|Create Date||June 27, 2020|
|Last Updated||June 27, 2020|
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Abraham and Isaac
My name is Lorna Laister and I will be giving the sermon this week
I was reading my grandchildren (they are 8 and 5 years old) bible stories this week. We decided to go through the children’s bible -story by story and stop after each one to watch YouTube on each. We got to the story of Noah and the ark and the part where the rain began. Makayala (8) was getting distressed by the rains rising and eventually where all living beings OUTSIDE the ark were drowned. She stopped me and said, :Granny. That’s not fair!! The animals. They didn’t do anything wrong!!”
To her this was unjust and unfair!!
Last week Gill was talking about when God doesn’t seem fair. Do you remember her saying that God allowed Hagar to suffer for a long while, and that sometimes God doesn’t appear to be fair?
There are many difficult stories in the Bible. They are part of the greater story OF THE PEOPLE’S RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.
WE KNOW NOW THAT GOD’S PEOPLE WERE BEGINNING TO HAVE A growing understanding OF WHO THEY WERE as God’s people. THIS story WAS HANDED DOWN THROUGH the ages BY ORAL TRADITION. THIS MEANS THAT IT WAS TOLD – and NOT WRITTEN DOWN FOR A VERY LONG TIME.
Form them we learn the hard lessons: Life is not always fair. Things are not always easy – even when we do what is right – and God can seem like a hard taskmaster or judge. And what the writers of Genesis saw as God’s testing of Abraham is not easy to SWALLOW.
remember THE BIBLE IS THE STORY OF GOD’S LOVE FOR HIS PEOPLE. WE SEE THE UP-DOWN, OFF-ON RELATIONSHIP THAT THE PEOPLE EXPERIENCED BECAUSE OF THEIR OBEDIENCE-DISOBEDIENCE.
This week THE lesson is FROM ONE OF THOSE THAT ARE VERY difficult to hear. There are elements that we want to shut out! DON’T TELL ME THAT!!
the Bible would be easier to read without stories like this one.
…or Adam and Eve kicked out of the garden.
…or those who didn’t make it into the ark.
…or the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
…or the children whose deaths are described in the Psalms.
…or the family of Job in a collapsing house.
…or the Israelites dying in their desert wandering.
…or Jesus on the cross.
What do we do with this text? YOU HEARD IT IN THE SCRIPTURE READING. It’s horrifying—that Abraham would plan to kill his son as an act of faith and that God would command it.
We just cannot get round the text. IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU WANT TO GO BACK INTO THE ORIGIANL HEBREW – (WHICH CLEARLY I CANNOT) It is clear. God says he will test Abraham.
I don’t which is worse—that God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, or that Abraham seemingly complies without protest.
There is ancient commentary on this verse that goes…
God said, “Take your son.”
And Abraham said, “I have two sons.”
God answered him, “Your only son.”
He said to him, “Each is the only son of his mother.”
God said, “The one whom you love.”
Abraham replied, “Is there any limit to a father’s love?”
God answered, “Isaac.”
See how drawn out that is? See how long it takes the conversation to happen? Then the details are excruciatingly slow after that: Abraham said to Isaac his son…Isaac said to Abraham his father…Abraham walked with his only son Isaac…and so on. It’s as if the narrator doesn’t want to tell the story.
We can understand why some readers have difficulty with this story. It seems entirely out of place and character for the HISTORICAL ACCOUNT, Yet, at the same time, we don’t get to snip the parts out of the Bible––or life itself––that we don’t get or don’t like.
So, the purpose of this sermon is to find something to learn from it. What is it that we can grab out of this apparently awful ACCOUNT? What can we apply to our lives?
It’s in the Scriptures, and therefore we need to reflect on it and learn from it.
One thing to bear in mind here is that Abraham’s family was surrounded by other tribes whose cults demanded human sacrifice. It seems completely monstrous and crazy to us, but it wasn’t to them. They would have probably regularly seen other groups participating in this awful practice.
