Summary: If God hated human sacrifice, why would He ask Abraham to offer his only son as a burnt offering to Him? And what can this story mean to us?
CHILDREN'S STORY (I used a flannel graph display on the overhead) In the days of Abraham, one of the ways people showed their love for God by offering Him a sacrifice. A sacrifice is like a gift. It’s something you give to God to show Him you are willing to obey Him, even when it costs you something. Usually, it was something like a sheep or a lamb. But when Isaac was still a young boy, God asked Abraham for a different kind of a sacrifice. God said “This year, instead of killing an animal and giving it to me, I want you to give me your only son, Isaac.”
Abraham was shocked. He thought to himself “NO, not Isaac. He’s my only son, how could I possibly kill my only son?” But then he remembered God’s promise that Isaac would be the father of many nations, and he realized God would not have lied to him. He reasoned – if God has asked me to sacrifice my only son, it must be that he will raise him from the dead.”
The next morning, he took Isaac and went to the place of sacrifice. Isaac had been on these trips several times before… and he began to realize that something was missing. “Father,” he said, “we’ve forgotten to bring something to sacrifice.”
And Abraham replied “Don’t worry son… God will supply the sacrifice.”
When they reached the place of the sacrifice, Abraham tied his son and placed him on the altar. He raised the knife to kill his son as God had asked… and SUDDENLY – an angel appeared and shouted “STOP!!!! Now I know that you love me. You were willing to give your only son to me as a sacrifice… that’s all I wanted to know.”
And Abraham looked, and there in the bushes was a big male sheep, caught by its horns. And Abraham went and took that big sheep and offered it up as a burnt offering to God.”
And then Abraham and Isaac walked home together.
TEXT: Hebrews 11:17-19 “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
SERMON: About 35 years ago, I was reading a copy of “Biblical Archeological Review” (Biblical Archaeology Review 10:1, January/February 1984 “Child Sacrifice at Carthage—Religious Rite or Population Control?”) and they were discussing the city of Carthage in northern Africa. Carthage was where Hannibal came from, and it was a major military power that challenged the might of Rome.
Archeologists had been doing some digging around the city Carthage and they were surprised at what they’d found. You see, many archeologists view religion as something that has evolved. The thinking is that early religion was crude and barbaric, and human sacrifices were the norm. But as religion evolved (they say) people became more “humane” and offered animals. But that’s not what they found at Carthage. It seems that the early sacrifices were animals, and as time went on human sacrifice became more common (replacing animal sacrifices). Now, that puzzled the “experts” and led them to speculate as to why that happened. The explanation from the authors of this article was that when Carthage was first founded animals were plentiful, and children – not so much. If the city was to grow, they had to keep the children alive and thus, animals were less important – and were sacrificed to their gods. But as the city grew, animals grew scarce. and children weren’t (scarce). So human sacrifice replaced animal sacrifice.
In the Old Testament, there were a lot of nations who sacrificed their children to their pagan gods, and often their child sacrifices came after a defeat and a great disaster.
In Deuteronomy God told Israel “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? — that I also may do the same.’ “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” Deuteronomy 12:29-31
And in Leviticus 20:2 God hammered it home: “Say to the people of Israel, ‘Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones.’”