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Genesis 21


Child sacrifice. Divine Absence. Self-Denying Hospitality. The prophetic pursuit of shalom. Just another week for the lectionary. Just another week for us members of the body of Christ.

I’m always suspicious of people who suggest that all of the readings hold together, making perfect sense, which is why I figured I’d give it a go today.

  • They all hold together in the longing and yearning to know God, and to live God’s will.
  • They all hold together in their deep and profound sense that something is wrong with the world.
  • They all hold together in their deep and profound wrestling to understand that very problem.
  • They all hold together in their deep attentiveness and faithfulness to God.

And they all hold together in their outlook and worldview. Oh, it doesn’t seem that way at first. Infanticide doesn’t seem to modern ears to be a fitting, let alone appropriate response to God. And yet the way I’ve come to understand it, this is a different story than the one I had been taught.

This is the story of Abraham, the one called out of Ur, called out of particular familial, tribal and religious traditions to follow the God who would reveal God’s self along the way. This is the story of that unknown, mysterious, sojourning God of promise who called Abraham out of Ur, and into the land I will show you. That God.

We look at and we read this passage. And some of us wrestle deeply with it. And now, with a child of my own, I find myself wrestling long and hard with any notion that God would command such a thing. And it forces me into the scriptures again. And Again. And again.

Isaac is with his father, as good as dead, and carrying the instruments of his own destruction. Abraham says to the servants, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Is he putting on a brave face? “We will come back to you,” he says. Maybe he’s in on the joke. Maybe he already knows what kind of God this is. Maybe he has the sense that this mysterious, sojourning God of promise is up to something different. Something other than what you’d expect.

What kind of God would demand child sacrifice?

And the clear answer that comes back is this: Not This One. If that’s the one you’re looking for, if that’s the one you serve, then that’s not God. YHWH is nothing like this.

No. Not this God. Even though so much of our religion, even though so many of our institutions head in this direction, YHWH different. This is not a god who demands that we sacrifice others to satisfy their bloodlust. YHWH is different. YWHH is a God who provides. A God who provides, gives and blesses. And this God promises even more than we could ask or imagine.

It seems to me, in reading and re-reading this story, that if we’re going to take seriously the God of the scriptures, of the Hebrew and Christian Testaments – then we need to remember that this is the God of Creation – the God of Promise – the God of Covenant – the God of Blessing – the God of Liberation – and the God of Shalom.

And we cannot forget that this is also the God of the cross. The God who sacrificed God’s very self in order to break the needless cycle of violence and death. This is the God who both hears and utters cries of despair.

“How long O Lord Will You Forget Me?” the Psalmist laments
My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Jesus cries

We rightly focus our longing, our pain, our yearnings and our questions on the one who can and the one who has endured all things. In the midst of our pain, our sorrow, and even our sense of abandonment, even if it’s just by some sort of muscle memory, we return week in and week out to this table. The table of welcome and embrace. The table of hospitality and the table of self-giving love.

There’s something wrong with this world. There’s something wrong in a world that demands we sacrifice one another, whether to the almighty dollar, to our need for self-preservation, or to the various empires that colonize our world, and that colonize our hearts.

Yet this is not our God. Ours is the God who extends gift, provision and promise to one and all, and who invites us to do the same.