This past weekend I was reading through the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac on Mount Moriah. It’s one of those stories that throws me for a loop every time I read it. God tells Abraham to kill his son who was a tangible promise of God’s goodness and blessing. Why would God do that? It seems so convoluted.
The story is that Abraham is called out of Ur to follow God (Genesis 12). He travels around for quite some time through places like Canaan, the desert regions of the Negev, Egypt, and more. Abraham does well sometimes – living as if God’s promises are true – and then fails other times – living as if God did not exist and never promised him anything.
One of my favorite stories of Abraham’s failure is when he attempts to make things happen with God’s promises. You see, he’s supposed to be the father of many nations (Gen 15:4-6), but he has no physical son or daughter. How does the promise get fulfilled without a flesh and blood heir? So, he has sex with Hagar, Sarah’s servant girl, and everything goes downhill from there. Sarah gets jealous of Hagar and throws her out with her newborn son, Ishmael. The ‘making it happen’ solution really just made things worse.
But overall, Abraham was a faithful believer in God and his promises. He was so faithful in his belief, that when God told him to sacrifice the son of promise that he had been given – Isaac – he went up to the mountain with his son, two servants, and a bundle of sticks to do it.
He did not argue with God. He did not make excuses. He simply believed God.
He and Isaac climbed the mountain together. They made the altar together. Abraham bound Isaac to the altar. He raised the knife to kill his son.
Abraham was facing a test (Gen 22:1). He was facing death. He was entering into the destruction of the promise. Why would God call him to do something at odds with God’s own words?
It’s like Good Friday. We face the tomb with the body of Jesus laid in it. Jesus is dead. All God’s great promises – help, salvation, a new way, a new life – are laid to rest in death before us. Not a halfway death but total death. We wonder why. Why would God do this? Why would he do something at such total odds with his words of promise in Jesus Christ?
And God stayed Abraham’s hand. Isaac was spared. A lamb was provided, caught in a thicket. God affirmed his promise because Abraham had passed the test.
And Jesus did not stay in the tomb. It was empty on Resurrection Day and life had burst forth. His faithfulness in obedience to God was a passing of the test. God affirmed his promise because Jesus had passed the test.
And so, we stand facing the tombs of our own lives, even as we face the tomb of Jesus. We struggle, we falter, we rise up, we walk … because many times in life are a test.
Just as Abraham faced the test and Jesus faced the test, so we face tests in our lives. We encounter times and places in which God puts us through the ringer, where we face some sort of dying and call into question parts or all of God’s rich promises. Why would God do something like this? Why would he do something at such total odds with his words of promise to me?
As we face the tomb at the end of Lent this year, may our faith rise up like that of Abraham to walk in obedience to God’s mysterious voice by the power of the risen Jesus even though we may not understand the place where God’s purpose and promises intersect.