Genesis 22-Consecration & Trust

Genesis 22:1-19

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

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.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] 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.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring[b] all nations on earth will be blessed,[c] because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

Heartlessness or hope

Genesis 22 can be a difficult chapter for many of us given the tall order God sends to Abraham as well as the potential danger that a child’s life is put within.

While Abraham’s act of slaying his son as a sacrifice to God is a visceral hypothetical for us to imagine, we should give some pause to the thought: what truly belongs to us?

Abraham and Sarah have miraculously conceived of Isaac in a very old age. God has shown His power in being able to give life to barrenness, and in so doing He shows that life belongs to Him.

Too often we become attached and possessive towards the things we have, and strong feelings emerge from this in a negative way when those things are endangered. We tend to think of our wealth, our possessions, our flesh and blood as belonging to us. We may have manmade laws that deem these things as possessions or responsibilities, but in the end nature will show to us that all matter is a gift to us meant to be stewarded, not clung to. Though we may toil to put together aluminum, steel, and rubber together to make an automobile, those raw materials were not our making, but rather our own ingenuity manipulating the earth that was lended to us.

Such is the case for our children too, which is a sobering thing for myself to consider as a father. Though I pray that the Lord gives my child abundant years and a blessed life, I realize it is my duty to merely be a steward of this gift of life (and joy), to take care of it and do what I may in leading it into a consecrated life.

When we speak of “consecrated” we are saying “set aside.” We intend for that which is consecrated to be transformed and dignified, to have its proper belonging with its Creator and thereby intend for it to bring peace and goodness. That which is consecrated is not commercial, not profane, not clung to. By merely asking God, “how may I consecrate this to you” will we find new opportunities to give to God and to become more proper stewards of what He has given to us.

Abraham Finally Gets It

Abraham suffers a great deal of imperfection in this grand adventure he leads. On two occasions he uses his wife to protect his own life, and also commits infidelity which leads to a fatherless and husbandless household. What is interesting about these cases is that Abraham is a character susceptible to anxiety, performing some brash deeds out of fret for his own well-being. 

In this story, we see Abraham comes to an epiphany, wherein the marvels he has experienced through God are finally congruent with his own actions: God tells him he will have a great lineage and a great nation, and God also tells him to sacrifice his only son whom all this is to come through.

I think it is fair for us to assume that Abraham goes up to this place of sacrifice with his son out of great fear, out of much grief. He by no means is looking forward to this act of sacrifice. That being said, Abraham has accepted that His God has been good to him, that something will resolve the dissonance of the circumstances. He ends up proclaiming, “God will provide.” Abraham’s prior experiences of God finally meets his hope in what God will do for him, and instead of acting out of anxiety he acts on faith.

God and Man Seeing Eye To Eye

It’s also important for us to keep in mind that this act of Abraham to sacrifice his only son is not a mere test, but God inviting Abraham into a privileged place of empathy, for Abraham to begin to feel God.

Abraham’s given task of sacrificing his son is a symbolic archetype of God the Father sacrificing His Son.

The donkey with his servants is a symbol of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, the wood on Isaac’s back is a symbol of the cross, their ascent of the mountain is Christ’s walk up to Golgotha, and the relationship of Abraham sacrificing his son is a symbol of God the Father’s most gracious act of love to sacrifice His Son.

God is the only person who can truly understand how we feel at any given moment, in any given understanding. His vast understanding allows Him to know the grief we lament about, the hopelessness that we despair of, the torture we are subject to, the list goes on. Only God can know these experiences by merit of being God, whereas no other human could possibly conceive of the unique hardships we encounter, even if they have suffered similarly. In times of distress, we should rest assured God can know those big feelings.

That being said, God in this moment with Abraham extends the possibility for mankind to experience the difficult task of giving up one’s son. God invites intimacy with Abraham by giving Abraham this hard task, though God does not make Abraham see the act through, but rather allows him only to experience the anticipatory grief/loss. 

