Beckett: Pastor’s Thoughts – The Near-Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)

Yet another famous/infamous account in Holy Writ, this is another occasion unbelievers like to throw in the face of Christians with a trick question, “What kind of God would tell a man to sacrifice his only son?” They don’t realise, of course, that that’s the entire point. God indeed does not require Abraham or anyone to sacrifice their only son because He Himself was going to do that for all mankind. God was never going to require that of Abraham. So, why do it at all?

Many say God did this to test the faith of Abraham, which has some truth to it because God said, “for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:12). He tested Abraham’s fear of God. Yet there’s a lot more going on here than simply a test of faith. Even more, I believe, we see the intent of God the Father.

God blesses Abraham because he did not withhold his son, his only son, from God. Therefore, Abraham prefigures the gracious act of God the Father. “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). In Abraham, we see what God is going to do. God would not allow Abraham to give up his only son because He was going to provide that sacrifice Himself.

Still, that begs the question atheists also bring up, “Why would God give up His only Son? What kind of father would do that?” Again, that’s exactly the point. To emphasise this point, I believe there’s no better way than to tell a story. The story I would like to share is one told by Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler. The following text comes from The Lutheran Hour episode titled “The Peace Child,” which was aired on July 25, 2021. In the story, Rev. Zeigler takes us back half a century on the other side of the world in the southwestern Pacific island of New Guinea from Don Richardson’s book, Peace Child:

If you read Don’s book, Sawi culture will sound strange to you, but also strangely familiar. There’s a common humanity that we share. Just like parents from other parts of the world, Sawi moms and dads want good things for their children. And they would rather live in peace with their neighbors. And on most days they would be glad if we could all just get along.

But there is a sinister side to Sawi culture just like there is in every culture. There is a selfish ambition and jealousy, comparison and suspicion. And there is tribalism.

Here’s how tribalism manifested itself among the Sawi people. After years of fighting between two rival tribes, fighting over food and land and honor, two men hopeful for peace might try to forge an alliance, forge a friendship, across tribal lines. But there was always the possibility that one of them was using the friendship for a more sinister purpose.

He was “fattening him with friendship,” as the saying went: fattening for the slaughter. And just when his friend began to trust him, he would lure him into his tribe where the other men were waiting, and they would jump him and brutalize him and take his head for a trophy. Centuries of tribalism had lodged in them a deep distrust of anyone outside of their tribe. And when I read about it, I wonder what’s tribalism done to us? What tribalism is lodged in my heart? What [tribalism is] lodged in yours?

At one time, Don Richardson thought that tribalism was the strongest force in Sawi culture, but he was wrong. Normally the Sawi people had a segregated housing plan, sort of the jungle version of suburban development. The man-made plan to help them all get along was to keep the tribes separate. But when Don and his family moved into the jungle with modern tools to trade and modern medicine to share, the two tribes, long-standing rivals moved together to be near Don and his family. It was a hopeful, yet fragile, multicultural urban jungle community.

Peace didn’t last. Soon the drive by bow-and-arrow shootings got so bad that Don told them that he was moving out. That night leaders from both of the tribes came together at his thatched roof jungle hut, begging him not to leave. “But I don’t want you to kill each other,” he said to them. “We’re not going to kill each other,” one said. “Tomorrow, we will make peace.”

The next morning, both tribes had gathered together on opposite sides of an open area near Don’s family home. One man from the tribe on the left came forward. He came like a broken man, cagey, walking into a fight that he knows he can’t win, carrying a child on his back, one of his own sons. The man’s wife was following him, sobbing violently. Don and his wife holding their infant son close, moved closer to watch. Everyone was watching the man carrying his son when suddenly his wife, desperate, wrenched her baby from her husband’s shoulders and rushed him back into the crowd. He tried to grab hold of her, but she was out of reach. Other mothers from the crowd began crying, clutching their babies to their breasts. Men on both sides were running back and forth, gesturing, shouting, strange opposing forces of attraction and repulsion were building up an incredible tension between the tribes. Don said, “I could feel those forces crackling around me with an almost physical violence.”

Now with all the commotion in the crowd on the left, a man on the other side slipped away unnoticed and returned to his hut in the jungle. This man and his wife had only one son, a six-month-old baby boy they had named Biakadon. The baby was lying on a grass mat in the middle of the hut. He recognized his father, smiled and stretched out his little arms to be picked up. His father reached for him, heavy with what he was about to do. “It is necessary,” he told himself. “There is no other way to stop the fighting.”

He returned to the crowd holding his son one last time. He came to the center and called to a man on the other side. The man came forward. The two of them stood facing each other, both tribes were around them, eyes aglow with anticipation. Biakadon’s father said to the man facing him, “Will you plead the words of my people among your people?”

“Yes,” he says. “I will plead the words of your people among my people.” So he continued.

“Then I give you my son and with him, my name.”

The man from the other side received little Biakadon into his arm gently. And then he shouted, “Eehaa! I will surely plead for peace between our people.”

Just then another man from the other side of the crowd came forward, holding his son. He called to Biakadon’s former father who was standing there, childless. He says to him, “Will you plead for peace between our people?”

“Yes,” he says.

“Then I give you my son. And with him, my name.”

“Will the children be harmed?” Don asked them later. “They will not be harmed,” they told him. “Both villages will guard the lives of the peace child because if the child lives, the peace lives also.”

Ages of betrayal had made every other demonstration of friendship across tribe lines suspect. But if a father would give his son to his enemies, that man could be trusted and all who bound themselves to this given son would share in this promised peace. And there in the jungle of Western New Guinea, a light of insight began to shine on Don, the Christian missionary from Canada…

Don Richardson was with the tribal leaders after he had witnessed their dramatic alliance. He spoke to them in their own language. “I wanted you to make peace without this painful giving of a son. But you kept saying to me, ‘There is no other way.’ And you were right. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that the Creator, the great Spirit whose message I bear has declared the same thing. True peace can never come without a peace Child. Never.”

Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker. “The Peace Child.” The Lutheran Hour.

So, what kind of father would give up His only Son to His enemies? One who realises there is no other way to make peace. Consider God’s two choices: either utterly annihilate His enemies (you and me), or make peace with them. In His unfathomable mercy and unsearchable wisdom, God chose to make peace, and there was no other way for Him to do that than to give up His only-begotten Son. As St. Paul says, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8, 10).

There was no other way to make peace with mankind, and God was not going to allow Abraham to make the sacrifice. So, God gave up His only Son, who went to the cross willingly and died for you and me. But He did not stay dead for long, for death cannot bind God. So, He rose from the dead, and by His life our peace with God lives. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Bibliography

Zeigler, Michael. “The Peace Child.” The Lutheran Hour. Aired July 25, 2021. Accessed July 28, 2021. https://www.lutheranhour.org/sermon.asp?articleid=36035.

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