In Genesis 22:2, God commands Abraham to do the unthinkable, “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.” We know the story of how Abraham was obedient, even when the command made no sense, and how God accepted his submission as sacrifice and provided a ram in the thicket as a substitute for Isaac.
What is interesting to me as I read this story again is the location of the sacrifice. In all the Sunday School pictures I saw as a child, Abraham and Isaac are walking out through the windswept wilderness, not another person to be seen. I’d always thought this was some sort of private devotion, between Abraham and God alone. The only other mention of Moriah in Scripture seems to contradict this notion, however. In I Chronicles 3:1, we are told Moriah is the mountain on which Solomon built the temple of God, the land that David had purchased from the Jebusites. We know the site of the temple, and we know it was placed centrally in the city of Jerusalem. We also know that this city existed during Abraham’s time, and that Abraham and their king, Melchizedek, were friends and allies from Genesis 14.
So then Abraham’s submission to God’s command, and God’s substitutionary sacrifice, were not done in the middle of the desert, but in the middle of a city. This was no private devotion, but a public declaration, of Abraham’s faith and obedience and of God’s mercy and atonement. God wasn’t just teaching Abraham, but the whole world through Abraham. Imagine if Abraham had backed out at the last minute. How would that have reflected on God in the eyes of the Jebusites surrounding him? They would have left there doubting God’s goodness without ever seeing the ram He’d provided.
Sometimes God calls us to publicly endure tests we don’t understand. Often we wish to deal with these times out in the desert, but God places us right in view of the world as we struggle with just how real is our faith and how firm is our submission. God isn’t being a bully or treating us unkindly, he is using us to teach others that by trusting and obeying, we see His miracles.