Today I laid my Isaac on the altar.
If you’ve spent any time in Sunday School or church, you know the story of Abraham, formerly Abram, and his wife Sarah, formerly Sarai. In fact, you don’t have to be a Christian to know the story of these two and their surrounding cast of characters – Sarah’s slave, Hagar; Hagar’s son by Abraham, Ishmael and the promised son of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac.
Whoever thinks the Bible is boring need read just this one of many fascinating stories from the pages of Scripture. It rivals any romance novel, rag newspaper or reality television show.
The difference? This story is found in the Scriptures. The Bible. The infallible Word of God. It is, as Timothy teaches (2 Timothy 3:16), God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
I can attest to the usefulness of this story for teaching and correcting. I read it just this morning. For the gazillionth time. But it spoke afresh to me. I recommend you take time to read the full story of Abraham and Sarah in the book of Genesis; together, let’s look at Genesis 22:1-17a (ESV):
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And 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 they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you…”
Did you get it? In short, God asked Abraham to take his son – his only son, his son that he had waited about 100 years to have, his son that God had wrapped many promises around, including that through him Abraham would have many descendants, in fact, too many to number – yes, that son, take him and sacrifice him on an altar. Yes, that means kill him. Let me insert here that if Abraham had waited long for Isaac, so had his wife, Sarah.
To say that Isaac was a much-wanted child is a major understatement. To say that Abraham is in a conundrum is trivializing this situation. To say that God is asking a lot of Abraham is a minimization. As far as Abraham is concerned, I am sure he is feeling that God is asking for everything – give Me your son then go home and face Sarah (who, by the way, didn’t know about this conversation between God and Abraham).
That’s God. He asks for all. Everything. Our Isaacs. We all have one. That thing (or that person) that we love – perhaps (if we are truthful) more than God. Perhaps, that we have made into a god. We learn in Exodus (20:5, 34:14) and Deuteronomy (4:23-24, 5:9, 6:15) that God is jealous. He loves us and will have us love no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3).
While as far as we know this was not the case with Abraham; he had not made Isaac a god, but the lesson is there for us. God tested Abraham because He had plans for Abraham. He was to be the Father of Nations. God tests us, too. When God calls us to take that thing or that person, our Isaac, and lay it on the altar, it is in doing so that we pass the test. It is in doing so that we truly humble ourselves to be used by God.
What is your Isaac?