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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 22:1–14          

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.” (NRSV)

This may be the ugliest story in the Bible, and that’s saying something. It’s not even that it’s about a father taking his child and putting a knife to his throat. The uncomfortable, ugly thing is that God, having watched this guy walk from Iraq to Egypt, setting up altars all along the way because he was told to, decided that Abraham still has something to prove. In this world, Abraham is the best God has, and yet there’s still this cruel test. “Kill your son.”

What kind of God does a thing like this?

Well, to be honest, Abraham is far from spotless. He’s pimped out his wife, twice. He’s abused a slave girl, had a child by her, and abandoned her. Maybe God needs to know what kind of a guy he is. Is he obedient? Is he good? Is he merciful? Is he humane? And what does the test show? Well, at least he’s obedient. As for the rest, well, everyone has their limitations.

After this test, an angel comes to Abraham and says, “Here’s a blessing for your obedience,” and starts talking about children, about how the blessing of the world lies in the generations to come. Not in Abraham. In his offspring. Yeah, you passed the test, Abraham. A solid C-minus. Now it belongs to the kids. Take a seat. And Abraham fades from the narrative.

This story is a reminder that the blessing of the world is found in our children. We hold the knife to the throat of their world every day. A U.S. congressman has said “God will take care of climate change,” and if you don’t hear an echo of “God himself will provide a lamb for the offering, my son,” as Abraham leads Isaac to the pyre, then I wonder if you’re really listening.

We’re being tested. Our kids are at stake. Is a solid C-minus good enough?

Lord, obedience without mercy, without humanity, without love, risks destruction. Remind us that we are entrusted with the future, for generations to come, and remind us to aspire to better than a barely-passing grade in the test before us. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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