"The Lord provides"
People have problems with God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his only son and the willingness of Abraham to carry it out. Scholars have debated this story; Bible study groups have puzzled over it; some have dismissed it as a fictional story that foreshadows the heavenly Father’s sacrifice of his own Son; some have placed the story in the too hard basket refusing to believe that God would ask anyone to do such a thing. Others have marvelled at Abraham’s trust in God.
Our feelings complicate things. We are horrified as Abraham sets on his trek - Isaac beside him, wood on Isaac’s back, the pot of hot coals, and a knife in his belt, and Isaac’s innocent question about the whereabouts of the sacrifice. We hold our breath as Abraham ties up his son, places him on the wood on the altar and raises a knife to kill Isaac – or would it be better to say Abraham is about to "murder a child". Then there is our sense of relief when, at the last moment, God intervenes and stops Abraham from completing what appears to be a senseless slaughter of his only son.
Questions rage in our minds.
What kind of God would ask a father to sacrifice his son?
What kind of father was Abraham who was happy to comply?
Should he really be held up as a model of faith for us all?
This can hardly be held up as an example of child protection. If Abraham tried this kind of stunt today, he would quickly find himself labelled a monster and locked up for a very long time.
Let’s take a closer look at this story from Genesis 22:1-14. Firstly we need to note how much Abraham loved his son Isaac! That boy was a true miracle baby. It was physically impossible for a couple nudging 100 years old to bear a child. Sarah even laughed when she was told she would become a mother. Two old grey haired people becoming parents - that sounded just too ridiculous, too impossible. But with God, nothing is impossible. Isaac was born - truly a gift of God's grace.
God had told Abraham that this boy, resting in his arms, meant that God was keeping his promise that a great nation would come from his descendants and that through this child would come great blessings for all nations. We get some idea of how special Isaac was to Abraham when the writer of this Genesis story very carefully retells God's words emphasising that Isaac was the delight of this old man. God called Isaac, "your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love."
But then came the blow! One night God came to Abraham with an important request. "Take your son, your only son Isaac whom you love. Go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." I can’t begin to imagine what emotions must have surged through Abraham’s heart.
I don't know how you would respond to a command like this, but I know I wouldn’t have reacted as Abraham did. My reaction would be more like, "Are you kidding, God! I’ve waited 100 years for this boy! There’s no way I’m going to do this!"
But that’s not how Abraham responded. Incredibly we are told he got up the next morning and saddled his donkey. He chopped the wood, got the pot of hot coals ready, took two servants and his son, and set out for the place where God had told him to go. Could we say at this point that he loved his son, but he loved his heavenly Father more?
After a three-day journey they arrived at Mount Moriah. Abraham told his servants, "Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there and worship, and then we will come back to you."
Did you catch what Abraham said? "The boy and I will go over there and worship, and then we will come back to you." He fully intended to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, but he had that remarkable faith that believed that somehow, and he didn’t know how this would happen, both of them would return. As Abraham and Isaac are walking, Isaac notices something is missing. They have the fire and the wood but where is the sacrifice. Notice what Abraham says. "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."
And that’s exactly what happened. God did provide. As he raised his knife to kill Isaac the angel of the Lord spoke to Abraham. "Don’t hurt the boy or do anything to him. Now that I know that you have obedient reverence for God, because you have not kept back your only son from him." Abraham sees a ram and offered it as a burnt offering instead of his son. He names the place "The Lord Provides."
"The Lord provides." This is a common theme in the Bible. Throughout the pages of Scripture, God is portrayed as the One who sees and cares for all of our needs. We hear about how the very hairs on our head are numbered. We hear of his concern and notices when one insignificant sparrow falls to the ground. We hear about Daniel who is delivered from the mouths of lions. Gideon and the remnant of his army are rescued from their enemies. The Israelites are saved from the Egyptians when a path is made through the sea. And so we could go and on. The Bible is a book about how God loves and provides for his people.
From time to time we hear how someone has questioned God and why he hasn’t done something when things aren’t going the way they believe they ought, and they face extreme difficulties and challenges. The pain, confusion, upset, depression, bewilderment lead many to ask, "Where are you God when I need you the most". The absence of God and his seeming failure to provide for their needs has been a constant cry throughout the ages. Just take a look at the book of Psalms, and you will hear the same questions being asked.
