Monday, March 16, 2015

Placing Our Children On The Altar

Photo image courtesy of Zvonimir Atletic via
Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.

“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”

“Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son."

Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

~ Genesis 22:1-14, NLT ~

It's a story minds have wrestled with throughout the ages.  How could a loving God ask something this atrocious of His dedicated follower, Abraham?  Worse yet, how could a loving father like Abraham comply with the order to sacrifice his long-awaited, treasured son?

Yet, this is what God is asking parents like us - raising treasured children, raising frail children, raising kids who are more physically, cognitively, and emotionally vulnerable - to do every single day.  

Place your child on that altar.

To get a better picture of where I am coming from here, let me back up in the Abraham story.  For those unfamiliar, Abraham was originally called by God to leave his home in what is now southern Iraq, and go to a land that the Lord was giving him as an inheritance, the land of Canaan.  Abraham took that initial leap of faith, followed by some serious missteps.  Notably, he first tried to pass off his wife as his sister in order to save his own life from King Abimelech.  Even more disastrous, he and his wife tried having children through his wife's slave, Hagar, when they didn't think God was fulfilling His promise to give Abraham descendants as quickly as they thought He should.

Eventually, God did fulfill all of His promises to Abraham in spite of this wavering.  In their old age, God blessed Abraham and Sarah with their long-awaited son, Isaac, and He made another promised to bless all nations through this boy.  He told Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.

Abraham learned the hard way, the shameful way, that God was FAITHFUL.  He learned to doubt his doubts and trust God completely.  In the final analysis, it was the LORD who always came through, while Abraham was the one who fell short.

When Abraham marched obediently to God's order to sacrifice his son, this was the background knowledge he had.  He knew that Yahweh had always been faithful to His word.  He knew the terrible mistakes made in not trusting or obeying the Lord's sovereign instructions.  He also knew what God had promised regarding Isaac's future, so he trusted that in the very worst case, Yahweh would resurrect Isaac after he was killed in sacrifice.  (Are you seeing a foreshadowing of Jesus here?)

We gain that same faithful trust and obedience, enabling us to place our children on the altar, by doing what Abraham did.  First, we must spend the time to get to know God.  Abraham wasn't trusting a stranger.  He got to intimately know God's character over the years he spent with Him. Today we have a means to know our Creator that Abraham didn't have -- His Word, His love letter to us, the Bible.  We have the advantage of hundreds of different translations of God's word both in print and electronically.  We have only ourselves to blame if we don't get to know Him and His immutable character.

Next, we must remember the countless times the Lord has been faithful to us in the past.  Counting our blessings big and small brings encouragement and helps us to remember who God is.  Starting a gratitude journal where we write down the daily gifts God grants us is a great way to start.  This gives us something to look back on when our stubborn brains can't remember on their own.  I can't help but smile and have my faith bolstered every time I flip through the pages of mine.

Finally, we must trust in His promises for the future.  When the Lord tells us  He plans to give us a future and a hope (see Jeremiah 29:11), we need to believe that the One who has been faithful in the past, will remain faithful to the end.  His past track record with us and with others throughout all of history should be more than enough to earn our confidence that He will come through for us in the days ahead.

This wasn't easy for Abraham, and it won't be easy for us.  It's fascinating reading Matthew Henry's commentary on this chapter as he notes that God stretched Abraham by asking him to make a 3 day journey to sacrifice Isaac.  This wasn't a quick, easy request, but a prolonged agony.  

Henry notes, "Misery is made worse when long continued."*

How many of us can relate to that truth?  What is the long continued misery that God is asking you to lay on the altar with your child?  Is it the health issues that just don't seem to improve?  Is it the difficulty with the school that seems to never end?  Is it the ruminating and sleep deprivation that are pushing the family to the very outer limits of sanity?  Is it conflict with your spouse because you never seem to be in sync with sharing responsibility or uniting in decision-making?

Our human inclination is to question God, to delay our obedience, to seek human counsel rather than placing it all on the altar, trusting "Jehovah Jireh," God the Provider, with the outcome.  Friend, let's learn from Abraham by getting to know our Maker, remembering His past faithfulness, and trusting in His promises.  Then lay it all down and watch the miracles happen!

PRAY:  Thank You, LORD, that even when we are faithless, YOU are faithful!  Grow us in trust and obedience, all for our good and Your glory.

~ Barb Dittrich

* Henry, Matthew (1997), MATTHEW HENRY'S CONCISE COMMENTARY ON THE WHOLE BIBLE, Thomas Nelson, Inc, Nashville, TN, p 38

1 comment:

  1. I am using this at today's mom's group! Thank you so much for such impactful writing and sharing of God's Word!