A sermon for Proper 8, 3rd after Pentecost
Genesis 2, 2:1-14, Psalm 12, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42
Focus: The commitment of Isaac as hope for today future
May 18, 1980 after many hours VGT came into the world and changed our lives forever. Thursday afternoon after many hours LPF came into the world and will change our lives as only grand children can, a new venture I’m looking forward to. I can’t wait to spoil LPF rotten.
LPF’s birth with its remembrance of VGT’s birth brings a poignancy to the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. It brings home in unexpected ways if not the horror, then at least the fear of child sacrifice. However, to get stuck here is to miss-read scripture; it’s a failure to honor its context; the story’s connection to Ishmael and it’s origins in Israel’s captivity in Babylon. Most importantly it is a disservice to our children and grandchildren.
I want to explore four aspects of Isaac’s sacrifice: the opening conversation, burnt offerings, Ishmael, and the Babylonian context and see how this sacrifice provides hope for today’s children and grandchildren.
We don’t know how long is has been since Ishmael and Hagar left, or since God has spoken to Abraham. But God does call and with a little imagination the conversation goes like this:
Here I am
Take your son.
I have two sons.
Your only son.
Each is the only son of his mother.
The one whom you love.
Is there any limit to a father’s love?
[Take] Isaac ~ (Schifferdecker)
[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.
Imaging the opening verses as a conversation allows us to hear that Abraham remembers his older son, that God told him to let Ishmael go, and that he does not want to lose Isaac. Two other notes: Abraham is directed to go to Moriah but to yet another unknown location; when he and Isaac leave the attendants Abraham tells them:
… the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.
Abraham knows what God is asking, yet here is says we will come back not I. It seems there is more that Abraham is aware of than we are aware of.
Burnt Offerings are one type of sacrifice in the Temple Cultic sacrificial system. That system hasn’t been established yet (more about this later); however, the idea of brunt offerings is well established in the story’s time line. The Hebrew ʿōlâ is most frequently translated burnt offering; it is also translated to ascent or to go up. It’s root ʿālâ means to come up, to ascend. (Strong’s Talking Greek and Hebrew Dictionary)
Easton’s Dictionary notes burnt offerings were regarded as ascending to God while being consumed (Easton). It is at least conceivable that Abraham has a notion that he is shepherding Isaac into God’s presence, and perhaps to commit him to God’s service, as all first born will be after the Passover, or as Nasserites will be (Samuel, 1 Samuel 1:11).
I was surprised the connection between Ishmael’s story and the story of Isaac’s sacrifice was mentioned only once, and there was no commentary. A quick review of Ishmael’s story. Sarah decides Ishmael is a threat to Isaac and tells Abraham to take Hagar and Ishmael into the dessert. God tells him to do as Sarah says, lso that Ishmael and Hagar will be okay, that God will make a nation of him. (Genesis 21:13).
He does as God tells him. Genesis tells us Ishmael does well.
We do not know how long it is between Ishmael’s and Hagar’s dismissal and Isaac’s journey to sacrifice. It must be some years, because Isaac walks the distance, carries the wood for the sacrifice, and engages his father in knowledgeable conversation about the sacrifice, so he would be at least in his early teens. Time enough for Abraham to know of Ishmael’s life. He knows God keeps God’s word. So here’s the logic. Abraham knows God’s logic is incomprehensible. Abraham knows God keeps God’s promise. Abraham knows God promised him an heir, knows Isaac is that heir: it is through Isaac that offspring will be named for you. (Genesis 21:12 b) so even though this journey to sacrifice Isaac makes no sense Abraham makes the journey in faith that God will do as God always has, keep his promise, Isaac will be his heir.
Finally Babylon. You may remember from a couple of weeks ago that Genesis was written when Israel was in captivity in Babylon, over against competing creation myths. Isaac’s sacrifice may well be oral tradition; however, it too is written over against the oppressive and corrupting conditions in exile. Terence Fretheim’s writes: Exilic Israel may have seen itself in both Abraham and Isaac … (Fretheim 494)
God has put Israel to a test in which many children died, has called forth its continuing faith, has delivered it through the fires of
judgment and renewed the promises. (Fretheim 494)
Visualizing Israel as Abraham assure leaders of a captive people that God is faithful and has not abandoned them. Visualizing Israel as Isaac assures the future. Both encourage Israel to keep the faith, to remain obedient to God, which will not speak to sacrificial rites, but rather keeping their allegiance to one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
I mentioned earlier the cultic sacrificial system was not established in the story’s time line. But, as it was written in Babylon exile, the sacrifices, though not available are part Israel’s lore. They know what burnt offerings are. They know about: the Passover commitment of all first born to God, and Nasserite commitment.
There are all kinds of gleanings in the story of Isaac’s sacrifice. Is Isaac the heir God promises? God does not know what Abraham will do.
Will Abraham be faithful? They are all about relationships:
God and Abraham (and Sarah),
Abraham and Isaac,
Isaac and God,
God and Israel,
God and us.
For VGT now VGF and LPF and PF the story of Isaac’s sacrifice is not about brutal sacrifice. We must move beyond that fear to gleanings worth sharing:
Always engage God in conversation, it will lead you to insight.
Never be afraid to shepherd your beloved into God’s presence.
God is frequently inscrutable, but always faithful.
Life is full of trials and desperate times, that may separate you from all you believed crucial; Paul say it best:
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 (NRSV))
Easton, Matthew George. Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Wordsearch, 2008.
Fretheim, Terence E. The New Intrepreter’s Bible, Genesis. Ed. Leander E Keck. Vol. 1. 2003. 12 vols.
Schifferdecker, Kathryn. “Genesis 22:1-14 Commentary by Kathryn Schifferdecker – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL).” 24 6 2014. Working Preacher. web. 24 6 2014. .
Strong’s Talking Greek and Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.