Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." Genesis 22:2 (NIV)
Why would a loving God test Abraham in such a way? I’ve been taught this was possibly to prove Abraham’s faithfulness to himself. That comes from those who contend that God chooses to know everything. That assumption brings more questions than answers to my mind. But I won’t go there.
I’d like to go into a history of the sacrifice but I’ll skip that too so you will read to the end.
Let’s start with a modern definition of sacrifice. According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, sacrifice is the “forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim.”
Intellectually, any Christ follower would state that God is of the greatest value. In our culture, most would agree that human life is the most highly valued thing we have any control over. But how do we define life? Is it the moving, breathing body or is it something else?
Leviticus 17:11 states that the life of the creature is in the blood and God has given us that blood to make atonement for ourselves. It is the blood that makes atonement for the life. So what is atonement?
Atonement is “amends or reparation made for an injury or wrong.” It is our knowledge of good and evil that makes us aware of our wrongs. But our desire to be like God distracts us from seeing the need to forfeit something we highly value for the sake of God’s claim. Many people want to believe that God is too kind to really expect us to sacrifice anything. After all, isn’t that what Christ did for us? Yes, but he was much more than a kamikaze pilot or suicide bomber.
God’s request of Abraham in Genesis 22 reveals the significance of what Christ did for us.
Genesis 17:15-19 tells us that Isaac was not merely a gift for Abraham and Sarah to enjoy for their own pleasure. God gave Isaac for God’s purpose – for the sake of one of greater value. We may not be the parents of many nations but our children also have purpose beyond our own pleasure.
We fail to comprehend that life is more important than food and the body more important than clothes. (Matthew 6:25) We overlook the truth that the life of the creature (or person) is in the blood, not in the flesh. John 6:63 tells us the Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. Other scripture informs us that our battles are not against flesh and blood. We are to worship in Spirit and truth – the physical entities are not the most significant part of who we are.
Now to the concept of fire and the burnt offering. Throughout scripture, fire represents God’s power. God spoke to Moses in a burning bush. He guided the Israelites by a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21). God sent fire to consume offerings in Leviticus 9:24 and 1 Kings 18:38. John the Baptist stated that Jesus would baptize with fire and indeed he did. The Holy Spirit appeared like tongues of fire in Acts 2:3.
It seems to me that God was asking Abraham to acknowledge truth. What is life? Is it the joy of interacting with your son Isaac in the flesh? Or is life found in God alone?
We know that in the physical realm, anything left in fire long enough will be totally consumed or melted down to become greater in value. We tend to treasure things that will not withstand fire. Yet God has shown us through Christ that we consist of something not viewable with the human eye that is capable of withstanding the fire of death. Even though Abraham didn’t have the privilege of that insight, he was willing to offer his greatest physical treasure. He feared and trusted God more than he wanted from God.
Are you seeking only the physical pleasures from God’s provisions? What are you keeping from God? Whatever he has placed in your reach is for his purpose. He wants you to participate in his abundant life. But we must be willing to acknowledge the truth that life is in the Spirit and the flesh counts for nothing.
God has given us flesh which we may use and do with as we please. He offers us his Spirit so that we may participate in real life. Do you want control of physical pleasure or do you want life? Life is so much greater than anything the physical senses can comprehend.
Will you submit to his greater cause or will you remain childish and shout “mine” when he asks of you? What do your children or those around you see as your greatest value? Why hang on to toys when you can have the real thing?
The human body as we know it has a short existence. Do you want to go just a short distance? Then continue to use your own power. Do you want to go farther? Be consumed by the power of fire – give up life as you know it and experience real life. It’s not an outrageous request when you discover the true meaning of life.