Fast Devotional #18 – A God Who Provides
By Greg Attwells – Creative Pastor
2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”
Why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? What is really going on here?
This story has survived. It has been passed down orally from generation to generation, until it was written down in the Hebrew Scriptures. There is a reason it survived and there is an answer to the disturbing question… why would God ask such a thing?
In the culture and context of the day, child sacrifice was actually a fairly normal religious practice. People believed the gods were in charge of the weather, and the weather (sun, rain, drought, floods etc) effected how much or how little they were able to harvest from the earth. People were thus dependent on the gods for their survival and believed that the gods were either for you or against you.
In order to survive, you needed to keep the gods on your side. How do you keep the gods on your side? You offer a portion of your harvest or produce to show your gratitude. But what happens when you offer a portion of your harvest and it still doesn’t rain? What happens if you show your gratitude but you still can’t fall pregnant? Anxiety sets in. Maybe what you have been offering wasn’t enough? So you offer more. What happens when things do go your way? How do you know if you’ve properly demonstrated your gratitude? You offer more. It goes from crops, to goats, to cows, to…. people. Anxiety causes our sacrifices and offerings to escalate. What’s the most valuable thing you could offer the gods to show them how serious you were about earning their favour and approval?
Religion leads you to the place where you’d offer that which was most valuable to you in order to survive. This was the religious context of this passage of scripture. As frightening as it sounds to us, this was normal practice to the first hearers of this story.
3 The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about.
See? Abraham wasn’t shocked by what God had requested of him. He didn’t need to go and fast for 21 days to be sure he heard correctly. He didn’t protest. Think about that for a second and let it sink in. He didn’t protest. He simply woke up early the next day and started to make the necessary preparations.
4 On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”
This is now time for my second “What?!”.
This story is meant to be about Abraham, the guy prepared to go all the way to show God how devoted he is. But he tells his servants that he and Issac are going to go for a little walk, worship for a bit and then they’ll come right back. How does he know they’ll BOTH be coming back? Isn’t he supposed to offer his son as a child sacrifice? What does Abraham know that we assume he doesn’t know?
6 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, 7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.
Abraham and his son Issac are walking up the mountain and Issac asks his Dad, “so where’s the sacrifice we are offering?”
You have to remember, pretty much everything about this story so far hasn’t been a shock to anyone hearing this for the first time in it’s original time period. This was a common story.
Then Abraham answers his son, “God himself will provide”.
Time for my third “what?!”
This is where the original hearers of this story start getting confused. “God will provide??” Why would God provide for our sacrifice? That doesn’t make any sense!
9 When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”
12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”
13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
The moral of the story is this… The other gods may request your firstborn, but not this God. This God is different. This God provides.
So if God doesn’t want Abraham to offer his son, why the drama? Well the drama may actually be the point. Abraham knows what he needs to do when he’s told to offer his son. This is not an unusual occurrence for the culture and context of the day. The story begins with a god that appears to be like all the other gods. But then the story takes a shocking turn and reveals a God who interrupts a sacrifice and provides. This is revolutionary! This is a story that hasn’t been told before. Worship and sacrifice was all about how much YOU gave to God. In this story God interrupts the sacrifice and provides.
If we think this story is about what Abraham does for God then we miss the point entirely. This is actually a story about what God does for Abraham. A God who provides.
Father thank you that this story has endured. Thank you that in a world of sacrifice and loss you are a God who gives and provides. Help me to feed on your faithfulness today, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.