…and sacrifice him… as a burnt offering…”
Genesis 22:2 NIV
“No, really Lord, the timing is just awful. Sacrifice is a downer topic—not a good way to start a weekend, so let’s talk about” …
“You’re not going to give up, are you, God. Gee, you’re stubborn.” … “I’m sorry—I meant tenacious, and that’s a very good quality.” …
Oh, all right, I’ll sacrifice my wishes and write about sacrifice.”
There’s something threatening about the word “sacrifice” that causes my heart rate to go up and makes my muscles tighten. God’s walking buddies in Biblical times make big sacrifices for their faith. That’s not a journey I want to take. I want to hide from God when he’s looking for a sacrificial lamb.
One leg of Abraham’s journey involved a call to sacrifice—a test of his faith, really:
ABRAHAM: "Here I am."
GOD: "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."
I don’t know about you, but I find this quite disturbing. What kind of God would ask a loving parent to sacrifice their child? Wasn’t this a pagan practice? Wasn’t Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews—his chosen people—different?
Did Abraham ask such questions? Did he resist God’s instructions? The Biblical account only tells us Abraham’s actions:
“Early the next morning Abraham got up…” and “took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac…” and “set out for the place God had told him about.”
Evidently, if Abraham did question God, he came to a place of obedience overnight. What was Abraham thinking and feeling during the three day journey to Moriah? I would have been an emotional mess. When this little group arrived at the mountain, Abraham and Isaac continued on alone:
ABRAHAM: “Yes, my son?”
ISAAC: “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
ABRAHAM: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
Did Abraham lie to his son? Was Abraham protecting his son from the truth as long as he could? Was he simply unable to utter the appalling words? I don’t think I could say, “Son, you’re the sacrifice—you are the lamb.”
When they arrived at the place God had told Abraham about, he built an altar, bound Isaac, placed him on the altar, and raised his knife…
ANGEL OF THE LORD: "Abraham! Abraham!”
ABRAHAM: “Here I am.”
ANGEL: "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do no do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
ABRAHAM: You mean to tell me that this was a TEST? You never intended for me to slay my son? How cruel! How could you put me and my son—my only son—through such agony?
This last response is what I imagine I would say. Abraham, however, took the ram that God provided and made his burnt offering. And then he named that place, “The Lord Will Provide.” He focused on God’s provision and promise, not on his pain.
What is God calling you to sacrifice? You may be experiencing difficulties with your child (or spouse or friend…) that seem impossible to solve and you are called to practice tough love and let go. Or maybe you’re clinging to a bad attitude, habit, or addiction. Maybe you nurse resentments, bitterness, hurts, the need to be right…
What—or who—is your Isaac? Abraham invites you to the altar where, “The Lord Will Provide,” and encourages you with his example to lay your Isaac down. Scary? You bet. Possible? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely!
FYI: The metaphor of laying down one’s Isaac is inspired by a song written by Bonnie Keen entitled, “Isaac.”