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Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14, Binding of Isaac

Great Power, Great Responsibility

Narrative Lectionary Daily Devotions written by Kace Leetch from Clergy Stuff.

Truly, there are few more disturbing stories in the Bible than this one. Aside from the obvious atrocity, that God would even ask one of God’s children to sacrifice his only son; aside from the ramifications of such a request (How could he ever face Sarah after such a betrayal? How would Isaac ever trust his father again? How would Abraham ever truly trust a God that asked such a thing of him?) and aside from the nauseating image of a father raising a knife to a bound and frightened child, is there any redemption in this story?

In order to see beyond the horror, we need to set aside not necessarily the elements of the story, but the emotional reaction that this story invokes. Boiled down, this is a story about God’s relationship with Abraham. God has promised a great deal to him – a nation of descendants, promised land, and a covenant with the God that created all things. Abraham has been given a huge responsibility with these promises – is he worthy of such a gift? Perhaps this was a test to see if God had chosen the right person to bear such a burden. Truly, if God were to give so much to one person, that person would have to show he was capable of respecting such a gift. Also, if that person was to believe God’s promise – that he would bear a nation from his descendants – then he would also have to believe this would not end in the death of his only son (either the son would be saved or there would be more sons). What we see here is an enormous weight of trust and respect that must be shared between God and Abraham in both directions. Perhaps if we set aside our disdain for the barbarity, we could see that both God and Abraham had to put faith in the other. Both are about to give to the other gifts that are beyond generous, and both will be required to show their worthiness.

With a happily-ever-after, we can breathe a sigh of relief – both have shown they are ready to enter into the covenant with one another. Abraham shows he is willing and able to put God before everything else in his life. God keeps God’s promises and also saves Abraham’s son. While we would never suggest this particular mechanism for proving worthiness, we might be able to appreciate the depth of faith both needed to have for God’s blessings to be bestowed upon all nations. “With great power comes great responsibility.” (Oh, yes I did—that’s a quote from the movie Spider-Man.) Both showed their willingness to give everything to gain everything.

Narrative Lectionary Text: Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14

The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.

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.”