I confess that I have rarely preached on this text. I never liked God’s request of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as if he were just another animal for the altar. Nor have I liked Abraham’s unwavering obedience to do it. There–I said it. Now let me spend some time explaining myself.
As a younger person when I heard sermons preached on this passage and I heard Abraham praised for his faith to follow through with this act without protest, it just sounded sick.
It was hard for me to comprehend the seriousness of such a command from God or understand a father who would actually consider killing his own son because he heard God telling him to do it.
Let’s put this in today’s perspective.
If a parent said he or she heard a voice from God to kill his or her child, what kind of psychological state would you say that parent is in? The Department of Family and Children Services would be stepping in to protect the child. If there were evidence that plans were being made to carry out such a thing, that parent would be committed to a mental hospital.
Yet we talk about a story like this in the Bible as if it were normal spiritual obedience. Why?
We have to remember that this story took place 3500 years ago. It is set in an ancient world with strange customs and understandings that do not exist today.
It is helpful to know that child sacrifice was an ancient custom practiced by people all over the world at that time, including the Ethiopians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Phoenicians, the Canaanites, and the Egyptians. http://www.biblehistory.com/backd2/human_sacrifice.html
Wow! And we think it’s difficult growing up in today’s world.
I’m not sure if that gave children an added incentive to be obey their parents, but if you knew it was a good possibility that you or one of your siblings wouldn’t make it to adulthood, there might be added incentive to behave.
Abraham likely realized that other religions sacrificed their children to their gods. So he may have felt some pressure to conform. If others were willing to give their own children to their gods, might this mean they loved their gods more?
How many times do you feel pressure to conform to what is going on in the world around you? How often does something become common in the belief pool of the world that you feel pressure to conform to?
There is tremendous pressure for parents to conform to the non-Christian values of the world around us.
We are charged with the responsibility of discipling our children and preparing them for life. The balancing act is always to be in the world but not of the world.
The apostle Paul said it like this: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 NIV)
We should not conform to the culture around us just because that is what everyone else is doing. Otherwise, we may actually sacrifice our children to various gods of our day rather than give them the spiritual foundation they need. We will chase earthly, not spiritual; temporary and not eternal things.
The Abraham/Isaac sacrifice story is included in our Bible as a way of showing us one difference in our God and the gods of the surrounding nations. The God that Abraham worshipped was a God that did not require child sacrifice. While the method God used might seem repulsive to us, it seemed appropriate to God in the context of Abraham’s world.
The ancient world would have read this story and understood that Abraham had enough faith to do this if God had required it, but God was not that kind of God.
The prophet Micah later reaffirmed this with these words:
“How can I stand up before God and show proper respect to the high God?
Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves?
Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil?
Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin?” (Micah 6:6 The Message).
The obvious answer to that question is “no”! That isn’t what moves God.
Then what moves God?
Let’s refer back to our text this morning and find the answer to that question.
Apparently God is looking for people who have unwavering faith, for people who are willing to put Him before everything.
That is what Abraham had, unwavering faith.
Couldn’t God have just said to Abraham, “I don’t require child sacrifice. Just be faithful to me.” Couldn’t God have just told Abraham that? He could have.
However, the beginning of the chapter says that God tested Abraham. The Hebrew is “naw-saw.” It means “to prove or to test.” It also means “to adventure.”
God had something he wanted to prove to Abraham and so he took him on an adventure.
I can tell you what it is like to hike a trail and carry a heavy pack. I can tell you not to drink water from a stream without treating it because you can get Giardia, but until you walk a trail and feel the weight of your own pack and find your own water and follow the blazes on the trail, your knowledge hasn’t been tested. Sometimes the best way to learn is through an adventure.
We may not like God’s methodology. We may not understand all the issues and factors of an ancient sacrificial system 3500 years ago, either. However, don’t you know that the experience was one that neither Abraham nor Isaac ever forgot?