So, from one angle, we have God proving to Abraham once and for all definitively that he is NOT one of these pagan gods. There was no appeasing the gods by sending out fruit into the river, or bargaining with the gods - Abraham couldn’t buy him off, like they did in the surrounding cults. The God of Israel, the one true God, is the one who sends a ram, the one who pulls back. God himself provides the sacrifice as a substitute. Even though everything in the world, and everyone in the world is his, HE still GIVES TO THE WORLD.
The next thing to consider is that a lot has been going on before this episode
A lot has happened between Genesis 12 when Abraham was first called out of Haran and this narrative here. From various clues in the text, it would seem that the narrator intends us to read Genesis 22 with this entire history in mind. In the RSV translation verse 1 reads “after these things”. This sets up the story against the backdrop of things that are recounted in previous chapters. God commanded Abraham to lek-leka, go to the place I will say to you. God said the same thing in Genesis 12:1 where Abraham is also commanded by God to lek-leka. This story, then, is the climax of all of the events that have preceded it.
Throughout the narratives of Abraham’s life, the pressing question is that of descendants. How will Abraham produce a son when Sarah is barren? We readers, who have read the story, seen the movie and got the T-shirt, we are still relieved when Sarah gives birth to Isaac and God affirms that this is how God promises will be delivered.
So, this is the primary theme, Abraham is going to have children – But there is a sub-theme, that is, the Abraham’s faith wavers. We have this good-bad thing going on all the time
In Genesis 12:4, Abraham responds to God without hesitation, packing up and going to the land that God would show him. And in Genesis 15:6, Abraham believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness.
At other times, however, Abraham acts in ways that suggest doubt.
- Twice, out of fear, he tries to pass off his wife as his sister and Sarah ends up in the bedroom of the local ruler (Genesis 12:10-20, 20:1-18).
- He was so worried about producing an heir, he sleeps with a woman other than his wife (albeit at Sarah’s bidding).
- He laughs when God tells him that Sarah would bear a child and that she would become the mother of nations (Gen. 17:17).
- Throughout, there are indications that Abraham still doesn’t quite trust God to accomplish what he promised, or believe that God is a god of his word.
READING GENESIS 22:1-2
So God asks Abraham to demonstrate his faith by trusting God with his hopes, his future, his deepest longings, his only son whom he loves. Genesis 22:1 describes it as a test. Now this is a signal to the reader that God had no intention of going through with it. But we are never sure till we read the end of the story with our own eyes. The messenger of the Lord stays Abraham’s hand, preventing him from killing his son.
AND HERE’S THE THING!!
God never wanted child sacrifice after all.
Rather, he wanted Abraham to face his own conflicted and divided loyalties.
So Abraham went through with the test. TESTS. WHY TESTS?
Sometimes tests make people nervous or worried. But tests are a good way of finding things out.
- If the doctor wants to know how healthy or sick you are, she can test your blood or your temperature. LIKE AT THE NURSERY WHEN WE WENT TO BUY PLANTS
- You can take an eye test to find out how well you see and if you need glasses.
- Scientists make up experiments to test out their ideas so they can discover new things.
- Your teacher at school needs to know how much you are learning so he or she gives you tests. If you study for the test it can help you learn and remember.
- Before you can get a driver’s license you have to take a written test to make sure you know the driving rules. Then you have to take a road test to make sure you can be a safe driver.
- Tests can measure things and tell us where we stand. Sometimes people test one another to try to find out how much they are loved. Do you ever watch to see TO whom Mom is giving the biggest piece of cake?
- When you misbehaved AS A CHILD, DO YOU REMEMBER Mom or Dad say, “You are testing my patience?”
- Sometimes we test or challenge someone to make them stronger.
This is a story of a test God made for one of God’s people whom he loved very much. And we read to find out
READING VERSE 3-6
So here we are with the ANXIOUS father and the terrified son ascending a mountain alone. Remember that Abraham has already been on a transformative journey, SINCE God called him out of Haran.
If we look back to verse 1 we see how Abraham answered God – he said to God
HERE I AM! HENINI
There is a gut-level depth of this Hebrew word:
“I’m ready—no part of me is held back, I’m at your disposal.” This is Abraham’s answer back to God. Abraham, WHO HAD BEEN THE self-saver, the back-stabber, self-lover, God-mocker answers with: “I’m completely here, Lord, what do you need?”
