Summary: Abraham fully obeyed God, even when God's command was difficult to follow.
Me and more than 11.4 million other people, on average, watched the History Channel TV production entitled “The Bible”. And, by the way, that is a lot of viewers – it was #1 in the ratings. It was a series of 10, 1 hour episodes which aired leading up to Easter, and the DVD release was the top selling DVD release of a miniseries ever in its first week, selling 525 000 copies. I’m curious – how many of you have heard about it? How many of you watched? Just in general, what did you think about it?
I would certainly recommend it. And in fact, there is a copy of the DVDs in our library. One of the things I appreciated, and that has got me thinking, is the revisiting of the “pivotal moments” in the Biblical story. Obviously, in 10 hours of programming we can’t see the whole story of the Bible – a lot of choices are going to have to be made about what stories to tell, and what parts of the stories. And I think it is valuable to return to that “big picture” perspective sometimes. Of course, it is good to get into great detail like we did with Psalm 51, but I think there is also value in taking a step back and tracing the major themes.
So I’ve mapped out a sermon series journey for the next several weeks, leading up to and through the celebration of Pentecost, which I’m titling “Pivotal Moments in the Biblical Story”. I’ve chosen seven stories at those pivotal moments – not intending them to be “the top 7” or even “the seven most important”, but rather seven stories from which I think we will learn a lot and be greatly challenged by what God does in those pivotal moments. And I think we will be able to relate – we each have pivotal moments in our own lives, times when a lot is riding on a particular situation or choice or encounter, times when God is palpably present and inviting us into a new experience or relationship or deepening with Him that demands more of us. Maybe God will even use some of these stories as pivotal moments in our lives over the next few weeks.
Abraham and Isaac on the Mountain:
The first story I’ve chosen is one that I find particularly disconcerting. It was included in the mini-series, and is found in Genesis 22, from the life of Abraham. We will go there in just a moment, but first we need some context.
We need to remember that Abraham had no Bible. Was there much oral history handed down for generations testifying to who God is or what He is like? – maybe a little, we don’t really know, but certainly not much to go on. Abraham had basically no context at all, in fact, to understand God. This is tough for us to imagine! All Abraham knew of God was what He experienced, which from the rest of the story includes a number of personal, direct encounters with God. First was the call to leave everything and go “to a land I will show you.” Then there was the promise of a child with his wife Sarah, even though they were both way too old to produce children. Then there was the fulfillment of that promise with the birth of Isaac, and with that a promise that Abraham’s descendants would be a great nation that would be forever blessed by God. It is no wonder that Hebrews lists Abraham as the example of a man of faith!
We have a much greater knowledge of God, a written record that we believe to be a reliable and true description of God, a rich history of God’s interaction with His people, and our own experiences of God. But as we read this story, try to set that aside and experience it instead as Abraham might have, without all that great context that we have.
Gen 22:1-2 (NLT):
Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.
“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”
2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”
Now I’m going to stop here already. We know the end of the story, so it’s easy to read past this quickly. But instead, let’s pause.
What kind of a God asks for human sacrifice? What kind of a God promises something, then asks for it back in a horrendous way? Can you imagine this? God had promised this child, he was the hope and the fulfillment of God’s promise, he was Abraham and Sarah’s deep joy and delight, and God says “go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering”? This is disturbing to me.