The opportunity for all of us here is to extend our experience and pain to God, to ask Him to visit us in our circumstances, to know that He can totally understand our pain, and that only in His company can such pain be navigated through.

Today, consider the following:

  • What are the things in my life that I treasure the most, that I would become very upset (mad, sad, afraid) if I lost? What assumptions do I have of these things?
  • How do I give what I have to God? How can I consecrate the things that I have?
  • What times have I acted out of anxiety instead of acting as though God was in control (or as though God would have the last say)? What times have I acted not out of anxiety but trusting God would navigate difficult paths with me, and what good things might come from this?
  • When have I reached out to God in a time of great hardship? What did I do to reach out? What expectations did I have in reaching out?

Genesis 13: Bad Company

Genesis 13:1-18

So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.2 Now Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. 3 And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4 to the place where he had made an altar at the first; and there Abram called on the name of the Lord. 5 And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, 6 so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, 7 and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle. At that time the Canaanites and the Per′izzites dwelt in the land.

8 Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen; for we are kinsmen. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the Jordan valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zo′ar; this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomor′rah. 11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan valley, and Lot journeyed east; thus they separated from each other. 12 Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, while Lot dwelt among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.

14 The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; 15 for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever. 16 I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 So Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks[a] of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the Lord.

Leaving the Nest

I am tempted to take this reading in order to speak about boundaries, though I’m sure the topic will resurface in our reflections.

Instead, we will be doing some foreshadowing of Lot’s decision to settle near Sodom and Gomorrah.

In this reading, we hear about the misfortune of a family needing to part ways due to how large their respective herds/caravan has become. There are disputes among Abraham’s followers and Lot’s, as though the two are two chiefs of two clans, despite coming from one family. Lot is Abraham’s nephew, and without having a son we can perhaps infer there is a father-son dynamic at play between the two.

There first lesson we draw from this story of bitter parting is the necessity for parent and child to become two separate entities, to grow into their own person. Abraham no doubt provided, guided, and mentored Lot, but now that Lot takes a place of leadership and perhaps in this has his own family too, he needs to go his own way, become his own man. Abraham encourages Lot to “leave the nest” and even “get out of the basement”, though he does so graciously.

Abraham gives Lot an option of what land to choose where he and his flock will go. Abraham examples a proper father figure, allowing his child to choose his own path, to entrust that child in that decision, with the hope that the child will make proper decisions and make something for themselves. Abraham does his proper part, and in the next chapter, we shall see that although he allows Lot to be his own man that he is ready and able to step in as “father” again by saving Lot from being taken hostage.

A Logical Decision With Repercussions

With many options before Lot, he looks to a well-watered land, which is compared to both the Garden of Eden and the land of Egypt. It’s a fertile place of civilization. Who wouldn’t choose such an option?

It’s hard to fault Lot for this decision, though perhaps we might argue that an adult child would endure some hardship on their own in order to support their aged parent. However, the real difference between Lot and Abraham’s decision to settle has little to do with the fertility of the land and more to do with the company in which they find themselves.

Abraham does happen to settle near a people that get a bad rap in the Bible–those of Canaan–however we don’t hear about the wickedness of Canaan, and more than that, we don’t hear of Abraham dwelling near their cities.

Lot on the other hand dwells among the cities of a wicked people. 

To be fair to Lot, when we imagine a post-apocalyptic setting wherein new civilizations are just beginning to bud, we tend to see survivors gravitate to any hub of civilization, no matter how imperfect it may seem. In such stories and settings, we often find how the hubs of the civilization on their surface seem good and stable, and only until dwelling there a little longer do the survivors see how rotten to the core their foundation is.

An argument could be made that Lot dwelling in the cities of this corrupt land could be a missionary endeavor, an opportunity for him to do some good and set an example. This piece we don’t hear about in Lot’s residence within these cities, but instead, later we shall see he tries to appease and capitulate to the mob when they come to his door asking for his holy guests he is entertaining.

Perhaps Lot’s fate of being captured, needing to escape the city, and even lose his wife could all have been avoided if he lived on the outskirts of the land, if he, like Abram, set himself apart from such wicked cities and people instead of being so close to it.

