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Genesis 22:1-13 1
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” 3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.

Background

The sacrifice or should we say requested sacrifice by Abraham of his son is not an easy thing to understand. It is clear that God respects and protects life. There are sufficient biblical texts that expressly forbid child sacrifice (e.g. Leviticus 18:21; Jeremiah 7:30-34; Ezekiel 20:31). The practice is known in the cultures surrounding Israel and may have even been practiced in Israel as well during those times (hence the prophetic condemnation of it). However, the sacrifice of a ram in place of Isaac is to become the foundational act for all the Temple sacrifices that will follow in Jewish history.

For Christianity, the sacrifice of the beloved son is obvious comparative to Jesus’ death. That’s why Genesis 22 is frequently used as one of the readings for the Easter season. In addition.  Abraham’s willingness  to sacrifice his son is one of the greatest examples of early Christian faith: “By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac…..  He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead” (Hebrews 11:17, 19). In the history of Christianity, Genesis 22 continues to be a story of faith against all odds, and as a foretelling of God’s unselfish act of the giving of His own son Jesus Christ. If this was a scene in a Broadway play, we might consider that there are three principle actors: God, Abraham and let us not forget Isaac.

The Prologue:

“After these things God tested Abraham” (22:1). And what do “these things” include?

  • God’s call to Abraham to go to a land he has never seen.
  • God’s promises Abraham that he will be the father of a great nation.
  • Abraham and Sarah go many years without a child.
  • The gift of the birth of Ishmael;
  • Abraham, at Sarah’s insistence and with great sorrow, casts out his first son, Ishmael.
  • And now, God demands a most horrid thing: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go  to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you” (22:2).”

First, let’s look at God:

Abraham and his descendants are the means by which God has chosen to bless the whole world (Genesis 12:3). And God has innitially chosen Abraham to be the catalyst.  It is clear, God has a plan that He wants to execute and He would like Abraham to be part of it.  Since God is ultimately in charge, we must assume that this plan is very good for the world, the whole world.

Let’s look at Abraham:

Abraham has not always proven to be up to the task (e.g., the wife-sister charade, Hagar and Ishmael). Now God needs to know whether Abraham is willing to give up the one thing most precious to him for the sake of being faithful to the God who gave him that gift in the first place. God clearly is going to test Abraham and Abraham is going to be free to either pass or fail this test. This is an example of the “free will” God gives to each of us.

Let’s look at Isaac:

We often leave out the person who had the most invested in this test of faith, Isaac. We do not know if Isaac fully understood that he was the sacrifice. Here again, however, we are reminded of the relationship between father and son. “He bound his son Isaac … Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son” (22:9-10). This is the most intense scene we have. At this point in this story, Isaac tied up, laying on a wood pile and looking up at his father who is holding a sacrificial knife. Our understanding, however, cannot move past the fact that all through this story, Isaac is placing his full faith in his father. We should not miss this part of the lesson. This is the very thing that every person in the world is being asked daily. Do you place your full faith and trust in your Father, God, even when you are bound, lying on a wood pile and looking up to only see a sacrificial knife?

The Main story:

The two of them walk on together, father and son, the son carrying the wood for his own sacrifice. The first century rabbis, with no connection to Christianity but with ample experience of Roman executions, said of this detail: “Isaac carries the wood for the sacrifice like one who carries his own cross.” As the many generations of Christian interpreters have seen through the events of history, this story foreshadows the foundation of Christian faith – the story of the death and resurrection of a beloved son, the son of Abraham, the son of David, the Son of God.

The Final Scene:

Isaac knew that there should be a lamb for the sacrifice.  Abraham had told Isaac, God provides. Now we have a “narrator” in this final scene. An angel of the Lord calls out to Abraham from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” and Abraham is quick to reply,  “Here I am.” Abraham, having passed this most excruciating of tests, hears the best news ever. “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” don’t lay a hand on your son. Don’t do anything to hurt him. With relief, Abraham looks up and sees a ram caught in a thicket nearby. Sure enough, God provided the sacrifice! Our Broadway show ends happily with applauses. Isaac is untied, the ram sacrificed. Abraham names the site of the intended sacrifice “The LORD will provide” (22:14). And as they say, both Abraham and Isaac walk off into the sunset and the rest is history!

At this time in our world, the COVD-19 virus is looming over the world. We find ourselves bound, laying on what feels like a sacrificial alter and woodpile. Each of us is looking up to see the “COVID-19 Knife” held over us and the entire world is being asked that most important of all questions, “Do you place your full faith and trust in your Father, God?” You have the full free will to answer as you so choose.

Items for Discussion

  • What does it mean to have complete trust in God?
  • What are examples of trust? What are examples of mistrust?
  • Is there a difference between trusting God and knowing His will for us? 
  • The Christian belief is that God dignifies us with free will, the power to make decisions of our own rather than having God or fate predetermine what we do. What influences our “free will?” Some discussion ideas are:
    • Past experiences may distort our response to God
    • Personal limitations require us to seek clarity in God’s will (e.g., a handicap)
    • Observations may distort our opinion of what God controls, permits, or is just happenstance
    • Beliefs, formed from childhood and experiences (good and bad) can completely corrupt society
  • With the evil side of our world taking advantage of “free will,” how is it that people can remain faithful to God’s will? Some discussion ideas are:
    • Obedience – How do we know for sure, we are following God’s will?
    • Attitude – Regardless of outcomes, can the glass always be “Half full?”
    • Expectations – How do we set them, who do we let influence them?
  • Did Jesus demonstrate His free will and complete trust of God? How?
  • What do you think we should be praying for with respect to God’s will?
  • Are there current examples in our society today of people demonstrating the “Faith of Abraham?”
  • Are there current examples in our society today of people demonstrating the faith of “Isaac?”
  • The Bible uses the Father and Son relationship examples throughout. How might the current crisis of growing numbers of single parent homes be affecting the ability of new generations to fully understand who God is? In other words, can you know God without understanding a father’s role? Can you know Jesus without knowing what it is to be an obedient child?

Discussion Challenge

  • What do you think the greatest influence of the Christian Church should be on a society that is fearful? 

 

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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