What would it have been like to sit at Grandfather Jacob’s feet and to hear him tell his stories? Imagine watching his face as you listen to him tell about Joseph, the great loss and then the inexpressible joy of having Joseph restored to him.
Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together. Genesis 22:7-8 New Living Testament
It was a story they had heard all their lives. As they gathered together at the end of the day for the evening meal someone would ask grandfather, “Please, tell us again!” Grandfather would smile, responding with his usual, “You’ve heard the story so many times you know it better then I do!” And everyone laughed knowing the tease was the opening line, the intro to the story that still filled them with wonder.
The day Joni told me we were going to be parents was exciting and terrifying at the same time. How can I describe the feelings which came flowing out of every compartment of my heart and recess of my mind, when I was told I was now a father? There was an excitement and a joy in realizing that in 9 months a child would arrive who was part of me and part of Joni, a combination of the two becoming one in a child.
Abraham and Sarah had waited for what seemed an eternity for the promise God gave them about their son, the miracle of their elder years, the event that was impossible. God promised, but time passed slowly, so very slowly, and still no son. It was long enough. Sarah was tired of waiting so she decided to give God some help in fulfilling His promise. On this side of the story we know what a disaster that decision was, and the millennia of pain, heartbreak and destruction that one act of “playing God” caused and still causes, will always cause.
Before we are too hard on Sarah, this is a good place to recognize and to ask God to keep us from the folly of thinking we can—we need—to help God. There is something so amazingly powerful in the story of Abraham and Sarah’s not-so-wise choice. God did not take away the promise despite their lack of faith, their lack of trust, their unwillingness to wait on God’s timing. God did not remove the promise, or its blessings. Actually, God doubled the blessings as He gave the same blessings to Ishmael. However, just as there is with any choice that circumvents plans made by God, there are consequences. And these consequences have lasted several thousands years after those who made choices which would lead to current events.
Grandfather began his story and the excitement they felt every time it was told grew, tension filled them as the words created pictures in their minds, pictures they knew well. As they listened, the emotions in their grandfather’s voice reached in their hearts giving them an understanding of the conflict raging in his heart.
The reality sank in day by day that I was going to be a father, and with it another reality also made itself known. I had no idea how to be a father! When I said the news about us being pregnant was exciting and terrifying, well the truth was the terrifying bit was I didn’t know one thing about being a father. Especially if we had son! If we had a daughter, Joni would teach her how to be a young a lady, how to be a woman, what it meant to be female. I knew I would have a part, but the responsibility would be different if we had a son.
When it comes to practical things like cars, houses, electrics, plumbing, etc., anything needing hands-on, I’m a disaster just waiting to happen. During my freshman year in shop class, everything I was supposed to make became the proverbial ash tray. There was also the lawn mower that worked before I participated in its tear down, but after the reassembly it was frozen solid! I wasn’t much good at sports either, so I was sure a boy born to me would be in big trouble. I had no idea how to teach a son how to be a man.
Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 when Isaac was conceived. This is what my friend Keith would call an amazing coincidence! Then all was well for 17 years until God came to Abraham again with another message, one any sane person would hope never to hear. God told Abraham to take the child of promise to the land of Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering.
What would you do? What would I do? Abraham did exactly what God asked him to do without hesitation, without question. Abraham, the man who lied about his wife twice, because he couldn’t trust God to protect her or himself, chose trust this time.
“But Jacob said, ‘My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.’ ” Genesis 42:38
Jacob struggled with trust, since he had lost the first child God gave him through Rachel. Now he was being asked — no, demanded — to send the only remaining connection he had with his beloved Rachel, his son Benjamin. It was too much! First his cherished Rachel, the one who had always had his heart, his complete love was taken. Then Joseph, the first son of Rachel, the son who whose heart beat with his, was also gone. Now these sons of his wanted to strip him of the last remaining portion of Rachel and Joseph, both still so much a part of him, still the greatest of his reality. How could he send Benjamin as a possible sacrifice to Egypt? Wasn’t it enough Joseph had been taken? And the money, what game was this Egyptian ruler playing? And why with them? Why, God, why?
I wonder what it would have been like to hear the story of Isaac and Abraham, sitting with the family as Abraham told the story. A first person account, father and son in the room retelling thoughts, feelings, and the incredible joy as God proved Himself once again the Provider of all things. Did Jacob recall the story as he had to make the decision about Benjamin? Were thoughts of his grandfather and father popping in and out of his mind as he struggled to come to a decision? Did he find himself wrestling with God in his mind one more time? What we do know is Jacob sent Benjamin, just as his grandfather sent his father, Isaac.
There comes a time when the love of a father is expressed in letting go, in making the most difficult choice a father has to make, recognizing God’s claim on his child. Finally we realize we cannot protect our children from a broken world. We cannot protect them from pain, hurt, actions, words, all the things we know will chip pieces from them. No matter how we long to protect our children, love dictates we let them go. It is the only way they will find the One who can and did provide the lamb.
I have been blessed with two amazing daughters! They are multi-talented, beautiful, intelligent, thinkers, active, and they are their mother’s daughters! Despite my feeble attempts at parenting, they have matured into ladies of the highest caliber. And people say there is no God. I know there is a powerful God, I’ve seen His damage control do miraculous things with my blunders! The most difficult sacrifice I’ve had to make was letting them go, recognizing they were now adults. Each one has had to find her own way.
As much as I wanted to protect them from the pain of this world, my heart still twisted knowing what was out there. I would never be Big Enough to protect them, to keep them from evil and the hurt I knew waited for them in our broken world. Yet there was another Father who knew deeper and better, in a way I will never know, what it is to let go of your child with the certain knowledge they will be hurt and you absolutely cannot interfere!
“And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love, and I am very pleased with him.’ ” Matthew 3:17 New Century Version
There was a Father who sacrificed His Son so billions of those who couldn’t care less would have a choice, an option, a way to discover life outside the Box of Being Broken that is our legacy. This Father took the opportunity to proclaim His love and His pride in His Son, and in just three and a half years God the Father would turn His back on this Son, not because of what His Son had done, but because of what we had done. This Father’s Love caused Him to sacrifice His Son; God supplied the Lamb.
Grandfather did not disappoint! As always, the story of great-grandfather Abraham and great-grandmother Sarah reminded the family God is faithful. He is most active when He is hardest to hear, and most visible when hardest to see. Faith is all about trusting what we can’t see, or hear, feel, or taste. Faith is all about the intangibles, much like being a father, being the one who grows in harmony with his children.