For the week of October 23, 2010 / 15 Heshvan 5771
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 18:1 - 22:24
Haftarah: 2 Melachim / 2 Kings 4:1-37
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." 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 of which I shall tell you." (Bereshit / Genesis 22:1, 2; ESV)
The "Akedah" or "Binding" of Isaac is one of the most difficult, troubling, and wonderful stories in the whole Bible. Thinking about this passage again this year, I struggled over whether it's about God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son or God telling him not to. I know that in one sense God said both things, but if God didn't stop him, we would not be talking about this today. If Abraham would have just believed he was supposed to sacrifice his son and gone through with it, the story would be lost in the midst of the other innumerable horrific things people have done. It's only because God stopped him at the last moment that Abraham, not only went down in history, but became the Bible's primary model of true faithfulness to God.
But speaking of his faithfulness, wasn't it for Abraham's willingness in God's name to murder his son that God commended him (see 22:12)? That's true, but God didn't commend him for murdering Isaac, which he didn't do, but for not withholding Isaac from him. Remember it was never God's intention for Abraham to literally sacrifice Isaac. What God was looking for in Abraham was for a heart that was completely devoted to him.
You may be offended by the lack of moral struggle on Abraham's part. Many of us would expect a Shakespearean soliloquy by Abraham on his moral dilemma: "To kill or not to kill; that is the question!" But instead his struggle is found in the subtleties of the story. It's found in God's command "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…" (22:2; ESV) and in the extremely slow pace in which the story unfolds. Abraham's struggle is clear, but his thoughts are hidden from view. Only God knows what was happening in Abraham's heart as only God knows what is happening in your heart and mine.
Abraham staked his life on God and his promises to him. The same God who drew Abraham into the impossible by promising him and his barren wife a son in their old age - more than just a son, but the beginning of a great nation through whom blessing would come to the whole world - this same God seemed to be undermining his very own plan by recalling Isaac. Abraham was willing to completely trust God even when God appeared to be undermining his very own plan.
The life of genuine faith is not one that always makes sense. Knowing the Master of the Universe doesn't mean that we become philosophical experts and theological know-it-alls. Rather, to truly know God means to be drawn into a painful, seemingly contradictory tension in which we find ourselves struggling to know what's what. The reason for this is that God is at work to transform our natural inclination to put our trust into anything but him and his Word.
That doesn't mean that the goal of faith is to know nothing, to shut off our minds and blindly follow nonsensical spiritual promptings. If that were the case, Isaac would have been killed. On the contrary, nothing can compare with the depth and quality of knowledge that results from allowing ourselves to be transformed by the complexity of God's Word. It's what we do with this knowledge that matters.
God wants to teach us, to bless us with gifts with which to bless others. But it is so easy to turn God's blessings into idols. When we withhold God's blessings from him who gave them to us, then even his blessings can become tools of destruction to ourselves and to others. It is only as we follow Abraham's example, not withholding anything from God, trusting in him alone, not leaning on our own understanding, that we can become the people God has called us to be.
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