Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Genesis 22:5-8 Faith Beyond Obedience

Genesis 22:5-8: Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you." Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.

Abraham tells his young servants to stay there with the donkey while he and Isaac go to the assigned place Abraham was instructed to go by God. And then he adds these words: “and we will worship and return to you.” For sure, Abraham knew that he was about to go and worship. After all, that is what making a sacrificial offering to the Lord is all about. But the statement “and (we will) return to you” as implied in the text, was rather strange. Of course, this is the man that twice misled others about who Sarah really was. So, he may have just wanted not to arouse any suspicion among his servants in case they tried to stop him and a small lie may have been in order in his mind. Or is it possible that Abraham’s words were uttered out of pure faith? Was He thinking, “God could not possibly allow me to sacrifice my child in this way”? Was his faith so strong that he really believed God would provide a way out? Was it just wishful thinking? We must be satisfied with the fact that we do not know what feeling or thinking drove his words.

The wood was taken off the donkey and loaded unto young Isaac. Abraham carried the material that was to start the fire on the altar and a knife that was to slay his son, making him the sacrifice God had asked him to offer up. Again, I cannot imagine what would go through the head and mind of a father who deeply loved his child as he held in his hand the weapon he would use to kill him/her. The thinking involved is complicated even more when that father considers the action he is about to take is a result of obedience to God, the very God that promised Isaac would be the covenant child and the means by which Abraham would become a great nation. With his son loaded down with wood, his knife in his own hand, and a heavy heart, Abraham walked on, with his son.

In due course, Isaac, like any young lad that is trying to figure something out that just isn’t clear, calls out to Abraham to ask him a question. Isaac’s means of addressing Abraham must have added extra pain to the old man’s heart as Isaac called out, “My father!” Oh, that must have hurt so much. Yet, like a loving parent, Abraham replies, “Here I am, my son.” What a bond these two must have had. And as far as the father knew at that point, this was all about to end that day. I do not know about you but I believe at that point I would be taking off and crying out to God like Hagar did. You will remember when Ishmael was thirsty and about to die she begged God not to let her see the boy die. I would have done the same here. “God, you can have my son. He’s yours. But let the servants kill him and don’t let me see the boy die.” Abraham did not do that. God had specifically said, “I want you to offer him up as a burnt offering.” Sorry, Abraham, you cannot delegate this one. You have to do it yourself.

Isaac asks his well thought out question. “Father, I see the fire-starter and the wood, but where is the animal or the lamb we will offer?” Even young Isaac was no stranger to burnt offerings and what they require. Can you imagine how Abraham must have felt when Isaac asked that question? I know I would not be able to face my son or talk to him without sobbing. But somehow Abraham was given the calmness, the constitution, the strength, whatever it took to simply say, in a most assuring way, “God will provide the lamb Himself, my son.” God provided the power to utter these words and He provided the words themselves.

“Dad, what are we going to do when we make the fire and there’s no lamb?” “God will provide my son.” Thankfully, we normally are not faced with the kind of situation Isaac and Abraham were facing that day. But among our family members, we are sometimes at our wit’s end to provide an answer to those that ask questions like, “But dad, what are we going to do if mom doesn’t get better and she dies of cancer?” or “Dad, what are going to do if you are let go from work?” or “Dad, what happens if we lose the house because we can’t pay the mortgage?” and so on. Have we got the faith it takes to say, “God will provide for Himself what we need”? And then are we able to “walk on together” trusting God to do just that?

‘God will provide for Himself.’ God does not need anything from us except faith and obedience. The rest He can take care of Himself. He does not need our money or anyone else’s for that matter. He does not need equipment. He does not need a miracle – He performs miracles. What He desperately wants is our trust and obedience.

This account of Abraham and Isaac is the ultimate story about faith for me. When I try, perhaps foolishly, to assess the extent of my own faith, I always come up against this standard set by Abraham. And I cannot help but think that I fall miserably short of the mark. My desire and hope would be that I would not, but my human fear dictates a different response in my very being. Oh that God would never test you or me in that way.

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