“In his best-selling book, “Into Thin Air,” John Krakauer tells the story of the ill-fated expedition to the summit of Mount Everest in 1996. In the book he mentions a member of the expedition named Yasuko Namba.
Yasuko was a 46-year-old Japanese FedEx employee with a passion for climbing. She was an accomplished climber, having reached the summits of seven of the largest mountains on the planet. The only one left for her to conquer was Everest, the tallest in the world. She desperately wanted to get to the top of Everest as well.
“Yasuko was totally focused on the top; it was almost as if she was in a trance. She pushed extremely hard, jostling her way past everyone to the front of the line.”
And she made it. She accomplished her goal. At the time she was the oldest person ever to summit the mountain.
Later that afternoon, however, Yasuko and a number of other climbers were caught in a terrible blizzard. And as the icy winds blew, Yasuko succumbed to the exhaustion of her climb and froze to death.
According to Krakauer, Yasuko’s fatal flaw was that she adopted the wrong goal. He said that the goal of climbing should never be to get to the top of a summit, but to get back down to the bottom. (Kent Edwards, Deep Preaching (B&H Academic, 2009), pages 53-54 | posted 07/25/2016)
Before climbing the mountain Abraham said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Abraham had a goal to go up and come back down the mountain with Isaac. Of course, he could have said this as a diversion, both to the servants and to Isaac, but I believe that in his heart Abraham had faith that he and his son were going to come back down the mountain together. He didn’t know how. Yet he was willing to follow God wherever God led him. This is part of the legacy Abraham leaves us.
We should all have goals firmly fixed in life, which we strive for each day. If we reach our goals but lose our faithfulness to God, our story will be as tragic as Yasuko Namba’s.
So as we strive for our goals, the prophet Micah said that God has “already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.” It’s quite simple: “Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.” (Micah 6:8 The Message)
My prayer is that every day you will take God seriously enough to know what goals are most important, not only for you but for your children and for your grandchildren.
Take God seriously enough to understand that while they get their names in the paper for excelling in athletics, in the classroom, in plays, in the band, organizations like FFA, and many other things, if they do not have a personal relationship with Jesus and learn to love Him and walk with him daily, Jesus said they may gain the whole world but lose their soul.
As parents and loving adults we would never sacrifice our children to the world; but if we do not encourage them at home to seek Christ and if we do not use other resources available to us to worship and serve Christ and become equipped for discipleship, then we must ask if we aren’t sacrificing them and ourselves on the altar of the world.
In hopes that would not happen, the scripture says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever would believe in him should not die but have everlasting life.” (John 3;16)
God was willing to come in the flesh and become a sacrifice himself in order to demonstrate his love for us. He was willing to do this so we would not be consumed by the world. When Jesus was raised from the dead, all the claims that death has upon us as a final blow were broken.
The resurrection of Jesus was his descent back down the mountain.
He had stated to his disciples that it was his goal to climb the hill to the cross, and come back to them three days later. That made no sense to them at the time, but later it did.
When we make sacrifices, God can make life out of death.
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is embraced because his resurrection brought life. It still brings life.
In predicting his death Jesus once said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24
Has Jesus’ love been reproduced in your life? Has the seed of eternal life broken open and taken root?
A lot of people will travel this way and will achieve great feats as did Yasuko Namba. Many will die having achieved many of their life’s goals but will make the fatal mistake of never having embraced the cross and the resurrection of Jesus.
Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “9 If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
I’d like to give you an opportunity to do that right now. God may be testing you in some way in your life. If so, consider that a blessing. He’s not done with you yet.
However, your response to His testing should be one of confession, faithfulness, and obedience.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the sacrifice Jesus made for us, giving his life for us. Thank you that the most important goal was completed through the resurrection, which brings life from death. We believe in your life, death, and resurrection. We thank you for the life which come through Jesus into our lives. We ask that your promised Holy Spirit speak to each of us. If there is any that has never experienced your life-giving presence that you will enter each person’s life as you are invited in, forgiving each of their sins, and giving each one the gift of eternal life, through Jesus we pray, Amen.