Yesterday, we read one of the ugliest chapters in the Bible. Today, this narrative has to be one of the most heart-wrenching. Abraham is tested by God in an unfathomable way, and his beloved wife Sarah dies.
Isaac, is now weaned. This would put him somewhere between 2 and 3 yrs old, and Ishmael in his late teens. Sarah, fed up and threatened by Ishmael's mocking of her "son of promise", insists that Abraham expel him and Hagar, his mother. Very distressed at the thought of them wandering in the wilderness, God confirms that Abraham should listen to Sarah. Isaac's inheritance must be protected, and any threat had to be avoided. God also comforts Abraham with the promise that his son Ishmael, will also be father to a nation of descendants. True to His promise, near their hour of death in the desert, God provides water for Hagar to save her and her son, and Ishmael goes on to become a man of distinction, eventually marrying an Egyptian woman.
Paul, in Galatians 4:21-31, explains that the events that took place with Isaac and Ishmael, are an allegory symbolizing God's Old Covenant of law with Israel, and His New Covenant of grace with His church. This fits into Paul's argument in Galatians 3-4, that when Christ, the seed came, the old, was done away.
Abraham, living in foreign Philistine country, is considered a resident alien. He believes God's promise, that this land will belong to his descendants, so he proceeds to make a treaty with Abimelech, the residing king. He gives Abimelech some sheep, goats and cattle, along with seven female lambs.
This treaty secured Abraham's legal right to live peacefully in the land. The completion of different phases of God's promise are slowly taking place. God is blessing the patriarch, and some pagans in the land take notice. He is now provided with a constant supply of well water, enabling Abraham to stay and thrive in the land. He then plants a tree in Beersheba, "the well of the oath." To sit under one's tree was a sign of peace and security. Zechariah 3:10.
The Scripture says, "Some time later, God tested Abraham's faith." The test was very real. After the long awaited fulfillment of God's promise, after raising their precious baby boy to be the young man that he has become, after the love, and the laughter and the joy of having this incredible gift in their lives, God asks Abraham to give him back. Isaac is to become a burnt offering to the Lord. The world, the flesh and the devil can tempt us in order to bring out the worst in us. Only God can test us to prove our faith, and the Bible carefully distinguishes between the two. To be a genuine test, it must defy logic and be something that Abraham would naturally want to resist. But resist, he did not. Abraham had matured both in age and in his trust in God. He obeyed immediately, and set out by placing the wood for the sacrifice on his young son's shoulders to carry on the 50 mile, three day journey to Mount Moriah. (Jewish tradition places the mount in Jerusalem, although the exact location is not known.)
This unreasonable, illogical, horrific request did not deter Abraham. Seeing the place in the distance, he leaves the two servants behind, assuring them that they will "worship there, and then we will come right back."Answering Isaac's curious question about "where is the sheep for the offering?" Abraham answered, "God will provide..."
All Abraham knew was that God had planned a future around Isaac. Although, he could not reconcile the request with the promise, he would nevertheless obey. So dramatic was God's intervention, (as Abraham took the knife to slay his beloved son), the Lord showed that He never intended for Abraham to go through with it. Child sacrifice was performed by some of the pagan nations to appease their gods, but Israel was not to practice it. God now knew that Abraham would hold nothing back, he would sacrifice anything, even his son.
One can't help but consider this passage on two levels. The first, a father who dearly loves his son, being asked to sacrifice him in obedience to God. The second, is a graphic picture of our heavenly Father's sacrifice of His only Son who died on the cross in our place, so we can experience forgiveness of our sins. For divine justice to be satisfied, an animal sacrifice would not suffice. Humanity sinned, the price or wage of that sin is death, and the God-Man must pay it. Romans 6:23. As Isaac willingly carried the wood on his shoulders, Jesus carried His cross. After the three day journey, like the three days in the ground, Isaac's life was resurrected, as was Jesus'. In recognizing the intense pain and heartbreak of Abraham, God betrays His own heartache over sacrificing His own Son. Our only response must be one of complete surrender and gratitude.
Approximately 25 years after this crisis of faith, Sarah dies. In the role call of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, Sarah is only one of two women who are immortalized. Abraham, in a difficult negotiation with a Hittite inhabitant of Canaan, purchases his first piece of property in the Promised Land...a burial place. As a testimony to future generations, it was important for Sarah to be buried there.
As Abraham deeply grieves over the loss of his wife, he turns his attention to finding a wife for Isaac. He is very old, and concerned that his son might marry a Canaanite woman. He sends his oldest servant, Eliazer, to bring back a wife from his homeland, trusting that God is still providentially planning for the promise of land and descendants. Obediently, the servant travels to Abraham's homeland, and humbly prays to God. "This is my request. I will ask one of them, "Please give me a drink from your jug.' If she says, "Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camel, too!' ---let her be the one you have selected as Isaac's wife."
There is great success! Rebekah comes out and gives him water, and offers to tend to the camels as well. She then confirms that she is the daughter of Bethual (Abraham's nephew). First and foremost, Eliazer gives praise and worship to the Lord! "The Lord has shown unfailing love and faithfulness to my master, for He has led me straight to my master's relatives." After gift giving, discussion and a brief hesitation by the family, Rebekah, willingly, is brought home to Isaac. "Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother's tent, and she became his wife."
God sovereignly worked through all the circumstances to secure His plan to bless mankind. Yet, although we marvel at God's providence, the human responsibility was quite evident. The servant was faithful, loyal, trusted God implicitly, prayerful, and finally, he was expedient in worship, even before the assignment was a done deal.
There is no greater call than to love the Lord with "all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." This supreme demand supersedes loyalty to anyone or anything else. Abraham proved his loyalty on Mount Moriah by his willingness to give to God that which was most precious to Him. When God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his response was Hineni (hee nay nee). It is the same word Moses used when God spoke to him from the burning bush, and Isaiah used it when called to be a prophet. Translated, "Here I am" or "I am ready", barely touch on the depth of the intentioned Hebrew word. It carries with it a sense of being attentive and fully present, with no distractions to interfere with following the command. God doesn't test us with the purpose of making us fail, rather for the purpose of seeing us succeed. When we begin to understand this, and trust that whatever He calls us to, is meant to bring Him glory and us spiritual satisfaction, than responding with "Hineni" will roll off the tongue more effortlessly. It wasn't Isaac's life that God wanted, he wanted Abraham's heart, and he wants...and deserves, our hearts as well.
Be Blessed...and Stay Tuned!