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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, March 14, 2019              

Today’s Scripture 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)

Trying to parse out the significance and meaning of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac, is (in a word) complicated. Some readers throughout the years have been inspired by the depth of Abraham’s faithfulness and trust in God, no matter the cost to him and his family. Others have struggled with the thorny theological question of how the God of love could ask Abraham to sacrifice his child, even if it was just a test. While it is sometimes proposed (using Genesis 22:8) that Abraham knew that God would offer the ram as a substitute, I think an honest reading of the text doesn’t support that. Genesis 22:12 makes it clear that Abraham was prepared to follow through. So what are we supposed to do with that?

While I don’t believe there is a way to ethically reconcile the silent role of Isaac in his father’s test, reading this passage solely through the lens of Abraham and God’s relationship has parallels to challenging passages from the Gospels, like Luke 14:25–33—words that would later be summarized by Dietrich Bonheoffer as the “cost of discipleship.”

Obedience to God and following Jesus as a disciple is not intended to be easy and will involve personal loss. This does not come in the form of child sacrifice—that was a particular practice bound up in the author of Genesis’s culture—but it does mean that being a disciple should ask things of us that range from uncomfortable to scarcely believable, from radically reorienting how we treat our neighbor, to reconsidering how we share of our gifts and resources, even at a cost to us.

Holy God, I confess that I want following you to be easy. I listen to your words when they make me feel good but rationalize them away when they might pull me further than I want to go. In this season of Lent, pull me out of comfort and onto the path you set before me. Amen.

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

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