Genesis 22.1-19 - Abraham goes to sacrifice Isaac.
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Once upon time there was a cave woman, who lived in cave...as cave-women did in those days. Outside her cave was a tree. And verily, it came to pass, that Cave-woman noticed that when it rained, the tree seemed to come alive. She also noticed that at certain times of the year, if conditions were just right, the tree produced delicious fruit that she could gather for food.
Cave-Woman had a cave-husband - who wasn't especially interested in fruit. He
preferred his food to have been running around before he killed it and ate it,
fresh. Cave-husband used to go off with his mates to hunt animals. Sometimes
they would be gone for days at a time...and when they returned home, they would
talk about the hunt, around the campfire. They wondered why each hunt was so
different. Could it be that someone, or something, was affecting how each hunt
went? Cave-woman would listen to these
stories around the campfire. She saw similarities between the hunters' talk
about the hunt, and her own observations about her tree.
night, Cave-woman said to Cave-husband, "I wonder whether there are forces
that interfere in some way with my tree, and your hunt". "Hmm,"
replied Cave-husband, "perhaps you are right." That would explain why
every hunt is different. I wonder if there is a way to persuade these forces to
do what we want them to do for us?" Cave-woman thought for a moment. "Where
do you think these forces might be?" she asked. "Well," replied
Cave-husband, "I reckon they must be up in the sky...looking down on us.
After all, that's where the big burning yellow thing is. And that's where the
rain comes from. They must be sent by these forces".
know!" said Cave-woman "What if we were to put some of my fruit, and
some of your last hunt up on the top of that hill...and maybe set fire to it?
Then the forces will smell the smoke from our food, and will know that we are
grateful to them, and sorry for anything we’ve done wrong. Maybe then they will help us to find more
food?" "Great idea," said Cave-husband. "Let's do it!"
so burnt offerings were made to the forces in the sky...forces that came to be
known as 'the gods'. There were gods for everything. Gods of fruit, gods of
rain, gods of the hunt, gods of the lake. One of my favourites is the god of
over time, people began to puzzle over why the gods didn't always respond to
their offerings and prayers. Larger and
greater sacrifices were offered, but the gods seemed deaf. Then, around the camp-fire, some bright spark
suggested “Perhaps we have to sacrifice one of our very own children?"
There was initial horror at this suggestion, of course. But still the rain didn't
come. Eventually, one family, unwillingly, desperately, for the good of the
people, agreed to let one of their children be sacrificed.
the day after, the rains came. That did it. That unhappy co-incidence meant
that now people thought they understood what the gods wanted. And so all sorts
of horrific sacrifices began...human sacrifices, child sacrifices. Children's bodies were built into the walls of
houses - to protect the house from evil. Children were carried up to
mountain-tops, at key points of the year, and sacrificed to bring the Spring.
that kind of world, the Bible tells us that Abraham came. He was a traveller.
He explored the world around him and as he travelled, he became convinced that
all these small gods were, at best, pale manifestations of one Supreme Being
who bound the universe together. For a
while, however, he still imagined that this one God had the same bloodlust as
all the small gods. And so when, in great old age, he unexpectedly became a
dad, he thought that his duty was to sacrifice his new son to God. So, he set off for a nearby mountain-top, to
carry out his duty.
when he got to the mountain-top, he had a mountain-top experience! "Why," he thought, "would God
give me the wonderful gift of this son, just to have me kill him as a
sacrifice? It doesn't make any sense. Surely there is another reason why I have
been given a son at such a great age?" At that moment, he noticed a ram, with its
horns caught in the bushes on the side of the mountain. He saw this as a
sign...a sign from God that indeed, the sacrifice of children was not what God
wanted. Joyfully, he caught hold of the ram...and sacrificed it instead, as a
substitute for his son. A new day had dawned in the world's understanding of
the centuries that followed, Abraham's descendants slowly began to change the
world's understanding of what God was like. Abraham's many-times great
grandson, Moses, wrote a book of laws that limited the sacrifices to something
rather more reasonable. A dove, a sheep, a bull - a simple transaction that enabled
the penitent sinner to walk away, assured of forgiveness.
even this limit on sacrifice wasn’t enough for God. He sent prophets to the
people who said, "Don't bother any more with your sacrifices of animals.
God isn't interested in you trying to earn his love...he loves you anyway. Learn his wisdom and follow his ways. Just ask for God’s forgiveness and favour,
and it will flow!" Their words were written down for us...we can
read their frustrated cries in the pages of the Hebrew Bible. But, they were
still ignored. After all, the leaders of the people had grown very wealthy on
the system of sacrificing. Until, that is another man entered human history...
of Nazareth was a man like no other. He talked to God in a startlingly new and intimate
way...as a heavenly Father. Instead of
demanding blood sacrifices of the people, this Jesus offered his own life as an ultimate sacrifice for
the whole world. God didn’t want human
sacrifices; and to prove it, God was willing to sacrifice himself instead! The writer to the Hebrews makes this clear, in
chapter 9, when he explains that after all the centuries of blood sacrifices, Christ
“appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by
the sacrifice of himself”.
something wonderful happened. Somehow,
the sacrificed Jesus came back to life. He appeared again to his followers, and
promised them that he would always be with them, in Spirit...leading them ever
onwards into a deeper and deeper understanding of who God is, and who they are
as his children.
in a nutshell, my brothers and sisters is the history of our religion. We worship the God who leads us across the
ages from ignorance towards wisdom, from fear towards love, from the blood
sacrifice of animals (and even children!) towards the willing, living sacrifice
of our own lives. Amen.