Poor Isaac asks his father, Abraham, “look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering.”[i] Think of the trauma Isaac must have felt as his father a short time later bound him up and prepared to kill him with a knife and burn him on the altar. There is no mention of Isaac’s response to his near-death experience or if he heard the angel of the lord that directed Abraham not to lay a hand on the lad and provided a lamb in to stand in place of his Son. The Church of the Latter-Day Saints provides this beautiful resolution to the story pictorially:
I am not buying their version of these events. They may have it right, all I am saying is that boy should not be smiling the way he is just after his father almost killed him like that sheep in the background smoldering on the altar.
My trusted Jewish scholar[ii] tells me that Abram (short for Abraham) was called by the one true creator to leave his family, and God would make him a great nation. This was called a b’it or covenant between mankind and God. The contract required rights and obligations on both sides, and the oral traditions captured in scripture for us capture Abram’s departing from home and ten tests of faith, including sacrificing his Son Isaac. The fact is that biblical Hebrew was hardly aware of a distinction between simile, metaphor, parable, and allegory.[iii] The story bought to us has only the slimmest of details.
Let’s leave the literal versus the allegory interpretation to the scholars. Abram reportedly smashed his family many idols in the house, and when the parents returned home, he said the more prominent idol broke the smaller ones!
How true is it today that often adolescence and young adults leave home by way of conflict rather than peacefully without ever having to break free from parental protections by defiant statements of independence?
Abram is the story of a young man finding his way in the world with only God as his overseer. He is tested all along the way. The almost sacrifice of his Son demonstrates a pinnacle of trust that he developed in his faith that he was ready to do the unthinkable.
In our times, we find both Abram’s actions and God’s test implausible. However, if told the same story within our cultural norms and context, the narrative would not be so peculiar. A young adult leaves his childhood home on not so good terms. Within him still resides the embers of faith to guide his lonely journey into adulthood.
At some juncture, he is faced with a spiritual crisis that calls on him to take a considerable risk, or stands up for the oppressed, denies himself something he loves, or makes a decision between to evils, trying to pick the lesser of the two we imagine. In making these decisions, he leans on the one thing he has close, his God. The narratives we hear today are mostly not as grandiose as about to murder one’s own Son. We are ordinary people, not Abraham of Genesis! If you are not challenged, you are not looking.
Still, today the message is if we put our trust in God, he will not ask us to do things we cannot handle. He will offer us alternatives at critical times if our eyes of open to experience the presence of God in our midst.
My morning read did not get any more comfortable with the leap to Matthews Gospel 400 plus years later, when Christ told the disciples:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother, and a mans’ enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matthews 10:34)
We are not four centuries removed from this writing as Matthew was from Genesis, but 18 plus centuries.
In Matthew 10, Christ prepares the Disciples to be carriers of the message and word of God. He prepares them for the hostilities that they will face, even amongst their people and their families, perhaps even more so among the Jewish peoples than the gentiles. They were being sent out into the world like Abram to face social, political, and religious divisions without any power or legitimacy other than Christ’s word.
Where are we today? In America today, we have the most divisive president in the history of the United States, shy I guess of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis as the leader of the confederate losing side during the civil war!
We are a nation divided politically. Religiously there are about 4300 religions in the world. Seventy-five percent are represented by the top five religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. And within each of these five are many divisions. Our nation-states have never stopped warring with each other. Check out a history of war entitled “Population control, Marauder style.”
We have been killing each other since the dawn of time. What are we to do in the face of such division? Jesus proclaims:
“He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
I am pretty confident that the five major religions above can accept this teaching as a reflection of sacrifice to God. To put one’s trust solely in God and God’s teachings above politics, religiosity, social norms, and even family is perhaps equal to the challenge of Abram and the disciples. While our task is presumable a thousandfold less challenging, must of us have not seen a burning bush, healed the sick with a prayer, or spoke to Christ directly in the flesh. If you have, please contact me! I have a favor to ask.
We are even amongst our family and friends divided, sometimes vehemently and without any trace of humility. There is not an inch of hope of the “other” genuinely switching sides. At best, as happens in so many families, they agree to disagree without finding the time to ground out the truth in all things. The truth will not be all good for either side.
Twenty-two centuries ago, Abram was tested in his faith. Eighteen Centuries ago, the apostles were tested as well. Today we are on God’s testing ground. We have the advantage of centuries of traditions and written scripture. We have advancements in philosophy, the sciences, communications, and data points on the smallest nuances of human behavior normed, evaluated, and examined. We have at our disposal the ability to command almost all of the earth’s resources, and wealth in a manner that could tend to every human being’s need and have minus our mortality and human struggles, real peace on earth.
I personally feel like roughly 20 centuries is enough time to actualize the teaching of Christ or have God return and provide us further direction! And if not Christ, then the fulfillment of any of the other world great religions. I said 18 plus centuries before regarding the Gospel of Matthew as scholars disagree no when the gospel was authored specifically. Our Gregorian Calendar is pretty accurate that Christ lived and died twenty centuries ago.
What if God said to you today, I can visit tomorrow and come and judge you and all the men and women on this earth. I will weigh each according to his deeds and actions. I will take the righteous with me to heaven, and the rest will get their due elsewhere, I will leave that to your imagination. So, do you want me to come tomorrow at your calling to judge the living and the dead? Or, you can defer my arrival to a time of my choosing as I had intended to on my time? I know my answer. What would yours be?
Before I go, let me return to Isaac. It appears as if he did okay and maintained his relationship with his father, Abram. Two chapters later, Abraham provides Isaac at God’s direction, a beautiful virgin wife named Rebekah from the distant land of Mesopotamia as directed by God. I can say he did not see that coming when he was the awkward boy smiling above having just escaped being sacrificed.
Do you have any blessings today in your life that you did not see coming 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or even last week? My blessings are too many to count. Sometimes they are obscured by my own blindness, contemporary challenges, and human suffering beyond my own suffering. Perhaps I could learn a little more from my Buddhist brothers and their pursuit of mindfulness meditation practices? And they perhaps can learn from the ultimate suffering of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ?
What if all the religions of the world had a piece of the puzzle? I do not encourage polytheism or anyone to stray from their religious beliefs unless the fruit of those beliefs are showing you they cannot truly be holy. In both the old and the new testaments Idols were smashed – sometimes they were religions and sometimes they were just material things man valued above God or above human relationships. Ultimately you have to own responsibility for your actions as measured by something greater than yourself and hopefully greater than contemporary man!
Are you ready to meet these five today if they were sent back here by God?
Thanks for visiting and may this post find you humble in God’s words and vision…
[i] Genesis 22:8