This post will most certainly be a departure from my usual posts of late, but it is something that resonated deeply with me today and so I hope in some small way it might be a blessing to you…
I sat down at the kitchen table to have my quite time over breakfast this morning – something that, as one on whom God is still working greatly, I would be lying to say was nearly as regular an occurrence as it should be. But God is gracious and understanding with me as he sanctifies my heart and motives. I have been slowly by surely making my way through Genesis, and today I found myself in Genesis 22. I was challenged by what our pastor said in church yesterday about making time to study the Word, and the helpfulness of keeping a journal in doing so. I had grabbed a mostly fresh journal from our shelf intending to jot a few thoughts on what I read. I’m a horrible journal-keeper – a point proven prominently by the fact that my only two previous entries in said journal were dated from our honeymoon in November 2011 – but I ended up filling the entire page with notes as I read through this chapter.
As a synopsis of Genesis 22, God calls on the man Abraham and commands him to take his only son, Isaac, to a distant land three days journey away and there offer his beloved child as a sacrifice to the Lord. This is not a pretty picture, not an easy request. Abraham is acquainted with the sacrifice of burnt offerings, knows full well that this will entail killing by his own hand the child that he and his wife had awaited for so long. While the scripture does not specifically comment on Abraham’s emotional state, I cannot imagine that God’s request did not grieve his heart to the very core. How confused and saddened Abraham must have been after God’s promise to bless him and Sarah with a child in their old age, only to be faced with the possibility that their precious son would now be taken from them.
Earlier in the book of Genesis, we see God make a covenant – a binding promise – with Abraham. God covenants to bless Abraham, to give him an heir, and to multiply his offspring as numerously as the stars in the sky (Gen. 15:1-6). Abraham was to be the father of many nations. How did God intend to fulfill his promise with Abraham’s only child taken from the picture? Surely Abraham struggled mightily to understand God’s purpose and will in this turn of events.
And yet, in the midst of his pain and perplexity, Abraham trusted God and obeyed. Abraham’s relationship with God is firmly rooted in his knowledge that God, in his sovereignty, has guided and provided for Abraham for many years and that God truly has Abraham’s best interest at heart. Verse 3 says that Abraham “rose early in the morning” to carry out God’s command. He didn’t question, or tarry, but made the necessary preparations and set out resolutely with young Isaac and a few men. As the group nears the mountain to which God has directed Abraham, even Issac begins to sense that something is remiss. They have the split wood, the fire, he points out, but no lamb to sacrifice. Still Abraham trusts that God will provide. When Abraham and Isaac reach the place for the sacrifice, Abraham builds an altar, arranges the wood, binds Isaac, and is literally raising the knife to sacrifice his own son when God sends an angel to stop Abraham in his tracks.
As overwhelming relief washes over Abraham, he looks up to find a ram caught in a thicket behind him. God has indeed provided a substitutionary sacrifice in the place of Isaac. Abraham and Isaac sacrifice the ram on the altar, and are able to return together whole to their homeland. And as a result of Abraham’s obedience, God promises to bless Abraham even further on account of his faith.
Even better than all this, is the fact that the story of Abraham and Isaac points forward to the gospel and the amazing truth that God was willing to sacrifice his own son, Jesus Christ, as the substitutionary atonement for our sin.
But okay, so what does all this Isaac and Abraham business have to do with us? Here is some food for thought that I took away from this passage:
- In the current state of my relationship with Christ, is my heart attuned to the Spirit in such a way that I would be able to hear and recognize God’s voice if he called to me?
In the first verse of Genesis 22, God calls out to Abraham by name. Abraham’s immediate reply is “Here I am.” He hears God’s voice and responds right away. Now we don’t know for certain if God spoke to Abraham audibly, or merely spoke into Abraham’s spirit, but this got me thinking…if God were to call me by name, would I recognize and be able to discern his voice in the midst of all of my own self-talk, the jumble of overcrowded thoughts, and the interruptions and distractions of the day vying for my attention? Do I quiet my mind to listen for the Lord? Do I spend time getting to know God through his Word and in prayer so that I know his voice when he’s speaking to me?
. . . . .
- When God does direct me to do something, do I jump to obey him immediately as Abraham did? Or do I lolligag and take my time getting around to it?
As much as God’s command must have grieved and confused Abraham, Abraham wasted no time in doing as God told him. I know there have been many times when God has impressed on me to do something – whether it be reaching out to someone, or sharing my faith in Christ, or being available to serve – but because it seemed inconvenient or uncomfortable to me at the time, I was slow to do it and ultimately the window of opportunity passed. My obedience to God should not be dependent on my earthly timetable or convenience.
. . . . .
- Do I trust God enough to do what he asks of me even when it is difficult, painful, or doesn’t make sense in my fallible, human mind? Or do I question him and his goodness, and/or fail to follow through completely?
If I were in Abraham’s position, I’m afraid I would seriously struggle to see how God had called me to do what he did, to be willing to give up the very thing that meant the most in my life. So many times we forget that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:8-9), and that he works all things for the good of those who place their faith in Christ (Rom 8:28-30). People love to look at Romans 8:28 and assume that it means God will always do for everyone what seems “good” and best in our own eyes, but we forget to consider the rest of the passage.
Romans 8:28-30 tells us that “…[F]or those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (29) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (30) And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
So what Paul is really getting at in Romans 8:28-30 is this: at the end of our days, when we are called home, our faith in Christ stands as the guarantee of our eternal good. That doesn’t mean that life on this earth will always be easy as a follower of Christ, however, we can stand firm in knowing that whatever circumstances come our way or whatever difficult paths we are called to walk in faith, God is using them to mold us, sanctify us, and conform us more and more to his image and into the people we were created to be.