Tag: “Binding of Isaac”

Story 40: Rebekah Comes Home

Genesis 24:28-67

 

Abraham sent his chief servant to find a wife for Isaac. It was important that Isaac’s wife come from the same family… those who God had set apart in a covenant in order to bless the world.  The servant travelled back to the land that Abraham and Sarah had left behind so many years before.  The Lord guided him to a beautiful young virgin named Rebekah as she took water from the village well.  He knew she was the one for Isaac, and so he gave her bracelets of precious gold and asked to be taken back to her home.  She ran ahead and told her mother everything that had happened during her time at the well.

Rebekah’s brother, Laban, heard what happened, too.  He saw the expensive gold bracelets and the nose ring, and he knew that this stranger was a making a serious marriage offer for his sister.   He went out to meet Abraham’s servant at the well.  “‘Come, you are blessed by the Lord,’” he said.  “‘Why are you standing out here?  I have prepared the house and a place for your camels.’”

Nahor’s family treated Abraham’s chief servant very well.  They brought him into the house and washed his feet and the feet of his men.  As they set supper out for him to eat, he stopped them and said, “‘I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.’”  The importance of this meeting was too great!  He did not want to wait another minute until he had settled everything.

 

“‘The LORD has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy.  He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys.  My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns.  And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’”

“‘Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’

“‘He replied, The Lord,  before whom I have walked, will send His angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from  my own clan, you will be released from my oath even if they refuse to give her to you-you will be released from my oath.’

 

Then the servant told them how he had come into their town.  He told how he had prayed that God would show him who the right girl was by having her offer not only to give him a drink of water, but by offering to water his camels.  He explained how that was exactly what Rebekah did.  God had answered his prayer very clearly.  And after journeying for days over many miles, the girl the LORD had brought him was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother!

Abraham’s servant told the whole story, making sure they understood how God had guided him to Rebekah.  Then he said, “‘Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.’”

Laban and Rebekah’s mother Bethuel said, “‘This is from the LORD, we can say nothing to you one way or the other.  Here is Rebekah, take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has directed.’”

When the servant heard that he would be allowed to bring this beautiful, chosen daughter to be Isaac’s wife, he bowed down before the LORD, rejoicing at His goodness.  This was all the work of God, who designed everything with such care for His chosen ones.

The servant got up from his praise to the LORD and began to celebrate by bringing out the great riches given to him by Abraham to pour out on Rebekah, the bride, and her family.  Rebekah was given treasures of gold and silver jewelry and beautiful clothes to wear as the wife of Isaac.  Her family received lavish and beautiful gifts as well as they prepared to say goodbye to their beloved child and sister.

The next morning, Abraham’s servant asked to leave and return to Abraham with Isaac’s new bride.  But they did not want to see her go so soon.  They knew they would probably never see her again.  “‘Let the girl remain with us ten days or so; then you may go,’” they said.

But the servant was ready to return.  “‘Do not detain me, now that the LORD has granted success to my journey.  Send me on my way so I may go to my master.’”

They said, “‘Let’s call the girl and ask her about it.’”  They called for Rebekah and asked her if she would go with Abraham’s servant right away or not.

Rebekah said, “‘I will go.’”  Wow.  What stunning faith!  While her family was reluctant, she was bold.  And so they sent her on her way.  The nurse that had raised her since she was a little girl went along with her, as did several other maidservants from the house.  She was not alone as she journeyed towards the home of Abraham and Isaac.  As she left, her family said;

 

“‘Our sister, may you increase

to thousands upon thousands;

may your offspring possess

the gates of their enemies.’”

 

Consider the courage of Rebekah!  She left everything she knew to go with a host of strange men to marry a groom she had never met!  On and on they journeyed across wilderness and desert through regions Rebekah had never seen before.  One evening, as the caravan of Abraham’s servant was getting close to home, Isaac was sitting out in the middle of a field.  It was evening, and he was meditating.  Out in the distance, he saw camels coming towards him.  It was a caravan.  He got up and started walking towards it.  Rebekah was on one of those camels, and as they crossed the field, she looked up and saw a man standing there.  It was Isaac.  She climbed down from her camel and said, “‘Who is that man in the field coming the field.’”

The servant answered, “‘He is my master.’”

Rebekah  realized that this was the man she was about to marry.  She covered her face with a veil.

The servant told Isaac all that had happened.  Isaac took her into his tent.  He married Rebekah and lifted her veil to look upon the girl that God had prepared just for him.  The Bible says: “‘She became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.’”

 

Story 37: The Faith of Abraham

Genesis 22

For three days, Abraham did not waver in his faith.  God had commanded him to do the unthinkable…to offer his own son as a sacrifice…the very son that God had promised him as a gift so many years before (see Story 36).

