Don’t worry. God will take care of you.
Yeah, right. Don’t worry. Easy to say. It’s a lot harder to do. It can be easy to trust God when things are going well. When you have everything you have ever needed or wanted. But what happens to faith when someone you love is taken away? How easy is it to trust God when your child’s life is at risk? And what if the One who is threatening your child is God? What happens to faith then?!?
It would never happen, you say. God would never do that. God is loving and kind. And children are a gift from God. They are precious in God’s sight. God would never harm a child.
And yet, thousands die each year from disease, abuse and war. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 3 million cases of child abuse are reported in our country every year, and anywhere from four to seven children die every day due to abuse or neglect. God could stop it. God rescued Isaac. Why won’t God rescue these children?
I don’t think the problem is with God. I believe God desperately wants to save these children. I believe God wants to save each and every child. In fact, I believe that God is already at work, trying to save each and every child. The problem is not with God. It is with us.
Your Bible may refer to our text today as the sacrifice of Isaac, but our story is not one of sacrifice. It is a story of salvation. And our story depends upon Abraham. Will he obey God? Will he trust God? He has been faithful. Will he continue to do what God tells him to do?
Abraham had come a long way. He had traveled a great distance, lived many years, and experienced many things since God first spoke to him in Haran. The way was not easy, and Abraham had made his fair share of mistakes. Abraham was no paragon of faith, and no one would call his wife Sarah a model believer either. Despite the fact that Abraham obeyed God’s command to leave his country and home and relatives in Mesopotamia, Abraham did not initially believe it when God said Abraham would have a son. At first, Abraham contradicted god then he fell on his face and laughed.[i]
Abraham often questioned the Lord, and Sarah was always trying to out think God. So, at best, Abraham and Sarah were what preaching professor Elizabeth Achtemeier calls “sporadic believers.”[ii] They trust God sometimes.
Sometimes they are faithful. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes they obey without question, and sometimes they have A LOT of questions. Kind of like kids, right? Sometimes they do exactly what you tell them to do right when you tell them to do it. And sometimes they want to argue with you.
Happens a lot when kids get to be teenagers. You get your driver’s license and want to go to the mall or to a ballgame, but, instead, your mom sends you to the store for milk. That is a test. To see if you really ARE ready to take on more responsibility.
When it comes to faith, we are all children who are growing in our knowledge of God and trust in God. And, just as there are times when parents test their children, God tests Abraham. Which makes sense, ‘cuz, you know, a lot depends on Abraham. “God’s promise of blessing for the world rides on the faith and obedience of Abraham….”[iii]
Have you ever thought about that? The fate of the WORLD depends on Abraham. Will he do what God has told him to do? Even if it does not make sense to him? Even if he does not like what God is telling him to do? Does Abraham trust God? If so, how much?
Can you imagine how hard it was for Abraham? He had waited his whole life for a son. And, finally, God blesses him with a child, and, now, God is asking Abraham to sacrifice that child. So what will he do? Will Abraham cling to the gift God has given him? Or will Abraham trust the one who gave him the gift?
I’m gonna be honest with you. The idea that God tests us is not one that I like a whole lot. I don’t like the idea that God might “set us up” somehow. The whole scenario is so unpleasant that we might be tempted to explain away this story, saying that Abraham MISTAKENLY believed that God wanted him to sacrifice Isaac.[iv] But scripture clearly states that God tests Abraham by commanding him to use Isaac as a burnt offering.
This is not a game. God wants to know if Abraham trusts God COMPLETELY. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says that, at this point in the story, God genuinely does not know what Abraham will do, just as Abraham does not know what God will do.[v]
Luckily, Abraham passes the test. Abraham does EXACTLY what God tells him to do, even though everything in him must have been screaming out, “Don’t make me do this!” Abraham obeys God. Abraham obeys God because Abraham trusts God. Abraham believes that God will provide. Abraham has no clue HOW God will provide. He has no earthly idea what God is about to do! But Abraham believes, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the God who is able to give life to an old man and a barren woman is able to take terrible tragedy and, somehow, bring about new life. Abraham believes in God. Abraham believes in the goodness of God. Abraham believes that, somehow, God will provide. Abraham believes because God made a promise, and God has always kept that promise.
So Abraham sets out to do what God has told him to do. He builds an altar, places the wood on it, and ties up his son, his only son, his only hope. Abraham places Isaac on the altar and takes out a knife and prepares to give God everything.
And God says, “Stop. Don’t do it.”
And Abraham stops. Abraham listens to the voice of God. He heeds God’s call. And that, my friends, is the word for us today. Will we do what God calls us to do?
When we read this passage now and hear God ask for a human sacrifice, everything in us rebels. We know that God does not do that. But ABRAHAM did not know that. The sacrifice of children was a common religious practice in that time and place. There was no reason for Abraham to think that YHWH might be any different from any of those other so-called gods. This is Genesis. We are at the very beginning of the story. Abraham was just finding out what God is like and what God will do. Other religions claimed that God requires human sacrifice, but this terrifying story proves that YWHW is different.
“If anybody is going to be sacrificed,” God proclaims, “it will be me.” And, friends, that is the good news. God provides. God provides the sacrifice. God IS the sacrifice. God loves us so much that God would rather die himself than see even one child suffer.
But there is more to our story today than another affirmation that God is our liberator. This story calls us to action. It calls us to listen. It calls us to trust.
Like Abraham, we have come this far in our journey by faith. We have trusted God. Maybe we have not always been faithful, but, to some degree, we have trusted God. We have trusted God, and God has led us to this point where we are right now. Maybe it isn’t where we thought we would be. Maybe it isn’t where we want to be. But this is where we are.
The question is will we trust God to lead us from here? Will we do whatever God tells us to do next? Even if we don’t understand it? Even if we don’t like it? Even if it means sacrifice? Are we willing to give up everything for God?
God gave up everything for you.
[i] Elizabeth Achtemeier. Preaching the Hard Texts of the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. 19.
[ii] Achtemeier, 19.
[iii] Achtemeier, 20.
[iv] Achtemeier, 17.
[v] Walter Brueggemann. Interpretation: Genesis. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982. 187.