this earth, to remove death by dealing with sin once and for all time, so that we could enjoy life. It was like Christ came and sucked the poison out of our bodies into His. He suffered the death that was due to us, so that we could enjoy His life. To me that is an act of love and grace. I can understand why you don’t like the idea of animals dying. None of us do. In fact the idea that Christ went through unimaginable agony and pain for something He didn’t deserve is hugely ‘disgusting’ to me. But then I see why He did it. He did it out of love. He gave his own life so that we wouldn’t have to suffer. Greater is no Love than for a man to lay down his life for another. Be blessed my friend.

  4. The Hebrews passage and Abraham leaving Ur not knowing exactly where he was going was the passage the Lord used 6 and a half years ago to bring Melanie and myself out of 38 years of serving the system. And that new ‘less-travelled path,’ in our case, has made all the difference! Our respective journeys are all different, but we are in safe hands as we follow Jesus, Head of the Church!

    • Thanks for the comment Erroll. That is quite a hectic testimony. It must have been a big sacrifice to leave behind 38 years of history. I’d love to hear more of the story…

  5. Goeff, even Richard Dawkins recognized, “it’s a sign of historical puerility to see the writings of one century through the politically tinted glasses of another.”

    Oh, and for what it’s worth, God does not need the test of our faith. WE need to see that we do indeed trust our Creator, WE need to see that He does indeed bring good out of all things, WE need to see that He keeps His promise to change us and transforms our character through our obedience.
    Regardless, good luck on your journey. Try to develop and open mind.

    • Thanks for adding some valuable contributions to the discussion.

      In the future I am going to moderate the comments more strictly. Comments that are purely contentious or defamatory won’t be approved. Disagreements are allowed, and you will find many disagreements in the comments section of the various posts. But contentious comments that contain a defamatory tone will not be approved. Neither will comments where people simply repeat the same points that have already been made without taking seriously the responses of others to what you’ve already written.

  6. Nate, maybe one day we’ll be able to have a coffee together and share our stories – would love to hear yours! [Remember to send me details of those friends of yours in P.E, should you want me to make contact with them at some stage. Perhaps better still, should THEY want to make contact with me at any time in the future, they can get me at 041-3711839 (home) or 078-4595620. No obligation!]

    Your blog comment about seeing things in a different, deeper way reminded me of an old hymn, written even before I was born – 1876!

    One verse reads,
    “Heav’n above is softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green!
    Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen;
    Birds with gladder songs o’erflow, flowers with deeper beauties shine,
    Since I know, as now I know, I am His, and He is mine.”

    I think it was Billy Graham who said that after he had been found of Christ, even the trees and leaves around him took on a greater and deeper beauty. And I guess so with so many other things pertaining to our salvation.

    Have a good week.

    • Erroll, I would love to meet up with you for coffee! I trust that the Lord will arrange for our paths to cross in the future. I did give the contact I have in PE your email address. I trust that they will contact you when they are ready. I’ll send them your numbers too.

      I love old hymns! Thanks for sharing this one. It is amazing how our view of even the mundane things change when we encounter Christ in a deep and profound way. I love it!

      Hope you also have a good week Erroll.

  7. In a Bible study I am apart of, we are studying Genesis and I Can.Not.Believe how everything just screams Jesus’ name to me! Every passage and story points to Him, includes Him, reminds me of Him, makes me think about Him. I never knew how much I loved Genesis. God has blown me away with this study!! appreciate your thoughts on abraham.

    • I agree Randi. Genesis is one of my favourite books for that very reason. It is amazing how we see these things when we read the scriptures through the Spirit and with Christ at the center.

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