View print-optimized version

Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 22:1–18

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.” (NRSV)

This past fall I spent some time in Paris and was fortunate enough to visit the Rodin Museum. One of Rodin’s sculptures was terrifying: “Ugolino and His Children” depicts a crazed father about to eat his children.

The story in Genesis comes close to being as disturbing. Any number of my colleagues and friends despise this story. What kind of God would demand a father to offer his son as a sacrifice? What kind of God would order such violence? What kind of God tests and teases us?

I get the reactions of horror, because I don’t think our God is that kind of God. However, I relate to the depth of Abraham’s trust in God. His trust is so deep he’s willing to let go of that which is most precious to him. As I write this, I know I’m on dangerous ground. This is a child being sacrificed—a son. It’s likely this kind of sacrifice was viewed differently in Abraham’s time. Nevertheless, I think this story is about the enormous trust in God that is needed to let go of all that is most precious to us.

When my daughters were leaving home, each in her own time, going off to college, or being out from under our care and safety, I sometimes thought I would die from worry and my own feelings of loss. In my saner moments, I realized that I had to trust God to care for them, that I had to let them go into this world, trusting that they would be guided and cared for by a God who loved them even more than I did. I was giving them up to a scary and dangerous world. Sometimes it felt as though I was walking up that incline, listening to God every step of the way, not knowing at all what would happen.

I know people who have lost children. I can’t imagine this story or even my interpretation would feel good to them. But I also know that trusting in God is what has gotten them through their loss.

Merciful God, increase my trust in you. Help me have such faith that I remember always that you love me and my loved ones more than I can calculate. And dear God, help this world stop sacrificing one group for another, one person for another, one opinion for another. Instead, remind us of your everlasting mercy. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

Devotion index by date | Id like to receive daily devotions by email