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February 18, 2018

Sermon Genesis 22:7-8 . . .“Bible places:  Mt. Moriah”

“Bible places:  Mt. Moriah”

Genesis 22:7-8

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Tests are the living nightmare of every student in the world.  And the older the student gets, the harder the test.

Think, for example, of the Master Sommelier Diploma Exam.  What’s that, you say?  I’m glad you asked!  It’s an exam all about wine—theory, service, and blind tasting.  

And since it’s an exam designed by wine experts, students are asked to not only identify the type of wine, but the year it was vinted, and the region it came from.  Ever since the exam was first given in 1940, only two hundred people have passed.

Or think of the All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam.  Oxford University calls it the second most challenging exam in the world.  All you have to do is write an entire essay based on just one word, requiring a huge amount of factual knowledge and a very imaginative mind.  I wish you luck!

Or think of the Mensa exam, the most difficult IQ test in the world. To be a member, you need to score in the top two percent, with an IQ of at least 130.  But there is good news--age doesn’t matter.  In fact, the youngest member, Adam Kirby, joined when he was only two years and five months old.  That’s smart!

The book of Genesis chapter 22 talks about a test, certainly one of the hardest tests of all.  Please turn in your Bible to page 20 as I read again the words of our Old Testament text for today.  I’ll start where it says, “The Sacrifice of Isaac,” chapter 22, verse 1:  “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’  And he said, ‘Here I am.’  He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’  So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac.  And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.”

Certain stories from the Bible need no introduction.  Even those who’ve never read the Bible know them.  There’s Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, Moses and the Red Sea, Joshua and the battle of Jericho, David and Goliath, and Daniel in the lions’ den.  And while you’re making that list, there’s yet one more that belongs.  It’s the story of Abraham and Isaac, an aged father and his young son.

Notice the opening words of the text:  “And it came to pass after these things.”  Well, what things?

If you know anything about Abraham, you know what things.  He lived in a town called Ur of the Chaldees, a city that lay between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is modern-day Iraq.  It was a city of wealth and culture, of jewels and riches, the center of almost everything.  It was a very sophisticated place to be.

But as earnestly as he worshipped the gods of his people, the sky-god Anu, the moon god Ishtar, and Nammu, the goddess of the sea, it all seemed so hollow, like he was just going through the motions.  It was then, when he heard the voice of Yahweh, that he came to know the true God.

 “Leave your country,” He said, “and go to the land I will show you…I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.”  So obeying the voice of God, he packed up his home and family to go to a new land that the Lord had promised.  

But life wasn’t easy in that land far away.  Just after he moved, his father Terah died and was buried.  Lot caused far more trouble than a nephew ever should.  And then there were problems with his maidservant Hagar and their son Ishmael.  Finally, there was the complete destruction of Lot’s hometown, Sodom and Gomorrah.

But just as soon as Sarah gave birth to Isaac, he thought to himself, “At least, now the worst is over.  Now I can live in peace.  If nothing else, I have a good wife, Sarah, and a newborn son, Isaac.  All is well.”

Then, twelve years later, the voice of the Lord came to him once more.  “Take your son Isaac, the one whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.”

Imagine Abraham standing in the middle of field, looking up to heaven.  His mouth is wide open.  There’s a lump in his throat, and a look of terror in his eyes.

“Are You serious?” he said.  “Is this some kind of joke?  How can You ever ask such a thing from me, Your servant Abraham?  I’ve been good.  I’ve been faithful.  What else could You possibly want?”  The more he thought about it, the sicker he became.  But somehow, incredibly and humbly, the Bible says Abraham obeyed the word of the Lord.

It was a three-day trip to Moriah, some forty-five miles away. And as they walked together, father and son, it was awkwardly and painfully silent.  Every step seemed like the tolling of a bell, like drops of blood from a fatal wound.  And Abraham was tired—mile after mile of riding and walking and grieving.  It was a lot to ask of such an old man.

And that question from his young, teen-aged son cut him to the heart—“Father, the fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  He could hardly swallow past that lump in his throat.  “God Himself will provide the lamb,” was all he could say.

Besides that, did you hear what kind of offering God demanded?  The Bible said it six times.  Isaac was to be a burnt offering, the most gruesome of all offerings.

First Abraham would lay him on the altar, then he would cut his throat, then drain the blood from his body.  Then he would consume his body in the fire.  What kind of God would ever demand a sacrifice like that?

