Sacrifice not mercy?? (Genesis 20-22)

November 18, 2010

Genesis 20-22 is a funny old one. Good old Abraham pretends his wife’s his sister again, throws out the slavegirl into the desert and tries to sacrifice his only son. Stranger, though, is the fact that God is apparently okay with all of this, in fact the whole sacrifice thing is his idea.

I know a lot of people who find the Abraham and Isaac story pretty hard to take.  God gives him the son he’s always wanted and then tests him by asking him to sacrifice that son. Okay so there’s the whole ‘non-attachment’ thing going on here, but seriously, why does God want a follower who would sacrifice his only son? Why would God test Abraham in this way?

Poor Isaac, thinks he’s taking a nice trip with daddy to worship God up a mountain, he even says “hey, dad, where’ s the sheep to sacrifice?” at one point, and then the next thing he knows his dad is binding him ready for sacrifice. I don’t know about you, but that would have given me some major trust issues. And I wouldn’t have liked to be on that journey home. You can imagine the servants that were with them trying to make conversation whilst the Isaac remained stonily silent. When they got to camp asking each other “what happened up that mountain???” Awkward!

It’s difficult to fathom. I wrote  in a previous post about Jesus telling us to learn what “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” means, but here God seems to be desiring sacrifice not mercy. So does God change? Well, no, God is God; the only constant. And if I stop my selective-Jesus-is-only-ever-nice-and-fluffy-and-never-challenging-memory I can see that he also says that people should leave their families to follow him, that whoever take the plough and looks back is not worthy to work for the kingdom of God. So maybe there is sacrifice involved in living life close to God; a willingness to give up all else to be close to the Divine. 

A willingness is key, I think, because God does not let Abraham kill his beloved son, instead He is inquiring into his priorities. And that’s where the story is still relevant to us, even though all the killing-up-a-mountain is a bit hard to stomach. Because through this story God asks us if He is central to our lives? When He gives us gifts do we take them and make them the centre; do we give them a place above God? What is the centre of your life? Is it God? Is it your partner? Is it your job? Your house? You children? Music? Entertainment? Pizza? (or is that just me?)

By taking Isaac up the mountain Abraham was admitting to himself and God that even his precious son did not belong to him. That Isaac was God’s. Abraham held God’s gift with an open hand, rather than a clenched fist, as someone once brilliantly put it to me. Can we hold all that we have with an open hand? Can we trust God’s mercy enough to be willing to sacrifice?

Where could you unclench your fist? What could hold with open hands today? What do you need to take up the mountain?

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