Reading: Genesis 27: 1-14
27 When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for his elder son Esau and said to him, ‘My son.’ ‘Here I am,’ he answered. 2 Isaac said, ‘I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. 3 Now then, get your equipment – your quiver and bow – and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. 4 Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.’ 5 Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, 7 “Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the Lord before I die.” 8 Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9 go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so that I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10 Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.’ 11 Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, ‘But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. 12 What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.’ 13 His mother said to him, ‘My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.’ 14 So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it.
2 July 2023: Sacrifice Your Treasures: Gen.27vs1-14
In 1860, Blondin the famous French tightrope walker crossed Niagara Falls – a span of 1000 feet and at a height of 160 feet above the raging torrent. Not once, but numerous times, getting even bolder each time; blindfolded, then in a sack, on stilts. Then he trundled a wheelbarrow across the chasm. At the finish, he asked the audience, Do you believe I can carry a person across the gorge in that wheelbarrow. Oh yes, we believe. Great! Who’s first. No one stepped forward. Is our faith in God like the crowd’s faith in Blondin.
We believe in a great big God, a God who provides, a God who is able to do the impossible and, yet we are reluctant to step into life’s wheelbarrows, life’s risks when he commands us to. Is your faith backed by obedience. Trust and obey. So, to Abraham. He’s held up in Islam, Judaism and Christianity as a great man of faith in God. Paul says in Galatians, Understand then that those who believe, are children of Abraham, because God promised him that all nations would be blessed through him. In fact, God’s promises to Abraham find fulfilment in Christ. Now, let’s give today’s reading a bit of context. His journey begins in Ur and then his family move him to Haran – a bit like moving from Ballyclare to Burnside. In the mid- 1900s, archaeologists found ruins of these two, 4,000- year-old settlements. Quite comfortable and advanced. The houses appeared to have indoor loos, basic plumbing, and underfloor heating. But please don’t picture the sanitary ware available in VP Jebb.
Then God said to Abraham. Leave your country, your people, your father’s household and go to a place I will show you. So, Abraham left. When he arrives at that place, God said, Go, walk the length and breadth of the land for I am giving it to you. Abraham moved his tents. Next God said, Every male among you shall be circum- sized. On that very day, Abraham circumsized them, as God told him. He didn’t exclude himself even though he was 99 years old. Not a pleasant thought. Finally, God’s commands, 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. Early next morning, Abraham prepares for the trip. All through his journey of faith we see obedience, obedience, obedience, and obedience. Trust and obedience. I am sure fathers in the congregation are thinking this is horrible, monstrous, how cruel is God. I simply could not have obeyed that command. But for Abraham there is no hesitation, no reluctance, no resistance, no argument, no pleading such as this is too much, it’s just unfair. So where did Abraham summon the faith to obey such a hard command. It certainly wasn’t blind faith but a full faith, based on his previous experience and knowledge of the power of God. A God who keeps his promises.
The author of Hebrews tells us Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. So, maybe he thought, even if I slay my son Isaac, God has the power to raise him, and therefore fulfil the promises he has made about Isaac. It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. Genesis 21v12. Abraham chose to trust God and to obey God. Near their journey’s end, we can see his faith spoken out as he says to his two servants. Stay here while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you. As the two travels on together Isaac asks the inevitable question. Where’s the lamb for the sacrifice? Abraham speaks prophetically, God will provide himself the lamb, or more literally God will see to a lamb for himself. They reach the spot decreed by God and Abraham builds an altar, arranges the wood on it, binds Isaac and lays him on top of the wood. What age do you think Isaac is? The problem is the Hebrew word translated here, as boy, is translated elsewhere as baby. Exodus 2v6, Pharaoh’s daughter opened the basket and saw the baby. In 2Sam.18v5, it is translated as, young man. Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake. This is the Absalom that led a rebellion against his dad King David. However, the Jewish historian Josephus insists Isaac was 25 years old. Does it really matter? Either way a truculent teenager, or a young man in his prime, could easily have overpowered the aged Abraham and refused to go on the funeral pyre. Isaac shows no sign of resistance or an attempt at an escape. He too trusts and obeys in faith. Faith instilled by his loving father. I’m sure from an early age Isaac was instructed about the one true God, about his own miraculous birth, and about the divine promises that would be fulfilled through him, and his descendants. Now comes the critical event. Abraham raises the knife, hands shaking and sweaty, eyes filled with tears. He cannot bear to look into his son’s eyes. But miraculously his hand is stayed. Do not lay a hand on the boy, now I know you fear God because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son. Right at the beginning of the passage we read God tested Abraham. Abraham has passed the test. A ram is provided for the burnt offering in place of Isaac. God reveals himself afresh to Abraham in a new name, Jehovah Jireh, the Lord will provide, or the Lord will see to it.
