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Is God random, out of control, someone who demands blind and absolute obedience no matter what the cost? “God tested Abraham and said to him…‘Take 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.” It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? What is God up to here? Is God random and out of control, someone who demands blind and absolute obedience no matter what the cost?
At first that’s certainly how it seems.
God makes a demand that sounds cruel and sadistic. Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and offer him as a burnt offering. Not only does God demand Abraham to kill his own son, but it’s Isaac, the son God promised to give him, the son Abraham waited 25 years to have, the only son Abraham has, the son whom Abraham loves. And it’s not like he could have another son. At this point, Abraham is well over 100 years old, and Sarah his wife is the same. Kill him as a sacrifice to me. It sounds like a cruel and sadistic test of Abraham’s absolute obedience to a God who is random and out of control. As if to say, “Will you obey me even if I ask you to murder? Will you obey me even if I ask you to give up your heart and soul?”
And at first, Abraham seems blindly obedient to this cruel and random God. What does he do? He gets up the next morning, saddles his donkey, takes two of his young men and Isaac, cuts some wood for the burnt offering, and off he goes. It sounds like Abraham doesn’t even have a twinge of conscience. God said it, and no matter how terrible it sounds, I’m going to do it.
And it only gets worse. Abraham seems willing to lie so that he can get away with murdering his son. When Abraham can see the mountain off in the distance, he says to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Then he took the wood and laid it on his son Isaac. And he took the knife and the fire and off they went. Abraham left out the most important part. “I’m going to kill the boy!” Instead, he makes it sound like Isaac will come back with him. “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Abraham seems blindly obedient to God to the point that he is willing even to murder and lie if that’s what it takes.
But then something happens that makes you wonder if that’s really what’s going on. Isaac catches on. “My father,” he says, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham says, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”
Is Abraham just trying to hide his true intentions from Isaac. Is Abraham trying to pull the wool over Isaac’s eyes so that he’ll go along with it? More cruel and sadistic lying just to get the job done? Or does Abraham really mean what he says? Does Abraham know that no matter how dire the circumstances, God will come through? Is Abraham convinced that no matter how terrible the situation, God will not fail to give what’s good? “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”
Maybe! After all, this is exactly what Abraham had learned the hard way. When Abraham was seventy-five years old, God told him to leave his father’s house and go to the land that he would show him. “For I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” But there was only one problem. Abraham didn’t have any kids, his wife Sarah was barren, and they were past the age of childbirth. But it didn’t matter to Abraham. No matter how unlikely it seemed, Abraham trusted that God is the one who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that don’t exist. God would provide. So Abraham set off.
But after many years, Abraham and Sarah continued to be childless. And they had spent their years wandering back and forth with no place to call home. God’s promised seemed empty. And when God appeared to Abraham again, Abraham laughed at the idea that he and Sarah could have a child anymore. “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” He had given up on the promise that God would provide. But God only doubled down on the promise. “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.” “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” And with that word from God, Abraham went on, trusting that no matter how dire the circumstances, no matter how unknown and uncertain the future, God would provide.
And God did. After twenty-five years of waiting, God did provide. Sarah gave birth to a son and called his name Isaac. You see, Abraham had already learned the hard way that God will provide.
So maybe he wasn’t telling Isaac a lie when he said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” Maybe in the face of the unknown Abraham trusts that the goodness of God will come through in the end.
You have to wonder. You have to wonder because Abraham goes right up to the edge. He has Isaac bound, lying on the wood, knife in hand, ready to kill his son. Is it because Abraham is blindly obedient to a random and cruel God? Or is it because even here at the edge of death and heartbreak Abraham knows that the Lord is good and will not fail to provide?
As it turns out, the Lord does provide just as Abraham said. Suddenly God called to him and said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And when Abraham looked up, there was a ram with his horns caught in a thicket. And he offered the ram instead of his son Isaac. And what did Abraham call that place? “The Lord will provide,” as it is said to this day, “On the mountain of the Lord it shall be provided.”
This wasn’t a test of blind obedience to a random, out of control, cruel and sadistic God. This was a test like one would test, refine, purify and strengthen precious medals in a fire. Can Abraham rely on God’s goodness in the most dire circumstances and in the face of the absolute unknown? Yes! No matter how dire the circumstances, no matter how unknown and uncertain the future, even at the edge of death and heartbreak Abraham is convinced that the Lord will provide. Abraham is convinced that the goodness of the Lord cannot be exhausted and will come through in the end. Abraham is convinced the Lord will provide. And Abraham is proven right!
Lent is a time of testing. We give things up in Lent. It’s usually simple stuff like chocolate or alcohol or coffee or social media. But just as much as we give up in Lent, we also have things taken away from us. Our health and strength, the time we have with loved ones, our job security and financial stability. We may or may not give something up in Lent, but that doesn’t mean that Lent isn’t imposed on us by suffering and struggle and tragedy—by the things that are taken from us.
And the question that needs to be answered in the face of our suffering, struggles, and tragedies is, “Will God provide?” Can I look the most dire circumstances and the uncertain future in the face, can I go even to the point of death and heartbreak, and still trust that the Lord will provide? Still trust that the goodness of God cannot be exhausted and will come through in the end?
Yes! The Lord isn’t a random, out of control, cruel and sadistic God. He is the Creator whose goodness and mercy will never fail to provide.
We know this because of Jesus. When you hear the sacrifice of Isaac, you can’t help but see Jesus everywhere you look. There are so many pointers. The place where it all happens, where it is said, “on the mount of the Lord it will be provided,” is the same mountain upon which the temple would be built. And when Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham says, “the Lord will provide for himself the Lamb.” And Isaac is Abraham’s only son, whom he loves! You can’t help but hear these pointers to Jesus, who is God’s only beloved Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, by giving his life as a sacrifice for our sin.
God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all. As Paul says, “How will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Look, if God gave us his Son, his beloved, his own life, we can be sure that God will not fail to give us what’s good. No matter how dire the circumstances, no matter how unknown the future, even at the point of death and heartbreak, we can be sure the Lord will provide.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
2 He said, “Take 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.”
3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.
5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”
6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.
7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, 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.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.
11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven
16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,
17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,
18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”