Friday, August 28, 2009

The Promise Sacrificed

By S. Michael Durham

(Eighth installment on faith)

Do you know that flushed feeling of panic when you first hear or see something that is threatening to your joy? Abraham was well acquainted with it. His blood pressure spiked; the chill that leaves you warm instead of cold rushed through his body the night he heard God say, “Take now 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.”

Frankly, there is an air of holy mystery in this story that leaves me with questions. I don’t understand it all. But its message I do get, at least somewhat. What becomes the preoccupation of your life, the passion of your life, and the love of your life must be sacrificed to God. To you theologians who want to tell me the story is all about a glimpse into the future when the Heavenly Father will lay His Only Son on an altar and plunge the knife of divine justice through His body and soul let me say, I understand that. Surely redemptive light-beams shoot out of Genesis 22 and spotlight the Lamb hanging on Calvary’s cross. But there is a personal story here as well.

An old man was given a promise. Twenty-five long years he waited for its fulfillment. The day came when his promise came to pass and he held it in his hands—a baby boy. As the years went by and the promise began to grow, take his first step, speak his first word, Abraham was right there. He taught Isaac his knowledge of husbandry and leadership and, most importantly, his God. Abraham’s life was now fulfilled. The culmination of his life was the son. Here was the holy seed. Here was the linage of the Messiah. He had lived his entire life for this purpose.

But in one moment, the stillness of a fulfilled life was jolted by a night visit from heaven. The words drove terror deep into Abraham’s heart, “Take now your son . . . and offer him . . . as a burnt offering.” What Abraham didn’t know the Lord did; Abraham’s heart was wrapped up in the promise much more than with the One who had made the promise. Abraham, like any of us who get in that position, couldn’t see it. The more he loved Isaac, he assumed the more he loved God. The boy was the promise of God, given to him by the performance of God’s power. To love the gift was to love the Giver, was it not?

Not exactly. Not when the promise is exalted above the Giver. When the gift no longer motivates you to praise the Giver and it becomes the object of ultimate adoration, then you have crossed the line. Abraham had crossed the line.

We are not privy to the prayers of Abraham after the command came. We do not know if his prayers sounded strangely similar to night prayers that would be prayed almost two millennia later in a garden: “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” All we know is the text reads, “So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.”

The soul’s dilemma was ended by morning. The promise-turned-idol had been relinquished from the patriarch’s heart. He may have laid Isaac on the altar days later, but that night sometime before sunrise the sacrifice had already been committed. In vain are the arguments that suggest Abraham didn’t have to sacrifice Isaac. The idol had to be purged. And it was. Perhaps that is why Abraham did not have to finish the act.

The writer to the Hebrews gives an interesting insight to this story. Hebrews 11:17, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son.” In other words, Abraham offered up one of God’s promises.

He continues in verse 19, “concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” This is very important. If you are to have faith in God you must understand this truth. Because God promised Isaac and because the promise of Isaac was the seed of the covenant God made with him, Abraham knew the seed could not die. In other words, the promise of faith was the reason Abraham could die to the promise. He knew if he obeyed God and sacrificed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead. This is absolutely astounding since Abraham had no precedent to believe this. No one had been raised from the dead between Adam and Abraham. Yet Abraham believed God would restore Isaac to him because of the promise.

Two things are involved here. One, Abraham was tested: where was his ultimate loyalty and love? Was it with Isaac or Jehovah? The test made him choose, which brought him out of his idolatry. Two, Abraham relinquished control of his idol. He surrendered control of his son and placed him in the hands of the Lord. In essence, he trusted God with the promise.

That is our task also. When given a promise by the Lord we must not take control of it and become possessed with it. Rather, we must surrender it back to the Lord in complete confidence that He will keep His word and do what is right. You must rest in Him without worry, free of consternation and concern, knowing the One who promised is faithful. He will do it. Even if He has to raise your promise up from the death of your sacrifice.

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