Genesis 22’s well-known story narrates how God tested the patriarch Abraham to determine whether he was willing to go so far as to even slaughter his beloved son Isaac if God instructed him to do so. Abraham passes the test. He is not only willing to sacrifice Isaac, but had to be stopped by an angel shouting at him from heaven.
The episode could be understood like the tale of Jacob dreaming about angels ascending and descending a ladder with God at the ladder’s top when he was forced to abandon his home and was obviously concerned and even fearful about what lay ahead of him, and the story of Jacob wrestling with a man (an image of his brother Esau) some twenty years later when he returned to Canaan and was afraid of his anticipated encounter with angry Esau whose blessing he had stolen. Like these events which show psychological struggles, we could understand that the Abraham story shouldn’t be taken literally. God was not involved. Abraham was developing his understanding of how to show God love. Should he do so, like the pagans around him, by sacrificing his son as a gift to God?
Scripture states that he hears God speak to him commanding him to do this. But we can understand that it wasn’t God speaking, but his own resolve: he will show his love of God by giving God what he, Abraham, loves best. He would follow the teachings of the masses. However, he comes to realize that this is not the way to worship his God. God does not need or want the death of children. Interestingly, until the moment of realization, the Torah uses the generic word Elohim, God. However, at the moment of realization, the Torah switches to y-h-v-h, the name of the Jewish God.