Thursday, October 24, 2013

Things are looking up!

"Abraham lifted his eyes and looked"
Genesis 22:13

We've been studying Genesis in church, and last Sunday we arrived at chapter 22, in which Abraham's faith is severely tested by God.  It's a favorite passage of mine, not only for the substance of it, but because I taught it several years ago, which means I read and re-read and studied and researched and prayed over it.  And there's simply no better way to experience the Bible. 

One of the things that was new to me, when I studied it, was my focus on Isaac.  I'd always seen this passage from the viewpoint of Abraham, but I think that was also because I grew up believing that Isaac was a small child when this even took place, and that he didn't really know what was going on.  My research into language, and the opinions of scholars, took me to a new understanding.

We see Abraham and Isaac arrive at the place to which God directed them.  They’d been traveling for three days, talking about what, the weather?  How the crops were doing?  They’d presumably been stopping for meals, and to bed down for the night.  Had they been praying together?  Laughing together?  Enjoying some guy time away from Mom?  Yet all the while, Abraham knew what was ahead.   

Then they stopped, and Abraham instructed the two young men to wait for them.  “The lad and I will go and worship, and we will come back to you.”  I love Abraham’s choice of words.  First of all, the faith inherent in the words “WE will come back to you.”  Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed, up until he took the knife in his hand, that God would resurrect Isaac, even though it had never happened before.  But Abraham had already seen a miracle: from a man and woman as good as dead, God had brought life.

It is also significant that Abraham said “We are going yonder to worship.”  I do not believe this was just what he told them to keep them from stopping him.  His obedience to God’s command was worship.  “Worship” means "to perform an act of reverent love and devotion" and it is not confined to bowing down before a statue, or to the first 20 minutes of Sunday morning church service.  Performing the act that Abraham was preparing to could only be done out of reverent love and devotion, and I believe that is what was in Isaac’s heart too. 

In verse 7 we hear from Isaac for the first time, as he asked his father the question that affects all of us.  “Where is the lamb?”  And verse 8 is one of the verses that remind me why I love to study this book so much.  Abraham’s answer was that God would supply the sacrifice.  But in the King James version it says, “God will provide Himself, the Lamb…” Abraham is answering Isaac’s question, but he is also prophesying the gospel, though he does not know it.

When they arrive, Abraham built an altar, and arranged the wood on it.  How many times had Isaac seen his father build an altar, or offer a sacrifice on one?  But this time is different.  Never before has his father gone to make a sacrifice, without an animal to offer.  And here is where I believe we see Isaac perform his act of reverent love and devotion.  Verse 9: “Abraham bound Isaac, his son…”  

Now, theologians do disagree on exactly how old they believe Isaac was at this time, but I didn't read anyone of the opinion that he was a young child.  Some say late teens, some say in his twenties.  One commentator said 33.  In verse 5, Abraham referred to him as a “lad”, which only tells us he was unmarried.  At any rate, we are talking a young man, probably at his peak of strength, and his 120-ish year old father.  I’m not sure Abraham could beat Isaac at arm-wrestling, much less a struggle to bind him. 

I have no choice but to understand that Isaac acquiesced to what he must have now realized was happening.  Abraham heard God’s voice.  Isaac had only a sinful, flawed, earthly father as his guide.  I’m reminded of the effect Lot’s words had on his daughters and his sons-in-law as he urged them to flee Sodom.  Lot had no authority in their eyes because of how and where he chose to live his life.  But Isaac saw in his father a man faithful... and righteous… 

There’s a poem that says:
I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.
I would rather have you walk with me
       than simply point the way.
The eye is a more ready pupil than ever was the ear.
Advice may be confusing, but example is crystal clear.

Abraham’s example to Isaac was not perfect, but Isaac saw submission modeled, and his response was to submit.  In many ways, Isaac is a picture of Jesus not only carrying the wood for the sacrifice, as Jesus carried His cross; but also submitting to the will of his father, as Jesus Himself was obedient to His Father, even unto death.

As the Angel of the Lord called out to Abraham not to harm Isaac, Abraham looked up and saw something unexpected – a ram caught in a thicket by its horns.  This was not the solution he anticipated.  He had been thinking that God would raise Isaac up.  To Isaac, he spoke of the lamb that God would provide.  But what he saw was a ram. 

The fact that Abraham saw a ram instead of a lamb tells me that this is not the fulfillment of Abraham’s prophecy in verse 8.  The question that Isaac asked, “Where is the Lamb?” would not be answered until John the Baptist answered it, saying of Jesus, “Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 

Now, Abraham was not instructed to offer this ram instead of Isaac, but I imagine that God knew Abraham wasn’t leaving that place without sacrificing something, so He provided an alternative, and Abraham knew God’s solution when he saw it.  

This is one of the advantages to being, as Abraham was, a friend of God.  Being with God, in His Word, and in prayer, enables us to think as He does.  The Israelites, trapped between Pharaoh and the Red Sea, could not possibly have foreseen the solution God provided, but Moses knew to lead them.  The Hebrew soldiers, taunted daily by the Philistine giant Goliath did not recognize God’s solution when they saw it, but David was a man after God’s own heart, and he knew what to do.   

What about us?  Abraham saw the ram because he lifted his eyes and looked.  How often do we wonder “why?” or “how” without ever sitting down with Him to hear the answer “I’ll tell you why….” Or “Here’s how…”

To see the solution, we need to lift up our eyes to Him.  We need to trust His promises, and then walk out that trust in our actions.  Remember what God has done, and believe in what He is going to do.  Be ready.  Be excited.  

And don't take your eyes off of Him.  You don't want to miss what's coming!

~ "And Abraham called the name of the place,
The-Lord-Will-Provide" ~
Genesis 22:14

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