Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: A Substitute Sacrifice

 Scripture: Genesis 22:1-19

Background: Several years have passed since Abraham sent away Hagar and Ishmael. Isaac has now grown up into a young man, probably dearer to Abraham than ever before, and God asks for the unthinkable: He asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

Observations: Divine instructions sometimes can seem quite bizarre—even contradictory at times. Consider: God had promised Abraham that Isaac would be his heir. God had promised Abraham a multitude of descendents through Isaac. How could that ever be possible if Isaac was dead?

Yet Abraham moved ahead. He did not, at least recorded within the text, ever question Who had spoken to him, what God had said, or whether God’s instructions should be taken literally. Abraham did not dither around trying to interpret God’s meaning. Early the very next morning Abraham took Isaac, two servants, and a donkey laden with wood for the sacrifice.

How could Abraham possible do this? Didn’t he believe what God had promised him concerning Isaac? Indeed he did, as his words to the servants showed: “we…will return to you.” We. As in Abraham and Isaac. They would return, despite God’s instructions. This is why Hebrews 11 says that Abraham believed God could raise Isaac from the dead. Never mind that Scripture records no such an act before this point.

But even though Abraham believed God could raise his son from the dead, Abraham did not stubbornly cling to God’s instructions to sacrifice Isaac. When Abraham was instructed to stop later, he stopped, no questions asked. He willingly changed course and sacrificed the ram caught in the nearby thicket instead.

Significance: This passage reveals at least four things about the instructions and provision of God.

1. God’s instructions don’t always make sense from our perspective. He is God, after all, and we are not. So it’s only logical that His instructions will seem weird, illogical, bizarre, and even contradictory at times. That doesn’t excuse us from obeying what He has told us to do.

2. God’s instructions are usually to be taken literally, even if they don’t make sense. Nowhere does Scripture make understanding a prerequisite to obedience, as far as I am aware of. In face, we are often asked to obey before we fully understand—to act by faith, not knowledge. Interestingly, understanding often comes afterward, as it did for Abraham when God explained why He asked what He did (v. 12).

3. God can change personal, specific instructions at any time He wants. The Bible, God’s universal instructions, His general rules of living—these kinds of things are eternal and do not change. But He also provides specific instructions for specific people for specific circumstances, as He did for Abraham in this passage. These instructions He is free to adapt, shift, or even abolish altogether. So just because God gave you one set of marching orders at one point doesn’t mean those are your marching orders for the rest of your life.

4. Supernatural provision can be a natural provision given at the perfect time. Sometimes we dismiss provision as chance or coincidence because we can explain away the provision’s presence. For example here, a ram wandered away from a flock and got itself stuck. A normal enough happening. However, natural circumstances don’t negate the reality that God was behind the scenes, orchestrating events so that the provision would be at the right place at exactly the right time.

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