Today: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"Worst' bits of the Bible explored - #1    (9/20/2009 )

Read the passage: Genesis 22.

A loving God demanding child sacrifice? What's going on?

First, let me set the scene: Abraham (a man in close relationship with God) was very old, and childless. Yet God tells Abraham that his descendants will fill the earth, and will be a blessing to all nations! God then proves his faithfulness in many ways, not least by giving Abraham and his wife Sarah a son, Isaac, even though they're both way past the age at which it would normally be possible.

But then God tells Abraham to kill his Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice to God! Even though God had promised to bless the whole world through Isaac (Abraham's only legitimate child).

This is bad enough—but then Abraham obeys ! He makes poor Isaac carry the wood on which he is to be offered as a sacrifice; ties the boy up; sticks him on the altar; and has the knife raised high above him before the angel of the Lord tells him to stop.

This seems like an unthinkable act of cruelty. How could Abraham, let alone God, even contemplate the sacrifice of a child?

There's too much to say in this short article, really, but the story isn't actually about sacrifice: it's about promise, obedience and faithfulness. Let me explain.

God gave Isaac to Abraham and Sarah (and also to the world) as a tremendous gift which carried an even greater promise. This wasn't simply the answer to a childless couple's prayer: here was a promise of blessing to all peoples—a walking, talking, living and growing promise.

God knew how much Abraham loved Isaac. “Take your son” , he said, “Your only son, your son whom you love, Isaac”. God was asking Abraham to take the most precious thing in his life, along with his own future, his name, his legacy, and everything contained in God's promise to him and the world, and offer it right back to him.

God is asking Abraham: “What's more important to you—the things you get from me, or me myself?”

You see, God never intended for Abraham to kill Isaac (he hates abuse in all its forms). And Abraham, at a deep level, knew this (which is why, when Isaac asked what was going to be sacrificed, he replied that God would provide—indeed, God provided a ram for the sacrifice). However, Abraham understood that he had to be willing to sacrifice everything—even if he was never actually required to go through with it. Otherwise, other things in his life risked becoming more important than God.

Faithfulness and selflessness are in short supply. Will we, for example, be true to a friend even when they're not present, or others don't like them? God demands utter faithfulness—because life only works with things in the right order; he is God, and he is a God of order.

Abraham's test was extreme, but because of it the whole world has been blessed and invited into a relationship of peace with God.

This is a tough story, but a vital one… and the questions it raises are as relevant for us today as they were for Abraham.

Pray: Lord, there are passages in the Bible which are difficult to understand, and difficult to reconcile. Help me to accept that your ways are higher than my ways, and let these difficult passages not be a barrier to getting to know you and your Word better. Amen.

Think about: One of the things we've not been able to explore in this article is how God provided another substitute for a sacrifice which should have been demanded of humanity. The guilty ones in this case were… well, you and me. We've all fallen short of the perfect standards God requires. But once again, God stays the executioners' hands and provides another lamb… Jesus is often described as the lamb of God. He died in my place and yours. Spend time reflecting on what God has done for you and me in Christ.

Challenge: The Bible teaches that life works when things are in the right order. Spend some time thinking about what is most important to you. Are there changes you need to make? Ask God for help.

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