The Unreasonable Actions of a Faithful Father

A Father's Day Sermon
Genesis 22:1-19

© Copyright 2008 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Genesis 22:1-19
    1  Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied.
    Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."
    3  Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled 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.  On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.  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."  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.  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. 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.  "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.  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."
    15  The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,  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, 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.

People of God:
    Twenty one years of education can have psychological side effects.  Sometimes I get nightmares.  And the nightmare is something like this.  It starts with a lot of busy-ness - papers, work - but finally I get to go to class and I enter the class a few minutes late only to discover that everybody has their head bowed in concentration over an exam!  The date of which I failed to record in my schedule!  And of course you can anticipate the rest of the story.  Not only embarrassment, but walking in totally unprepared, my performance on the examination a dismal failure that everyone else notices.

    Each of us faces tests in life.  A test is at the heart of this passage.  In fact it is the key to understanding this passage.  The fact that God tested Abraham is mention in the first verse and it is there to keep us from misunderstanding this passage.  And this passage is easy to misunderstand.  A lot of people question this passage when they read it.  They ask: “How could a good God ask a man to sacrifice his only child as a burnt offering?” as if God would ask such a thing and follow through with it.  Remember, this is a test.  Hebrews 11:17 - 19 makes it very clear that Abraham understood it was a test, and he figured that God would raise Isaac from the dead if he did not supply a substitute offering so that the unchanging promises of God given regarding Isaac would be accomplished.  Contrary to many misunderstandings of this passage, even Abraham knew this was a test.
    An analogy might help.  When my children were very young, on occasion we would play a game that involved a lot of trust.  They would climb up on the table, and I would lay on the ground, invite them to jump with my arms stretched out.  And they jumped again and again into my arms.  They understood it as a game, a test, each time it tested their capacity to trust their father.  Never did it pass through my mind, nor anybody watching that I would suddenly withdraw my hands and let my child tumble to the floor.  In the same way, this passage is a test - not of God’s faithfulness to his promises, but of Abraham’s ability to trust in God’s faithfulness.
    Abraham knew this was a test.  He had seen God’s faithfulness to his promises, he had seen how this child was given to him at the far past ripe old age of 99 years old.  Even as God gave him the command to go and sacrifice his son on the mountain, he saw his heavenly father’s arms outstretched to catch him as he acted on trust.
    At the same time, though, the stakes could not have been higher.  For three days, as he traveled in obedience to the command of God, his determined capacity to trust hung in the balance.  God said:  "Take your son."  For three days traveling with his servants and son, with a load of wood and no sacrifice, he had to weigh the consequences of his actions - the consequences of his faith.  "Take your son" - this the son through whom the promises of God were to be fulfilled, descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky. 
    "Take your son, your only son."  Ishmael had been sent off to resolve family difficulties.  Abraham's descendants would no longer be through Ishmael.  Isaac was the only son left.  For three days Abraham had to ponder his future, obey his faith and fight with his feelings...
    "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love"  For three days... "Isaac whom you love."  God’s acknowledgment of Abraham’s very special relationship with Isaac was clear.  The son of laughter (the meaning of the name Isaac) brought joy into Abraham and Sarah’s heart, into their family, into their future.  Abraham’s heart desire, as with any faithful father, was to give his child the best, the best opportunities, the best ethics, the best wisdom, the best of everything because they loved him.  "Take Isaac, whom you love."  Three days of pondering.  "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love to Moriah and sacrifice him there."
    But the consequences of his actions and the feelings Abraham had to struggle with were not the biggest test.  By far the straw that would break the camels back were the words of his own son Isaac.
    "Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.
    "The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
    These are words of awareness that there is something wrong.  These are questions regarding the reasoning ability of a father’s behavior.  Abraham understands the test God is putting him through but Isaac does not.  We hear the beginning of the youngster questioning, the beginnings of the challenge to his father’s actions and Abraham to put them to rest tells Isaac that God will provide a lamb.  Jehovah Jireh  - God will provide.
    Abraham built the altar stone by stone piled together father and son responding in obedience to God:  still no lamb.  Then the wood untied, placed on the stones, ready to burn hot to consume whatever creature's flesh and bones, ready to accomplish this ultimate act of obedience: still no lamb.
    Scripture tells us that Isaac started to question his father’s actions even before they arrived at the place of sacrifice.  Certainly as the work progressed, Isaac questioned more, challenged the reasonableness of his father’s actions more, and certainly his complaints were screams and struggles and fighting back as Abraham took the twine that once bound the wood and forced it around the limbs of his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved.
