Abraham’s father, Terah, lived in uncertain times. They believed that their lives were in the lap of the gods. If the gods were angry things went wrong, but if they were appeased you could expect blessing. So the dominant focus of their lives was to appease the gods. They would offer the gods their crops, or maybe animals, as a way of showing the gods their appreciation and thus winning their favour. Such an approach, however, had a fatal flaw: it inevitably led to escalation. If you had a good year, you felt compelled to offer more than last year to secure an equally good one next year; if you had a bad year, then you also felt compelled to offer more to save yourself from another equally bad year. They were trapped in this unending cycle and their offerings escalated. Consequently self harm and child sacrifice became common. The first thing God does when he calls Abraham was to call him away from all this:
Genesis 12:1 (NIV)
1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
It is then quite a surprise when God says to Abraham:
Genesis 22:2 (NIV)
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
But I thought God had called him to leave this way of life behind? Abraham simply obeys. Shudderingly, he knows what to do. This kind of sacrifice was common. But then, with the knife raised high, God shouts “STOP!”
Genesis 22:12 (NIV)
12 “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.”
Whilst it was a sign of Abraham’s faith, God does not require that kind of sacrifice. In fact God will provide his own sacrifice. So looking up Abraham saw the sacrifice that God had provided:
Genesis 22:13-14 (NIV)
13 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.
14 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.”
We live in a society not too dissimilar to that of Abraham’s father. Everywhere you look people are trying by their own efforts (their own sacrifice) to find favour with the forces, or ‘gods’, that control their lives. The message of Abraham is that you can find favour with God and that he himself will provide the sacrifice that will make that possible. It’s the heart of Easter.
So, as the Bible records, out of this story a prophetic saying came: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” On that same mountain God did provide. Having spared Abraham’s son, he would one day offer his own.