For the week of November 11, 2006 / 20 Heshvan 5767
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 18:1 - 22:24
Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1-37
Giving Up our Isaacs
"Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." (Bereshit / Genesis 22:12)
For many, the Binding of Isaac is one of the most troubling of all stories in the Scriptures. That God would ask anyone to sacrifice his offspring is indeed troubling. However, I believe that Abraham knew that God would intervene. We have a hint of that when he informs his servants that both he and Isaac would return from worshipping God (see 22:5).
Whatever we think about the troubling aspect of this story, we need to be careful not to miss what is really going on here. Abraham's dreams were wrapped up in the life of this child. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, had been childless into old age. Yet God told Abraham that he would make him a great nation - a promise that Abraham accepted. Finally the child of promise was born, but then several years later, God called Abraham to give him up as a sacrifice, which created a most serious dilemma. How could Isaac be fully given over to God and at the same time be the channel of God's promises to Abraham and eventually to the entire world (See Bereshit / Genesis 12:1-3; 17:19)?
Abraham's understanding of God was such that he was able to face this dilemma head on. He knew that he could trust God to do what he said he would do through Isaac, even if it meant bringing him back from the dead (see Hebrews 11:19). As it turned out, God stopped Abraham at the last minute, providing a lamb in Isaac's place.
What we see about Abraham is that he was able to completely entrust God with what God promised him. He knew that if the promises he received years before were really true, nothing could prevent them from coming to pass. This demonstrated that God was truly first in Abraham's life. Nothing, not even his beloved son, would ever be an idol to him.
This story illustrates our need to keep our dreams in perspective. God may give us an Isaac - a hope, a dream, or an expectation. When such things fill our hearts it is easy to lose perspective. We can begin to focus on them instead upon God who gave them to us. Unless we offer our Isaacs back to God, the dreams he gives us will eventually hurt us and others instead of being the blessings they are intended to be. It is not until we can demonstrate an Abraham-like heart that we are able to effectively steward those things that God has entrusted to us.
While we may not all be tested in this way, Abraham's experience should prepare us for when it does happen. Facing the loss of our dreams is not the end when it is God who is asking us to give them over to him. We can trust him just as Abraham did.
Of course our lives may be filled with dreams that are not from God. Just because we have an aspiration or a hope does not necessarily mean that they have been given to us by God. Whether or not you have a God-given dream is something that you yourself need to discern. Others may be able help you with this. But in the end it is you yourself who will need to know from God what is truly from him. If we are seeking to follow and please him, we shouldn't be surprised when he removes things, even good things from us. That is not the same as Abraham's experience. Giving anything up to God can be a challenge and requires faith, but this is not what we are talking about here.
But regarding those true Isaacs in our lives, note that once God saw Abraham's willingness to offer up his son, that was the end of it. I get the impression that some people think, even after we have fully given over our God-given dreams to him, we have to do it again and again. While it is necessary to be careful not to allow our Isaacs to become idols in our lives, God doesn't expect us to keep trying to kill them, as if they should never become reality. It's okay if your God-given dreams are important to you. It's good if your God-given dreams make you excited. It's godly to find pleasure in your God-given dreams. Handle your Isaacs with care, but don't keep trying to kill them, when God himself is keeping them alive.
Finally, when God calls you to give your Isaacs over to him, be assured that you can do it with confidence. You can have faith like Abraham that if God gives you a promise, he will bring it to pass, even when it looks as if it is about to die.
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