Offended by God – a Child Abuser?

by Lois Tverberg

Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. – Genesis 22:6-8

I heard, once, of a woman who was deeply offended at the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac, and generally horrified by the kind of God that would put a child through such terrible anguish. She said she hated the story because it showed her that God was guilty of child abuse.

Abraham sacrifices IsaacA response to that is to look more carefully at Isaac’s role in the story. Is he a little boy, terrorized by the incident? The answer lies in a seemingly minor detail in the text, which says that Isaac carried the load of wood. God had asked for an olah, a whole burnt offering – and that requires a lot of wood! No toddler could have carried such an enormous burden. The reason he carried it was more likely because he was a strong young man, much more capable than his elderly father (100+ years old!) at hauling a heavy load of wood up a mountain.

If Isaac is a strong young man, his Abraham couldn’t have forced Isaac to do anything against his will. Isaac would have had to have been a willing sacrifice, complying with his fathers wishes, with trust in both his father and God. That means that Isaac was as much a man of heroic faith as his father, if not more.

The woman’s response to this story contains a revulsion at the death of Jesus as well, when another innocent young man was asked to sacrifice Himself. Often people think of His Father as a wrathful, angry God who was cruel in asking for this sacrifice too. What we often fail to realize is that there are not two Gods involved – just one. And, the One who willingly gave Himself as a sacrifice was as much God as His Father.

If this is true, God’s ultimate role in the story is not just to watch from heaven above, but to carry the wood that Isaac had carried, and become the ultimate substitution for Isaac Himself.

Photocred: Web Gallery of Art

Giving and Taking Away

by Lois Tverberg

Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you. – Genesis 22:1-2

Abraham and IsaacIt seems strange that God would ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, the very son that God had promised would be the one who would father a great nation. It’s odd that God would use His answer to prayer as the basis for a test. I think though, that God gave this test because He knows human nature.

When we come to God in prayer with a request, we can be utterly sincere about asking for a good thing that seems to be in accordance with God’s purposes. It may be a better job, having an opportunity in business, finding a spouse, or even that someone would be saved. People may spend years in sincere prayer, as Abraham did, and God is pleased by our persistent faith in His willingness to help us.

Sometimes, however, the request can become all-consuming to our prayers, until it becomes the thing by which God is measured in our eyes. When the goal seems impossible, our belief in God’s goodness may decline, and we may even get angry with Him. No matter how good a request seems to us, when anything becomes so important that God cannot say “no”, it is an idol. It has taken God’s place as ruler of our lives, and prayer is just a means to get God to serve our own ends.

We know we are that point when we use means that God hasn’t approved to reach our prayer goal. It looks like that was where Abraham and Sarah were at when Sarah brought Hagar to Abraham, so that they could “help” God fulfill His promise. God pledged to bless even their actions in weakness, but He didn’t allow their actions to be the fulfillment of His plan.

Even after God had given them Isaac, it was a possibility that their faith in God was really a faith in His ability to give them a family, something enormously important to them. In order to prove that this wasn’t true, God put his finger right on the thing that may have been more important to them than Himself. It was when Abraham finally showed that His faith was unwavering in God, even to the point of taking away the blessing that He had given before, that God was free to pour out all His blessings on them.

The Binding of Isaac

by Lois Tverberg

Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you. – Genesis 22:1-2

The story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac is referred to in Jewish tradition as the “Akedah,” the binding of Isaac. It is one of the most difficult to understand in the scriptures. It is also rich with meaning, and becomes richer when we are aware of the Hebrew phrases behind it.

For instance, when Abraham answered God, “Here I am,” the word, “hineni” meant much more than just an announcement of a person’s location. It was what a child said to a parent or a servant his master, to show attentive submission. It was like saying, “At your service!” Abraham was fully open to God’s requests.

Isaac and AbrahamGod’s response, “Take now your son” also needs the Hebraic nuances to pick up on its mood. The phrase uses “na” after the verb, which is a gentle request, a plea. It is if God gently asked Abraham this enormous request, saying the word “please” along with it. He is asking Abraham if he would, not harshly ordering him to do it.

And, the words in Hebrew for “go to the land” lekh l’cha, are used exactly one other time in the Bible, as God’s very first words to Abram. Then, God had tested Abram by asking him to leave his family, country and his heritage for a land God would show him. Here, God is repeating the test, but instead of asking Abraham to abandon all his past, now He asks him to abandon the future promise that God had in Isaac.

Amazingly, although Abraham showed great daring in bargaining with God to spare the lives of the people of Sodom, now he says nothing. Somehow he knows that God will come through on this test of all tests, even from the beginning.

Photocred: Web Gallery of Art