The incident where Abraham attempts to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God concerns many Christians. God seems to tell him to offer a human sacrifice. This is strange behaviour for a loving God.
In the end, an angel points at a lamb caught in a thorn bush that Abraham can sacrifice, but that is not much better, because it suggests that God was tricking Abraham all along.
Maybe God was testing Abraham to see if he would be willing to sacrifice the thing that was most precious to him, but that is odd, because Abraham had already left his family and home to follow God's call. God had already promised to bless Abraham (Gen 12,15), so there was nothing God could do if he failed the test.
I think we need a must better understanding of this incident. Genesis begins by saying that "God tested Abraham". The interesting question is who did the testing? The subject of the sentence is the Hebrew word "Elohim". This word is translated as "God" in all translations of Genesis 22.
Although Elohim is usually translated as God, it has a number of other meanings. It can also be translated as:
When I did a search, I found more than a hundred verses where Elohim was not translated as God, but one of these other words. Here are a few examples.
But why did you steal my gods (Gen 31:31).
You have made him a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8:5).
I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt (Ex 12:12)
They have followed other gods to serve them (Jer 11:10).
Rid yourselves of the foreign gods (1 Sam 7:3)
All of these are valid translations of the word Elohim and the context tells us how it should be translated. Genesis 22 makes more sense if Elohim is translated as "gods" in the sense of evil spiritual powers.
Now it came to pass after these things that one of the gods (spiritual powers) tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "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" (Gen 22:1-2).
Abraham had obeyed God's call and travelled a long way to Canaan. However, he did not have the fullness of the Spirit, so he was not very good at discerning the voice of God. Speaking a false word was a good way to trip him up.
Since God was doing something special with Abraham, it was natural that the spiritual powers of evil would try to thwart him. They tried to trick Abraham into killing his son. Isaac was going to be the father of Israel, so what better way to disrupt God's plans than to kill him.
An evil angel came to Abraham disguised as an angel of light and pretended to speak for God. He told Abraham to go and sacrifice his son to God. Abraham did not realise that he was being tricked, but thought that God had asked him to offer his son.
Abraham's obedience to the terrible command demonstrates his character. He was so loyal; the spiritual powers of evil knew it was a waste of time tempting him to disobey God. They had probably tried that already and failed. Persuading him to obey God was a much better tactic.
Jesus warned us that that the "thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy", whereas he is the source of abundant life (John 10:10). Abraham did not have the benefit of Jesus's wisdom, so he did not recognise the voice of evil. He did not understand the character of God, as well as well do, but his faith in him was amazing. I presume that he believed that God could give him another son once Isaac died. God had given him a son when he was old, so he could do it again.
God did not let Abraham sin by killing his son. I think that he was testing the spiritual powers of evil. He wanted to see if they really would let Abraham kill his son. Could they be that hateful? When he realised that they were going to go all the way, he sent his angel to intervene.
The speaker in the second part of the chapter is described differently, suggesting it is a different person. "The angel of Yahweh called to Abraham from the heavens" and told him not to harm the child. The angel of Yahweh saved him from doing a terrible thing.
This is not just angel. The writer avoids any confusion by explaining it is an angel "of Yahweh" and "from the heavens."
The contrast is telling. In the beginning of the chapter it is Elohim (the gods) speaking to Abraham. At the end of the chapter the angel of Yahweh speaks. The first is the voice of evil. The second is the voice comes from heaven, so it is the voice of truth and life. This confirms that it was the spiritual powers of evil who were trying to trick Abraham, and not God.
The incident reminds us that it can be hard to hear from God. Sometimes, the spiritual powers of evil will try to confuse us by pretending to be God. They tried to do it to Abraham. They still try to do it in the age of the Holy Spirit.
The good news is that God can protect us, even if we get it wrong, provided our attitude is right. Abraham was keen so obey God that he jumped to obey when the thought he heard God's voice. He was deceived, because he was keen to obey, but God intervened by sending an angel to rescue him by speaking the truth.
When we hear God speak, we should obey willingly. If our desire is to obey him, he will protect us from false voices. He will rescue us, if we hear wrong. The main thing is to have a heart that desires to serve him.
The angel from Yahweh spoke God's true word to Abraham. The angel graciously acknowledged Abraham's obedience, even though he had got it wrong. God was really impressed with his loyalty. He repeated the promise of blessing given to Abraham earlier.
Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: "By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son-blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." (Gen 22:16-18).