Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.
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.”
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. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 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.”
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, 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?”
Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
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. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
“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.”
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. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba. Genesis 22:1-19 (NIV)
Child sacrifice is rightly considered an abomination to God’s people. When child sacrifice is mentioned later in Scripture, specifically in offering one’s children to the false god Molech, it is named as a sin punishable by stoning (Leviticus 20:2-5). God does not take sacrificing children to false gods lightly. Jesus said to His disciples, “Let the children come to Me and do not stop them.” (Luke 18:16) God loves children and expects us to love and protect them as well.
So why does God give Abraham this impossible decision? From the perspective of a parent of an only son (technically Abraham did have another son, but Isaac was the child of God’s promise) this is an unthinkable, unimaginable decision to make. A parent’s natural reaction, especially the reaction of a parent who had suffered through years of infertility, would be something along the lines of, “God, you can’t possibly be serious!”
How would we react to such a command from God? Even should we have multiple children to spare? First of all we would want to be sure that it’s God talking and not some other voice. Today, because of Jesus becoming the one perfect sacrifice for all time, we can be confident that God would not want us to take any of our children and set them up on a barbeque, which is a comforting thought. Today, if one thinks that God wants them to sacrifice his or her child, this should be taken as a cry for mental help.
God will provide the lamb. This is what Abraham tells Isaac to comfort him, even though at the time, Abraham has no way of knowing this. We learn that Abraham was not permitted to follow through with sacrificing Isaac. God did indeed provide the lamb- first a foreshadowing by the appearance of the ram in the Genesis account, and then He provided the true Lamb of God, Jesus.
Are we willing to follow God no matter how illogical or impractical or impossible it sounds to us? What is God asking of us?
Surrender is not easy. It should be easy for us to surrender our sins, our faults, our doubts, but as soon as we think we have left them at the foot of the Cross, we tend to pick them back up again. When the apostle Peter tells us, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”- 1 Peter 5:7 (NRSV)- that’s passive surrender, but we are still called to do it. We endure much more anguish and distress than we should when we do not surrender our anxiety and our worry to Jesus.
Sometimes surrender is proactive, as we see in the Genesis text. God wants us to reach out and do things that are hard. Often we are called to surrender our time and our resources with no tangible assurance that our sacrifice will even be noticed or appreciated.
Surrender is about obedience, in putting the pursuit of God’s will above our own will. It is never easy to surrender, but the Holy Spirit will help us seek God’s will and be obedient to Him.
Like Abraham we are called to trust God without knowing how He will provide. It’s not easy sometimes, especially when we don’t see a way out or a way through an illness or a bad situation. It’s hard when we are at the end of ourselves. God has provided the Lamb- but it is hard for us to realize that when everything around us screams that there is no hope.
Even when everything we see looks hopeless, God has promises for us that are going to come about for us even though we can’t imagine them. We can’t see how they play out right now. Abraham didn’t live on this earth long enough to see all of his descendants. We may never know how we will impact someone else’s life here and now. Maybe something we said or something we did for someone will make a difference in their lives and other lives years after we have forgotten about it, or even years after our time on this earth is over.
Today might be a good day to meditate on the provision of God and surrender to His will, knowing that He has good plans and promises for us. God provides the Lamb. No matter how hopeless our situations may seem.