Lessons in Sacrifice: Abraham
- Megan Roegner
- Mar 3, 2011
- Series: Lessons in Sacrifice
When I first decided to write about Biblical parents and children, there was one story, I was sure I wasn’t going to touch—it’s too hard, too horrifying. But since I committed to writing about parents and sacrifice, how can I really avoid writing about Abraham and Isaac?
Genesis 22:1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.
I’m not sure it’s OK to say you don’t like a Bible story, but I don’t like this Bible story. However, I do think there are some things that are interesting. First of all, the chapter starts off with “After these things.” What things, you ask? Well, in the previous few chapters, Abraham has, among other events: claimed his wife was his sister twice and given her away to other men (apparently, Sarah was a knockout); laughed when God told him he and Sarah would have a child; and impregnated Sarah’s maid and then cast her and his son Ishmael out because of Sarah’s jealousy (however, God did tell him to do what Sarah said). I suppose “after these things,” Abraham deserved to be tested by God. But what a test!
Another thing I found interesting is that when God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (reminding him that he is his only son, whom he loves), the author of Genesis does not note Abraham’s reaction—we don’t know if he was shocked, scared, sad, regretful, all we know is that immediately the next day he set out to Moriah to sacrifice his son. Similarly, I’m not sure how to interpret Abraham’s instruction to the servants, which indicates that both he and Isaac will be returning after their worship. Is Abraham saying this so the servants don’t suspect what he is about to do? Or is he confident that God will not make him go through with the sacrifice? The editors of my Lutheran Study Bible say that Abraham believed God would resurrect Isaac, and they know a lot more than me. Then, when Isaac asks where the lamb to be sacrificed is, Abraham says that God will provide the lamb. Is Abraham trying to hide the truth from his son for as long as possible, or is this more evidence to suggest that he believes God will intervene?
What does this story teach today’s parents? I think that the story of Abraham and Isaac is a very painful lesson for very well-meaning parents. Lately I’ve had a very hard time finding balance between my faith life and motherhood. Those of you who attend Reliant are without a doubt aware that Sam can be…shall we say…rambunctious. If either Jeremy or I are not chasing him around downstairs, we’re frantically pulling toys and snacks out of the diaper bag in a desperate attempt to keep him entertained. It doesn’t make for a very worshipful experience. I used to pray every night before bed. Now, I’m asleep within nanoseconds of my head hitting the pillow. I used to be a part of a community group, which I loved and was nourished by, now my evenings center around Sam’s seven o’clock bedtime. In fact, more than just my evenings center on Sam. I’m constantly tempted to make him the most important part of my life, and that’s a weak foundation—a job that’s much too big for a baby, no matter how energetic. Saying motherhood makes me too busy to put God first may sound like a noble excuse, but it’s still just an excuse. With Abraham and Isaac, God shows that even the bond between parent and child is not to come before Him.
Of course, the story doesn’t end with Abraham’s knife poised about his beloved son:
11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 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.”
15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
The thing that really interests me in the end of the story is that earlier Isaac asks where the sacrificial lamb is and Abraham responds that God will provide the lamb. But what God sends is a ram. God tells Abraham that Isaac, the young innocent lamb, is the sacrifice, but the real sacrifice is Abraham, the old ram, who must deny every human and fatherly instinct to show that He places God above everything else.
I have to admit, I’m not there with Abraham. Not yet. I am such a sinner. Thankfully, this story is another that directly points to Christ. Just like Abraham, God is willing to sacrifice his only Son, whom He loves. But, of course, no one intervened in that sacrifice. And in Abraham’s hope, we see our own—that God resurrects the Son, the happy ending that only His grace provides.