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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Today’s Reading |  Genesis 22:1–19

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 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 that I shall show you.”

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba. (NRSV)

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Grossmünster in Zurich, Switzerland—the church led by the great Reformed leader Ulrich Zwingli during the Swiss Reformation. The interior of the church was beautifully austere (as one would expect from a Reformed congregation), but a recent addition of five stained-glass windows by Sigmar Polke caught my eye. Each window depicted a scene from the Old Testament that served as a precursor to Christ’s arrival, one of which was the Binding of Isaac passage that we just read today. In Polke’s fascinating rendition, the window shows several different reflected images of Abraham with the knife as well as reflections of the ram and Isaac’s bound hands, challenging us to view the story from other perspectives.

It is sometimes tempting to simplify this story as being strictly about Abraham (Abraham’s unwavering faith passes a test), but this story has just as much to say about God as it does about Abraham. Walter Brueggemann notes in his Genesis commentary that there is a tension between the testing God and the providing God throughout the passage—a seeming contradiction that we see once again in Christ’s death and resurrection. This pattern of difficult trials and God’s provision can be witnessed again and again throughout the text of the Bible, with God’s faithfulness being the connective tissue. “Perhaps,” Brueggemann writes, “in the end, our narrative is not about Abraham being found faithful. It is about God being found faithful.”

Holy God, help me to be in awe of your faithfulness, even in those times when I feel more tested than provided for. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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