In Genesis 22 we have a narrative example of what it means to fear God. The story is one of the most famous in Scripture. God calls Abraham to take his son, his only son, the son of promise, up to the top of a mountain and kill him. Abraham obeys the Lord. He takes his son on a three day journey. He ascends the mountain, ties his son down, and prepares to sacrifice him. The Angel of the Lord appears and tells Abraham to stop. Abraham sees a ram in the thicket and uses it for the sacrifice instead of Isaac.
Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me (Genesis 22:12).
Why was Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac such an act of faith? Isaac was Abraham’s son. What man kills his own son, especially at the command of someone else? Isaac was not just any son. Isaac was the son of the promise. Isaac was the only way all of God’s promises could be fulfilled. God had given Abraham great promises (Genesis 12:1-3, 15:4-5). What man takes the promises of God, lays them on the altar and prepares to put a knife in them? Abraham was not only willing to kill his son, he willing to kill the son that fulfilled all of God’s promises.
In Abraham we see a picture of what it means to fear God. The Lord knew that Abraham feared Him because when he asked for Isaac, Abraham gave him up. The lesson is not difficult to understand though it is difficult to live out. When God asks for something we surrender it. When someone is in need and we have the goods to help them we do. When a child needs help we give up our time to help them. When God calls upon us to minister to friend in pain we do that. When God calls upon us to move jobs to get our family in a better church we do. When God calls upon us to move churches, leaving behind friends, so we can be in a theological sound church, we do. When God calls upon us to sacrifice our reputation in the name of Christ, we do. When God calls upon us to care for our aging parents, we do. When God calls upon us to preach the sermon that will cause parishioners to leave we do. When God calls upon us to sacrifice that great job to care for our wife, we do.
But there is no sacrifice, like the sacrifice of our children. Our greatest hopes and dreams often live in our children. We are not Abraham. My sons are not the children of promise like Isaac, though they are building blocks in the Kingdom. Nonetheless we are required to give them up. They are not ours. They belong to God. What if God called my son to Africa and I only got to see him every three years? What if my daughter marries a missionary to India? What if my son is martyred for his faith? What if my daughter’s reputation is destroyed on the Internet because of her love for Jesus? What if I have great dreams for my children, but God has ordinary ones? It is true that whatever we lay on the altar will be resurrected (Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham was willing to kill Isaac because he knew that God raises the dead. Whatever we give up we will receive back in the next life. But that doesn’t make the sacrifice any less painful or necessary. We know we have the faith of our father Abraham when we withhold nothing from God, including that which we value most, our children.