Genesis 22: 2-12 (NIV)
“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.”Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance… When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham! “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “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.”
There’s some tough stuff in the Old Testament. It’s tough to reconcile the loving God we know through Jesus Christ with the God of Genesis who commands a child sacrifice. We don’t want to hear any more of this story, but we need to, to understand that God will not allow harm to Isaac. Instead, this story is a test of Abraham’s faith: will he obey God and give up what is most dear to him to be obedient?
We don’t know Abraham’s thoughts but we can imagine them. We know he’s trying to keep his mind off what he will do – he brings two servants on the journey, but he himself loads the donkey and cuts the wood for the fire.
The three-day journey gives Abraham lots of time to think. He must have wondered how he was to be the father of countless descendants through Isaac as God had earlier promised. He probably asked God to let him be the sacrifice, not his son. And he would have more practical concerns: What am I going to tell my wife? And how am I going to bind Isaac for the sacrifice? He is young and strong and I am more than 100 years old.
And as I write this during Holy Week, I think Abraham must have prayed as Jesus would centuries later: “If it’s possible, change your mind about this. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine.”
In the end, Abraham is resolute. He raises the knife for a killing blow so the child he loves will not suffer. And then – when he has passed the test, when he has shown he will obey — the angel of God stops him and God provides a ram for the fire.
This story teaches us about the nature of sacrifice. A sacrifice, should we choose to make it, must cost us something significant – something that when we think about it, we remember what it meant to us. A wealthy person who gives $25 for flood relief has helped but has not sacrificed. A struggling single mother who donates the $25 she kept as her emergency fund has sacrificed – and shown that she trusts God to care for her.
God does not ask us for burnt offerings or sacrifices of any kind. No need: His Son Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice who atoned for the sins of the world. Yet we can choose to give up something dear to us to show our love for him and to help others. That’s an Old Testament idea we can embrace in our modern world.
Lord God, thank you for the example of Abraham, his obedience and his trust in you. Grow our faith so that we also trust in you and offer you the best of ourselves. Amen.
Written by Cheryl Stubbendieck
Cheryl Stubbendieck is a member of Sheridan’s Devotion Writing Team. She and her husband Jim live near Sheridan. Their family includes their son Aaron and his wife Chaitra of San Francisco, CA and their son Reed of Madison, WI. Cheryl was the public relations department head for Nebraska Farm Bureau before retiring in 2012. She spent the next four years as the volunteer manager of Barnabas Community and now helps to manage the OneSent Market.