While I have taught Christian Education and read the scriptures for most of my life. I had never actually read the entire Bible cover to cover. I decided last winter that if anyone asked me, if I had read the entire Bible, I wanted to answer in the affirmative. For the past several months, I have been reading the Bible book by book, chapter by chapter and verse by verse.
The New Testament went fast, but the Old Testament is a much slower read. At least for me. I am over half way through and am now about midway through the chapter of Psalms.
I have been a very good reader of the New Testament, but whenever I read the Old Testament, I get overwhelmed and a bit freaked out. Parts of the Old Testament truly test me. One of the stories that has always troubled me was the story of Abraham and Isaac.
That story is about God asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac as a burnt offering to test Abraham’s faith.
The very idea of sacrificing a child is repulsive and terrifying. As the scriptures tell us, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” My treasures are my children and I cannot imagine how horrible it would be to lose a child, let alone be party to their death.
That is now thinking, not then thinking.
For much of ancient human history child sacrifice was considered the ultimate offering to appease or please an angry God. At the time that the Old Testament was written many cultures practiced child sacrifice both in the old and new worlds.
The Bible sites many examples of this practice.
Psalm 106: 38
They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood.
Personally, I will never forget a trip to the Papago Indian Reservation, with a member of that tribe, to visit a site where four small children had lost their lives during a ritual human sacrifice. As the legend was told, there had been an big badger who had dug a hole so deep that it had tapped into a natural spring. Water was gushing out of the spring into the dry desert. Fearful of their world being flooded, it was decided to sacrifice four small children to save the tribe. The children’s small bodies were shoved into the hole, the water stopped, and the tribe saved and therefore, the sacrifice had worked.
Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice Isaac would not have been considered unusual. What is unusual is the strength of Abraham’s faith. Abraham had been promised by God that he would be the leader of a great nation, have more descendants than there were stars in the heavens and that these descendants would be the result of his union with his very elderly wife Sarah who was past menopause. Isaac’s birth and life was a promise fulfilled by God.
Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.
But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”
But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.
2 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.”
3 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. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 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.”
After reading this Biblical passage more than once, it occurred to me, that Abraham told his servants that “we will come back to you”. Regardless, of what Abraham had been asked by God to do on that mountain, he believed that both he and Isaac would be returning. His faith in the promise made to him by God was so strong, that even if Isaac had been sacrificed, he believed that the boy would be returning with him. God would not break his promise that through Isaac there would be an everlasting covenant, even if it meant raising Isaac from the dead.
God providing the ram for a sacrifice instead of Isaac, certainly symbolizes the sacrifice of Christ. However, while God was making an example of the unfailing faith of Abraham, God was also setting an example of ending human child sacrifice. In fact, God abhorred child sacrifice and has a history of destroying nations who practiced it.
They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.
2 Kings 16:3
He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.
2 Kings 17:31
the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelek and Anammelek, the gods of Sepharvaim.
2 Kings 21: 6
He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritualists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.
for they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them.
Not only did God abhor child sacrifice, he preferred obedience to sacrifice period.
1 Samuel 15:22
But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—
but my ears you have opened
burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Even after being raised in a Christian faith that believes in the trinity of God….Father, Son and Holy Ghost…in my mind God the Father was a much tougher guy and quite different in temperament than God the Son. Christ’s description of his heavenly Father, I must admit had fallen on deaf ears.
Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
The Old Testament clearly demonstrates time and time again that having free-will and the ability to defy God and commit acts of rebellion (sin) has consequences. As the very first couple learned in the Garden of Eden.
Isaiah 50: 1
This is what the Lord says: “Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce with which I sent her away? Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? Because of your sins you were sold; because of your transgressions your mother was sent away.
So, it seems to me that Isaac on that mountain is us asking, “Father?”
“Yes, my child?”
“The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
“God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my child.”
God did provide a sacrificial lamb for Abraham. Just like he provided the sacrificial lamb who gave up his life on the top of another hill, shaped like a skull-cap, called Golgotha. There, God kept his covenant with humankind when he provided his own son as the sacrifice to wipe away the sins of the world. Jesus was the ultimate and final sacrifice.
Jesus always knew that his destiny was to die on that cross.
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was the greatest expression of love.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
When I think about the Trinity, Jesus was not the only one on that cross at Calvary. God the Father was right there with him. It was a combination of child sacrifice and self-sacrifice.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
It is awe inspiring to know that God, who abhorred child sacrifice, sacrificed his only son, because of his great love for me, to forgive my transgressions and rebellion. Really, what kind of a wondrous love is that?
Hymn: “What Wondrous Love Is This”
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?
2 When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down, sinking down;
when I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.
3 To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing,
to God and to the Lamb, I will sing;
to God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM –
while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
while millions join the theme, I will sing.
4 And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on;
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be,
and through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
and through eternity I’ll sing on.
Tomorrow morning is Easter. A day to celebrate the risen Lord, and his victory over death and the grave. He has risen! He has risen indeed!