God provides (09/23/18)


Read Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14
Our Old Testament reading this morning, give us a few verses from our reading last week, in Genesis chapter 21, to remind us who Isaac is – the child of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah.
The story that follows, in Genesis 22, is both wrenching, and unexpected.
Over the years, I’ve preached on this story in Genesis 22 eight times. It’s a deeply troubling story, because Abraham hears God telling him to sacrifice his child. How could God ask such a thing of anyone? How could Abraham even consider doing this?
What made the difference for me in how I look at this story, was a Bible Study that we did, a few years ago, which emphasized the practice of interpreting the meaning of Bible stories by asking, “What is the question which is being answered by this story?” I think for the people who first read this story in ancient times, the question being answered by this story is, “Why do the people of Israel not practice child sacrifice like their neighbors?”
And given that most of the book of Genesis was likely compiled and written down during the Babylonian exile – when the people of Israel were defeated, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, and the people were forcibly taken out of their land and resettled in a foreign land, the land of Babylon, this may provide another important clue. It seems likely that the Babylonians were practicing human sacrifice during this time – a practice they believed that brought the favor of their god upon them. So, the people of Israel could have been drawn to conclude that this was why they had been defeated. They may have been asking, “Why don’t we start practicing human sacrifice? It seems to have brought the favor of God to the Babylonians. Maybe there’s something to it.”
Many Bibles calls this story in Genesis chapter 22, “the Testing of Abraham.” In fact, the very first words of Genesis chapter 322, are, “God tested Abraham.” And, that word “Testing” connects this Bible story with others in the Bible.
“Testing” is the same word which is also translated “temptation” in the Bible. Other places in the Bible in which that word occurs includes the story of Job, where God gives Satan permission to “test” Job to see if his faith will hold up under fire. And that word appears in the temptation, or testing, of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. If you recall that story, the devil offers food, glory, and power to Jesus if he will turn to the dark side.
And so, when today’s story begins, “God tested Abraham,” it immediately makes me think of those other stories and wonder, “Okay, what is God’s role here and what is the devil’s role? Is God the one who makes this demand of Abraham, or is this the devil’s activity leading Abraham to think that God had told him this? And why would this course of action have tempted Abraham anyway?”
The last question is an easy one to answer. It is one of the oldest reasons in the book. Everybody else was doing it.
I can imagine Abraham hearing, over and over, from his neighbors, “When are you going to sacrifice that boy of yours, Abraham? God expects it, and you can be sure bad things will happen if you don’t.” Everyone was doing it, and I expect that would have impressed Abraham deeply over time, the willingness of these people to give up that which was most dear to them in the faith that it was what their god called them to do. And I’m sure he asked himself if he would have the courage to do it.
I imagine Abraham hearing all these voices and praying about it and struggling to discern the voice of God amid the voices of his neighbors, and even, the voice of the devil. Finally, Abraham makes up his mind. Before daylight he gets up, packs his bags, gets Isaac and the two servants, and leaves. He hopes not to wake Sarah, so he won’t have to answer any questions. He journeys for three days to the place that he felt God had told him to go. He did not tell Isaac, nor his two servants, what he intended to do.
When they arrive at Mt. Moriah, Abraham builds an altar, then takes the wood he brought and lays it out in a neat and orderly fashion for the fire. Finally, Isaac asks the question: “Father, the fire and the wood are here … but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (vs. 7)
Abraham replies, I imagine very loudly to make sure God heard: “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” (vs. 8)
No lamb appears. Abraham takes the rope and ties up his son and lays him on top of the wood. Out of time, and surely filled with despair, but intent to do what he felt God commanded him to do, Abraham raises the knife over Isaac’s head. Only then did Abraham hear the bleating of the ram, and in it the confirmation that God did not desire the sacrifice of his son.
It makes perfect sense to me that the first usage of the story would have been to explain how and why God called his people to be different from the people around them in not practicing human sacrifice.
But what does this story mean for US? What question is this story answering for US?
I think, in our lives, often filled with worry and uncertainty, the questions this story answers for us is, “Will God provide?” Another way to says it would be to ask, “In these moments of crisis, when we cry out to God, can we trust that he is with us to bring us through it?”
Abraham and Sarah’s life has not been easy, but God has provided. God has provided a land, even if it is a dry desert. God has provided safety from enemies. God has provided water and food and hope. When it no longer seemed possible, God even provided a child, the essential link to a future. And regardless of which voices led Abraham to Mt. Moriah to sacrifice this child, at this most critical of moments God has acted to provide a lamb.
Think of all that God has provided, and continues to provide, in your life – food, fellowship with other people in your life, support, forgiveness, a listening ear, compassion, strength, ability. What else would you add? God provides for us in a multitude of ways.
We would, of course, like for our lives not to include the testing and tempting aspects. If we had our choice, we would like for God to always provide for us up front rather than to allow us to be tested from time to time. Just like Abraham, and Job, and Jesus in the wilderness, we find ourselves tested and tempted at times. We cannot always understand God’s ways of dealing with us. But, in the end, it is about God being found faithful; in the end, it is about discovering that God provides.
So, you can see that this short story in Genesis chapter 22 has raised many questions. It cannot be summarized simply.
And it’s not a bad thing for us to be reminded that we cannot fully comprehend the ways of God with us. The Christian church frequently likes to portray God being buddy-buddy with people, he’s my best friend, he walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own. He did that with Abraham too, but that’s not all he did with Abraham. God was also there in the dark times, in the times of testing and temptation, in the times when God didn’t seem to make sense, in the times when Abraham had more questions than answers.
There is much that we do not, will not, and cannot understand about the ways of God. Faith requires trusting that God, who has provided for us in the past, will continue to do so in the future.
Last week, in the story of the angel’s visit to Sarah, we were reminded how we can face the troubles and challenges of life, knowing that God is with us, that his promises can be trusted, that our troubles cannot overturn this fact, and that God can turn sadness into joy.
Today I remind you, as you face trials in your life, to remember that the Lord provides. Look back and review all the times in your life that this has been true, that God has faithfully provided. And trust, that even when the way is dark, the same will be true in the future.
Give thanks that our trust is not in a God whose love is uncertain, whose mercies cannot be counted on, whose only help is based on our deserving. Rather, our trust is in a God who loves unconditionally. The Lord will provide. Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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About pastorjohnwaseca

ELCA Lutheran Pastor
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