The Unthinkable Sacrifice That Never Actually Happened

The Bible tells many stories about sacrifice and redemption, and one of the most striking occurs early in God’s interaction with Abraham. The Genesis account says this:
“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “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 22:1-2 NIV)

This request from the Lord was surprising to say the least. There were pagan cultures that sacrificed children to deities, but YHWH never endorsed such activity. In fact, when the law was written later He called it an abomination in Deuteronomy 12:30-31: “for every abomination to YHWH, which he hates, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt (sacrificed) in the fire to their gods.”

Abram had left Ur and been obedient to God, following Him geographically to a distant place; but the Lord apparently wanted to take Abram further still, and so He asked Abram to do the unthinkable. Abram and Sara had waited all of their lives in hopes of having a son, and it seemed the opportunity had passed them by. They were overjoyed (and yes, a little skeptical) to receive the promise of an heir when they were seventy-five years old. Then they waited TWENTY FIVE YEARS to conceive and have a son. It is impossible for us to underestimate the depth of their love for Isaac. Just imagine the attachment these old folks must have had! Isaac was their true heir, their legacy, and their promised child.

sacrifice

Surely they enjoyed watching Isaac the toddler develop and become a healthy boy in their old age, assured now that God keeps his promises… Surely as they sang songs with him or watched him grow up in their household with unrivaled love and affection, they treasured him as much as any parents had ever treasured any child. And yet God told Abraham to go and sacrifice his only son. In light of these new instructions, Abraham’s response was amazing. It’s hard to put yourself into Abram’s shoes; it’s even harder to believe he could do such a thing.

He immediately took Isaac, his only son, and prepared to sacrifice him as God instructed. So many questions come to mind when you read about the way God tested Abraham in Genesis 22. Why on earth did God do that? How could God be so cruel and heartless? What was the Lord thinking? What kind of God would require you to offer up your only son as a sacrifice? Wasn’t this the child of the Promise, the one through whom the covenant would be fulfilled? Was this a fair test? These are all legitimate questions to ask about this sacrifice, but really, aren’t those questions all between God and Abraham?

There’s really only ONE question, perhaps, that YOU should ask about this: what is it that you love more than anything, that you are withholding from God, that you refuse to offer him? “Then Jesus said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 NIV)

Abraham denied himself and offered God the one thing in his life that he treasured the most. His relationship changed the way men perceived God, and it changed history from that moment on. God fulfilled the covenant of redemption through Abraham because he had faith and because he was willing to offer everything as a sacrifice to God. What will be different about history when your life is done? Think. Offer. Move to a new place. Find a new blessing.

What things went through Abram's mind? How could God be so inclined,
To make him give his only son? How could such a thing be done?
He had to hold up once or twice as he prepared the sacrifice;
Did God go back on promises made? And yet, old Abraham obeyed...
Isaac's birth and all the rest had led him to the toughest test
A man would ever think to face! And what did Abram know of grace?
God said, "Take him to the place that I will surely show you."
Abram had to think, "Oh Yahweh, do I really KNOW you?
Would you have me offer up my one and only son?
Why, Lord, would you sacrifice the only Promised One?"
Looking back now, Abram knows the answers to his plea;
Yahweh's test foretold a sacrifice he'd yet to see:
For God allowed His only Son to go to Calvary,
Offered as a sacrifice for them. For you. For me.

 

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Broken Vows, Broken Hearts: The Never-ending Story

“Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, O God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:15-17, NIV) David wrote this Psalm after he had his affair with Bathsheba and arranged to have her husband Uriah killed. Like all of us, David fell prey to his own pride and lust, and did just what he wanted to do even though he knew it was wrong. The same man who sang nighttime praises to God on the hillsides, who declared his undying faith and devotion to the Lord, had thumbed his nose at God to go do something selfish, sinful, and downright evil. Now his lips were silent and he was mute with shame. David was the king over Israel, a party in a covenant relationship with God, blessed beyond measure, and yet he caved in to his own fleshly desires and committed sins that were unthinkable. He fell from the heights of blessing to the depths of depravity. Sound familiar? It should. It’s your story. It’s everyone’s story. No matter who you are, no matter how close you are to God, there are times when you turn away from Him and do what you want to do. Your fleshly desires motivate you to lie, to covet, to commit sins in both deed and thought. You act publicly humble while you wallow in pride, you judge others when you are unworthy, and you act with impunity regardless of consequences. And then you stop, realizing that you have broken trust with the Lord, that you have violated Christ’s sacrifice, and that, like the lost son you are broken and far from home. Even though David wrote this Psalm when the Jewish sacrificial system was fully operational, he recognized that animal sacrifice was symbolic, that it portrayed publicly what God wanted to see going on in our hearts privately. The death of the animals represented the death of our flesh, given willingly so that God’s Spirit might live in us. God doesn’t want burnt offerings, He wants our hearts. When we ignore Him, when we elevate ourselves above Him, and when we cave in to selfishness and sinful desires, God doesn’t want us dead; He wants us BACK. When we stray from God’s love, according to David, there is only one appropriate sacrifice. What God wants to see is a broken and contrite heart. God is not looking for those things to insure that we are suffering, or paying for what we’ve done. He wants to restore us, to keep deathly sin from destroying us, and He knows that the only way for us to stay free from its grip is to present ourselves, broken and contrite to Him. When is the last time you were broken and contrite? When did you last do business with God by presenting your broken spirit to Him without self-justification or reservation? When were you last brutally honest with yourself before the Lord, begging him for forgiveness? Well, when was the last time you sinned? When did you last tell a white lie, or have a momentary flash of envy or hatred? When did you covet something, or put anything else before God? If there’s a gap between the last time you sinned, and the last time you were contrite, read David’s words again. You’ve got some business to do.