Abraham offers Isaac
As is frequently true, this NT principle of spiritual life
[Mat 16:24,25] finds its best illustration in the OT. In the story of Abraham
and Isaac [Gen 22] we have a dramatic picture of the surrendered life as well as
an excellent commentary on the first Beatitude [Mat 5:3].
Abraham was old when Isaac was born, old enough indeed to have
been his grandfather, and the child became at once the delight and idol of his
heart. From that moment when he first stooped to take the tiny form awkwardly in
his arms he was an eager love slave of his son. God went out of His way to
comment on the strength of this affection. And it is not hard to understand. The
baby represented everything sacred to his father's heart: the promises of God,
the covenants, the hopes of the years and the long messianic dream. As he
watched him grow from babyhood to young manhood the heart of the old man was
knit closer and closer with the life of his son, till at last the relationship
bordered upon the perilous. It was then that God stepped in to save both father
and son from the consequences of an uncleansed love.
'Take now thy son,' said God to Abraham, 'thine only son
Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him
there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of'
(Gen 22:2). The sacred writer spares us a close-up of the agony that night on
the slopes near Beersheba when the aged man had it out with his God, but
respectful imagination may view in awe the bent form and convulsive wrestling
alone under the stars. Possibly not again until a Greater than Abraham wrestled
in the Garden of Gethsemane did such mortal pain visit a human soul. If only the
man himself might have been allowed to die. That would have been easier a
thousand times, for he was old now, and to die would have been no great ordeal
for one who had walked so long with God. Besides, it would have been a last
sweet pleasure to let his dimming vision rest upon the figure of his stalwart
son who would live to carry on the Abrahamic line and fulfill in himself the
promises of God made long before in Ur of the Chaldees.
How should he slay the lad! Even if he could get the consent
of his wounded and protesting heart, how could he reconcile the act with the
promise, 'In Isaac shall thy seed be called'? This was Abraham's trial by fire,
and he did not fail in the crucible. While the stars still shone like sharp
white points above the tent where the sleeping Isaac lay, and long before the
gray dawn had begun to lighten the east, the old saint had made up his mind. He
would offer his son as God had directed him to do, and then trust God to raise
him from the dead [Heb 11:19]. This, says the writer to the Hebrews, was the
solution his aching heart found sometime in the dark night, and he rose 'early
in the morning' to carry out the plan. It is beautiful to see that, while he
erred as to God's method, he had correctly sensed the secret of His great heart.
And the solution accords well with the NT Scripture, 'Whosoever will lose... for
my sake shall find...'
God let the suffering old man go through with it up to the
point where He knew there would be no retreat, and then forbade him to lay a
hand upon the boy. To the wondering patriarch He now says in effect, 'It's all
right, Abraham. I never intended that you should actually slay the lad. I only
wanted to remove him from the temple of your heart that I might reign
unchallenged there. I wanted to correct the perversion that existed in your
love. Now you may have the boy, sound and well. Take him and go back to your
tent. Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing that thou hast not withheld thy
son, thine only son, from me' [cp Rom 8:32].
Then heaven opened and a voice was heard saying to him, 'By
myself I have sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and
hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee,
and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as
the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his
enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because
thou hast obeyed my voice.'
The old man of God lifted his head to respond to the Voice,
and stood there on the mount strong and pure and grand, a man marked out by the
Lord for special treatment, a friend and favorite of the Most High. Now he was a
man wholly surrendered, a man utterly obedient, a man who possessed nothing. He
had concentrated his all in the person of his dear son, and God had taken it
from him. God could have begun out on the margin of Abraham's life and worked
inward to the center; He chose rather to cut quickly to the heart and have it
over in one sharp act of separation. In dealing thus He practiced an economy of
means and time. It hurt cruelly, but it was effective.
I have said that Abraham possessed nothing. Yet was not this
poor man rich? Everything he had owned before was still his to enjoy: sheep,
camels, herds, and goods of every sort. He had also his wife and his friends,
and best of all he had his son Isaac safe by his side. He had everything, but he
POSSESSED nothing. There is the spiritual secret. There is the sweet theology of
the heart which can be learned only in the school of renunciation. The books on
systematic theology overlook this, but the wise will understand.
After that bitter and blessed experience I think the words 'my
and 'mine' never had again the same meaning for Abraham. The sense of possession
which they connote was gone from his heart. Things had been cast out forever.
They had now become external to the man. His inner heart was free from them. The
world said, 'Abraham is rich,' but the aged patriarch only smiled. He could not
explain it to them, but he knew that he owned nothing, that his real treasures
were inward and eternal...
The Christian who is alive enough to know himself even
slightly will recognize the symptoms of this possession malady, and will grieve
to find them in his own heart. If the longing after God is strong enough within
him he will want to do something about the matter. Now, what should he do?
First of all he should put away all defense and make no
attempt to excuse himself either in his own eyes or before the Lord. Whoever
defends himself will have himself for his defense, and he will have no other;
but let him come defenseless before the Lord and he will have for his defender
no less than God Himself. Let the inquiring Christian trample under foot every
slippery trick of his deceitful heart and insist upon frank and open relations
with the Lord.
Then he should remember that this is holy business. No
careless or casual dealings will suffice. Let him come to God in full
determination to be heard. Let him insist that God accept his all, that He take
things out of his heart and Himself reign there in power. It may be he will need
to become specific, to name things and people by their names one by one. If he
will become drastic enough he can shorten the time of his travail from years to
minutes and enter the good land long before his slower brethren who coddle their
feelings and insist upon caution in their dealings with God.
Let us never forget that such a truth as this cannot be
learned by rote as one would learn the facts of physical science. They must be
experienced before we can really know them. We must in our hearts live through
Abraham's harsh and bitter experiences if we would know the blessedness which
follows them. The ancient curse will not go out painlessly; the tough old miser
within us will not lie down and die obedient to our command. He must be torn out
of our heart like a plant from the soil; he must be extracted in agony and blood
like a tooth from the jaw. He must be expelled from our soul by violence as
Christ expelled the money changers from the temple. And we shall need to steel
ourselves against his piteous begging, and to recognize it as springing out of
self-pity, one of the most reprehensible sins of the human heart.
If we would indeed know God in growing intimacy we must go
this way of renunciation. And if we are set upon the pursuit of God He will
sooner or later bring us to this test. Abraham's testing was, at the time, not
known to him as such, yet if he had taken some course other than the one he did,
the whole history of the Old Testament would have been different. God would have
found His man, no doubt, but the loss to Abraham would have been tragic beyond
the telling. So we will be brought one by one to the testing place, and we may
never know when we are there. At that testing place there will be no dozen
possible choices for us; just one and an alternative, but our whole future will
be conditioned by the choice we make.