Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras Genesis 22, Binding Isaac June 28, 2020
In the second century BCE, the Seleucid king Antiochus IV outlaws the Jewish temple worship, observance of Sabbaths and holy days, circumcision, and the keeping of Torah, and rules that the Jews who will not adopt Greek customs are to die (2 Macc 6:9). The second Maccabees, a Jewish book, chapters 6:7–7:42, lists stories of those who choose death over apostasy. The last martyr is the anonymous mother who dies after witnessing each of her seven sons cruelly tortured. In other Jewish traditions, the name of the mother is Hannah. The martyr family story opens with the arrest of the seven brothers and their mother, who are beaten to force them to eat pork (prohibited by Lev 11:7–8). Hannah encourages her seven sons to die rather than have them compromise their faith. King Antiochus dismembered the seven brothers' body and fried them. In another Jewish tradition, we learned that Hannah as her last son is about to die she tells him: ‘Go now, to Abraham your father, and tell him that I have bettered his instruction. He offered one child to God; I have offered seven.’
God asks Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. In Scripture, God claims to abhor child sacrifice and considers it an abomination. God was testing Abraham, but Abraham was not aware of the test. The account of binding Isaac is a chilling story. We may think that God is cruel, and Abraham is an uncompassionate father. We may assume that Isaac is a stupid lad to accept to become a sacrifice for God. God spare Isaac by providing a ram to Abraham to use it instead of Isaac. After 4000 years, God did not spare God’s only son, Jesus Christ, from offering him as a sacrifice on the cross to save humanity (Rom 8:32). Christ became a sin offering. The narrative of binding Isaac foreshadows the binding of Jesus Christ on the cross. Is God cruel to ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? Is God not cruel to offer God’s only son as a sacrifice on the cross?
The account of binding Isaac is different than the narrative of the crucifixion. The story of binding Isaac is not meant to be read like a modern novel that concerns with individual characters. Instead, it is a morality tale written to instruct future generations to give up the dearest to them in obedience to God. This is what Hannah did.
Modern readers may see Abraham as an uncompassionate father, but many Jewish and Christian commentators praise him for his loyalty to his faith values and God. God rewards him for his dedication. Commentators over centuries have admired Abraham for “‘putting aside of fatherly love’ that proved Abraham's greatness in this, his most difficult of tests.”
The central theme of this story is that our faith worth dying for and sacrificing our children. Someone may say that the story of binding Isaac and the martyrdom of Hannah and her seven children happen only in Scripture. My answer is no.
On December 16, 1803, sixty Greek women decided to commit suicide with their children during the Souliote War with the Ottoman empire. To avoid capture, enslavement, humiliation, and forced conversion to Islam, the women threw their children off a steep cliff, and then they held hands and started singing and dancing, with the steps leading to the cliff where they jumped to their death one by one. These 60 Greek martyrs believed that their faith in Jesus Christ worth sacrificing their children and themselves.
Our Lord Jesus advises us to be ready to offer the ultimate sacrifice for his namesake. We may lose our job, money, friendship, and beloved one for the sake of the Lord. Martyrdom is not the only sacrifice we offer to our Savior, but in all the little things, Jesus urges us to forgo for his namesake. Iraqi and Syrian Christians had to relinquish their homes and all their possessions and run away from ISIS to keep their faith. They see Jesus Christ as more valuable than all their possessions. I know some of you like golfing very much, but you forgo your favorite game to worship the Lord on Sunday. A person who gives money to help the poor is sacrificing having a comfortable life to follow the teaching of our Lord. Some of you have sacrificed in many ways because of your faith in Jesus Christ.
The account of binding Isaac is not about inspiring religious fanaticism, but about a story to teach a future generation how to be ready to sacrifice for their faith in God and the Torah. For Christians, this narrative teaches us to forgo the most important person or thing in our life for the sake of Christ Jesus.
Do you think our Lord Jesus worth sacrificing the dearest person you have for his namesake? I cannot answer this question for you. If your answer is no, I invite you to reflect on the reasons behind your answer.