Whilst considering grace for a sermon, and I just cannot get my head or heart round this exquisite reality in the Christian faith, I came across that old wily character that for too long I have read as some what of a hero. Yes, at times a scoundrel (who isn’t?), but essentially a man of faith tested and proven. But I was shocked, when I had my presupposition challenged.
(The 1635 Rembrandt (left) is a favourite of mine, ‘Sacrifice of Isaac’).
Abraham in fact models a kind of ruthless self-seeking at the expense of others by taking those around him and dragging them through the bush backwards (for wont of a better metaphor)! He deceives Pharaoh, Abimelech and seriously hurts his own wife. He allows Hagar to be mistreated (including by having his wicked way with the poor women), and then we come to the most famous story of all (GEnesis 22). A story of faith I thought. Read on….
“Suppose, however, that God is well aware of Abraham’s tendency to forfeit his family to danger and uncertainty? What if the test is really designed to see just how far Abraham will go? . . .
. . . Perhaps God needs to see if there is ever a point where Abraham is willing to sacrifice himself rather than his family. He has sacrificed the other members of his household; will he go so far as to sacrifice this son of promise? . . .
What might we have heard from an exemplary Abraham? “Take me! I am old. The boy has his whole life in front of him.” Or might we even have heard the Abraham of old (cf. Gen 18:25): “Far be it from you to expect such a thing. . . . ” But . . . . this Abraham risks nothing but silent obedience. . . . Abraham makes every effort to go through with the sacrifice of his son. Only God’s intervention keeps him from murder. . . .
Abraham, ironically, names the place “YHWH will see.” . . . . But what has YHWH actually seen? On the mountain, YHWH sees a man who fears, a man in need of grace. . . .
Whether or not Abraham has passed the test, we do not know. We fear not.”
Gunn and Fewell in Narrative in the Hebrew Bible, p.98-100
I suspect Abraham was a failure because we are failures. We try to save our own skin every single time. He’s like us, and that is why for Abraham, God provided a lamb, and for all of us, God provided a Lamb. We didn’t and can’t pass the test, but Jesus can and does.