“After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ God 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.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac” (Genesis 22: 1-3).
The story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 has always challenged me. I wrestle with the question of why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice the very son that He had promised. How did Abraham respond with such obedience? My desire is to keep the story at bay thinking the challenge is just for Abraham. However, God never lets me off that easy.
In thinking through this account over the years, a few things stand out to me. God gives us amazing gifts. Isaac was the miracle child! He was God’s promise fulfilled in Abraham’s life. Our God loves to lavish us with good gifts, gifts that surpass even our greatest expectations and dreams. The challenge with us is that we often take those good gifts of God and make them into idols. How does that happen? Gradually — slowly but surely we lose sight of God’s provision and we start longing to control, hold onto, and even worship these gifts. The very thing that God has provided becomes the very thing we want to withhold from Him. Just like the the seagulls in the movie Nemo, we shriek with the words over and over again: “mine, mine, mine!”
At this point in Abraham’s life, God “tested” his obedience and allegiance. God instructs Abraham to go to the land of Moriah where he is supposed to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. The next morning Abraham awakes and embarks upon his journey. Everything needed for the sacrifice is there, even his beloved Isaac.
After a three day journey, they arrive at the place appointed by God. Abraham and Isaac leave the servants to go and make the sacrifice. When Isaac questions Abraham about the sheep offering, Abraham speaks powerful words: “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). Abraham, when asked to sacrifice the gift most precious to him, was able to trust God to provide. Abraham trusted God all the way to the altar where he had Isaac bound and knife in hand. As his hand was coming down, an angel spoke from heaven to stop Abraham and to commend his obedience. It was then that Abraham looked up and saw a ram stuck in the thistles. That ram became Abraham and Isaac’s sacrifice.
God provides! God provides at the perfect time! God’s provision is often not the one that we expect. Abraham said God would provide a lamb; God provided a ram. God’s provision doesn’t always work with our plans or ideas. We have to go back to God’s truth in Isaiah 55: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We cannot figure out God. Instead, our calling is to trust and obey.
For us to see God’s perfect provision, we have to be willing to sacrifice the very gifts that we hold so dear. The gifts we want to control, own — “mine, mine, mine!” It may be our children, our spouse, our work, our home, our bodies, our habits or addictions. Anything that was given as a gift and once was good but captivated our hearts and minds and became more prominent in our affections than God. God is a jealous God. He wants to be our main attachment, our first affection, the delight of our hearts. Every other gift is God’s abundance. To fully appreciate His abundance, we have to embrace that we are made for God. We are made for a relationship with Him. If He is not first in our lives, then our lives are not what they were made to be. Go further into the story and hear the angel speak to Abraham a second time: “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore” (Genesis 18:15-16). God’s provision and blessing follow our obedience. It is His heart and delight to pour out abundance in our lives!
Whether we like it or not, this story is not just for Abraham. It is for me; it is for you. What is the Isaac in our lives? What has captivated our hearts above God? Whatever it is, it is time to lay it down on the altar of the Lord. This is NOT an easy process. It is one that will involve sweat, tears, sacrifice and trust; it is also the very process that will lead us into the right relationship with God and the one in which we will see God’s perfect provision in our lives.
Will you lay it down?