Tag: Genesis 22

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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