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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Balmer

Will God Take Away His Promise?

This is a sermon preview for the fourth sermon in the “Promise & Threat” sermon series. To watch the recording of any of the sermons in this sermon series, visit our website.

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.’” –Genesis 22:1-14.

When you're really famous, you get to go by one name. It's called a mononym: like Beyoncé, Zendaya, Prince, or Madonna.

When it comes to a biblical story that people have wrestled with for thousands of years, sometimes the same thing happens.

"Calvary" is a one word reference to the Crucifixion, Jesus' death. The story we're confronted this week in Hebrew is called the Akedah (or, simply, "The Binding"). In English, we might call it "The Binding of Isaac."

And if you're like many, you're wondering: "What do we make of this story?" After all, it's a story in which God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Then, at the last minute, God stops Abraham through an angel, saying:

“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.” (v. 12).

All through this series we're talking about the threats to the promises of God, and how we have trust in God through such threats.

What do we do when we wonder if God is himself threatening what he has promised?

Mosaic "Sacrifice of Isaac" – Basilica of San Vitale (A.D. 547) [Wikimedia Commons]

Here are three things we might consider several lessons we might take: "God is true, God is unique, God provides." We'll expand on point one here. Come on Sunday to hear the rest!

1. God is true to his word.

"God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" - Numbers 23:19 (NIV)

If you find yourself objecting to this story, or even wanting to protest God against the justice of it, you're not alone in wanting to argue with God.

Abraham has a history of arguing with God. In fact, many people in the Bible do! Moses argues with God to show mercy and not destroy the people. The Syrophoenician / Canaanite woman argues with Jesus that she too might receive a blessing. And in the case of Moses and the Canaanite woman, God seems to change his mind!

Is God indecisive? Is God unsure? No, he's not. Abraham, Moses, the Canaanite woman: they all argue a specific way. They argue by appealing to God's character and actions.

  • Abraham argues for God to spare the city if any righteous are found. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Genesis 18:25)

  • The Canaanite woman argues she should be blessed by Jesus, even though she is not part of the promised people (Israel): “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:27)

  • Moses argues with God not to destroy Israel: "Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’" (Exodus 32:14)

God keeps his promises. But he also knows trusting him is difficult. God invites us to wrestle with the disconnect between the world in front of us and the promises given to us. And, in that process, we learn that God is true, and his promises are sure.

It is not wrong to wrestle with God. But when we do, go to God arguing based on his revealed character and promises. And in the process, which may be a lifelong one[!], we'll find God is no liar.

So why does Abraham remain silent here? Why doesn't he argue here, for his own son, as he did for strangers? Why doesn't he protest, reminding God of his promise? We're not told why, explicitly, in Genesis.

This is the climax of the story of God's promise of a child. Abraham has been through a lot! Perhaps, after all he has been through, Abraham begins to trust that God makes a way out of no way.

As the author of Hebrews says:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. - Hebrews 11:17-19 (NIV)

God keeps true to his work, but God is also unique.

Another lesson of this story is that he is truly God and unlike other gods.

[During this upcoming Sunday's sermon, we'll also consider two other lessons as we wrestle with this difficult Biblical story. I encourage you to read the text and to come prepared to hear how even this difficult passage points us to the good news.]

- 2. God is unlike other "gods".

- 3. God provides the sacrifice.

"Abraham offered God his mortal son who was not to die, while God surrendered in death his immortal Son for the sake of humankind"

- Caesarius of Arles (d. 542 A.D.)

Reflection Questions
  1. What troubles you about this passage? Is it questions about violence and God? Is it the idea that God might test his followers?

  2. How can reminding God of what we know he already knows: his character and promises, be good for us? Are there promises of God you need to remind yourself, even if it means "arguing with God?"

  3. Eventually, in our lives we must decide if God is trustworthy. What's an area of your life you need to trust God with today?

  4. God ultimately provides. Where do you see God's faithfulness to his promises?


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