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God’s Word for You

Hebrews 11:17-19

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, December 17, 2014

17 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, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”

Modern Jews refer to this incident as the Aqedah, “The Binding of Isaac.” It is typically the Bible lesson read in synagogues on New Year’s Day.

It was a test none of us would want to face. A parent was asked by God to sacrifice his own child (please do not e-mail me with illustrations from life or fiction that other pastors have shared with you from the pulpit. They all give me nightmares—especially the ones that use cliffs, trains, charging wild animals, house fires, or sinking ships to make their point). Abraham obeyed God in every one of his actions. After God commanded the sacrifice (Genesis 22:2), we hear nothing at all from the Patriarch—no argument, no prayer for God to find another way, not even a solemn prayer like Job’s “The Lord gave and the Lord took away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Instead, the very next thing we’re told is that Abraham got up and saddled his donkey “early the next morning” (Genesis 22:3). He and Isaac traveled that day and all the next, and on the third day saw Mount Moriah in the distance south of them. He told his servants to stay behind, and then showed his faith and his understanding of God’s promises with the words: “The boy and I will worship, and then we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5). The word “we” shows all of Abraham’s faith in a pronoun. God had promised to carry on Abraham’s line of descendants through this teenage boy (Isaac was 15 or 16) who had no wife and no children yet. Abraham’s “we…” shows that although he was going to offer his son as God commanded, he also “reasoned that God could even raise the dead” (Hebrews 11:19). The details are familiar, even without any verbs: The stones for the altar. The wood. The fire. The boy’s question and the father’s answer. The binding. The knife. The angel’s hand. The voice of God. The ram.

Abraham “embraced the promises.” That was how his faith looked to God: a man reaching out with both arms to hug God’s promises with the same emotion and joy as when he unbound his son, resheathed his knife, and held the boy tightly in his arms, receiving him back from God and back from death.

19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

“In a manner of speaking” is the Greek phrase en parabole (ἐν παραβολῇ), “in a sort of parable.” This was not a parable in the sense of a spoken story with a heavenly meaning, but an actual event that had a heavenly meaning. We understand that in the account of the Aqedah, the Binding of Isaac, Abraham’s son is a figurative way of describing our predicament because of sin. We are the ones bound and doomed to death. But the ram Abraham saw (Genesis 22:13) prefigures Christ. The ram is like the offering that was made in our place, as our substitute—the ram is like Christ. But here we see that Isaac also stands for us in this “sort of a parable” because God receives us back from death. Abraham’s arms around his son are like God’s arms around you at your resurrection. Abraham’s emotion welcoming Isaac back is like God’s emotion welcoming you home: Joy, relief, delight—how many words could we hazard? They would all fall short of what the reality will be.

It will be the opposite in many ways all of the scenes we have recorded of Jesus rising from the dead. Instead of people seeing the raising of God, it will be God seeing the raising of all people. Instead of doubting and disbelieving disciples, it will be the smiling Jesus himself who will welcome us, and we won’t be at all surprised if he will laugh in his joy, holding out his hands to embrace us and to show us the trophies of victory in his palms. We will know relief, and certainty, and we will experience wave upon wave of realization and understanding. We will know calm, true calm, and serenity and peace. Embrace his promises as God embraces you.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.