Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were asked to make a decision that felt like you were relinquishing something you love? A part of yourself or your life you felt was intrinsic, inseparable even? Well, that is the kind of situation we’re focusing on in today’s post. In this biblical story, we are introduced to a man named Abraham. For some historical context, you should know that he was originally named Abram before God called him away from everything he knew, asking him to take a walk down a new path that was completely unfamiliar to him. Along this journey, he and his wife were promised a child. They were both quite old, Abraham being 100 years old and Sarah being 99 years old, by the time they conceived their son, Isaac. Isaac was the promised son that God foreshadowed approximately 25 years prior. This is the same son that, in our passage of focus for today, God asks Abraham to sacrifice. Now that you’re familiar with the backstory, let’s begin to explore the dynamics at play.
“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. 2 Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.'”Genesis 22:1-2 NIV
Now, it’s easy to disregard the intensity of the stories we read in the Bible sometimes because, like a movie, we are receiving details that the characters are unaware of. In that first line, we get some pretty important context. This is a test that God is bringing to Abraham. While we don’t know God’s reasoning at this point, it’s safe to asssume that He has one. Like a teacher doing role call at the beginning of class to ensure all of their students are present and accounted for, we observe this brief exchange of identification between God and Abraham. God, wasting no time on pleasantries, makes a request of Abraham that is so monumental that it’s almost absurd.
God proposes that Abraham surrender the very blessing he and his wife waited over two decades for. Even more, God tells him that the place where he will need to sacrifice their blessing is in an undisclosed location. Has God ever fulfilled a promise He made to you and then asked for you to surrender it to Him as a sacrifice? Let’s read more to see how Abraham responds.
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”Genesis 22:3-5 NIV
Here, Abaraham demonstrates some key things that are worth noting:
- Observation #1: He doesn’t delay in getting started with the assignment God gives him.
- The text states that Abraham rose early and began preparing for the task God assigned to him. This is a reminder for us to remember the importance of beginning immediatedly (unless God specifies otherwise) and with intention. When we allow decision fatigue to hinder us from getting started we can find ourselves playing catch-up later on or lose the momentum all together. Start promptly. Start with intention.
- Observation #2: He makes sure to prepare himself accordingly, to the best of his ability, with the resources he already has.
- Speaking of intention, Abraham makes sure to bring all of what is needed for his journey as well as the sacrifice he will make once he reaches his destination. Notice that he doesn’t assume that God will provide the tools he will need (i.e. the wood) in order to complete his assignment. Sometimes we fail to be obedient to the things God asks of us because we simply arrive unprepared.
- Sidenote: One thing I am personally learning to do is prepare myself for productive time utilization while giving God the authority to make His desired changes. This proactively addresses what I should do with my “free time” and also allows me to develop flexibility through submission to God’s sovereign wisdom.
- Observation #3: He doesn’t allow uncertainty of the destination or the method of God’s instructions to deter his obedience.
- We don’t see any evidence of an internal struggle or questioning of God, though we can imagine that there were likely concerns on Abraham’s heart regarding God’s request. However, what we do see is his willingness to press forward with purpose in mind, keeping his focus on God, rather than on the details of his assignment.
- Abraham’s agreement with God, regarding His request as an act of worship, indicates that Abraham has chosen to maintain a humble perspective of God and his situation. This is not something that is easy to do when what God asks may seem unreasonable. In these moments, we should acknowledge our experience but not allow it to distract or discourage us from moving forward. Remeber, being in denial isn’t the goal, obedience (trust in action) is.
- Observation #4: He pauses and evaluates his circumstances, ensuring that he brings only who and what is needed to complete God’s request.
- We see that, once Abraham has travelled a great distance, which we can understand based on the mention of it being the third day, he finally identifies the location of his intended sacrifice. Then he does something interesting. He informs his travel companions that he will need to go the rest of the journey with just his son, Isaac. This point highlights the importance of keeping the specific nature of what God asks of us in mind so that we do not risk mishandling the assignment.
Lesson #1: The place where God is sending you will require your obedience, persistence, and awareness of the appropriate boundaries, community and resources needed to ensure sucessful task completion.
With our contextual understanding, based on the observation of Abraham’s choice to create temporary distance between himself and his travel companions, we can infer that Abraham understood the sacred nature of this particular assignment (i.e. he acknowledges God’s invitation to “worship” without specifying all that will occur when he gets there). This is a warning for us to be careful about who we share certain parts of our journey with. No matter how close we may feel to the people in our lives, we must understand that in certain seasons, for reasons we may not yet understand, God calls us to walk with Him, alone. This detail is essential to the process and will save us the heartache of having to ask Him to help us repair any unintended damage we may cause through our careless task management. Let’s move forward.
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.Genesis 22:6-8 NIV
Let’s break down some new observations in this portion of the text:
- Observation #5: Abraham distributed the supplies in a specific manner.
- Here, we observe an example of what it looks like to share a burden while carrying one’s own load, a principle described in Galatians 6:2-5.
- Observation #6: Isaac voiced his concern regarding the uncertainty he experienced about what was needed to complete the task.
