March 28, the Seventeenth Day of Lent
March 28, 2011 § 2 Comments
It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac…
After a brief discussion about the hope that Abraham and the other patriarchs held, the author of Hebrews returns to Abraham and how Abraham exemplified the faith-filled life. He again references a part of Abraham’s story that his audience would have been familiar with, the story of Abraham going to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. The tale can be found in Genesis 22.1-19.
There is much that grabs our attention in this verse. There is the idea of human sacrifice; the concept of God “testing” people; the fact that the author says that Abraham had received God’s promises by this point; and the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Certainly, there is much to ponder here. As we did with vs. 13-16, we recognize that vs. 17-19 contain a cohesive line of thought. We will work up to looking at these verses together in the next few days.
It goes beyond the scope of these daily posts to even begin to address all of the odd concepts that v. 17 presents. If you would like to raise a specific question that is not addressed here, please feel free to leave a comment and I will respond as I am able.
Of the issues present, one of the heaviest seems to be the fact that God tested Abraham; God told Abraham to sacrifice his son. Why would God do this? Was God trying to make Abraham fail? Was God toying with Abraham? While there are many ways to interpret the language used here, it seems to be that God was trying to find out Abraham’s character by placing him within this situation. But why would God do that? Doesn’t God already knows Abraham’s character?
Certainly, God does. However, God gave Abraham an opportunity to live by faith – an opportunity for Abraham to demonstrate the degree to which he believed in the promise. The author of Hebrews waited until this point to bring this event to our minds, because it makes no sense if we do not understand that Abraham was expecting God to fulfill God’s promise in a way that was markedly different than how Abraham would have fulfilled it. In this event, Abraham’s character was strengthened even further to trust; we will see more on this in the next couple of days. In this understanding, it could be that the testing was moreso for Abraham’s benefit rather than God’s.
It is difficult to walk away from this verse while this event is unresolved in our minds. However, let us stay in this place for today and ponder these questions: How is God giving us opportunities for us to discover how much we believe his promises? What opportunities has he given you personally? How have you responded to these? Now consider James 1.2-4. If we understand that times of testing actually benefit our growth as Christians, how does that understanding change how we deal with these difficult times?
As we journey through Lent together, may we live in faith during times of testing.
“Dear Lord, thank you for your faithfulness. Oftentimes, I do not understand why things happen the way they do. I get confused, frustrated, and even angry when I feel that I am trying to do your will and only wind up suffering for it. Please remind me that these times do contain benefits for me as a follower of Christ; do not let my automatic response be to flee tests and suffering, but rather to trust in your promises and find your presence where I am. Amen.”