So, 4000 years on what does this passage teach us today? Three things, I think. 1. Hope. 2 Testing and 3. Obedience brings blessing. Firstly, hope. In Rom 15v4 Paul says, Everything, that was written in the past was written to teach us so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures, Paul’s OT we might have hope. Did you notice any similarities between this episode and events recorded in the NT? It’s what bible scholars call a type or foreshadowing. A quick reprise. A father loves his only son yet is prepared to sacrifice that son. Wood is placed on the son’s back. The son was to be sacrificed on mount Moriah. The son meekly submits to his father. Compare. Our heavenly Father was prepared to sacrifice His only Son. A wooden cross was laid on Jesus’ back as he travels to Calvary. Moriah was the site of Solomon’s temple and later Herod’s temple and so close to Calvary. Jesus meekly submits to his Father’s heavenly will. But here the similarities end, the Angel of the Lord halted Isaac’s imminent sacrifice and a substitute ram was provided. No such Angel intervened at Calvary. Jesus was to be our substitute sacrifice. Jehovah Jireh did provide himself, a lamb. That lamb was Jesus. The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He was a willing sacrifice, a perfect sacrifice because he was sinless. He is the atoning sacrifice that reconciles believers to God because he paid the penalty for our sin. Figuratively speaking, as Abraham received Isaac back from death and so, in Christ, believers are raised to new life and the hope of an eternal life to come.
Our present-day hope resides in Jehovah Jireh, the unchanging God revealed to Abraham 4000yrs ago. Secondly, Testing. Like Abraham, God will test us. Sometimes he will test us severely. Note: although both can be painful, there is a difference between God’s testing and the devil’s tempting. The devil tempts us to fail, to give up, to bring out the worst in us. Whereas, our Father God tests, to strengthen our faith to bring out the best in us, to mature our character, to refine us and lead us into a fuller assurance of His love and kindness. Abraham was a man with a treasure, a treasure so valuable to him, so cherished by him that it threatened to compromise his relationship with God. Isaac his long-awaited son, his heir, was his treasure he would have sacrificed anything for the boy. So, God tested him. Abraham passed the test.
In testing, will we pass? Clutching and clinging are two bad habits. We all have them. We love to possess, love to control, love to keep our treasures close. The more valuable the treasure to us, then the tighter our grip. Our treasures come in all shapes and sizes: material things like my LP collection, it can be our jobs, our aspirations, our relationships even our health. I used to swim 25 lengths every morning, played badminton every lunchtime, did 100 press ups and 100 sit ups, daily and pumped iron at the weekend. My body was indeed a temple but for me and not the Holy Spirit. Our treasures are harmless, unless they take up so much of our time, attention, and resources that God is pushed into second place in our lives. Then expect God’s testing. It’s time to let go and loosen our grip on those treasures and respond in obedience to whatever sacrifice God requires of us, so that He is restored to first place in our lives. But, during such testing, be assured, if we call humbly on Jehovah Jireh the Lord will provide, the Lord will see to it, that we are provided with all the power, strength, and resolve to prevail over our clutch trouble and any troublesome cling-ons. He will guide us back into obedience.
Thirdly, Blessings. Blessings flow from obedience to God. Let me read verses 15 to 18. I swear by myself declares the Lord because you have done this and not withheld your son, your only son. I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you obeyed me. If you read through Genesis, you will see that God’s previous promises to Abraham have now become solemn and sworn guarantees of his blessings. All because of obedience. We can be sure that what we release to God, he will replace with something or someone more valuable. And when God replaces, he also rewards with blessings. The hymnist has it right. But we never can prove the delights of his love until all on the altar we lay, for the favour he shows and the joy he bestows are for those who will trust and obey. In CS Lewis’s book, The Screwtape letters, Screwtape writes to his nephew and fellow demon Wormwood, We must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our enemy. He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with his right hand what he is taken away with his left.
So, to finish. Be assured God loves us. God is for us and our good is constantly on His mind. He will provide for us. We know this because of the cross of Christ. No matter what God demands of us, no matter what sacrifices he asks of us, God loves us. We know this beyond a shadow of doubt because he took his only son, the son of his love, and gave him up to death for us. Amen