Tag: ram

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.

 

 

Story 26: Strange Mysteries from Distant Times: The Sealing of the Covenant

Genesis 15

When God called Abram to leave his home and journey to the land of promise, He gave conditions.  If Abram obeyed, then God would bless him.  Abram did obey.  He ventured out into the unknown with his barren wife, taking everything with him.  He completely left the life he’d had behind, trusting totally in God’s promise.  Over time, Abram proved his faith in the LORD in new and greater ways.  He righteously lived for the Most High God in the midst of a pagan, idolatrous place and waited for God to bring His covenant blessings. And so God came to him with His covenant once again, only this time things had changed a bit.  Now God made His promises without condition.  Abram’s faith was established, and God could assure him that His promises would come true no matter what.  God would give him more descendants than there were stars in the sky, and He would deliver to them the land of the Canaanites.  Yet Abram still felt unsure.  How could he know that God would truly give him the land?

For his answer, LORD told Abram to bring a cow, a goat and a ram, a dove and a young pigeon.  Does that seem like a strange answer to you?  Why bring animals?

When we read the Bible, we always need to remember the time of human history we are reading about.  We are reaching back through time to a world far different from our own.  Often what we read will seem mysterious and strange to us.  Abraham lived in what we called the Ancient Near East.  In order to understand the story, we have to imagine what that world was like.  So let’s try.

It was quieter.  These were the days before electricity, cars, and airplanes.  There were no televisions or radios, engines or blasting horns or telephone chatter.  The noises that filled their lives were the quiet sounds of their flocks and herds, the blowing wind, and the tinkling of streams.  It was the sound of the women singing as they hand washed clothes in water hauled from a well or at the river.  It was the discussions and calls of men at their work.  There were no photographs or paintings. The only faces any one person knew throughout his whole life were those from his own village or town.  Any visitor would have been a great curiosity.  It would have been a new face to see!

Nature was their artwork.  Trees and streams, sunrises and sunsets and the vast display of stars in the dark night sky were the things of beauty that filled their lives.  It was a simpler world, but it was a deeper one.  They ate the same basic food every day with a profound gratitude that is hard for us to understand.  You see, in those days, they knew what famine was like.  Most families went through at least one or two hard seasons when they went hungry for weeks and months on end.  They were keenly aware of the weather and how the crops were doing because it all had an immediate impact on their own survival.  It strengthened their spirit of gratefulness and sharpened the pleasure of their food in times when it was abundant.

When God showed Abram the stars and used them to explain the wonderful blessing He was going to give him, He was using the most magnificent and awesome visual in Abraham’s world to inspire his faith.  Humans will never paint or create anything that will surpass the beauty of a starry night.  But we may have lost our ability to cherish and wonder at the sprawling night sky the way the ancient people did.  It was their nightly glory.

Now God would strengthen Abram’s faith by using animals as a symbol, just as He had used the stars.  In Abram’s time, human society was largely dependent on their animals to survive.  For a family, each creature brought value and security to their home as their flocks and herds grew.  Their lives were arranged around making sure the animals were protected and fed.  They moved when they needed to find more grassland for them.   They took special care to keep out of the way of bandits and thieves who might steal them.

The people of Abram’s day lived their lives close to their animals to make sure they could protect them.  They could hear their sheep and goats bleating through the night and drank the milk from their own cows and goats in the day.  They did not go to a store to buy their sandals and sweaters.  The leather and wool they used to make their own clothes and shoes came from creatures they had watched being born.

They did not go to a store to buy meat.  Usually, the only time they ate meat was when a sacrificial offering was made.  It was a rare treat, a feast that would mark the day as a high point in the year.

Every piece of meat they ate came from a creature they had watched over, fed, and nursed back to health when it was sick.  Their whole lives were filled with the provisions given to them by the lives of their animals.  These creatures had worth and meaning, what they offered humanity were answers to some of the great needs and enjoyments of life.  They were gifts from God, and they were meant for the provision of those things.  For the people of Abram’s time, the sacrifice of meat had greater meaning and worth than most of us can possibly understand.

In the societies of Abram’s time, the value of animals was so great that killing one of them was something that was only done with great consideration and care.  Usually it was only done for the high and sacred moments devoted to their gods.  Sometimes they were used for feasts.  Sometimes they were used when a great treaty was being made between one king and another, or between a king and his people.  When the animal became a sacrificial offering, its death showed the high importance of the occasion.

God  understood the culture and times that Abram was living, and so He chose a ceremony that Abram would understand, that would be meaningful to him.  He told Abram to bring Him a cow, a goat and a ram, a dove and a young pigeon.  These creatures would become the sacrificial offerings to commemorate the high and holy making of the Great Covenant between God and His chosen servant.

 

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