And so Abraham journeyed on through the desert with Isaac to the place of sacrifice, determined to honor his God with obedience.  And then he looked up.  Far off he could see the place God was bringing them to.  It was Mount Moriah.  One day, a great city would be built there by a mighty king, and it would be called Jerusalem.  But now it was a barren land with a high hill, and God was calling Abraham there.

He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5).  Did you notice that Abraham said, “we”?  The author made sure to record that for a reason.  Though Abraham had every plan to sacrifice Isaac, he was somehow sure that his son would be coming back home with him.

They left the donkey with the servants and walked up together to Moriah.  Abraham carried with him the fire and the knife.  Isaac carried the wood.  Did he understand it was for his own sacrifice?  Was he growing suspicious?  As they drew towards the hill, Isaac asked Abraham:

 “‘Father?’”

“‘Yes, my son’” said the man carrying the tremendous burden of faith.

“‘The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’” asked the son of his love.

“God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,’” Abraham answered. “And the two of them went on together.’” 

Genesis 22:6-8

 

They finally came to the place God was calling them.  Abraham took the wood from the hands of his boy and built an altar.  In silence, he took ropes and tied Isaac’s hands and feet, binding him and laying him across the wood.  What must Abraham’s heart have felt?  What were the thoughts that must have flown to God?  And what heavy anguish and agony must have moved between father and son as Abraham obeyed his LORD.

And what of Isaac?  What choices did he have?  He was a young man.  He could have fought…argued, cried.  Yet he, like his father, was quiet…surrendered.  Not weak, but powerfully meek, full of trust.

What a remarkable moment in the history of humanity.

Abraham picked up his knife and raised it into the air to sacrifice.  The blade was ready to plunge down,   but at that very last moment, the angel of the LORD called out from heaven. “‘Abraham!  Abraham!’”

Abraham stayed his hand.  Once again, he said to God, “‘Here I am.’’  He was ready to obey to the last.

“‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ He said.  ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.’”

Can you hear the passion in God’s voice…the intensity we can see in His repetition: “your son, your only son”?  It moved God to see the faith of Abraham, to have captured so much of his trust, to have Abraham move on this earth with such utter obedience.  How God longs to be trusted to the uttermost.

God had radically tested Abraham all the way to the most extreme limit.  The powerful inner faith of Abraham was proven true through his outward actions.

The problem of this testing by God was never that Abraham would lose Isaac.  The problem was whether Abraham would rise to faith.  God watched His servant walk for three days, persevering in obedience, willing and determined to do exactly as the Lord commanded.  He watched as Abraham arranged the wood took the very knife in his hand.  There was nothing false about Abraham’s faith, he had followed it all the way to the worst kind of death-the death of his own son.  He was willing to give the LORD what was most precious to him on earth.  He absolutely trusted God with His Promises.

And then God moved on Abraham’s behalf.  This is what the Bible says:

“Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.  He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called the place The Lord Will Provide.  And to this day it is said, ‘On the mount of the LORD it will be provided.’” 

Genesis 22:13-14

How deep, and powerful those words were to Abraham.  How profound his gratitude when he spoke them!  Then the angel of the LORD spoke to Abraham:

“‘I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.  Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me.’”

Genesis 22:16-18

 

With Abraham’s radical obedience, God gave His most extreme promise.  All the nations would be blessed through his descendants…they would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore.

The faith of Abraham, the father of all who follow after the living God, has been celebrated for over four thousand years by millions upon millions of people.  It is good to remember that it was not a perfect faith.  Abraham made many mistakes along the way.  He gave his own wife away to two different kings!  But in the end, his radical, complete trust in God was the great model of faith held up by the rest of the Bible.  Read Isaiah 51:1-2,  Hebrews 11:17-19, and Romans 4:16-25 to see how the writers of the Old Testament and New held up Abraham as one of our great heroes for all time.

Just as Abraham had said, he and his son returned to where his servants and the donkey were waiting.  And they journeyed back to their home in Beersheba together.

God did not require that Abraham give up his son…his only son.  He simply required Abraham’s faith.  But two thousand years after the life of Abraham, God did require the life of His own Son.  It was on the very same hill where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac–Mount Moriah.

Jesus Christ was a descendant of Abraham, and while Abraham knew that his offspring would bring blessings to all the nations, he was not given the details about how.  It has been two thousand years since the death and resurrection of Christ, and so we can now look back on the lives of both men and see the unfolding of God’s plan.  God gave up the Son of His love…His only son…to pay the price for our ransom.  He watched His son in agony on the cross as He bore the sins of the world.  He did not withhold His wrath or spare Jesus…He did not spare Himself the pain of watching the suffering of His Child.   And all we must do in response is to receive this breathtaking gift from the Lord by the same faith that was modeled to us by Abraham, knowing there was no price God did not pay, and no request that He will make where He has not already claimed the victory.

