Monday, October 1, 2012

Abraham's Sacrifice: Rendering to God What is God's

Rembrandt van Rijn, Abraham's Sacrifice, 1655
A Reflection on Genesis 22:1-19

This passage represents the culmination of a series of events in the life of Abraham and in his relationship with God.  As that series of events seems to show, Abraham has now received everything God promised him:  the blessing of many possessions, land, God’s protection (as secured in Abraham’s covenant with Abimelech, the Philistine king), and the long-awaited promised son Isaac. Now God is going to test Abraham, but why? God’s covenant with Abraham is everlasting, but what about Abraham’s covenant with God? Has Abraham obeyed God thus far only in order that God would fulfill what He had been promising?  And now that Abraham has everything he desired, will he continue to obey God in all things?

But how can this be?  God is actually commanding Abraham to take his son, his one and only son, and offer him as a sacrifice!  That Isaac was finally born to Abraham was the fulfillment of the seemingly impossible. That God would ask Abraham to slay his son seems completely contrary to the nature of God and His own commandments; and that Abraham would obey such a command from God seems completely contrary to who Abraham is.  It broke his heart to have to send his son Ishmael out into the wilderness, to disown him and completely trust him to the care of God.  But this!

Yet Abraham does not question; he does not protest; he does not weep. He obeys without hesitation.  It would seem that God’s fulfillment of His covenant with Abraham has in turn brought about Abraham’s fulfillment of his covenant with God.  It took many years and many journeys and many lessons, but now his conversion is complete.  Abraham has become a saint!

In our own lives, in our own covenant relationship with God, He asks nothing less than everything from us.  But only because He has – in His Son, His One and Only Son—already given us nothing less than everything of Himself!  We say we will trust God in all we do, but then, like Abraham, we end up forgetting that God is with us, so we end up doing instead what we think best—because we think, after all, we have to look out for ourselves.  If only we would instead give Him our all and trust Him for all—because everything we have is, after all, a gift to us from Him; and when God asks for it all back, He is then only asking us to empty ourselves of ourselves, so that He may instead fill us with Himself!

Because Abraham was willing to give the gift of Isaac back to God as a sacrifice, God not only instead Himself provided the ram for Abraham’s sacrifice, but promised provision, peace and blessing for Abraham’s descendants to come, who would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the shore. If we then put all of our faith and trust in God and in the Ram He has provided as the One Sacrifice pleasing to Himself, we will have, as His promised reward, nothing less than eternal life.