This story is one of the most meaningful and challenging stories in the Bible. It has been pondered by theologians, rabbis, pastors, and artists. Throughout this rich tradition, Jewish interpretations often emphasize Abraham while Christian interpretations focus on Isaac.
For both Jews and Christians, Abraham is presented as righteous. But here in Genesis 22, God tests Abraham’s righteousness by summoning him to take his only beloved son to a distant mountain and offer him as a sacrifice. Abraham models perfect obedience and has the knife raised when God finally stays his hand and directs him to offer the ram instead. Abraham has trusted in God, and God has not abandoned him. In the long history of persecution that the Jewish community has suffered, such obedience and trust make this story extremely important.
What makes this story difficult is imagining that a loving father could entertain the thought of such a sacrifice or that a loving God would ask it. When we say we cannot imagine this situation, we are not being fully honest. Historically, many parents have allowed their children to be exposed to danger in causes they believed were righteous and in line with God’s will. Parents have watched their young men and women go to war to end slavery or to oppose tyrants like Hitler; whole families have participated in the brutal moments of the civil rights and apartheid struggles. The challenge is to prayerfully discern God’s will and to willingly see the hand that stays the knife. These are matters of obedience, but also of trust that God will aid our discernment and show us paths into the future.
O Lord, make us attentive to your call and the sacrifices you may require of us. Grant us the trust and discernment to seek alternative paths into the future that you may open for us. Amen.
The passages this week highlight several different themes. Abraham is put to the ultimate test. There is no denying how terrifying God’s request must have been, yet Abraham ultimately is commended for his faith. We will not face this same challenge, but are there things dear to our hearts that God is asking us to give up? The psalmist is in deep despair and weary from awaiting God’s deliverance, yet even now there is confidence. Paul continues to instruct the Romans about the necessity of living a new life, no longer being slaves to the desires of the flesh. Jesus teaches that when we receive those doing his work, we receive him. When we interact with pastors, missionaries, and even nursery workers, do we treat these servants as Jesus himself?
Read Genesis 22:1-14. What has this familiar story meant to you in your faith? How do you embody or struggle against this type of obedience and trust?
Read Psalm 13. When has your lament allowed you to move from anger with God to praise? How long did that process take?
Read Romans 6:12-23. How does the definition of death as a life cut off from God rather than a biological reality change your understanding of this passage? How might incorporating this definition of death change your life?
Read Matthew 10:40-42. Who is in your wider community of witnesses? How does their example prompt you to turn to others in service?
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