Last week, we met a man named Abram. He was obedient to God, and as a result, he became God's good friend. God walked and talked with Abram much as He did with Adam and Enoch. Because of Abram's obedience, God chose to make him the progenitor of a nation and a line which would bring God incarnate into the world. Although Abram didn't know this at the time. He did, however, have God's promise that he would become the father of nations. Aptly, Abram means "exalted father". God changed his name to Abraham, which means "Father of Many".
Certainly, the prediction turned out to be true. Not only in the physical sense, as he was father not only of the hebrews but also the arabs (and a few other middle eastern peoples who we don't see much of today.) Both the jews and Christians rightly claim him as the father of their faiths. (and the muslims less rightly so.) Abraham was loyal to God in a world that had already forgotten the God of Noah and turned to idolatry. While Judaism technically didn't exist yet as Judah would not be born for three more generations, Abraham taught Isaac about God, who taught Jacob, who taught his thirteen children, who in turn taught successive generations about God. Though it was Moses who introduced the bible in the form of the law (the first five books), it was Abraham who got the ball rolling. Yes, it ultimately comes back to God, but it was Abraham who served as the conduit.
Of course, we all know the story of how Abraham and Sarah screwed up. They didn't understand HOW God was going to make Abraham a father of nations. Both of them were well along in years, and Sarah was sterile. So Sarah got the idea to help God's plan along by having Abraham sleep with Hagar, her servant.
It all seemed okay at first. This was the way things worked in the middle east. And though it did not derail God's original plan, it did create problems. As soon as Hagar found out that she was pregnant, she began to despise Sarah. And who could blame her? Sarah was making her bear a child which she would then claim as her own. Who would want that? So Ishmael was brought into the world. Ishmael. Ishmael would become the father of the arabs. His nephew Esau and his cousins Moab and Ben-Ami would make significant contributions to the arab race, but it was Ishmael who is today recognized as the father of them all. The tensions which exist between the two peoples to this day started even before Ishmael was born, with strife between the two mothers. Hagar came to hate Sarah and Sarah came to hate Hagar. This hate was passed down to Ishmael. In verse 21:9, we see Ishmael "mocking" Isaac. This is not in the way we think of mocking, as in a person trying to be funny by parodying someone. This is an intensive form, probably indicating the kind of mocking that Elisha suffered from a gang of rowdy youths: a type which could have very quickly turned life-threatening. It wouldn't be a surprising development. Ishmael was an unruly child, and would continue to be so the rest of his life. And now, as an unruly teenager, he had just seen his hopes of inherriting his father's special blessing dashed by the birth of Isaac. It was at this point Sarah threw Hagar and Ishmael out of the house.
Interestingly, God chooses not to abandon Ishmael, but give him a share in his father's blessing even though he is not of the chosen line. in 21:13, He tells Abraham "And also the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation because he is thy seed."
The result has been strife and discord for the entire world. The war in which America is engaged today is a direct result of Abraham and Sarah's actions in trying to rush God's plans. Fortunately, God knows how to turn things around for good. After all, Israel needed enemies for much of their existance. Without the nations that came from Ishmael, there would have been no Babylon, no Persia, no Assyria. The Israelites would not have had these nations to keep them mindful of God's will by constantly driving them back to God to seek deliverence and away from their idols. And even though Israel has screwed up a LOT throughout history, we can thank the arabs for causing Israel to continually revert back to a state in which they could carry God's word to the rest of the world.
Now that Ishmael was gone, Abraham was left with one son- Isaac. A few years later, God tells braham to do something which seems inconceivable. He asks him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. You know how the story goes. We just read it. Even though Abraham is counting on Isaac to be the fulfilment of God's promise, he is willing to sacrifice his son. He trusts God implicitly. If Isaac is supposed to be the father of a great people, he will be, even if God has to put him back together atom by atom. Abraham knows that God will save Isaac, no doubt. God will fulfil his promise. Quite a contrast to a couple of decades ago, when this family believed that God needed their help to fulfil his promise.
This event gave us a great deal of insight into God's mind. With Abel and Cain, God demonstrates the need for a blood sacrifice. With the great flood, He demonstrated that evil had to be punished. In the sacrifice of Isaac, he introduces a number of concepts which would be driven home by later historical events. Isaac, already destined to be the origin of the nation which would change the world, had been condemned to death, and Abraham could not argue. Isaac was a picture of the world and everyone in it, doomed to die. Yet Abraham knew without being told that God would provide a lamb for the sacrifice to take Isaac's place. And that's exactly what happened. God provided an alternate.
This is a picture of Jesus Christ. Every one of us, as soon as we are able to make moral decision, violate it. We all sin, and deserve to die because we have turned against the one who gave us life. But though He has the right to destroy us, God chooses to give us the oportunity to live. God the Son gave Himself as our alternate. His blood was shed in the place of ours.
To the nonchristian, my challenge is to understand that just as God chose to preserve Isaac, God wants to save you. Accept the sacrifice of Jesus as a ransom for your soul.
To the Christian, my challenge is to be like Father Abraham, to give God all of your faith and obedience. It may be that God may choose you to change the world.
Today's Reading: Genesis 22:1-14
22:1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied.
2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.
4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.
5 He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together,
7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?" "Yes, my son?" Abraham replied. "The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
8 Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied.
12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."