On Killing Your Calling… and So Much More: Abraham’s Gruelling Test (@Byers_Andy)

The Sacrifice of Abraham (Wikipedia)


It really is there. I am talking about Genesis 22. I am often shocked at what I find in the Bible, but little else is as shocking as the “Akedah,” from the Hebrew word for “binding.”

This is the scene when God calls Abraham to “take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love” and to commit him to the Lord as a burnt offering.

Let’s not allow our familiarity with the story desensitize us to the horror of this divine command. Take your precious child and sacrifice him to me.

As readers and hearers of this story, the full force of what God tells Abraham is lessened because we know from the opening line that whatever follows is a simply a test: “God tested Abraham and said to him…” (22:1). But as a character in the story, Abraham himself does not get this narrative insight. He just receives the command. God has called him from his homeland Ur and made all sorts of bold promises about having children, promises so ludicrous in scope and so delayed in their coming that surely they seemed more like painful teases than divine guarantees. But now the child has come, against all biological odds. That promise has been fulfilled. And tied to that fulfillment is the fulfillment of Abraham’s ultimate calling to be “a father of a multitude” (which is the meaning of his name).

You can’t be the father of a multitude without an heir.

So when God tells Abraham to take young Isaac to the mountain and turn him into a burnt offering, he is not only asking Abraham to give up his child, the child God miraculously gave him; he is also asking Abraham to give up his calling, the calling God has explicitly assigned him.

At the end of the day, most of us are willing to sacrifice our calling for the sake of our children. Abraham is being asked to sacrifice both.

There are no protests. None from Isaac. None from Abraham. In fact, Abraham only speaks three words in response to the divine voice: “here am I?” And he makes this reply twice (he says the same thing to Isaac in v. 7, curiously enough).

I think the most precious gifts to give up in our lives are those God himself has given.  Nothing is more precious to us than our children. But for many of us, our vocation, our sense of calling, is so paramount that we are willing to sacrifice virtually anything to fulfill it. In Abraham’s case, his vocation was bound to his child, a child he was told to bind and destroy [1].

The Sacrifice of Isaac


Once the ropes were taut and the knife raised, though, the voice from heaven put an end to it. Abraham had demonstrated his willingness to give up not only his beloved boy, but also the very calling that had taken him from his homeland and placed him in such vulnerable positions over the past several years.

Without a willingness to kill our calling, our vocations can become idols.

Even more shocking than the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22 is the binding of Jesus who is not rescued at the last minute by a voice from above. Though Jesus prays to the heavens, no voice speaks. The sky is ironclad and silent. The vocation of Jesus was to die as the Son of God to unbind humanity.

Here are some questions to end with from the scene of Genesis 22 and from the scene of Christ’s crucifixion:

As clearly as God has called you, are you willing to be uncalled? Or is that sense of significance and excitement attached to fulfilling your vocation too precious?

And lastly: Are you willing to be unbound by the Christ who was bound on your behalf?

[1] The author of Hebrews reasons that what Abraham’s acquiescence was underpinned by faith, the sort of faith deep enough and strong to believe that God will raise the dead.

About AndyByers

I serve as the Chaplain for St Mary's College at Durham University while working on a PhD in the Department of Theology. CODEC has also taken me on to work as a theological consultant of sorts for the BigBible blog. My first book is about cynicism toward the church and disillusionment with God—'Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint' (IVP Likewise, 2011). My latest is ‘TheoMedia: The Media of God in the Digital Age’ (Cascade Books, 2013).