The temptation to being close to the city comes from a desire for security, the possibility for trade and protection when one lives in great numbers, to not be reduced to the life of a nomadic scavenger but rather trusting in the infrastructure of a city to get through hard times.

Still, this decision costs Lot greatly, requiring his uncle to come in and save him and then later God’s angels providing him and his family a miraculous escape.

Spiritual Osmosis: Becoming What Is Around Us

The application of this lesson is that of setting ourselves apart and paying attention to the temptation to associate in the company of the wicked. I think this message is particularly important in the workforce and in school. From high school to college, we are dared into risky behavior, tempted to give up “prude” boundaries that our parents set for us, and fit in with the crowd. To cling to the ways of our tradition–encompassing values of faith, family, and our own moral compass–makes us strangers to those we study and work with. 

When the bar is set low and we continue to walk the straight and narrow, we alienate ourselves and place barriers between us and the other. This can provide incredible opportunities for accountability and witness for us to mold others. That being said, the Nietzchen quote of “whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster”. While we don’t particularly fight with our peers that might have a different ethic than us, maintaining our own boundaries and principles certainly is a fight we all partake in, and by mere association, we will find temptation and trial in this co-dwelling.

Scripture does speak of civilizations that were ready for a righteous man, cities ripe to hear a word and example of repentance and sanctity (ie, Jonah). That being said, even the Lord advised His Apostles that should a town not receive them that they should depart that city and not even take with them the dust that belonged to that city.

Any righteous conviction we have to change a person, a school, a workplace, or a city requires tempering through humility, discernment, and introspection. We cannot arrogantly or with hubris assume that we will enter into a place of temptation and wickedness unscathed. We must give pause and ask for some objectivity, to evaluate our heart and purpose and the heart and purpose of that environment we find ourselves within. And how can any of us hope to change the world let alone our own immediate circle if we haven’t made important changes of putting our own lives in order?

The Cenobitic Model

Lastly, a great example is set by Abraham in this chapter that I believe requires some contemplation of, and that is of “setting ourselves apart”.

Abraham seems to have more of a call to be a hermit than an apostle, a foundation rather than an agent of change. Both are holy causes–in which even both can overlap in purpose–though each is required of in different contexts and circumstances. The world we see in these early chapters of Genesis is cruel and twisted, a true dark age. Just as was the case for Noah, Abraham seeks to create a hallowed place of safety that can bring some salvation. Abraham is called to begin a nation, to begin a story that will eventually become a message of conviction to change the hearts of many.

Abraham, seeing the frailty of the world and perhaps of his own soul, endeavors to go his geographical and spiritual path apart from the world–and yet, still, not entirely removed from it…just at its outskirts.

Abraham creates a sacred haven for himself and his people to focus on the good they are trying to establish in such a dark context, to follow God alone when the hearts of man are self-centered at best and diabolical at worst. 

The message for us here is not that there’s no hope for evangelism or mission, to dwell among the lost and cruel so as to change their hearts. Rather, the application of Abraham’s example is that we all establish our own foundation first, to not let “the world” or peer pressure to tear down our own values, traditions, and goals.

God told Abraham he would establish a great nation. Abraham fixed his eyes on that goal and walked with God, stumbling and yet doing some good as well in this journey.

But in this life of consecration, Abraham carves out a boundary, a “safe space” if you will for his own growth and the growth of those around him. And out of this consecration and carving, Israel slowly buds, and from Israel’s budding comes much later the fruit of salvation for the world.

Today, consider the following

  • What are your eyes/heart/mind fixed on?
  • What might God be inviting you to fix your whole being on? How might you discern this call/vocation?
  • How can you consecrate your life or surroundings to create a safe haven for your growth?
  • Who do you find yourself dependent upon that you may need to set some boundaries with, to become your own person, to take responsibility for yourself?
  • Who do you find yourself needing to encourage to go their own way, to set some boundaries with so that they learn their responsibilities?