The Command to Sacrifice Isaac1
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 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 that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Slaves of Righteousness
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You may have heard the phrase, “Freedom is not free.” It is true. Everything, even the ability to choose comes at a cost. In our time of rampant distrust of authorities, we each often seek our own counsel before obeying our authorities. That distrust ripples through us and all our relationships like waves on a river. Indeed, we should not be surprised when our children rebel against us after they watch us rebel against the authorities in our own lives. They are only doing exactly what we have shown them.
The price of freedom is freedom. For me to be free, someone else gave up their freedom. We honor those who fought in the military for freedom. We honor those who stood against authorities and gave their lives in civil protests. Even those who go to the extremes of terrorism are willing to give their lives for a kind of freedom in their own perspective (wrong as it may be), and often these people take the lives of others around them as a cost of that freedom as well. Giving up your own life has indeed become a hallmark of faith in anything.
There is another, perhaps even greater cost for freedom though. Freedom to give up those you love the most. Our military spouses are asked to give up their marriages during depoyments. Parents are asked to give up their children and children asked to give up their parents in the fight for freedom. Sometimes these sacrifices are the hardest to bear.
Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac in a “make it or break it” episode of the origins of our faith. Someone once told me that if it had been Sarah instead of Abraham, she never would have done it. There were two unique aspects of this sacrifice though. First of all, God did not make Abraham kill Isaac, but held him back at the last minute. Secondly, God ended up getting Isaac anyway. You see, unlike the other gods of the time, YHWH did not want his people killed. He wanted them to live for Him. As Paul writes in Romans, God desires living sacrifices, not dead ones.
Yet He still desires those sacrifices. Why? Sacrifice is just a fancy word for very costly payment, and payment to someone is one of the biggest ways we show value for who they are or what they do. We give them (ideally) something of equal value to what we have received. God had miraculously given Isaac to Abraham. The only thing that Abraham could possibly give back of similar value, was Isaac. It may seem unusual to return the very gift you have been given to the Giver of that gift, but that was largely what this sacrifice Abraham made was about.
We are called to do the same. Whatever God gives us, we give it back to Him. When he gives us love, we give it back to Him. When He gives us material blessings, we give it back to Him. When He gives us new life, we give it back to Him. When we do this, God transforms our sacrifice into something that not only blesses us, but blesses everyone else as well. Will you keep your blessings to yourself, allowing them over time to become idols in between you and God, or will you give them to God, allowing Him to bless the world through them?
What has God given you?
What is God calling you to give back to Him?
- (Heb 11:17–19)↩