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. (Genesis 22:7-8)
When I was a little boy, my Dad would take wrestle me and my siblings to the floor, pin our hands to the floor and tickle us until we begged for mercy. It was all good fun and we enjoyed it, not at all like the interaction Abraham had with God that is recorded in Genesis 22.
As recorded in the previous chapter, God finally delivered on his promise and gave Abraham and Sarah (age 100 and 90) a son through whom God would generate his promised Blessing People who would be a blessing to the whole world. Sometime later, God calls Abraham by name, “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.” (v. 2)
You might be wondering like many others have before you, “What in the world is going on here? Why did God call Abraham to sacrifice the promised and long-awaited son that he had recently given him? Was he pulling back on his promise of many descendants?” This passage does not give us an answer to the “why?” question, but there are things that we can draw from this account and apply to our lives today.
Through human history and even now in our lives today, people have tended to receive God’s good gifts with joy and then drift into valuing the gift more than the Giver. Then when something happens to that good gift from God and we lose it—whether it is an opportunity, a relationship, a possession or a person—our lives are shattered by the loss. That gift was our Most Important Thing and now it is gone. In our grief, we forget that we still have the Giver.
As amazing to me as is God’s request, what surprises me more is Abraham’s response. The very next day, he got up early, loaded up his donkey with wood for the sacrifice and headed out with Isaac. Abraham does what God asks and he does it promptly.
How much would a person have to love God to give their greatest gift back to him? Ultimately.
It’s too easy to cast aspersions on God’s character and call him cruel for even suggesting such a thing. “Such a god would not be worthy of my love and worship,” we might think to ourselves. But then we are considering ourselves to be all-knowing and making God in our own image.
God is calling us into a life that is far better than the one we are living now. Living as we do, in a particularly prosperous part of the first world, most of us have far more food, clothing and shelter than we need. But our possessions can start to possess our hearts and make us slaves to protecting, maintaining and replacing them. We become like addicts who are addicted to our gifts and, like any other addiction, it will take a crisis before we realize how far we have fallen and open ourselves up to receive the help that we need.
There is no indication that Abraham’s heart had gone astray. He dutifully made the multi-day journey to the location where God had said the sacrifice should take place. When Isaac asked his Father about the lamb for the sacrifice, Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (v. 8)
And God had provided the lamb for the burnt offering. It was Isaac, the miracle baby! On the basis of all that he knew, there was no other explanation for Abraham. And yet he still continued to move forward, trusting the God who knew and loved him.
How much do you have to be loved by God to keep moving forward even though, to the best of your knowledge, it will result in you sacrificing your greatest gift? Infinitely.
This seemingly cruel and bizarre test set up by God is actually a slice of everyday real life for us. Every day, you and I are confronted with decisions that pivot on the fulcrum of our ultimate values. When we value our people and our possessions most of all, our decisions go one way. When we value God most of all, they go the other way.
Through this story, God has pulled back the curtain to show us what is really going on in our hearts. We identify with Abraham’s predicament and we grieve the loss of Isaac in advance like we would our own child. Then we feel the immense relief when—just before the loss becomes permanent—God sent a substitute lamb to save Isaac and restore him to his Father.
But now things are different for we have already given our much-loved possession over to God and we were prepared to accept its loss. We receive it back with joy, but now our heart is rightly ordered: God is our ultimate love and our relationship with him is our prized possession.
For all the wrong things that we have done, including having a dis-ordered heart, we deserve to be obliterated on Isaac’s altar. But God himself provided a lamb, His one and only Son, whom he loved. And that Lamb of God, Jesus, took our place and offered himself up on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice to pay the full price of forgiveness for all sins and give us a life with him that will last forever.
In Jesus, we can see God’s infinite love for us. That love frees us and transforms us into people who love God because he first loved us. It is God’s love for us that makes us into people who love him most of all. Because God is the One that we love the most, we freely receive from His hand whatever He gives us. Whether it is people or property, we care for our gifts, but we never possess them. All the things that we hold, even the people in our lives, belong to God, and we love and care for them because we love God.
This is a rightly-ordered heart.
Dear Jesus, please help me to see the disorder in my heart through the crises I experience in my life. Help me to release into your loving care all the possessions, the people and the problems that I grasp and grip in my tired and weary hands. Heal my heart with the cleansing flood of your love and help me to stand in your presence with open hands willing to receive whatever you give me and willing to go wherever you lead me. Amen.