“[God] said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Genesis 22:2
We hate chores. They remind us of unpleasant things we have to do, like eating all the overcooked spinach on our plates when we were kids. Or finally tackling that little garage project we’ve been promising our spouses we’d get to for two summers. Or (my favorite) scheduling that colonoscopy the doctor’s been nagging about.
Chores. They “pretty much suck,” as one of my daughters used to say.
Yet chores also serve a meaningful purpose. Chores remind us that things don’t “get done” without somebody actually “doing them.” Chores also remind us that what has to “get done” is sometimes not our choice, but someone else’s.
When God Calls
God continually asks us to “do something.” Sometimes, it may be an easy thing, like “Hey, why don’t you check out the big building down the street with my logo out front? I hear there are some pretty cool people there!” [/irreverent mode]
Other times, not so much. Like the passage above from Genesis. Anyone who ever attended Sunday School knows the story of Abraham and his son Isaac. Abraham, in a moment of supreme testing, is instructed by God to do something unthinkable: sacrifice his own son. And not just any son – this was Isaac, the son Abraham and his wife Sarah had prayed for God to provide them for decades. Now, God is telling Abraham to kill his own son.
Some people struggle with this story. “How could a God so insistent on love,” they ask, “demand something so cold-blooded and harsh?”
Others, particularly scholars practicing allegorical interpretation, reduce every story in the Bible to mere fable. For these folks, Abraham’s challenge was nothing more than a story designed to teach the original audience of Genesis something very important about God. Human sacrifice was common and prevalent in Abraham’s day. This story, in their eyes, was created to show that the God of Israel was unlike other Gods. The God of Israel had no interest in the sacrifice of humans.
Regardless of one’s theological view, no fancy semantic doubletalk can make God look like the “Good Guy.” In this passage it’s quite clear God asks Abraham to murder his innocent son, an obedient you man who had grown strong in his father’s faith. Isaac probably never asked Abraham “who, me?”
God could have asked Abraham to go into the desert and find his other son, Ishmael, the boy he fathered with Hagar the maidservant of his wife Sarah and whom he had sent away when Isaac was very young. Instead, God singled out the beloved son, the son in whom Abraham had placed his hopes.
The people of Abraham’s time would clearly understand the moral dilemma, perhaps in ways impossible for the modern mind grasp. In those days, the death of an only son would be unimaginably treacherous for the family.
Abraham was old (scripture tells us he was 100 when Isaac was born) and the likelihood of his fathering a son remote. With Isaac’s death, there would be no heir to Abraham’s estate. With no heir, God’s promise to bring a great nation out of Abraham in the land to which God had led him would be jeopardized.
This was serious on many levels.
Why would God lead Abraham out of Haran and into an alien land, have him endure trials at the hand of Pharaoh, survive the devastation of Sodom and Gomorrah, and finally grant him a son he must then sacrifice? And in the sacrifice, forego his own legacy and future?
On the surface the request seems incomprehensible. Abraham, however, was ready and willing to answer God’s call, regardless of the task. He did not ask “why,” he asked “how?” “How can I please you, God? How can I follow your bidding? What shall I do?”
At the last minute, of course, God stays Abraham’s hand, convinced of Abraham’s complete, unquestioning faith in God’s wisdom and sovereignty. It was this very readiness to give up everything precious to him and obey the will of God that ultimately spared Isaac’s life.
Sacrifices of the Heart
God had no interest in the sacrifice of Isaac (maybe the scholars have that part right). God has no interest in anything material we offer Him. Instead, God was interested in Abraham’s heart. What God really wanted Abraham to sacrifice was his personal will. God wanted Abraham to fully trust in His divine presence and providence. It’s the same request He makes of us.
There’s another story in scripture, found in the New Testament, where a similar request is made by Jesus of a rich young ruler. This time, the request is to abandon everything the young man holds dear – his money, his possessions, his “things” – sell it all, give the money he receives to the poor and follow Jesus. Where Abraham passed his test, the rich young ruler sadly failed his.
Every day God asks each of us to do something just as hard as what he asked of Abraham or the rich young ruler.
Every day He asks us to give money to others when we often don’t think we even have enough for ourselves.
Every day He challenges us to change our attitudes, to see beyond our prejudices.
Every day He taps someone on the shoulder – maybe you, maybe me, to go minister to a bunch of strangers.
Every day He asks us to lay down our lives for a friend in need.
Every day he nudges us to let go of the fears we cling to and embrace a future brighter than anything we can imagine.
God calls us out of our comfort zones to follow His will. A friend once told me that every time I get comfortable, I’ve probably quit doing what God wants me to do. I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, but I’m beginning to understand now.
Abraham reminds us that God sometimes asks hard things … things that may even seem impossible. More importantly, God asks us to simply trust that we’ll get through those hard things because through Him all things are possible. It’s like this paraphrase of something I read the other day – “loving and trusting God is like floating … so amazingly simple, but if you fight it, nearly impossible.”
What Is God Asking You?
Tomorrow morning, as you busy yourself preparing for the day, pause a moment and think about this question: “What has God asked me to do that’s hard?”
The answer is different for each us. For some, it may be to focus on a pressing family matter we keep ignoring. For others, it may be to lay down a troubling struggle with addiction. Still others may find they are too concerned with the world and not enough on God.
Or perhaps it will be something even harder. I have no idea. I do know when God asks us to do hard things we must decide if we’re willing to sacrifice the “everything” we cling to, like Abraham, just to follow God.
Viewed this way, God’s will no longer seems so much like a chore. It’s a pathway to Salvation.
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