I spoke at church a few months ago. Well actually, I read a story. My version of when God called Abraham to sacrifice his son, the one He had promised him. If you’re not familiar with Abraham, he was basically the first Jewish person. God promised him offspring that would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and would be a blessing to the whole world. Him and his wife, Sarah, were barren and didn’t actually have any children together until they were almost 100. Then a few years later, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son (Jewish people weren’t ever required to do that, but many other religions in Old Testament days demanded child sacrifice. Crazy, I know). Anyways, if you want to read the actual story, it’s in Genesis 22. I do go back and talk about things that happened in prior chapters, too, if you wanted to check that out.
Here is Abraham’s Story:
The sun was just starting to peak over the mountains. Day was breaking, and so was Abraham’s heart. He had been up all night praying. Pleading with God to take back what He had just asked him to do. Arguing with himself that he must have heard wrong. Surely God would never give him promise after promise of a son of blessing, and then ask for him back. How could he do that? No, I’ve surely been mistaken. He lay in his tent, tossing and turning, pleading, sobbing quietly as not to wake Sarah. “Lord, you can’t possibly take this child away from us. Away from her.”
His mind went back to the day, the first time the Lord promised him a lineage of blessing. After years and decades of trying for a child, God finally promised him and Sarah a family. It wasn’t without a call to leave his homeland and place of comfort. To set off for somewhere new and unknown. He recalled how God had told him he would make him into a great nation that would be a blessing to the whole earth. But that promise required obedience first. It always did. He always did what God asked him to do. At first, he would doubt God’s commands, because most of the time, they didn’t make much sense. But by now, he knew not only God’s voice, but the results of obedience. They were always so good. God was so good to him. But this time, this time it was different. Moving away from home, fine. Being obedient in everything else, fine. But this! “God, why are you asking me to sacrifice my son, the very promise you gave me? How could you do this to me?”
Again, his mind went back to the time the 3 angels came to him and how Sarah laughed when they said by that time the following year she’d be pregnant. He was a bit embarrassed when she did that, but he also didn’t blame her. Lineages have always been important, and the longer they went without having a child, the more depressed and useless Sarah felt. The first few years were okay, he remembered her getting antsy every time her cycle was a day or two late. But every month was another disappointment for her. That disappointment turned into depression, which turned into downright anger. From there, hopelessness. She blamed herself more than I ever did. True, I also struggled with strong disappointment, sometimes even jealousy because my siblings were able to bear children and we weren’t. I prayed all the time, for years, begging God for a son. We were upright people who did what was right to the best of our abilities. Not only that, we would have made wonderful parents. Sarah, especially, would have made an amazing mother. She is so loving and nurturing and caring. What could possibly be wrong with us, that we couldn’t be blessed with children? That’s why Sarah laughed. She had long lost hope for a child but still fought with bitterness and resentment. And those men saying we would have a child was like rubbing salt in an open wound.
He could barely see the sun rise through his tears. He knew he had to obey. All the arguing and pleading proved void. He had pleaded with God for Sodom and Gomorrah, and if there would have been any righteous people, he would have prevailed. But this was different. He knew there was no point anymore. The only thing left to do was obey. He was sick with dread. Might as well get up and get this over with.
As his two servants got everything ready for the journey, he went to Isaac’s bed and leaned over to wake him up. For a moment he watched him sleep, breathing in every last detail of his face. He had Sarah’s big beautiful eyes, so full of light and curiosity. Her old age may have dimmed them a bit, but he could still see them shine when he watched her interact with her son. Even now closed, Abraham could see his eyes twitch a little bit and wondered what he could be dreaming about. He watched as Isaac smiled in his sleep, he was such a happy boy. Abraham smiled to himself through his swelling tears and thought, I will never love another child as much I love you. My promise. Coming to himself, he gently called Isaac’s name. Time to get up. We are going on a big journey today.
Thankfully Isaac didn’t ask many questions of where they were going or what they were doing. He wouldn’t know how to answer. Dodging Sarah’s questions the night before were difficult enough. She was so protective of him, rarely letting him out of her sight. She was the definition of a mother bear once she held him in her arms. And she must have sensed something was off with Abraham. All colour had left his face, he was completely sombre, and she knew he was trying to hide something from her. Isaac would not be leaving her side without a fight.
Everything was packed and they were set to leave. Isaac kissed his mother goodbye. Fighting tears, she smiled at him, wrapped her arms around him and kissed both his cheeks. She looked at her husband, face still pale and eyes red and puffy. He looked at her with the most heart breaking look she had ever seen. “If anything happens to my son on this trip, so help me…” He turned and walked away before she could finish. There was no point anyways.
They walked for three days. Isaac tried not to complain much because his dad was so down and lost in thought the entire time, but he was tired of walking. He didn’t even know where they were going or why. And for some reason, there was an uneasiness in the air that even he could sense.
