Today's reflection is not going to center too much on food, but on active obedience to God's call. As I was recently discharged from the hospital, I was tasked by the doctors to sacrifice sweet things and lovely rice and pasta for a better health. It was a struggle to keep to this lifestyle change of a diet, even when I knew that it was going to be for my own good and I would benefit from it. However, today's reflection is one that perhaps is beyond just healthy sacrifice and reluctant obedience - what happens when God asks you to sacrifice something precious without knowing how things will end?
Genesis 22:1-2 NIV 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 .”
Some of us may feel a bit uneasy that God had asked Abraham to sacrifice a human being. To some theological extent, one may defend it by saying but God is above all, and all life belongs to Him, and He had the right to take what He had given. Isaac was a gift from God, and here he was being asked as a burnt offering. Still, even within the narrative of Genesis 22, Isaac himself will ask, where is the lamb for the offering?
Abraham's journey to the mountain of sacrifice was a painful and emotional climb. God wasn't taking Isaac by force - but had asked Abraham to take his son, the one whom he loved, to go and climb a mountain God will reveal, to sacrifice him there. The test wasn't over just by some kind of mental decision by Abraham to obey. It wasn't over when the donkeys were saddled and headed towards Moriah. It wasn't over even when they were assembling the altar and Isaac was being prepared.
Three things stood out for me in this story that I both struggle with and also come to understand: Abraham did not ask God why, but obeyed without delay. Abraham could've blamed God for such a seemingly ridiculous counter-intuitive command, but instead of accusing God, Abraham trusted God. Lastly, God restores and redeems, but not without fulfilling His purpose.
Why Not Ask Why?
We live in an age where 'not questioning authority' makes us appear weak or ignorant. There are also those that insist that we must not challenge the existing structures or the demands laid on us as these are all ordained by God. Either way, the account in Genesis describes Abraham's actions following hearing God's command. There was no outward questioning of authority.
Genesis 22:3-5 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Although we have no record in Scripture that Abraham had asked God, "but why should I sacrifice Isaac - the very promise I have waited for so many years?", there is a passage mentioned in the book of Hebrews that reveals what Abraham had pondered about at that moment:
Hebrews 11;17-19 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
There was this child-like faith moment that Abraham displayed - he had believed in a God who has done the impossible. God gave him and Sarah a baby at such an advanced age, he believed this God had power for both life and death. Abraham had framed Isaac not as his reward or accomplishment, but a grace God had bestowed upon him so freely. And that is the reason there need not be a question of why, because of a deep relationship of trust Abraham had of God and a renewed mind in how he saw his son. As the author of Hebrews goes, Abraham's faith was so bold that he was prepared to swiftly obey, not even ceremonially asking for time to spend with his baby boy before he be given to God. God could raise the dead in His Time, not on Abraham's preferred schedule, but he had prepared his heart to come back with Isaac alive, knowing that God will be faithful with His promise.
No Blame, No Offense
Abraham did not cast blame on God. I could only imagine if I were Abraham, I could easily tell God off - "First you give, and now you take away? God why allow me to experience such depths of joy in my Isaac if you will ask me to, through my own hand, give him back to you fully? Did you only want me to experience anguish?"
Instead of blame, a glimpse of Abraham's thoughts are seen in his conversation with Isaac:
Genesis 22:6-8 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
As much as we commend the faith of Abraham, we must also commend the faith of Isaac. Abraham didn't say, "Trust in me. I will find a way out!" Instead, Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering." This was an important lesson that Abraham gave Isaac, instead of pointing Isaac to his earthly father, Abraham pointed upwards to their heavenly Father. This is their posture for worship - a focus on what God will do rather than what they were lacking. We often are distracted by the missing things around us and how often it means that our precious lives are being offered in exchange. When we dwell our thoughts on these things, we cannot continue the journey of faith. When we focus rather on what God will do, we inspire others to also journey alongside.
God's End Game
Genesis 22:9-19 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have 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 as 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 have obeyed me.”
Did God need Abraham to perform an act of complete obedience to know Abraham's heart? No, God is omniscient, and He knows our hearts even before we have decided our actions. Did Abraham need that experience of God providing as he worshipped without reservation? Did Isaac need to witness how the faith of his father and his faith in God resulted in God's own intervention? Yes, and yes. For in God's plan of restoration and renewal, God also strengthens us in the process. God purifies us of false loves and false hopes. And as the author of Hebrews reflects:
Hebrews 11:40 God had planned something better for us, so that together with us they would be made perfect.
Abraham and Isaac's obedience reflects the Christian life. As we obey God wholeheartedly putting our faith in Him, we worship him and return with more than just an experience of salvation but a new life, having received our life renewed and restored. Our faith in God results in the obedience that brings God's purposes on earth to pass as others witness and experience His bountiful blessings through our matured seed of faith.
Reflection Questions: 1. Have you ever experienced God asking you to sacrifice something precious in your life? How did you respond?
2. In the season of suffering, where is your focus on? How can we remember God in our hour of need?
3. When others ask us how we can continue in our journey of faith with all of its difficulty - do we blame God or do we ask others to also trust in Him?
4. On hindsight, recall a time when you have obeyed God fully at great cost - what was the result? Was your faith strengthened? Are you closer to God during and after obedience?
Dear God, thank you that you have plans which are greater than our desires. Help us LORD to overcome our temporal expectations by looking at Your eternal purposes. LORD, in our lack, we know LORD you will provide. Help us to worship you and persevere in waiting upon You until we can return with a renewed life in Christ. In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.
Hungry Chaplain Update:
1. Thanks to all who have been following the posts in Facebook, I have finished my 23 days in the hospital with 6 operations. The final diagnosis was necrotizing fasciitis with diabetic complications. It was a painful season for me, but it was also one of the most precious moments I have had with God.
2. We will resume our Food and Theology reflections in the weeks to come! I have been reading an excellent book with a compilation of food essays, Food and Philosophy. It does raise quite a few thought-provoking questions that we need to munch on today. 3. I've been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, so my dietary restrictions have warranted less carbohydrates and sugar in my diet. The doctors have also advised less sodium to help with the weight loss. Hopefully I can be 100kg or lower by the end of 2022!
4. I'm still in the path of recovery with reduced movement and less heavy lifting as instructed by the nurses (who scolded me for carrying our wooden cross for service preparation just last Sunday).