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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, March 17, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 22:1–19                 

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.”

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba. (NRSV)

Stories like this are an exercise in defiance for me. But who am I defying? God? The Bible? Neither. I am defying those who used this passage to control me or justify their bad behavior.

They were youth group leaders who saw Isaac as secular music, dancing, or whatever they wanted us to abstain from. They were Sunday school teachers who allowed us to think of ourselves as Isaac, teaching that our God was one who commanded parents to sacrifice children. It didn’t take much to internalize that, especially friends whose parents or other authority figures abused them.

Hush that noise.

I defy anyone who tries to cast me or any human being as Isaac, who says God would command hurting an innocent person. I hope you defy anyone who tries to use the Bible to hurt you or anyone else.

But after I have worked through that past baggage, what do I do with this text? If I can guard against assumptions of who I am, who God is, and what Isaac represents in the story, what can I find?

Isaac, as Abraham sees him, is the beautiful, tangible proof of God’s promises to him. Abraham is attached to Isaac; maybe Abraham even believes that Isaac belongs to him. But then God says that Isaac belongs to God, not Abraham. It must hurt; it seems contradictory to everything he’s understood so far. But Abraham obeys God and is willing to give Isaac up. In letting go of thinking of Isaac as belonging to him, Abraham accepts God as sovereign and is reminded that he is not in charge.

Being the recipient of God’s promises does not put me in charge. Where might I be making assumptions about how God’s promises work? Is there something I assume is mine and not God’s? How hard would it be if I were wrong?

God, help me defy those those who have used your word to hurt me or hurt others. If I have ever used your word to hurt others, I repent. Please help me sort through all my baggage, anger, and hurt. How do I find you? Please help me to continue wrestling and not give up on your Word. Amen.

Written by Kat Evans, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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