Thursday, March 5, 2009

Second Wednesday in Lent

Second Wednesday in Lent
Genesis 22:1-18
Bror Erickson

[7] And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" [8] Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together. Genesis 22:7-8 (ESV)

God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son. One wonders if Abraham knew what he was saying. Abraham is in a tough situation. God has asked him to sacrifice his only son. Isaac it seems is getting a little anxious. Perhaps his dad has been acting skittish. Isaac is sensing that something is up. Here he is going off to sacrifice with his dad, but there is no lamb for the sacrifice. Isaac is old enough to know you need a lamb for a sacrifice. Abraham answers,” that God will provide the lamb for a burnt offering.” He unwittingly tells the truth. Because as far as Abraham is concerned, he is going to sacrifice his son that day, because God has asked him to.

Now that just horrifies the 21st century conscience, hypocritical as it is. “How could God ask such a thing?” We wonder. And then there is Abraham the one son he has the one that God gave him when he was 99 years old. God asks him to sacrifice his Son, his one and only son, and he gets up in the morning and starts going to work to get it done. It is foreign to our mind. It bothers us. And not just Christians.

There are plenty of non-Christians that are so offended by this chapter of the Bible they refuse to believe in God. At least they refuse to believe in the Christian God. And Christians are tempted to think that maybe this didn’t happen. Or perhaps Abraham just thought it was God, but it really wasn’t. “Surely, God, who is love, would not ask Abraham to do this, even if He did only mean it as a cruel joke or a test of faith. How could the God of love, the God I believe in ask such a thing? Abraham must have been deceived by a demon.” At least that is what many would like to believe.
I don’t believe any of those explanations. I believe God did ask Abraham. I believe God was testing Abraham. And Abraham who knew God better than any of us ever will, and had opportunity to talk to him on plenty of occasions, knew it was God and didn’t hesitate to do so. Further more I believe “Abraham thought he was lying when he said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Abraham didn’t have our 21st century hypocritical sensibilities.

I say they are hypocritical. They are, at least when they are used against God who gave them to us. In many ways they are reflections of the latent Christian morality in our culture. That is our culture is so shaped by Christian morals that it often doesn’t realize where these things come from. They seem to be self-evident, yet they really aren’t. If it wasn’t for Christianity and Christian morals there wouldn’t be very many anti war protests. And if people really understood their morals and the Christianity behind them there probably wouldn’t be as many anti war protests out there either. We view war as bad, as a necessary evil at best. We would not think that way if it weren’t for Christianity. Can you imagine a bunch of Vikings sitting around a campfire hall debating whether or not they have just cause to go to war? For most of history man, never really thought of war as an evil. It was just done. It was only bad if you lost.
The same goes for human sacrifice. Which in today’s world I am beginning to wonder how people hold it would be an evil god that asked such a thing. Day in and day out millions of kids are murdered by their mothers. They aren’t sacrificed in any ritual over a fire or anything like that. Mom’s just walk into an abortion clinic spread their legs and let a vacuum with a saw attachment cut the baby up, and suck it out. And why? Because they don’t want to be burdened by a baby or lose the loser of a boy friend they have. And we don’t blink, but we want to stand and judge Abraham?
Humans are cruel. And they will kill for little or no reason. We think human sacrifice is a bad thing. It is. It is an awful thing. It is a gross thing. It’s disgusting. But we wouldn’t think that way if it weren’t for Christianity. Christianity has taught us to respect life, to honor it. And hold it sacred. Most of us have had ancestors somewhere along the line that weren’t so sentimental about life. Human sacrifice was fairly common amongst pagan cultures. And not just in the dark corners of Africa and Papua New Guinea, the Aztecs in and around Mexico were merciless at it, yet I’m supposed to think the conquistadors were the bad guy’s. The Vikings used to sacrifice humans too. And all over the Middle East there were temples set up to gods that demanded the sacrifice of children. Don’t expect the Romans had a problem with it. They would throw their children out in the forest to die a slow death of exposure. Christians would go find them, baptize them and try to care for them and raise them.
So if God had asked any other person in Abraham’s time to sacrifice his child I wouldn’t be surprised to see them follow through with it, without a second thought. It does surprise me to see Abraham following through with it. Abraham thought life was sacred and worth being spared. We know this, because even though Sodom and Gomorrah were filled with the vilest of sexual predators, so vile that the men desired to rape the strange men visiting their city, Abraham wanted God to spare their lives. He didn’t ask to go and warn Lot first. No he bargained with God to save the cities. Abraham valued human life, but his faith in God was such that he would not question God in this.
“God will provide for himself the lamb of burnt offering.” Abraham thinks he is lying to Isaac, he unwittingly tells the truth. Abraham has every intention of sacrificing Isaac. He is not going to let anything stand in the way of his relationship with God and his salvation. He will not put the love of his son, and he did love his son, above his love for God. Abraham feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things, even above family and the love of his son. This would be uncommon today to put God above family. I know more people in Utah that willingly let family take precedent over God. Women who join the LDS “church” for the sake of their husbands, and vice versa. Even knowing better. God loves family, and he hates divorce, but he will not tolerate that sort of allegiance to a spouse. Better to divorce your spouse than God. Abraham knows this, God before family.
He intends to sacrifice Isaac according to the will of God. But God does not intend to allow Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. God is testing Abraham, and Abraham’s faith. He wants to see if Abraham will follow through. And one might object that this is sadistic and cruel and something only an evil God would ask. But I don’t think that is it at all. We are the sadists. Our sin is sadist, and hypocritical. I think it was much more than a test here. God was showing what a sacrifice is demanded of him for our redemption. He wanted Abraham to feel the pain we ask of God with our sin. And it is recorded so that for the rest of time any father or mother that reads this story and is horrified that God would ask such a thing can be even more horrified that they themselves demanded precisely this, not of their neighbor, not of their best friend, but of God himself, the very author of life, the Father of all Fathers.
You see Abraham thinks he is lying to Isaac when he says, “God himself will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” But he wasn’t he was telling the truth. Even as the angel of the lord stays the knife, he takes Isaacs place on that altar, to be nailed to the cross. For there was no lamb provided that day, but a ram. And there is a difference. But the angel of the Lord, was the Lamb of God, the Agnus Dei himself who takes away the sin of the world. For this is the same Angel of the Lord that appears to Moses in the burning bush and identifies himself with the great I AM. As Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the World, says of himself in the 8th chapter of John:
[58] Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58 (ESV)
Yes the Lamb God would provide made an appearance that day, even as the Ram was offered on that altar. The Lamb was the Son of God himself, who the Father gave over for our redemption. For we could not be redeemed even with the blood of another man. No we needed the blood of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And that God freely gave. For even if we would let family come between us and God, God would not let his family come between Him and us.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

No comments: