A while ago, I asked the question “what is your Egypt?” It was a reference to a place we run to when the going gets tough. Repeatedly in Scripture, God’s people ran to Egypt when things got tough such as during famine or an invasion by another nation. Often, they did this despite being warned not to do so [see Jeremiah 42]. In addition to places of refuge we run to in times of trial, there are also things we hold onto too tightly. They are so dear to us that it seems impossible to imagine life without them. It could be a spouse, a child, a job, a house, wealth, etc. Is there such a thing or person in your life? What if God asks you to give it up?
I have written on numerous occasions about Abraham because I find his life so instructive [Genesis 12-25]. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were barren and when He was 75 years old, God promised him a son. It took a further 25 years for Sarah to conceive and give birth to their son, Isaac. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Abraham to hold Isaac after waiting for him 100 years? Of course, he loved Isaac dearly and now that he had Isaac, it isn’t outrageous to suggest that he couldn’t imagine life without his son. Yet, Abraham had to face that terrifying prospect a few years later.
One day, God tested Abraham when He said to him: “take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” [Genesis 22:2 NIV]. We are told that Abraham got up early the next morning and headed out to Moriah to sacrifice his son [v3]. The Bible is silent on how Abraham felt about losing Isaac and having to be the person to kill his precious son. However, he was human just like you and I. How would you have felt?
More importantly, how would you have responded to God? I know how I would have likely responded: “Lord, are you serious? I waited over a century for this child and now you want me to do what?! No chance!!” I have always been fascinated by Sarah’s role in this story. Did she know what was happening and where her husband was going with their son that morning? If so, how did she feel? What did she say to him? What would you have done in her shoes if your spouse came home one day and told you “God said we should sacrifice our only child”. “I’m sure you didn’t hear right!” and a few other choice words would be my probable response.
There are situations in life where you have no control. I think of parents watching their children die of terminal diseases as their prayers go unanswered. As a parent, I can’t imagine anything worse. In those scenarios, it is out of our hands and in God’s hands. For anyone going through a situation like that, I pray for courage and faith in a loving God who is no stranger to pain and suffering. One day He will destroy pain, suffering and death forever [Isaiah 65:17-25] and that is our ultimate hope. Yet, there are situations, like Abraham’s or the rich young ruler in Mark’s gospel [Mark 10:17-31], where you have a choice. For instance, how would you respond as a parent desperate for a grandchild if your only child decides to go serve God as a celibate missionary? What would you do if God calls you to walk away from a thriving career you love? How would you respond if God calls you to sell the home you’ve worked so hard to buy and use the money to fund a cause?
God never forces our hand when we have a choice. He would never have forced Abraham to sacrifice Isaac because it had to be an act of love and trust in God, and such an act cannot be compelled. We have to choose. However, if Abraham had not taken that leap of faith, trusting that God was able to give him Isaac back even from the dead [Hebrews 11:17-19], then he would never have experienced God’s provision and blessing [Genesis 22:9-17]. If he had not acted in faith, you and I would not have inherited the promised blessing of Abraham [Genesis 22:18-19, Galatians 3:14]. I find it utterly amazing that about 18 centuries later, God would give up his own Son on a cross near mount Moriah as a fulfilment of that blessing.
Maybe you don’t have an Isaac or as you read this, you know exactly what your Isaac is. Whatever our situation may be, if we are to keep God’s foremost commandment [Deuteronomy 6:5], then we cannot love anything or anyone more than we love God. As Christians, it is easy to profess our love for God and we sing of it but do we really mean it? As we see in scripture, sometimes God will test us to see what is in our hearts [Deuteronomy 8:2], just as He did with Hezekiah [2 Chronicles 32:31], because love is proved in actions, not words.
Something else worth remembering in Abraham’s story is that Isaac eventually died. The same fate awaits everything we hold dear in this world. One day, death will come and will separate us from the things we love. However, our choices in life will echo beyond death. If like Abraham, we choose to put our love for God above all else, we have a guaranteed that our choice will not go unrewarded.