Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.
Hebrews 11 says:
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.
He who had embraced the promises
was about to sacrifice his one and only son,
even though God had said to him,
“It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead,
and so in a manner of speaking
he did receive Isaac back from death.
This story is shocking, almost repulsive. I can’t imagine myself in Abraham’s sandals, setting out with knife and firewood to sacrifice my son on a distant mountain. The law of Moses prohibits human sacrifice (Deut. 18:10). Parts of the Bible may condone killing in a just war or for capital punishment, but even here scholars disagree.
So what can we do with the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac?
First, we can grant it licence as an ancient story from a time and culture that we understand remotely and incompletely. Trying to put our modern minds and sensibilities into Abraham and Isaac’s story is stretch.
But the story resonates deeply at another level. In our relationship with God, Abraham articulates some of the cautions and hopes we feel.
Because it is a story about faith, about a man who spent his life struggling toward faith. When he was childless, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of nations. Over the years, Abraham risked that promise by letting his wife go into the harem of a local king and by having a child with his wife’s Egyptian slave. The child was Abrahams’s attempt to help God’s promise along. God protected Sarah in the harem and arranged her rescue. Having a son by the slave caused trouble in Abraham’s family until God said clearly the baby from that relationship was not the anticipated son of promise.
Abraham waited another 13 years, until Sarah implausibly bore a son in her old age. Now, God said, this is the promised son.
Fast forward a dozen or so years. The boy has grown and God is asking Abraham to sacrifice him. Recognizing and trusting God’s voice, Abraham sets out faithfully with a knife and wood and fire to make a burnt offering, telling his son, “God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice.” God did.
What resonates with me is how God crowded Abraham into a place where all he had left was faith. Abraham failed to protect Sarah, but God did. Abraham tried to help God by having a son with a slave woman, but God didn’t want Abraham’s help. Only his faith. When it came time to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham had run out of options. He had no plan to help God fulfill his promises. He could only believe and hope that through life or death or resurrection, God would keep his promises.
God has crowded me in a similar way. He teaches me to hold all things in open hands, even the things he has given me. He teaches me that I might have to relinquish every gift and relationship and possession, no matter how dear or how strongly they are connected to my heart. God teaches me to listen for his voice all my life, not with fear of what sacrifice he may require, but with the joy of hearing him call my name and trusting him to keep his promises.
Our father, the life of faith you call us to is a holy and precious gift. We do not understand your ways, but we hold all we have in open hands. Give and take as you will, but hold us always in your heart, as you did Abraham and Isaac. And fulfill all your promises to us.
I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.