Powers and Principalities
Sun, Jan 19, 2020

Who will provide the lamb?

Duration:18 mins

In this New Year, we are on the Way to Easter and as we journey together, our path will be scripture texts from an ancient Christian worship service known as the Easter Vigil. As Pope Benedict XVI once wrote about these scriptures:

[These texts] have a prophetic character; they show us the inner foundation and orientation of history. They cause creation and history to become transparent to what is essential. In this way they take us by the hand and lead us towards Christ, they show us the true Light.1

We began at the beginning with God’s creation of all that is, seen and unseen. Last Sunday we joined Noah and his family on the ark as they sought a sprig of hope when chaos seemed to reign. This morning we encounter Abraham at the end of his story in Genesis, chapter 22, verses 1-14.

You may remember in Genesis 12, God called Abraham to get up and go to a place that God would show him. God promises Abraham blessing, land, and descendants. The first two are fulfilled fairly quickly, yet Abraham and his wife Sarah waited many, many years for the birth of their son. When the child long promised finally arrived, they named him Isaac, or laughter. All is finally fulfilled. If the story ended there, we would have a simple tale of origins for the family of God. However, this story is more than that. This is a story of call and response, a story of faith and sight. So, let us hear this Word of God.

1After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 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.” 3 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. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 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.” 6 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. 7 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?” 8 Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So, the two of them walked on together.

9 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. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 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.” 13 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.14 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.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Many of us have become quite reliant for directions upon Satellite Global Positioning Systems – GPS. In the early days of GPS, I remember having a small box to put in the car that gave directions while we traveled. Once on a trip through the mountains of Virginia, I dutifully followed the voice from the box saying leave the nice four lane highway and turn left. We became quite distressed as a two-lane road became a single lane road and then a gravel road through a field. But eventually, I still am not quite sure how, we ended up back on the interstate again.

GPS today has grown a more sophisticated. You put your destination in your phone, whether you are going across town or across the country, it calculates and gives you the first direction. As you follow along, occasionally it will find a faster route due to traffic or construction or an accident and asks if you want to take it instead. Eventually the destination appears and at least my GPS is kind enough to declare, “You have arrived.”

I wonder what Abraham would have thought about GPS. For from the first moment he encounters this voice of God, Abraham has been on a journey. God calls and he must respond. As professor Dennis Bratcher writes: “Abraham's entire life had been marked by his journey to a place that he did not know, into a future that he did not always understand while trusting that God would show him the destination and how to get there."

Yes, from the beginning of his story until now, Abraham has been following the directions provided to him by God as if God were his own personal GPS. However, Abraham did not know what the destination was. Occasionally Abraham sets off on his own, trying to find the destination without God’s direction, like when he passes off his wife Sarah as his sister – not once but twice; and when he and Sarah decide to take the descendants thing into their own hands with Sarah’s servant Hagar. Neither of those goes well.

But at the beginning, God had promised blessing, land, and descendants. So, I imagine that Abraham and Sarah probably thought they had finally arrived. They were settled in Beersheba with material blessings like sheep and oxen. In their old age they finally had a son! Isaac: He laughs! The years passed. Isaac grew into a young man. Surely, they had arrived. Looking around at all they could see - this must be the destination.

But then God called again. When God calls, Abraham responds. Just like the first time, God said go to the place that I shall show you. God knows the destination and Abraham will have to trust. But this time instead of being promised a child, the command is, “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.”

It is an abhorrent thought. And yet, 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.

Now, it is important at this point to pause so that we can clearly set out what this text is and what it is not. From the perspective of the narrative, this is a real test. Neither God nor Abraham knows what is going to happen. That is not a denial of the sovereignty of God, just acknowledging the text is not interested in that question. Because if either God or Abraham knew the outcome ahead of time, this story becomes either a cruel joke or a pointless pretending to be faithful.

This also is not an argument in favor of child sacrifice. Scripture is full of prophetic pronouncements that expressly forbid child sacrifice.

No, this story is about the character of a God who calls; about our human ability or lack thereof to hear and respond; about trust even when the way is not clear; and ultimately about life emerging in the midst of death. The question is: we can see it?

For God sends Abraham to a place that he will show him. On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. They finally come to the place that God had shown him and Abraham prepares for the offering. When the voice of the Lord says, “Stop!” Abraham lifts his eyes and sees a ram caught in the thicket. Do you hear the references to seeing and sight throughout the text?

The key interpretative moment in this text highlights this question of who can see the destination. It comes from the brief dialogue between Abraham and Isaac in verses 7 and 8. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Isaac 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.” Yes, God will provide. That is a statement of trust and of hope. But it is also open ended. Will the son be the lamb or will God provide another? Abraham does not know. What he does know is that God provided this child of promise, this child of laughter, when there was no biological way for Abraham and Sarah to produce a child on their own. So, who will provide a lamb? Abraham cannot see the destination, but he trusts that God will provide.

But there is something more that becomes hidden in the translation from Hebrew into English. The word we translate as “provide” is the Hebrew word yireh. This story is the only story in the Old Testament that translates it as “provide.” Yireh comes from the root word ra'ah which means “to see.” “God will provide” is how we translate it. “God will see,” or “God will see to it,” is what the Hebrew literally says.

Yes, this is a story about faith and obedience when we cannot see, when the GPS gives us directions but we cannot see the destination. It recalls the definition of faith we find in the New Testament book of Hebrews, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Abraham cannot see how God will save his son, but he believes. He is convicted and so he goes. He tells his son carrying the wood for the offering, that God will see to it, a lamb for the offering, my son. Could Abraham have done this at the beginning of this journey? No. But now, 35 years after first hearing God’s call, the test is whether Abraham had really made this journey to a point where he could trust God and not just what we could see and hold in his hands. Could he trust the voice giving directions, even when he could not possibly see the destination?

My cousin Kristie Rush once shared an example of this kind of struggle on the journey. About two years after her re-diagnosis of cancer, she shared an experience she had while walking along the road near her neighborhood. Lost in her thoughts and the positive Christian music playing in her ears, she noticed the road in front of her began to climb. Looking up, she saw, as if for the first time, a sign that said, “Hill Blocks View.” She realized that was not only where she was on her walk through the neighborhood, but in her life. This thing, cancer, so often blocked the view of God and the future held in God’s hand. God and the view were still there, no doubt about that, but she just couldn’t see. And yet, because she was willing to open her life to God’s gift of participating in the drama of salvation, Kristie had faith even though the hill blocked her view. She put her trust and her faith in the God who provides; in the God who sees.

Because the God who sees knows that Mount Moriah is not the end of the journey. Yes, the God who sees knows that the journey for Abraham, for you and for me, ends on a hill called Calvary. We cannot see every turn along the way, but we trust in the one who has called us; the one who provides; the one who comes to be the lamb that takes away the sins of the world.

My friends, God sees when we cannot. Can you … will you, follow Him?

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: