What is Required of God’s People? 

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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 narrative of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his own son is an enigmatic scriptural story. While some saw it as an ultimate story of faith, trusting in God’s wisdom, others were troubled by a God who would command a dad to kill his own son. Because it is a troubling story, it preoccupied many ancient biblical commentators both Christian and Jew. Islamic scholars who tended to read scripture literally thought the story was totally unbecoming of God and did not belong in any scriptures. Christians saw in the story a prophecy of God’s own sacrifice of His Son on the cross. They read the story almost completely in a spiritual sense. So, St John Chrysostom comments: 

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I will give you an example of prophecy by means of things, and of prophecy in words, regarding the same object: ‘He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before his shearer’ (Isaiah 53:7); that is a prophecy in words. But when Abraham took Isaac and saw a ram caught by his horns in a thicket, and actually offered the sacrifice (Genesis 22: 3-13), then he really proclaimed unto us, in a type, the salutary Passion.  (THE FACE OF CHRIST IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, p 43) 

The Church Fathers were sensitive to biblical stories which might cast a negative light on the God of love. Such biblical narratives fed their idea that the Old Testament required a spiritual rather than literal reading to make sense of the stories and not to demote God to being a bloodthirsty ogre. Christians through the centuries sought a meaning that was consistent with the Gospel. They focused on the idea of resurrection and that suffering is sometimes the path to the resurrection and so is God’s will for His people at certain times. Modern biblical scholar Richard Hayes writes: 

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Abraham did not spare his son Isaac but bound him to the altar, only to receive him back through God’s intervention. God did not spare his son Jesus but offered him up to death for the world, then vindicated him through the resurrection. God did not spare his people Israel but broke them off like a branch for the sake of the Gentiles; surely that is not the end of the story, ‘for if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?‘ (Romans 11:15). In each case, the rejection/acceptance pattern plays itself out to the vicarious benefits of others. . . .  That is what is required of the eschatological people of God; God’s elect must suffer and groan along with—and even on behalf of—the unredeemed creation (cf. Romans 8:18-25).  (ECHOES OF SCRIPTURE IN THE LETTERS OF PAUL, p 62) 

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Christian love includes a willingness at times to suffer for the good of others. Self-sacrifice, denying one’s self to take up the cross and follow Christ who freely sacrificed Himself for the salvation of the world is part of what is expected of Christians as we imitate our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. This is not part of the American prosperity gospel, but is found in the New Testament.