Finally, there they stood on the top of Mount Moriah, father and son.  Together they built an altar and piled the wood for the offering.  And tears filled both their eyes.  Abraham thought about the many years they had shared and Isaac thought about the life he would never know.  With a simple, “I love you dad,” and a “Please forgive me, son,” Abraham took his dagger from it’s sheath, his mind racing, his stomach churning, his heart breaking, and his eyes burning with sweat and tears, and he raised the dagger high above his head.  And just as he reached to the point of no return, that voice shouted out once more.

“Abraham!” it said.  “Don’t lay a hand on the boy.  Don’t do anything to him.  Now I know you fear God, because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.”

In his book, The Invisible Hand, author R.C. Sproul tells the story about his dog.  It was one of two German shepherds a woman had given him, born of champion stock.  One was named, Hallelujah, and the other, Hosannah.  Hallie was the female, and Hosie the male.

But when Hosie was only two months old, he came into the kitchen through the doggie door with his head swollen to nearly twice its normal size.  He was staggering and obviously disoriented.  Sproul assumed he had encountered a bees’ nest and had suffered multiple stings to his head.

But when he rushed him to the vet’s office for treatment, the vet discovered three deep fang wounds to his head, obviously made by a poisonous snake, either a copperhead or a rattlesnake.  It was the worst case of snakebite he had ever seen in an animal.  The prognosis was not good.

The first crisis, the vet said, was to survive the initial shock and impact of the venom itself.  The second crisis was the severe swelling.  He said, when animals’ eyes are swollen shut, they’re temporarily blind, and sometimes lose their will to live.

He administered the anti-venom as well as other drugs, and told him the next forty-eight hours would be critical.  Two days later, he called to say Hosie had survived the initial crisis, but would have to stay in the hospital two more weeks.

Finally, after two weeks passed, he had recovered enough to come home.

There was just one thing—the vet told him that the poison had killed some of the dog’s skin, causing it to literally fall from his face.  The odor would be foul and he would never look the same.  And he gave him a jar of ointment that he had to apply twice a day for weeks to come, to help the skin heal again.

When he got him home, he set up a special bed in the garage.  The odor from the dying flesh was too intense to bring him inside.

No longer was he a proud young German shepherd of champion stock.  Now he was a horrid sight to behold.  For a moment, he wondered if it wouldn’t have been better for all concerned that he had simply died from the poison.

He put on gloves, held his breath against the stench, and forced himself to touch the hideous face.  It was a moment of intense suffering and tenderness.  It was as if the dog understood his difficulty in giving him care.

As the days passed, Hosie returned to health and to life inside the house.  His face was covered, not with normal skin, but with hard, leathery scar tissue.

In time, he grew to full strength.  As an adult, he weighed close to a hundred pounds with a barrel chest and a rather meek disposition.  He became Sproul’s inseparable companion.  When he lectured, he slept next to the podium.  When he hunted, he sought out ruffed grouse.

Then two years later, Hosie suddenly went into convulsions in their kitchen.  He took him to the vet, but the medication failed to help.  Within weeks, he was having five to eight convulsions a day.  He guessed that the seizures were a result of damage to the dog’s brain from the snakebite.  He recommended that he be put to sleep.

He brought him home and thought about the vet’s advice.  He said to his wife, “Maybe I should take him out in the woods as if we were going hunting.  And when he isn’t looking, I can mercifully end his life.”  But even as he said, he knew he couldn’t do it.  There was no way he could ever pull the trigger, and neither could he even drive the dog to the vet for his execution.  He asked her to find a student to take him when he didn’t know it was being done.

Two days later, he came home from a lecture and his wife told him gently, “It’s over.  Hosie’s gone.”

And he said, “This episode in my life was about a dog.  It was not an experience I had with my son.  I couldn’t even bring myself to kill a dog who was hopelessly ill.  How radically different this was from Abraham’s situation, yet my experience gave me a much greater appreciation of what God asked Abraham to do.”

So where’s the gospel in all of this?  Strangely enough, the gospel was accomplished in that very same place where Abraham almost sacrificed his son.  For on that very same mountain, Mount Moriah, there’s a hill called Calvary, the very place where Jesus, God’s Son, suffered and died for your sins and for mine.  What He would not demand from Abraham, He did Himself.  That is, after all, what Abraham said, “God Himself will provide the lamb.”

In the words of a hymn:  “Was it for crimes that I have done, He groaned upon the tree?  Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree.  But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe.  Here Lord, I give myself away, ‘tis all that I can do.”


Lord God, heavenly Father, as we struggle with the problems and worries of this life, grant us the assurance that You are our loving Father and that we are Your dear children.  Free us from the anxieties of life and cause us, through every trial, test, and difficulty, to trust in You alone.  This we ask in the name of Jesus.  Amen


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