Most students of the Bible are familiar with the story of Abraham and Isaac. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham prepares to do so, but at the last minute God stops Abraham. This can be a confusing story at first glace. But looking at the history surrounding this story provides some insight into Abraham's actions. And it shows us just how revolutionary this story is.
Sacrifices to Please the Gods
To understand this story, you must first remember that it occurred at a specific time in history that is totally unlike the one you are living in now. Early humanity had very few ways of understanding nature, the elements, and the world around them simply because science had not yet advanced to a level where comprehension was possible. Because of this, early humans assumed that any force of nature was associated with a separate god or goddess—and the key to getting on that specific god's good side was to sacrifice.
Let's assume you were a farmer living in the ancient world. If there was a drought that kept your crops from growing, you'd assume that the rain god was angry, so you'd offer a sacrifice in hopes of satisfying their demand and getting rain. Once rain came, you'd need to show your thankfulness to the rain god-- so you'd offer a greater sacrifice to show your gratitude. You might first give some of your crops on an altar, but then you'd need to get bigger and better the next time around. People assumed that the gods were always demanding, and they were constantly trying to prove their devotion to the gods (so much so that historical evidence shows followers of a god named Molech would sacrifice their firstborn child to the fire).
The story of Abraham and his son is one that occurred during this historical time of sacrifice and continual fear of meeting the gods' demands. When reading the passage, you may wonder: Why in the world didn't Abraham simply refuse (or at least argue) with God's request that he climb up a mountain and sacrifice his son?
The answer is simple, and it would have been clear to anyone reading this story in that day: that's what the gods do. The gods demand the things most important to you, and the simple unfortunate fact of life is that you can't refuse because they control the universe. Abraham isn't surprised because he's seen his neighbors do similar things for the gods they believe in.
A God Who Provides
To someone reading this story in Abraham's day, the conclusion of the story would have been easy to guess: his son is sacrificed to appease this God. The story in the Bible, however, takes an interesting twist. Suddenly, God not only calls off the whole event but he provides a ram for the sacrifice instead. The reality is that this story was absolutely revolutionary in the day it occurred; it was simply unheard of to experience a God who not only does not demand... He provides.
For more help with understanding the stories written in the Bible, contact a church like Church of Christ.