Is God personally involved with our lives?
We know God is love but why don’t we see more evidence of this in our lives and in our world?
We’ve asked God for his help and apparently, he hasn’t heard us. The same old problems just keep on plaguing us.
God is all knowing and must know what our needs are but why won’t he actually do something to meet our needs?
We may debate and argue till the cows come home about the God who gives Abraham a son and a promise about grandchildren and great grandchildren, and then asks that he kill his only son and burn him on a sacrificial altar. We could go on for hours about how a loving God would never ask Abraham to give up Isaac - even as a test. We can discuss the reason God had to test Abraham in such a cruel and heartless way. But the fundamental fact remains – Abraham trusted God and believed that he would provide, and he did. The Lord provided. I can hear Abraham say to Isaac when he saw the ram caught in the bush, "See that, Isaac! I told you the Lord would provide a lamb for the burnt offering."
God will provide. So often we act and speak as if we had to provide. We talk as if everything depended on us. We feel that we need to have everything under control, every angle covered. Be hard-headed. Take no risks. The Lord helps those who help themselves, and so forth. If we wait for i-s to be dotted and the t-s crossed before we did anything then we wouldn’t get around to doing too much at all.
When God told Noah to build a boat – not just any boat but one of massive proportions – do we hear of Noah wanting to know all the whys and wherefores before he started building? This was a huge undertaking no doubt costly in terms of the money required to buy materials, tradesmen to build such a boat, his reputation, not to mention that according to the weather forecast there was no rain in sight. We are simply told that Noah did as God had said.
Obedience and trust in God go hand in hand. You see, sometimes we just have to say, "I don’t really know how this is going to turn out, but I believe that God knows what he is doing, and I trust his love for me." We can be scared stiff by the personal problems that we are facing, our financial struggles. We can be worried about the decline in the number of people attending worship worldwide. We don’t know why there is such a lack of commitment by so many people to God, his Church, and what God wants to do through his church for the people of this community. We can be overwhelmed by the myriad of challenges the Lord places before us because we don’t have resources to do what God is asking. Our heads can swim at all the possibilities that God has placed before this congregation that we wonder if we will ever be able to rise to the occasion and faithfully carry out God's plans.
God will provide. Are we ready to say that, in full trust? God may not meet all of our requests right now. He may not give us the people we need to carry out certain plans right now. A certain kind of ministry may have to be left unfulfilled until God supplies us with the right people to be able to move forward. But God will provide. He will provide a way for his plans to be carried out. There is little point in God giving us so many opportunities to minister to others and leaving us high and dry to work it all out by ourselves. By the way, this isn't an invitation to laziness or doing nothing saying, "Let's not do anything until the Lord provides." Rather an invitation to trust and be open to the way God provides especially through us.
The God whom we serve is faithful and true. This Old Testament event reminds us of our heavenly Father who was prepared to sacrifice his only Son. God did not spare his own Son. Since God went to this extreme for us, doesn’t it follow that it is not beyond God's will and power to do extreme things through us and for us?
The real test of love is in the sacrifice that love is willing to make. God's love went to the limit. He might have argued "Why should I? They aren’t worth it." He might have reasoned, "Why bother? They will reject it anyway."
Like Abraham, he took his Son - his only Son whom he loved more dearly than Abraham could ever love Isaac - and put him on the wooden altar shaped into a cross. His love for us compelled him to give the best he had. Love made a Father sacrifice his Son. Don’t be surprised if love, especially love for God, will cause you to do extreme things, to make sacrifices that you would not have otherwise made.
What we need to see clearly is that God is working out his purpose in our lives. What is important is his plan for us. The good news is not that we have a wonderful plan for our lives and our church and God will help us to accomplish it; but that God has a wonderful plan for our lives and our church and yes, he will provide a way for us to accomplish it. He knows what we need, where we need it, and when we need it. "The Lord provides."
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God Will Help You - Max Lucado
Man of God - Charles Stanley
Finding God in a Leaf - Brian Grogan (SJ)
God of All Things - Andrew Wilson