- This is the first time that we hear from Isaac since the story began and his question appears to have been saved for a more intimate moment with his father, or perhaps it became more apparant as he recognized that they never brought an animal to sacrifice. Either way, we see that questioning the journey does happen. Isaac’s silence until this moment can indicate a few things. Maybe he has been trusting his dad’s wisdom during the entire journey and wanted to check-in to clarify a blatant discrepancy. Or, perhaps he’s been going along in a state of confusion, holding onto his question until it could no longer be contained. Regardless, Abraham points Isaac to God concerning their provision and the two continue on together. In that moment, the two of them made an unspoken agreement. They decided to trust God to provide and trust one another to do their part to ensure God’s instructions were followed to completion.
Lesson #2: For the times when your journey must include someone else, be sure to carefully state your responses in moments of uncertainty. This can be the difference between walking in agreement and dissension. It also has the potential to build up or break down someone’s faith (ability to trust God in the process).
When we face uncertainty, it can be tempting to allow fatigue to get the best of us and miss the opportunity to remind ourselves, or anyone who asks, of the reason we are so confident in our pursuit. This particular scenario allows us to witness this exhange play out as Abraham responds to Isaac in a gentle manner, answering his question with a statement of faith regarding what he expects from God. Abraham tempers any confusion by professing what I believe he must have been reminding himself of during the entire journey. He declared that God would provide. This is a reminder for us to remember who our God is and to trust His character and ability to meet and exceed our every need, especially in moments of uncertainty.
Stick with me, we’re almost to the climax of the story.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “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.” 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”Genesis 22:9-14 NIV
We have a final few observations to get through before we reach the end of our time together:
- Observation #7: Abraham remains consistent in his effort, unwavering in his pursuit of task completion.
- Abraham moved with purpose and clarity concerning his assignment. Often, by this time, we can grow discouraged due to physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion. The journey God calls us to also has the ability to weigh on us spiritually, which is why we must remain connected to Him, the source of our strength and encouragement. I believe Abraham was able to operate in clarity because he was on the same page with God.
- Observation #8: Isaac acts in full obedience (trust) of both Abraham and God as he is laid on the altar.
- I can only imagine what must have been going through Isaac’s mind during this moment. Surely, there must have been new or recurring questions arising in his heart. Yet, his compliance with the plan tells us that he chose to surrender his will for the greater purpose that was being persued. If we’re honest with ourselves, this is often the moment when we begin to reconsider the journey we’ve been on with God. We may even question His goodness is these moments, as we face the full reality of what He has asked us to. In these moments, we need to put into practice the truth of God’s word. Scripture reminds us not to lean on our own understanding and, instead, ackowledge God’s will as the best option, trusting Him to be all that He claims (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV).
- Observation #9: It was not until after Abraham fully committed himself to the completion of the task God called him to that his provision arrived.
- Sometimes, we assume that we’ve done enough by entertaining the idea of obedience to God, being willing to consider the outcome He suggests. However, it is not until we have fully committed ourselves to alignment with God’s request that we are able to experiece the intented blessing He reserves for those who are obedient to (trust) Him. While this will not always be the way that it plays out in our own lives, we see that, just as Abraham is about to sacrifice his son, God draws his attention to his provision so that his son’s life is spared.
Lesson #3: When we finish the task we’re assigned with faith and diligent effort, we obtain the greater blessing God often has waiting for us.
This has two layers to it. The first, and primary, layer is in our heartfelt decision to walk in obedience to God (we must remember that God examines the heart for true obedience). The second layer, which must follow a heart submitted to God, is that we carry out the intended plan with honest, faith-filled intent. If we complete the task begrudgingly or with a heart that is resentful, we are missing the point and forfeiting the blessing awaiting us. What we believe about God while being obedient to His requests is as important as the tasks themselves. This is highlighted in the response the angel of the Lord gives (Note: Fear in this context refers to reverence or respect). We also see that Abraham’s obedience leaves a lasting impression, through his naming of the location and the reference to it being a highlighted part of history.
15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” 19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.
- Observation #10: Some seasons of separation are only meant to be temporary.
- Verse 19 highlights an important moment in this story that can easily be missed if we only focus on the climactic moment of the sacrifice. Abraham, earlier in the text, informed his travel companions that he would be stepping away from them to go and worship (spend intimate time with God). He also informed them that he would be back when he was finished. This is a reminder for us to ensure that we are men and women of our word when we speak.
- If there are relationships or situations we have stepped away from while accomplishing our assignment, we must be sure not to leave others hanging. This does not mean that we owe an explaination for the duration of our absense, but it does mean that we should exhibit intengrity to follow through with our intented actions. Please note that, in some cases, we will not know the actual duration of our absense (whether we should step away for a season or for good). This simply means that we must do our best with the information we do have and make as graceful an exit as possible. In other words, be careful not to burn your bridges along your pursuit of purpose.
Lesson #4: Obedience opens the door to abundant blessings.
In the verses that round out this story, we get an end credits of sorts as the legacy that Abraham leaves is described in further details. The angel of the Lord returns to him a second time and expresses the fullness of what his obedience unlocks, not only for himself but for generations to come. His obedience created a legacy that now lives beyond him. We can learn from this and be encouraged that, when we are willing to sacrifice our way for God’s way, we are opening the door to deeper intimacy with God, the abundant life that Jesus died for, and a pouring out of blessing greater than what we may have in mind. As I alluded to in my question to you early on in the post, God’s request for us to surrender the blessings we receive is more about Him testing whether we trust Him with what He’s already provided.
Song Selection: Withholding Nothing by William McDowell
‘Til next time.