Summary: When God asks for a sacrifice, nothing is too great. He will always provide. (3rd in 3 part series on Abraham)
December 16, 2001 Heb. 11:17-19; Gen. 22:1-19
“You want what?!”
There is a difference between giving a gift and making a sacrifice. A pig and a hen were walking down the road when they saw a poster advertising the forthcoming harvest supper. It said that ham and eggs would be served. The hen said to the pig, "How nice it is that we can help the minister." But the pig replied to the hen, "It’s all very well for you you’ll be making a contribution, but I’ll be making a sacrifice!" - 1500 Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching compiled by Robert Backhouse
1. Sacrifices are expensive. (vs. 1-2)
Normally, when you are trying to get someone to give up something that they want to hold onto, you downplay how much that thing is going to cost them. For example, if my wife was to do the silly thing of asking for a diamond necklace for Christmas, she might say something like this. “Oh, here’s the one I want. And look; it’s on sale now for 50% off. It’s only $1000 now instead of $2000! That’s a steal! It’s only a month’s pay. Aren’t I worth a month’s pay?”
God didn’t follow that strategy here. He made sure that Abraham knew that what He was asking for was going to cost Abraham more than he could possibly afford. It wasn’t just going to break his bank; it was going to break his heart. Look at how God describes this expensive gift in verse 2. Think about what thoughts each of those descriptive words would have prompted in Abraham’s mind.
“your” “He’s mine God! You gave him to me! You promised me a son!”
“only” “He’s the only one I’ve got! And seeing how long it took me to get this one and how old I am now, it doesn’t look like I’m going to get another one!”
“Isaac” “He’s the source of laughter in my home, God! You remember how depressed Sarah always used to be – she’s been happy ever since you sent Isaac into our lives. How can I tell her that you want me to sacrifice Him?”
“love” “I love him, God. How could I do something like that to a person that I love? That would hurt me so much! And while we’re on the subject of love, how could you, who say you love me, ask me to do something that would cause me so much anguish?”
Abraham had already experienced what it felt like to lose a son. Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn son, had been kicked out of Abraham’s house by Sarah only one chapter earlier. True, Ishmael had been a trouble-maker, but he was Abraham’s firstborn. And yes, as much as 13 years and perhaps more had passed since the day that Abraham lost Ishmael. But it still hurt deeply. “God, I can’t go through that pain again.”
When we are asked to make a sacrifice in order to give a gift that we cannot afford, we rationalize. We come up with all kinds of reasons for why that sacrifice just doesn’t make any sense. Abraham could have done the same thing. Abraham knew that child sacrifice was one of the reasons pagan religions and Canaanite religious practices were an abomination to God. To kill his son would be murder. Murder is a sin. God wouldn’t tell him to commit a sin. Besides that, God had specifically said that it was through Isaac that God’s promises to Abraham would be fulfilled. It didn’t make sense for God to command a murder in general. And specifically, it didn’t make sense for God to command him to murder the son of promise. He must have heard God wrong. He needed to get his spiritual hearing aid looked at.
One of Satan’s best tools is getting us to doubt God’s commands, especially when those commands don’t make sense. That’s exactly what he did with Eve. There was a conflict here between God’s goodness and God’s commands. What was Abraham supposed to do – set all reason aside? That’s what Christians have been accused of.
But in fact, the Christian life is not lived without reason and rationality. I am reading a book right now called The Case for Christ. It has a sequel called The Case for Faith. Both of these books are written by a former investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune. In the books, the author gives evidence for why it is a rational thing to believe in the Bible, the God of the Bible, and to hold to the faith that we have embraced. Reason is a good thing. But when reason and faith come into conflict, faith must prevail for the Christian.
When we don’t like the sacrifices that God’s commands require, we come up with our own detour on God’s plan. Abraham had done this twice before, and the stakes were a lot lower then. Why did it have to be a burnt offering? Why not a peace offering? A peace offering was placed on the altar but then given back to the family to enjoy. “I’ll dedicate my child to you, but don’t ask me to give him up completely or destroy him.” We do things like that with God. We make bargains based on what makes sense to us. It might make sense for God to tell me to give my car away. But for God to say for me to take an ax to it and completely destroy it as an act of worship to Him? That just doesn’t make any sense!