Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
As a stand alone story, this is hard to comprehend. Abraham does not ask for an explanation. He just obeys. But in the context of Abraham’s life, this is just the latest in a series of messages God has given him. And he has tried second guessing God before. So it is not surprising that he tells Sarah nothing about how he is going to stay her son. He tells his 2 servants that went with them nothing. He tells Isaac nothing. He just holds fast to the promise that this son will produce many nation’s. He knows that in order for that to happen, God will have to raise Isaac from the dead.
And let us not forget Isaac. He had to let his father to him up and prepare him to be sacrificed. This prefigures Christ, who obediently went to the cross. Although it is not recorded, Isaac must have had his own Gethsemane moment, where he said, “If there is any other way,” before yielding to the father’s will.
What is also not recorded is the hilarious joy Abrahan and Isaac must have experienced when the Lord told Abraham to stop, and when they saw the ram. God had prepared a sacrifice all along! And now the father and his son worshipped as never before.
Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” Genesis 21:5-10
This is not the first time Sarah has gotten angry and thrown out Hagar. It was her idea to let Abraham impregnate Hagar, her servant, to help God’s promise along. Yet, she tossed her out as soon as Hagar was enjoying this too much. Now, she has even said that everyone would laugh over her pregnancy, but when Hagar’s son is merely seen laughing, Sarah gives them the boot again. Clearly, these two women cannot live together. Fortunately, God does not hold this against Hagar and the boy, and he intervenes to save them in the desert.
We make stupid mistakes all the time. God will be there for us to give us a new start if we will cry out to him. Hagar did not have much choice but to submit to Abraham and Sarah’s scheme. When she got pregnant right away, she had antagonized Sarah, who was not able to let it go, even after Sarah had her miracle. Now Sarah is finally thinking through the ramifications of Hagar’s son becoming Abraham’s heir. Hagar can’t remain a part of her household.
This all seems very strange to us, but this will be a recurring theme due to the customs of those days. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, would be father of the twelve tribes through the the children he gives to his two wives and their two servants. The wives become competitive in the baby-making game, and are willing to let their servant girls pinch-hit when they have a hard time conceiving. And those children are Jacob’s heirs.
Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you see, that you did this thing?” Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” Genesis 20:9-13.
This seemingly odd story has something to say to us other than, “don’t try passing your wife off as your sister.” It could be, “don’t be so afraid of godless people that you don’t tell them the truth.”
It seems unbelievable that Abraham would be so afraid for his life in light of the fact that God has promised them a child. I believe this is the reason God intervened directly, appearing to Abimelech in a dream, to stop this foolishness immediately. There may have been no fear of God in this place before this event. But you can be sure there was after it.
So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting. As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. Genesis 19:14-16.
Although it is most common to dwell on all the sexual depravity in this chapter, I like to find the unpreached gems hiding between obvious lessons. And Lot’s tepid leadership may be our most important takeaway.
Consider this: last we heard of Lot, his herdsmen were clashing with Abraham’s staff, and they decided to go their separate ways. So, how did a man with a major ranching operation end up living in an urban environment? It may be that man with a wife and two marriageable daughter’s was pressured by them to move into town.
Second: he had future sons-in-law whom he warned, but they did not take him seriously. They thought he was joking. Yes, this may say more about them than him, but after he had warned them, he became more passive. How do I know that?
Third: he lingered. He did not think it was urgent to get moving. Between the unresponsive young men, and the women who later prove to be less zealous for the Lord, Lot seems to be paralyzed. The angels had been emphatic, however, and grabbed Lot, his wife, and daughters, and dragged them outside the city. Unfortunately, even though they escape destruction for a moment, things do not end well for this family of lukewarm believers.
So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. l Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Genesis 18:22-26
We don’t know if Abraham was frantically bargaining with the Lord because he cared so much for Sodom or because he knew his nephew, Lot, had gone there with his family. By whittling down the number of righteous needed to save the city down to 10, Abraham may have felt that this would make Sodom safe from destruction. The Lord already knew how many there were, so Abraham’s entreaties did not change God. Abraham had overestimated the number of righteous. I am sure we do the same thing. Not even all of Lot’s family would make it out alive.