The Bible As A Resource, Not An Obstacle: Abraham & Isaac - Kyle Hanawalt
So our mission here is healthy faith, that’s what we love about Jesus. We want to help people develop faith that feels healthy, like it makes you a healthier person. Faith that makes you a more mature person, a less ego-centric person, that you feel a part of something larger than yourself. That you feel like you are ever being lead on a journey of growth, but never arrived, That you find yourself to be kinder, more soft hearted, more able to connect and learn from others, particularly those different than you, that you feel a connection with God that helps you in your actual life, to feel less alone, more hopeful, more resourced, more compassionate, and more able to see the joy in life.
And one of the ways that I am most passionate about helping people into that kind of faith is helping people see the Bible as a resource not an obstacle into that kind of faith
Today, I find the Bible to be an amazing resource for leading me into this healthy faith. But, that has required me to rehab my relationship with the Bible from what it was when I was younger.
sadly, for a lot of people, like me, the Bible, or maybe I should say how we were taught we should read the Bible, was a major stumbling block to healthy faith.
When I have talked about a period of my life, where I came to question everything I believed, and then quit going to church. I have had concerned people of faith in my life ask me, “Was there anything you read that started to make you question your beliefs?” And I assume they mean like a some philosopher’s writings, But what I will often say back is “Yes, the Bible” It was in the middle of this Crisis of faith that I actually read the whole Bible front to back for the first time. And there were just some stories, some parts of the Bible felt just untenable for me.
And for those of us here in this church who didn’t grow up in a highly-religious environment or being told to read the Bible , my guess is that just by being in America you have come across things from the Bible that probably left you thinking - That sounds crazy
A big one for me was the story of abraham and isaac… ever heard this?
Let me read it to you.
22 Later God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” Abraham said, “Here I am.” 2 God said, “Take now your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love. And go to the land of Moriah. Give him as a burnt gift on the altar in worship, on one of the mountains I will show you.” 3 So Abraham got up early in the morning and got his donkey ready. He took two of his young men with him and his son Isaac. He cut wood for the burnt gift. And he went to the place where God told him to go. 4 Abraham looked up on the third day and saw the place far away. 5 He said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey. I and the boy will go to that place and worship, and return to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt gift and had Isaac carry it. He took in his hand the fire and the knife. And the two of them walked on together. 7 Then Isaac said to Abraham, “My father!” Abraham answered, “Here I am, my son.” Isaac said, “See, here is the fire and the wood. But where is the lamb for the burnt gift?” 8 Abraham said, “God will have for Himself a lamb ready for the burnt gift, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
9 Then they came to the place that God told them about. Abraham built the altar there, and set the wood in place. Then he tied rope around his son Isaac, and laid him upon the wood on the altar. 10 And Abraham put 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 Abraham said, “Here I am.” 12 The angel of the Lord said, “Do not put out your hand against the boy. Do nothing to him. For now I know that you fear God. You have not kept from Me your son, your only son.” 13 Then Abraham looked and saw a ram behind him, with his horns caught in the bushes. Abraham went and took the ram, and gave him as a burnt gift instead of his son. 14 Abraham gave that place the name “The Lord will give us what we need.” And it is said to this day, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be given.”
15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time. 16 He said, “I have promised by Myself, says the Lord, because you have done this and have not kept from Me your son, your only son, 17 I will bring good to you. I will add many to the number of your children and all who come after them, like the stars of the heavens and the sand beside the sea. They will take over the cities of those who hate them. 18 Good will come to all the nations of the earth by your children and their children’s children. Because you have obeyed My voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men. And they got up and went with him to Beersheba. Abraham made his home there.
Wow, I can say that as a father, this story actually hits me even harder than it used to.
That is just not an easy read. Who is this God? A monster? What kind of a test is that?
But highly-religious settings have not often given people permission to ask those sorts of critical questions of texts like this ,
Like for me growing up the way I first came to understand the moral of this story - was that we should see Abraham as the example devotion and obedience that we should all strive for.
That we should be willing to do anything God asks of us. Even willing to sacrifice our kids. Now, God wouldn’t actually ask us to follow through on that. But, we should have such unquestioned devotion to God that we should be willing to do anything even the worst things we can imagine. Again, not that he would ask that, but we have to be willing And I being a young teenager and would feel super guilty because I struggled to get to the place devotion internally that I would willing to do literally anything for God. I remember testing myself.
