No Holds Barred

“How dare you take your children to live in such a dangerous place! What about your calling to be a good father to them? How could you live with yourself if they died because of your decision to follow God?” The questions my brother was facing were identical to the ones I had asked myself years earlier as my husband and I prepared to move overseas. None of us had any doubt that God had called us to go and serve Him in these very challenging fields, but we all struggled to reconcile that calling with our other calling to nurture and protect our children. Which came first?

“Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
…it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.
Genesis 18:18-19; 21:12

Abraham had gone before us in facing this dilemma, and his response became the basis for our own. Everything that he had been promised, everything that he had staked his life on, hinged on the life of his only son. This was his miracle baby, the one they almost didn’t have. This was his last chance, the only child left after he had lost the other one. This was his Isaac, his long-awaited gift from God. Surely God wouldn’t demand him back.

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
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 22:1-2

But the call was clear. God had told him to sacrifice Isaac. No one else had heard it, but he had. There was no denying what God had asked him to do, but it just didn’t make sense. The mental image of his beloved son, the promised child of the covenant, brutally slaughtered and engulfed in fire was too much to bear. Why would God raise his hopes for the future only to dash them? Why would He give this precious child only to take him away?

Ultimately, the decision was Abraham’s. God had not struck Isaac dead. He had asked Abraham to do it. He had to make a choice, to take a course of action one way or the other. Doing what God had asked of him would be a violation of his calling to fatherhood, through which he had been promised that he would become a great nation. But not doing it would be a violation of his relationship with God. God had asked him for a specific sacrifice, the one thing that he treasured more than anything else in this world. To protect Isaac would be to deny God.

The cost of what we are willing to offer reflects the value we assign to God.

Interestingly, Abraham did not wrestle with God over this one. He had not hesitated to boldly and persistently argue his case with God when it had been a matter of justice and mercy. But this was different. It was a matter of sacrifice, an act of worship. To try to bargain down the price this time would mean devaluing God. Abraham knew that his response to God’s request had to be all or nothing. No in-between compromise would suffice.

Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. … When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Genesis 22:3-5

And so without a word of protest he took Isaac along to the distant place that God led him to. He would offer this precious gift back to God. Whether God would take Isaac or would give him back, Abraham did not know. But he did know that God had always come through for him in the past. He would be faithful in this, too.

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
Genesis 22:6-8

Abraham laid the sacrificial wood on his only beloved son’s back and together they ascended the mountain that would one day be known as Zion. Each step of the way he wondered how it would all work out, if he would make the return journey with or without a son. But his dread of what might happen did not stop his obedience to what God had said should happen.

I listened to my brother recounting the story of Abraham as the answer to his questions about obeying his own dangerous call. I knew from personal experience that we could not claim that God would spare the lives of our children, that He would protect them from harm as He had Isaac. But Abraham’s sacrificial act of willingly laying his son on the altar of worship resonated deeply with my own growing love for God. It gave significance to the risks we had taken and the losses we had endured because of our obedience to God’s call. These were opportunities to show how much He was worth to us, to offer up our love to Him. And so with tears of sorrow and of joy, I offered Him the unborn child I had just lost to dengue fever. She became my Thysia—my priceless offering.

5 thoughts on “No Holds Barred”

  1. Beautiful. I am once again reminded of our high calling to follow Christ, and thank you for your unselfish work for the cause of Christ. I pray He will continue to heal your heart and give you grace to carry on until that glorious day He calls us home to be reunited with our precious loved ones.

  2. But the call was clear. God had told him to sacrifice Isaac. No one else had heard it, but he had. There was no denying what God had asked him to do, but it just didn’t make sense.

    In his Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard famously failed to recognize what you do: Abraham had enough of a history with God to know that it was God speaking and not another. Having argued with God over Sodom, it’s clear that Abraham had a relationship with God that many people today don’t (I don’t, although I want it!).

    So many atheists and skeptics love to point out the almost-sacrifice of Isaac as a heinous act, but let’s look at what a Jesus-era person had to say:

    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. (Heb 11:17-19)

    This puts quite a different spin on faith than e.g. Boghossian’s. For Abraham, ‘faith’ meant “a trusting relationship with serious history”. Alternatively: “Long obedience in the same direction.” Cue complaints about “True Believers”; my only response is that the correct response to sharp knives is to handle them correctly, not to stay away from them like a young child.

    1. Brilliant quotes and distinctions: ‘faith’ meant “a trusting relationship with serious history”. That highlights the importance of our familiarity with our own history, i.e. the story of God’s interaction with His people. We look to the past to interpret the present; we have faith for the future because we are familiar with the One who has told us what it will be. I too used to struggle to distinguish God’s voice from my own or (more scarily) from the deceiver’s. I tended to trust it more if it was telling me to do something I didn’t like! 🙂 But the longer I have listened to Him, the more familiar I have become with how He “sounds.” (My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me.) I do still struggle to discern sometimes, but I have also learned that if I am listening, God will make it clear to me (as He did for little Samuel when he kept getting confused over who was calling his name.)

      Nice conclusion about relating intimately with a consuming Fire: handle them correctly, not to stay away from them like a young child. I guess the question is, are we ready to grow up?

      1. 🙂 For another take on faith, the following is from Os Guinness’ 1983 The Gravedigger File:

            The job then was to crack the secret of the workings of faith. Or as it’s put in the trade, to analyze their handwriting—trade jargon for their habits and patterns of behavior. As you know, the philosophical strength of Christianity lies in its claim to truth, whereas the social strength of Christianity lies in its challenge to tension. It was at this second point that the break came. Let me explain.
            Part of the root meaning of the word faith is “tension” or “tautness.” There in two words is an accurate picture of the faith required of Christians. And there’s the rub. Loyalty to the Adversary in a world liberated by us makes their lives a kind of “double wrestling.” Faithfulness to him has to mean foreignness in the world. As they put it themselves, they are to live in a way that is clearly distinct in terms of space (“in” the world but not “of” it) and in terms of time (“no longer” what they were, “not yet” what they will be). Their unenviable role, as one of them has it, is to be “against the world for the world.” Let them try telling that to their next-door neighbors.
            Such a high-wire balancing act would be precarious at best, even if the poise it entails were all that’s required of them. But that is not the case, and here a further element is introduced. The Adversary has actually commanded them to be identified with the world. From his perspective, there are still a great number of positive reasons for their being in the world, the most basic of which is to seek to reclaim it for him. (24)

        As to whether we’re ready to grow up, all I can say is that some of us were forced to, and we will bear the load as best we can, but probably end up being crushed by it unless more choose to mature instead of stay in comfortable babyhood.

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