The Reverend Dr. Richard L. Floyd is an author, writer and blogger. He is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ in Pittsfield, where he served for 22 years. Before that he served congregations in Maine and was a seminary chaplain.
Scripture: Genesis 22:1-14 (NRSV)
After these things God tested Abraham. He 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 that I shall show you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’ Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill 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, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’
Reflection: The God Who Sees
This story of “the binding of Isaac” is an important one for both Jews and Christians. It raises the issue of how God provides; more specifically how the Divine Promise is kept.
God’s new command to Abraham echoes the original promise and threatens to revoke it. Israel would have heard this story as their own story, for in their story the promise is always threatened. And the threat to the promise is the threat to their continued existence. Yet Israel would also have heard it as the story of how, though the promise is always in jeopardy, somehow God “sees” that the promise is kept, that the story continues.
God will provide! The word “providence” itself derives from this passage, and also from verse 14, after God has produced a ram. Then Abraham called the place, “The Lord will provide” or “The Lord has seen:”
The story keeps us off balance. Its outcome is not predictable. And the spareness of the biblical narrative means we have to look for clues to discern what is going on. One of the clues here is the idea of seeing. Throughout the Genesis story there is the motif of seeing, the human characters seeing, and God seeing.
The human characters see, but only now and then, little bit by bit. Seeing is never complete. They see, to use Paul’s phrase “through a glass darkly.” The characters need to see, at least in part, what God is up to. They need to see how the promise is fulfilled. They won’t see completely, they must act in faith, and perhaps it is faith that lets them see as much as they do.
So, Abraham travels for three days and looks up and sees the place for the sacrifice. And when he is about to sacrifice Isaac he looks up and sees the ram.
“God says, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy 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.’ And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by the horns. Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide.’” The Hebrew means “The Lord will see.”
But this Hebrew verb “to see” is a “warm verb,” so God is not merely a passive seer, but an active doer in response to what he sees. Providence means not just that God sees, but that God “sees to it.” In Latin “to see” is Pro video. God will see to it!
I am convinced that the earliest Christians were prepared to interpret the death of Jesus as an atoning sacrificial act by their God because they knew this story of Abraham and Isaac. As good Jews they trusted the identity of God as the One who both sees and “sees to it,” and so the crucifixion and resurrection were seen as the ultimate act of divine providence, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, saving us from sin and death.
A son climbs a holy hill with wood on his back for a sacrifice. They recognized that story! They knew it was a terrible story. But they were able to see in faith that God sees, and in Easter light, they saw with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, that God did provide the sacrifice, that the promise was kept and the story continues.
Holy One, in this perilous time give us such faith in your divine providence that we will not fear those things we cannot see, but trust that in your vast love and tender mercy you will see us through. We pray in the strong name of Jesus Christ.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving for the more than 119,000 victims of the Covid-19 disease
- For those grieving or suffering after mass shootings in Syracuse, NY, Minneapolis, MN, and Charlotte, NC this weekend
- For the family and friends of Rev. Mr. Greg Errgong-Weider, former pastor in Norwalk, CT, who died on May 6
- For the family and friends of Rev. Mr. Roscoe Winthrop Nelson, former pastor in South Windsor and Manchester, who died on May 15
- For the family and friends of Rev. Ms. Julia Aldrich, a UCC pastor from Massachusetts, who died June 21
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the continued precautions practiced by our churches as state regulations begin to loosen throughout the region
Please Pray for the Following SNEUCC Churches:
Congregational Church of New Canaan, New Canaan, CT
First Church of Christ, Congregational UCC, New Britain, CT
South Congregational/First Baptist Church, New Britain, CT
Tri Parish Community Church, New Braintree, MA
Pilgrim United Church of Christ, New Bedford, MA
Congregational Church of Needham, Needham, MA
Congregational Church of Naugatuck, Naugatuck, CT
First Congregational Church of Natick, Natick, MA
Nahant Village Church, Nahant, MA
Mystic Congregational Church UCC, Mystic, CT
Morris Congregational Church, UCC, Morris, CT
This Week in History:
June 22, 1970 (50 years ago) President Nixon signed a bill extending for 5 years Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which prevented discrimination of voters due to color or race. The 1970 act also lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Section 5 of the 1965 bill continued to be renewed in various forms through 2006 and has yet to become a permanent amendment to the constitution.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”