“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’
“‘Here I am,’ he replied.
“Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.'”
Have you ever wondered why God referred to Isaac as Abraham’s only son? Had He forgotten about Ishmael? Or did He reject Ishmael as the result of Sarah’s well-meaning but sinful attempt to help Him fulfill His promise, acknowledging Isaac as the true fulfillment of that promise?
Recently I found a helpful website which addresses this question in terms of the culture of Abraham’s day. The answer is something called “divine exclusion.”
There is an example of “divine exclusion” in an apocryphal story in the Qur’an. Caveat: I am not giving legitimacy to this unbiblical source. I am suggesting that this Middle Eastern way of looking at things may give us a perspective on God’s words in Genesis 22:1-2:
The site is AnsweringIslam.org at http://www.answering-islam.org/BibleCom/gen22-2.html and it says, in part: “Instead of giving the usual ‘Biblical’ answer, let me approach this a bit different at this time and remind you of a Qur’anic way of looking at a similar question of ‘son’ or ‘not son’.
(Remember) Noah, when he cried (to Us) aforetime: We listened to his (prayer) and delivered him and his family from great distress. — Sura 21:76 So the Ark floated with them on the waves (towering) like mountains, and Noah called out to his son, who had separated himself (from the rest): “O my son! embark with us, and be not with the unbelievers!”
The son replied: “I will betake myself to some mountain: it will save me from the water.” Noah said: “This day nothing can save, from the command of Allah, any but those on whom He hath mercy!” And the waves came between them, and the son was among those overwhelmed in the Flood. — Sura 11:42-43
“One of Noah’s sons dies in the Flood in contradiction to 21:76 which states that Allah saved him and his family. Now, this contradiction is ‘solved’ in the Qur’an itself, when we read on in verse 46 when Allah replies to Noah in regard to exactly this complaint that he has not saved his son:
“O Noah! He is not of thy family: For his conduct is unrighteous. So ask not of Me that of which thou hast no knowledge!”
“So, we see that this problem is solved by ‘divine exclusion’ and the Qur’an even admits that this can be something rather difficult to comprehend for normal human beings, even for the prophet of God, Noah.
“In response to this Muslim question, I would like to ask, if you can accept that God ‘excludes’ one who is (physically) a son from being (properly) a son ‘in a certain respect’ or in relationship to a certain purpose.
“If you can accept that God is free to declare so, then I hope you will be able to accept a similar statement in the Bible, when God talks to Abraham in this way in Genesis 22.”