“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.” Genesis 22:2 NIV
God gave this instruction to Abraham, and it took three days for Abraham, Isaac and their servants to reach the intended mountain. Three days for Abraham to think and weep at this strange command, not that we are told anything about his feelings at all in the scripture. But how long that journey must have seemed! I wonder at Abraham’s faith and I also wonder if he got any sleep. There seems to have been no remonstrating with God, no attempts at bargaining, just total obedience.
I often think I’ve given God everything and that I love and trust him so much that I would never withhold anything from him. But I know it isn’t true. I withhold my character and my heart from him all the time when I act or think wrongly, or when I am selfish, and if he asked me to sacrifice someone I loved very dearly (including my pet) I would balk at the command. I only have the little faith I’ve been given, and know that anything I do get right is God working through me, his love or wisdom flowing on, perhaps despite rather than because of me.
For Abraham and Isaac, as so often in the Bible, three days separate deep dark deathly hopelessness and resurrection blessing. When it is clear that Abraham will truly withhold nothing from his God, God blesses him with great promises for him and his descendants.
Most of the Bible translations call this story “Abraham Tested” though of course these headings are not in the original Hebrew, just place-markers for us. I am not sure that we gain much from such a description. The Living God is not a capricious tester of faith. I don’t think that he tests, so much as refines us. We don’t get marks out of a hundred for how we react to difficult circumstances or the things that are asked of us. Instead, these trials are just as much a loving opportunity. God isn’t playing games with us.
This episode with Abraham and Isaac is clearly a picture of the sacrifice that God will make for us much later on, giving us his only son, and sacrificing him to a much more brutal and drawn out death than this poor ram had to suffer. No, there is nothing withheld here on God’s side either and this alone should help us to see that this is no thoughtless whimsy on the Lord’s part. All he does is done with purpose and with our best interests at heart. For some reason, this journey up the mountain with a heavy heart, but one which trusts the goodness of God above all things, this is something Abraham needs to do before he can come into a still deeper blessing from the Living God.
I believe this man of amazing faith spoke truth when he declared to his son that “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” (verse 8 partial) and that he was on the lookout for a substitute all the way, knowing the goodness of the Lord. But when none such appeared, he still trusted that obedience was the way forward. I cannot imagine how either he or Isaac felt, and I don’t pretend to understand why it had to be so dramatic and difficult, but I do see that it is willingness, obedience, trust and the giving over of everything dear that takes us further into God’s heart.
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