Friday, October 24, 2008

Genesis 22:9-14 How could Abraham sacrifice his son?

Genesis 22:9-14: Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” And he said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”

So Abraham and Isaac proceed up the mountain until they get to the place that God had told Abraham to go to. We do not know how quickly they had walked. Would Abraham be rushing or would he have dreaded every step? When he built the altar and arranged the wood on it, did he rush or take his time? How quickly or slowly would you, or I, have moved to those ends? And then scripture says, “he bound his son Isaac.” Think of that split second instance when Abraham reached out and took hold of his son. Think of how startled Isaac must have been. Think of doing that to your own child with the knowledge that you had to sacrifice him/her on an altar. How could you do it?

Then Abraham lays the tied Isaac on the altar. Talk about the ultimate sacrifice for a parent. And what about the next step more? Was it more difficult? Or, is it possible that because he had already tied Isaac and laid him on the altar, stretching his hand to get the knife and then raising it to slay him, was simply carried out in pure stupor caused by his utter feeling of sheer loss and emptiness, yet following the instructions of his God?

And then once more that amazing word when found in scripture -- “But.” “But the angel of the Lord” called to him from heaven, by name. What a relief that must have been to hear that angelic voice calling “Abraham, Abraham!” Surely that meant stoop. And right away he responds, “Here I am.” That’s the secret to peace with God – obedience and availability, even under the most difficult instructions from our Commander. Abraham was doing what God had asked him to do, against his own heart’s desire and a messenger from the command post had news – perhaps a change in plans from above. As I reflect on this scene, I am reminded somewhat of movie scenes in old westerns when men and women surrounded by their burning covered wagons were about to die from an onslaught of arrows being shot at them. And then suddenly in the distance they catch sight of the standard bearer and hear the sound made by the trumpeter of the cavalry riding towards them at full speed just in time to save them. I believe God sends His angels the same way and they come at full speed, eager to do His bidding.

And then the revised instruction, “Do not harm the child in any way for now I know that you fear God, since you didn’t withhold your only son from Me.” Can you imagine the sense of relief felt by Abraham, not to mention Isaac when his father started untying him?

[Now once again let me regress here for one moment for as a parent I cannot help it. What do you say to your son at that point? And how would Isaac feel towards his father the rest of his life? What damage would have been done and what baggage would the son carry when he grew up? I do not know the answers to these most difficult questions given that scripture seems to be silent on them. I would venture to say two things. First, if the father had brought up his son in a way that he had imparted to him a full knowledge of who God was, it is possible that Isaac could well survive the most frightful experience he had just lived through. Secondly, this same God that sent His angel is also capable of healing all emotional wounds. Many of us have been hurt and otherwise scarred emotionally in life, but God is able to restore such an individual fully.]

There are some other interesting ideas presented here in this passage that we cannot overlook. First, once again, we are faced with the dilemma here of who exactly is the “angel of the Lord”. We are told “the angel of the Lord” called Abraham from heaven. Now whether that is heaven as we understand it or whether that simply refers to “from the sky above”, I do not know, although I believe the former is more likely when one considers who “the angel” might be. What we do know is that in the sentence uttered by the angel of the Lord, there is reference to Abraham “fearing God” which can be taken as either being in the third person or as being spoken by God Himself and referring to Himself in the third person. The end of the statement, however, clearly indicates that it is God Himself that is doing the talking (as in “you have not withheld your son from Me). So what are we to make of this?

Nowhere in Scripture do we get a precise explanation of just who this “angel of the Lord” is. The New Testament never mentions this phrase. When “the” angel is used as compared to “an” angel of the Lord, we can safely say it is with reference to someone separate from the other angels. To this point in our study of scripture, we know only that sometimes the angel of the Lord speaks as God as in this case and this angel seems to identify as God. So as a very minimum then we may come to the conclusion that “the angel of the Lord” is, as Got Questions Ministries indicates on its website, “an appearance of God in physical form.”

Let’s review the sequence of events in this story: God wants to test Abraham and gives him a very difficult assignment. Abraham obeys God without hesitation and just as he is about to do the most difficult thing one could ask of a parent, the angel of the Lord appears and stops him. But the story doesn’t end there. God provides the sacrificial ram that will be offered in Isaac’s place. He brought it right near the altar at the right time and in a way that Abraham could just take it and offer it in place of his very own flesh and blood. And Abraham establishes for us all an incredible spiritual principle when he names that location of that altar “The Lord Will Provide”. As twenty-first century believer’s we carry out exactly what the scripture predicted would be the case when we utter the phrase “The Lord will provide.” If we discipline ourselves to climb the treacherous and physically difficult, and the emotionally tense, route that leads to the mountain of God, He will provide an escape and also the sacrifice with which we can praise Him for that escape. We have an amazing God.

Finally, we need to point out that God had no desire to have Isaac slain by Abraham. His desire was simply that Abraham would show his devotion to Him by being willing to offer his only son. Lots of times in trying to teach my grandchildren to share what they have, I would, rightly or wrongly, ask them for a bite of their chocolate bar or some other treat they really loved, and when they would offer me some, I would say, “hey thanks guys, but it’s okay, grandpa was just testing you to see if you loved him enough to share with him.” I think that was what God wanted to know about Abraham. And Abraham passed the test. My grandchildren passed their own test that I gave them, but I wonder if I would pass the level of testing that Abraham had to face.

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