What a change in Abraham! All the hardship and pain and greatness of his journey with God has changed him deeply. As, we read through the narrative, we see the depth of his transformation.
READ VERSES 7-8
Here we see the depth of Abraham’s change. He’s gone from the hustler who fixed things in his own terms to the man who trusts God, even when everything seems lost. Even when the whole world seems upside down—God will provide.
Abraham’s faith has so grown that he trusts God, even when God seems to be taking away his instrument of promise. God will provide. Abraham has made the transition from trusting in God’s gifts to trusting in God himself.
Henini—Here I am.
He also uses that Hebrew word again in a heart-breaking moment just before this:
And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” (Genesis 22:7 ESV)
He uses the same word to his son: “I’m fully here. I’m at your disposal.” I would gladly replace you on that altar; I’m not here to preserve myself. We see the reckless love and trust that God has grown in Abraham. Instead of the cagey, proud patriarch he once was, we see him making himself fully available to his son. I’m right here son, completely.
Henini—Here I am. Here I am, and I’m ready. God provides the ram. Even this is a small tragic picture—a helpless animal caught in the brambles by his horns. It won’t be your pain today, Abraham, but there will be pain and helplessness and death, and that’s the world we live in. And yet at the same time it’s shot through with love, grace, trust, and God’s provision.
So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” (Genesis 22:14 ESV)
Abraham and Sarah, who both laughed at God, who called their son Isaac, which is a pun on the Hebrew word for laughter, now call this place where Abraham felt completely forgotten by God “the mountain on which God provided.”
The test serves a purpose. Well it served at least 2. Both Abraham and God learned something. Abraham now knows, in the profoundest of ways, that life with God is a gift, and God’s blessing is freely bestowed. He need not do anything - God will provide—generously, bountifully, wondrously. All he has to do is look up him to see that God has been there all along, guiding his steps, directing his paths, and making a future for him.
But God now knows something too. God learns that Abraham fears him. This is the first time the narrator describes Abraham’s demeanour toward God in this way. Prior to this, the text depicts Abraham as listening to and obeying God. But in Genesis 21:12, God experiences from Abraham more—respect, awe, and a healthy dose of fear and trembling appropriate to a divine-human relationship.
Something changes between Abraham and God that day. Abraham learns to trust and fear God. And God proves that God can be trusted. In the history of God’s relationship with human beings, God would demonstrate this time and again. In the end, God’s commitment to fulfilling his promises to Abraham and bringing about his redemptive purposes would end up costing God dearly. For while Abraham’s son is spared, God would give his own son to up to death. This too was an act of provision on God’s part—a provision that would ultimately fulfill what God started in Abraham, that is, the restoration of blessing to the nations and to the world.
Because Christ died, our relationship with God has forever been changed. Whatever sin, whatever guilt, whatever brokenness we carry, Christ has dealt with and abolished it in the cross. This story invites us then, to a attitude of fear and awe as well as profound gratitude for God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises and the redemption we have through him.
These are things that we choose
Step back to the grander story. God could have killed the human race in the Garden of Eden, or at many times since then. He could have killed the promise right there on the altar, stopped the plan of salvation altogether, but instead he provided another way. He is the God who always provides a ram. When the flood waters came, he provided Noah. When the desert wanderings came, he provided Moses. When Israel rebelled, he provided the prophets. And in answer to all sin, he provided Jesus.
The other gods in our world of greed, addiction, and self-centeredness will always let you bring down that knife and commit murder. Selfishness has no bounds and sin’s appetite is bottomless.
I want to leave you with some questions.
- Was the story so terrible after all?
- “Henini” is the Hebrew word for “I am here,” but it means much more than that. It means “I’m at your disposal. I’m ready to do whatever you ask.” Can you say that to God? Now? Here? Today?
- We talked about the change in Abraham from a shifty con-artist to someone who said, “I’m ready” when the Lord called. Have you ever seen the Spirit effect this change in someone? In your own life?
- The Lord always “provides a ram.” He intervenes to save us and keep us going. Can you think of an example like that in your life?