Would I be willing to move across the world into a violent, impoverished, and isolated place as a missionary, if God asked me to do it. I would bounce between feeling shame that I couldn’t build up the internal resolve to be willing to do that, if I was so called to. And being terrified that God would call me to do it. But, I don’t actually think the purpose of this story of Abraham and Isaac is to teach us a lesson about devotion. I want to go back to those critical questions that highly-religious environments don’t always give permission to ask… I actually think we shouldn’t be afraid of them. I think they’re on to something.
I am going to take a step back here. The number one tip I can give you in reading the Bible is to not ask - What does this mean to me, but to ask what would this have meant to original audience. This means considering Context Culture And Genre The three musketeers of appropriate Bible interpretation
So, to the original audience of this story were the ancient Israelites, those who draw their lineage, identity and special relationship to God back to Abraham and the almost sacrificed Isaac. In their Context - Ancient Mesopotamia - sacrificing a child to the Gods was something that happened. I wouldn’t say it was super common, but it was something that happened in most of the cultures of that day It these cultures, people would make burnt offering sacrifices to try to gain the gods’ favor. Favor in terms of a good harvest, favor in terms of fertility, favor in terms of rain or protection from natural disasters. And there was a hierarchy of sacrifices, Each being more costly and thus garnering more favor than the last A bird, then a goat, then a sheep, then a bull. And eventually if the need was high enough or circumstances dire enough, they would move something of even higher cost, sacrificing children.
So, when the original audience read this story, it would take a very different tone than it takes for us.
The shock factor of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son would have been far less pronounced than what we have.
This would have been a big deal, not the usual stakes kind of thing, but not totally unexpected
It is notable that Abraham doesn’t question it, doesn’t ask “are you sure God?” (And that’s really something, because elsewhere in Abraham’s story in the Bible he openly questions God quite a bit, like when God tells him that he and his wife will have a child even in their old age -- lots of hemming and hawing from Abraham, so it’s not as though he just wasn’t the questioning type)
So, we’ve got to think about it this way:
To us today in 2019, this story is about a God who almost had a child sacrificed,
But to its original audience, this story is about a God who decidedly didn’t have a child sacrificed, and in turn supplied the sacrifice himself, and makes a real point to show all this.
This is a story of God actively stepping in to history to weed out of his people the horrible practice of child sacrifice and all that stands for. So that in turn Abraham’s children and their children’s children can be a vehicle to bring good to all humanity And then, even more, God provides for Abraham to make a different sacrifice Which may not feel very important to modern readers like us, because sacrificing burnt offerings is not how we conceive of being spiritual or worshipping God But to an ancient audience, for whom sacrificing burnt offerings is THE primary way to be spiritual, this communicates something hugely comforting: This God is not like your worst expectations of a God, who might ask you to do something terrible, and you must be willing to that because it might be necessary to stay on their good side or gain their favor This is NOT a God who is needy and demanding This is “The Lord that will give us what we need” as the name that Abraham gave the mountain testifies to Now think about how powerful that would have felt to a people for which a God asking for child sacrifice to appease them was expected This is a God who will upend what is expected, if what is expected is evil, or wrong, or broken, and in turn lead us towards something better, healthier Jesus’ self-sacrifice being the most powerful example of this of all. When, yet again, God actively steps into history to interrupt the evil and violence of human sacrifice, and to provide a different sacrifice (himself) so that no one else ends up the victim.
This is powerful to me. A story that, for much of my life, made me wonder if God is secretly a monster, made me anxious about how trustworthy God really was.
It now bolsters my confidence that God is actually and really Good.
For one thing, it shows me a God who actively steps into history to change humanity for the better It Shows that God stands on the side of Justice But, speaking to me most right now from this story is: That I don’t have to perform extreme acts personal devotion for God to show up in my life Today, I feel God is positioned very differently in my life than he used to be He is not the taskmaster calling me to blind devotion I don’t have to prepare myself to move across the world, because I don’t worry that God is going to ask me to do something that comes down to my resolve. If he is going to ask me to move across the world to do some work It won’t be a begrudging ask, it’ll be because I have already been feeling my heart and passion moved for that work. When I talk to healthy and mature people I know who moved to other countries because they felt like God lead them there. They talk about it as joy, as a fulfillment of their passion.
So what do I want you to do with this?
This matters to me because… And therefore I want it to matter to you...
So I want to invite you stand with me while I pray