As this month begins, I also begin a year’s sabbatical. I was encouraged to see that this new beginning aligned with the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah.
It also makes reference to Abraham’s journey up to Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac. Many Jews pray on this day that they will step into the benefit of the good action of Abraham who received, on oath, a promise of great prosperity.
When we read about this passage in Genesis 22: 1-19 we are so often rightly focused on the prophetic pointing of Isaac’s sacrifice (and resurrection) to the person of Christ. However, in re-reading this passage I was struck with the person of Abraham himself. It was a major life transition for him.
He had been walking under the desert stars for many years, struggling to come to terms with the greatness of this God who had called him out. He had fought his battles, believed for fecundity in the face of sterility, and now was walking proudly with his “son of promise” Isaac – his only son, (it seems that Ishmael is not counted in here), the one he loved.
What an outrageous request God makes of him! Kierkegaard, in “Fear and Trembling”, even suggests that, in making such a request, God was undertaking a “teleological suspension of the ethical” – the final good outcome somehow allowed for a morally ambiguous request.
While you are working that one out, let’s get back to Abraham. He simply stepped out and obeyed in faith. He told his servants that “we will come back to you.”
I think Abraham came back changed.
“…where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” asked Isaac.
Abraham answered, (no doubt holding back the emotion and gritting his teeth in faith, battling again to see beyond his present reality with teary eyes of faith), “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
Our God doesn’t kill the new generation. He sacrifices the “old man” so that we may live in newness of life.
God, did not in fact provide a lamb (something young and fresh), he set aside an old ram caught by its horns in the thicket. Isaac was unbound and the knife was put to the old ram. It was almost as if Abraham was sacrificing his own troubled past in the ram – but also something of his powerful patristic presence.
The old was sacrificed so that the new generation could be released and empowered. It is interesting to see that Isaac went from the altar of sacrifice to the altar of marriage and future, prayer induced, fecundity.
Something in Abraham died on that day. Father’s need to learn to die! However, it was also a new beginning as this event marked a new season of fecundity for Abraham as well. From a man struggling to have one son he was able to go on and father many more children through a new wife, Keturah – (new partnerships and networks!) Genesis 25: 1-5.
He also released God’s passionate, oath backed promise to bless the nations – a promise which impacts our faith even today.
I’m asking that, in this “new” sabbatical year, my own “horns” can be disengaged from the thicket of ministry and reputation, and that my “absence” will release a new generation to fruitful life and ministry.
Rosh Hashanah is followed by ten days of repentance leading up to the Holy day of Yom Kippur. May these next days pour the healing blood of Christ into all our pasts, “…the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)