Abraham spent the entire 3 days, pleading with God to change his mind, reminding him of his promises. At night, they would build a fire, eat dinner and sleep. But Abraham neither ate nor slept. He was starving and exhausted, but his heart was far too broken to do either. The war inside himself was almost more than he could bare sometimes. Over and over again he would plead, “Lord, I have been faithful and obedient. I have trusted you over and over. And you have kept your promise over and over. But I don’t understand what you are doing here. And I don’t doubt that you will still keep your promises. That you will provide. That you will continue to bless me. But I just don’t understand.” The question was no longer, did he hear correctly. He knew that much. There’s something deep inside of the very core of your being, when you know God has spoken to you. Sometimes it consumes you and every aspect of your life until it comes to pass. Other times, it gets put to the side until the right moment, but it’s rarely forgotten.
They were almost at their destination, tomorrow was the big day. While the others were sleeping, Abraham looked up at the night sky, remembering the time the Lord had promised him offspring as many as there were stars, through a son of his own flesh and blood. He took a deep breath, “I believed you then, and I believe you now.” Something inside himself broke as he said that out loud. Flooded with peace that surpassed his understanding, under a beautiful starry sky, he stoked the fire for the last time of the night and drifted off to sleep.
The next morning came much earlier than Abraham wanted. Although surprisingly, he felt more rested than he had in a while. They cooked breakfast over an open fire, and for the first time in quite a few days, he ate. The other 3 stared at him in confusion, but no one dared to ask questions. His 2 most trusted servants that had come, knew Abraham well enough to know that this journey was out of obedience to the Lord, as many of their journeys were. Although for some reason, this one seemed a bit different. Isaac was still too young to understand true obedience, but he soon would.
They walked for a few more hours until Abraham stopped them. Looking away, he told his servants to stay and wait for him and Isaac while they went ahead. “We will go and worship and then we will come back,” he said. He believed that both of them would come back, but he did not know how. The look he had on his face told the servants that there was much more to the story. But they dare not question their master. Isaac, carrying the wood, and Abraham carrying the knife and torch of fire, left the two servants behind. Something was missing, they thought to themselves. Suddenly, the realization of what was really going to happen came, and their eyes widened and they went white as ghosts. Surely the Lord isn’t asking our master to do what we think?? Surely not!
Each step Abraham took was heavier than the last. The peace that was there earlier that morning was starting to fade quickly. He was deep in prayer, begging God to change his mind, when Isaac broke the silence.
“Yes, my son?”
“The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered him the same way he’d been answering his own question for the last 4 days, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” For Isaac, this answer was sufficient. Abraham wished it was sufficient for himself.
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built and alter and slowly, through his tears, he arranged the wood on it. Why was father crying? Isaac thought. And where is this lamb God is supposed to provide? Not a moment later, before he knew it, Isaac’s father was tying him up. Wait. What’s happening? “No father! Did I misbehave? Why are you doing this to me?”
Abraham couldn’t hear Isaac’s pleading through his own sobs. And Isaac couldn’t break free from his father’s old, but strong arms. “I don’t understand what’s happening!” he cried, as he was being laid on the wooden alter. Isaac squeezed his eyes closed in terror and held his breath as Abraham, through his weeping, reached out the hand that was holding the knife to slay his son.
Just then they both heard a thunderous voice, coming from what seemed like heaven. “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied, as he slowly put down the knife with one hand and wiped his face full of tears with the other.
“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 saw a ram with its horns caught in the bush. He let out a loud cry and heavy sigh of relief all at the same time. Then quickly untied his son, kissing his face over and over, drenching him with yet more tears. He ran over to the ram and when it was loosed from the bush, he laid it on the alter and sacrificed it. Isaac sat there numb and not really sure what to think of what just happened.
As Abraham was overcome with relief, Isaac struggled with the feeling of betrayal. He couldn’t believe that after all his parents had went through just to have a son, that his own father would even consider ending his son’s life! Now he was the one lost in thought, struggling with overcoming heartbreak.
“Isaac, my son,” Abraham said, interrupting Isaac’s deep thoughts.
“I know you don’t understand what just happened. And I know how hurt and betrayed you must feel. Sometimes the Lord asks us to do things that are beyond difficult. Sometimes He tests us to see how much we not only love him, but trust him. Sometimes he asks us to give our promises back, so we depend more on the promise giver rather than the promises themselves. Isaac, my son, I love you more than anything else in the world. But I cannot be disobedient to the Lord, no matter what he asks of me. It is in the very fibre of my being that I be fully obedient to him. I cannot do otherwise, no matter how difficult it proves to be. Everything God has asked me to do over the years have been difficult. But nowhere near as difficult as this. And every time I’ve been obedient, he has provided me with much more than I ever thought I needed. When I told you that the Lord himself would provide the sacrifice, I didn’t know how he would, but I knew he would. I had to be obedient first, because it is only in our complete trust and obedience that the Lord makes provisions for the promises to come to fruition. And when he does provide and fulfills his promises, he also takes us farther than any of our expectations could ever reach. He does more than we could ever ask or think. You will understand this more and more as your own faith in God matures and you submit to his calling.”
Isaac thought for a moment and supposed that one day he would understand his words. For now, he would just be grateful.
“One more thing, Isaac.”
“Do NOT tell your mother about any of this!”