    We don’t hear Isaac’s screaming and fighting back, nor do we hear Abraham’s words, maybe of apology, maybe of regret, as he raised the knife to take the life of his son, his only son Isaac, whom he loved.  It seems these words, these dynamics of challenging Abraham’s reasoning are unimportant.  What is important is obedience, passing the test that Isaac does not see, believing God, Jehovah Jireh, that he will provide.  Abraham was willing to loose his relationship with his one and only child, whom he loved in order to obey his God.  In his heart, certainly the decision had been made, he offered his son.  But even as he was about to plunge the knife into his son, the angel of the Lord stopped him in the act for God had seen that Abraham was willing to offer his only son, Isaac, whom he loved, out of his fear for God.  And the Lord provided a ram, caught in the thicket for a substitute, a sacrifice pleasing to God, because in Abraham’s heart the sacrifice pleasing to God had already been made.
    God provided, in the crunch faithful Jehovah Jireh met Abraham’s needs.
    This dramatic story is actually a compelling story to reflect on on Father’s day.  You see, each of us is tested by God, each of us, if we are children of God will be challenged to trust God, for that trust in the faithfulness of God is the heart of faith, we will go through some of the same challenges that Abraham, Romans 4 calls him the father of faith.  We are walking in his footsteps.
    Each one of us will go through tests which may seem like  unreasonable demands from God, maybe to ourselves, certainly to others around us.
    Let me give you some illustrations and since worship always involves sacrifice, these illustrations involve the sacrifices we make.
    In one home, a tired teenager complains about getting out of bed on Sunday morning to go to church, after all this is in the teenagers mind an unreasonable activity for a day of rest.  But parents insist, even though it angers the child.  These parents are determined to go to worship and there see God’s provision for them. Mt Moriah, you see, is the place where years later King Solomon built the temple and still years later, it would be the place where the lamb of God was provided to take away the sins of the world.  We come to worship to see God’s provisions for our sins, for our lives, for our future.
    In another home, a wife does not understand her husband’s willingness to sacrifice time for the church.  It causes stress in their home.  Fights happen behind closed doors.  She does not understand her man’s commitment to the God who has promised to catch him. 
    In another home, a father stands his ground on what is acceptable behavior in his family, among his children.  No matter what other young people get away with, even if it causes fights, the father insists on behavior that is fitting a child of God.  The battle to make him compromise has gone on for months.  He is determined to trust and obey...
    A young person among a group of friends chooses to be open about her faith in Christ.  She knows that some of her friends will not understand, they may find her unreasonable, they may drop her, but she will trust that God will provide
    In one home, the time to plan the next years budget has come.  There are limited resources.  But mother and father write out their checks to the church first.  And then their write out their checks to the Christian School.  And then they figure out how much money is left.  And a child comes into the room wearing her hand-me-downs and notices Mom crying.  There isn’t enough left.  But the checks are written, the sacrifices made, even as a child complains that those other children in the public school have so much more.  A mother and a father determined to make their sacrifice of obedient worship even though they are misunderstood by their own children.  God will provide.
    Isn’t it so very true, not only that we are often tested and tried so that our faith may be purified as gold (says Peter), but isn’t it also true that sometimes the greatest challenge in each of these tests are those around us whom we love, who would regard our obedience in the test as an unreasonable action.  And so often we fail the test, we give in because of the voices we hear around us.
    It is at this point that I would like to point you to the last part of the passage that we read this morning.  After Abraham obeyed, after he trusted God even against the protests of his family and the struggle that he certainly had with his emotions - listen to these words:
    "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,  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, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."
    Abraham’s obedience is given as the reason for God’s gracious intergenerational blessing to his family.  It is because Abraham obeyed God that for generations to come, his descendants would prosper, multiply and conquer, and be a blessing.
    You see, what this passage points out is that the most important unreasonable action a faithful father can demonstrate to his children is a profound faith in the provision of God.  When parents live, believing God will provide for their sins, an atoning sacrifice; when parent trust for their daily needs even in the crunch, so much so that they are willing to obey, even at great personal cost, even at the potential cost of relationships with loved ones - children, complainers like Isaac, learn the same trust, the same faith in a Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides.  It is that faith modeled and learned from watching that continues on from generation to generation.

    Jehovah Jireh, our provider, your grace is sufficient for us.  Help us to see in the daily tests and trials that we receive, help us to see that the real test is whether or not we will trust your provision, and pass that trust on to our children and our children’s children.
    Forgive us for the times we have not trusted your absolutely sure promises - and we ask this of you because of one promise we are sure, that you Romans 8:32  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Help us to live that text every day.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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