Story 36: God’s Unthinkable Command

Genesis 22

 

The life and times of Sarah and Abraham rolled on as they raised the son that had caused them so much waiting…and then so much laughter.  The usual frustrations and tensions of life in the wilderness came and went.  Abraham continued to live a life of righteous faith in the land for all to see. Treaties were made over water wells, animals were born and raised, the seasons came and went, and Isaac grew to become a young man.

Then, once again, God came to Abraham.  This time, He came with the greatest test of all.  He said, “‘Abraham!’”  Abraham said, “‘I am here!’”

And then God gave him the most unimaginable instructions in history: “‘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.’”

What?  Read that again!  What could God mean?  This was the God of life, the God of the great and precious promises!  Did He really want Abraham to kill his own son?   Could it be possible?  How could He be so cruel?

Now, the sacrifice of a child was nothing new to the people of the Ancient Near East, which is the time and place Abraham lived.  Many of the gods of that region demanded the sacrifice of offspring.  But this God, the God of Abraham, was different.  He was righteous and generous, the God of creation who made the world to be good…a world without sin or death or sorrow.  It took the mutiny of humans against this good God to bring all that is sad and destructive.  So this command by God seems strange, barbaric…out of character.  And not only that, but this God had promised Abraham this very son.  It was from Isaac that He promised to raise up a mighty nation.  Did He really mean what He said?

God made it clear that He knew exactly what He was demanding of His servant.  He pointed out how precious Isaac was to Abraham all along the way.  He repeated,  “‘This is your only son…this is the son of your great love,’”  and then said, “‘Now sacrifice him to Me.’”  Abraham had waited twenty-five years for this child.  He had loved him for seventeen more.  It was an impossible request.  It was radical obedience, the most extreme imaginable.  In all likelihood, it would have been easier for Abraham to take his own life than to bring an end to Isaac’s.

When we read this story, we are supposed to gasp.  We are meant to be shocked!  For anyone else to command this of Abraham would have been a horrific sin!  Through this story, God is pushing us…He is demanding more.  He wants us to be disturbed…to fight through our understanding of Him and His ways.  Just as Abraham had a response to give, so do we.

Faithfulness to the Most High God is the highest good.  Trusting Him is more important than anything.  Every other loyalty, even to the life of a son…even to a promise of God…must fall away, so that the Lord of all Creation Himself is our one true devotion.  And God, the Maker of all things, has the right to command life or death as He pleases.  He is not bound by the rules that humanity is bound by…the value we place on every human life is because of the value He places on every human life.  It is His right to bring life and end it.  It is the truth of every single day for every person in our world.  Our role as His trusting servants is to stand before Him with humbled reverence and awe, and to obey.  In this extreme command, God was requiring that Abraham surrender the depths of everything, even this deepest, most precious gift from God, even the most critical moral code, even the covenant…the his purpose in life…back to God.

It might have looked to Abraham like all was lost.  If he obeyed his mighty, worthy Lord, he would be without the heir of the Promise.  But he didn’t.  Abraham had already learned through many trials that his Lord was the God of the impossible.  Through each stage of his journey, God was training him and preparing his faith, stretching him and disciplining him to be his resilient, steadfast servant.  Abraham grew in endurance and power to hold on to God’s promises even when he could not understand God’s plan.

Through it all, Abraham did not weaken in faith, but became stronger.  He knew that God would keep His promises no matter what.  With this new command, he did not argue and he did not complain.  He did not even question God.  He would not fail to step out in obedience now to this great and mighty Lord, even when His directions were horrifying.

Abraham’s loyalties belonged completely and utterly to God.  His obedience was immediate. Early the very next morning, he prepared to go.  He put a saddle on his donkey.  He had two servants gather their things to come along.  He cut the wood for the sacrificial offering of his son, fully preparing to carry out God’s strange and unimaginable command.  And then they began their trek.  It was to be a journey of almost fifty miles.  What a lonely time it must have been for Abraham as they walked along through the heart of the Land of Promise.

The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about the journey.  We don’t learn how Abraham felt, what he dreaded or imagined.  We don’t know what he talked about with Isaac and their servants.  The silence in the text is a piece of literary mastery, forcing us to wonder, to be uncomfortable with both God and Abraham…to ask, “How could they?”  It is meant to provoke you and I to consider our own faith…to disciple us with the discipleship of Abraham.  To measure our own lack of faith, our own judgment of God, against the maturity and trust of Abraham.  Where we, in our lack of faith, might see a small and petty God, a cruel deity and a subservient and immoral Abraham…willing to kill his own child…the Bible casts a much grander possibility for life in relationship with God.  Abraham’s vision went beyond the limits of this natural world and put faith in His supernatural power to accomplish His covenant.  Abraham did not doubt that God could keep His covenant even now…that He could even raise Isaac from the dead.

It the process, Abraham demonstrated that his loyalty was to God himself, not to the promise of what he would gain from God…and not from the evidence of what could be seen, but from faith in that which is not seen.

 

 

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