Marissa and I were in the hospital anticipating the birth of our first child. We knew he was a boy and we knew he was on his way. We had planned for this day for nine months, having prayed for a healthy baby and a safe delivery. When he came we were both in tears as the doctor held him up and gave him to Marissa to hold and kiss. He was then taken to a small table in the room where he was cleaned up a bit. He was crying, or wailing actually as the nurses took over. It was then that a nurse said, “Dad you can hold his hand.” I was scared to death. Hold my son’s hand? His hand was about the size of a silver dollar. I extended my pinky finger into his hand and he grabbed on tight. For a few seconds his cries subsided to a whimper, and his eyes opened toward his Daddy. “Hey buddy, I’m your Daddy. I love you,” was all I could say. I turned with tearful eyes and looked at Marissa as she was crying tears of joy as our prayers had been answered. He was a perfect little baby boy. Our boy.
Abraham wanted a son so very bad. He and Sarah prayed for one and eventually God answered that prayer with the birth of Isaac. I imagine the birth of Isaac would have looked familiar to fathers everywhere as mother does all the work and Dad beams with pride as his new son is born.
Isaac would grow to be a young man, and without question the pride of his father. It is this reason that the story told in Genesis 22 is so heart wrenching to read as a father. I’ll admit it is hard for me to comprehend the need for it. Hadn’t Abraham already proven his faith? Didn’t God know the heart of Abraham without putting him through this? Why was the sacrifice of Isaac necessary?
“Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. ‘Abraham!’ God called. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘I am here.’ ‘Take your son, your only son — yes, Isaac, whom you love so much — and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.’” Gen. 22:1–2 (NLT)
How could God ask, and how could Abraham comply, with the command to sacrifice his only son? Abraham was so clear in his faith and belief in God that we never see any indication of his second guessing the directive.
We may be prone to think this story is demonstrative of a delusional and crazed father hearing voices telling him to sacrifice his child, but the story is just as easily interpreted as the story of a father who had no choice but to do the thing that God was instructing him to do, regardless of how difficult it may be. This choice to do the difficult thing because it is right, is ever present in our lives as fathers even today. The fear of losing a family in no way justifies disobedience to God in times of trouble or obstacle, but how do we reconcile the two?
“‘Don’t lay a hand on the boy!’ the angel said. ‘Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.’”
“Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son.”
Fathers today, especially those going through divorce and custody disputes, are too often called to sacrifice something all too precious without an alternative choice. However, trusting in God’s plan and knowing that He has the ability to provide a ram is necessary to maintain our priorities to be men of God first and foremost.
Abraham had to spend days believing he was about to sacrifice his only son. He hiked up a mountain with his son carrying the knife and wood that would be used to carry out the sacrifice. This march to the alter would be excruciatingly painful for any father, yet Abraham carried it out as God asked of him. He trusted God as he marched up the mountain.
The Abraham and Isaac story alludes to the story to come of Jesus and the sacrifice that was made on the cross for each of us. God shows us in the Isaac story the harsh and painful reality of seeing your own child placed upon the alter to take the place of the sacrifice that we couldn’t provide on our own.
Godly fathers can learn much from the story of Abraham and Isaac, but a few takeaways that I think are evident include:
- Your children belong to God before they belong to you.
- Live as if you are God’s before you are your families.
- Trust God as you march up your own mountains. Even if the walk up the mountain seems more than you can bear, trust God to provide as He sees fit.
- Never forget the painful sacrifice God made in providing Jesus to be crucified.
These lessons are easy to forget when you’re in the throws of raising small children from day to day, but if we are believers, then our children are not our own. They are God’s, and our responsibility is to raise and guide them to seek out His purpose in their lives. The best way for us to do this as Dad’s is to live as the example of one seeking God first. Trust the path that God has laid out, even if it involves the most difficult climb up the steepest mountain carrying the most painful sacrifice you will ever face. And always remember that God has done this as well, and it is because He did that we all have hope as a result of our faith in His Son Jesus.