Genesis 21:1-22:19, the eighth lesson in our epic story lays the foundation for our modern day Middle East conflicts. Abraham has a covenant with God that he will be the father of a nation that will bless all people. His first child, though, was conceived with Sarah’s servant, Hagar, according to tribal customs. Impatience often leads to shortcuts that have a price tag we do not expect. The promise was to come through Sarah, and years later Sarah would conceive Isaac. Isaac means laughter. With the laughter of Isaac is the reality of the tensions between Sarah and Hagar. Hagar is sent away to keep peace but surprisingly God meets Hagar, the first time he speaks to a woman, and promises that her son, Ishmael, will also be the father of a great nation, the Arabs. Sarah’s son becomes the father of the Jewish people. Both Arabs and Jews claim Abraham as their father! Our epic story is still being lived out in our lifetime
Our epic includes another story that tells how Abraham understood God to want him to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Sacrificing the first son was a common tribal custom of the day and something a god would be expected to ask. Abraham climbed the mountain, built an altar, and tied Isaac up, but God stopped him and told him to look in the bush near by where a ram was stuck and would be the sacrifice. Christians believe this is a clue that points to the sacrifice on Calgary, of Jesus, at that same spot centuries later.
So what do these two unique stories say to us today? So many times we become impatient with God’s plan and take life into our own hands. But that does not mean God is defeated. Despite all the detours we take, God is able to work with us and bless. Often we think there is only one right answer to a situation we find ourselves in and we become frazzled and immobilized trying to do the right thing. Perhaps God is giving us the freedom to choose and he can bless whichever path we choose as we seek to be faithful.
Sometimes we do not understand the twists and turns life takes and it feels like God is asking us to sacrifice that which we love so much. We question why a child dies, why a marriage ends in divorce, a failed business enterprise and many other heartbreaks that redirect our lives and test our hearts. Abraham sees the ram and we are encouraged at the glimpse, the hint that Christ will die for our sins so that we have eternal life. We see that now but at the time, I doubt Abraham understood the significance. He trusted and obeyed and took the next step, as he understood it to be.
We can take encouragement and hope from these stories. We may not know the future, the outcomes of our mistakes, the outcomes of our sacrifices, but we know who holds the future, God. As we continue this epic story, may you be encouraged that he sees you at those moments of despair and at the moments of trial and God has a plan. Be encouraged!