Why Did Abraham Sacrifice Isaac?
Dr. Jim Denison
The current issue of Fortune magazine carries this cover story: “God and business: the surprising quest for spiritual renewal in the American workplace.”
In the article, Andre DelBecq, a management professor, says, “There were two things I thought I’d never see in my life, the fall of the Russian empire and God being spoken about at a business school.” It’s about time.
David Miller, former IBM executive and investment banker who now leads a faith-in-the-workplace group called Avodah (Hebrew for “work” and “worship”) Institute: “People often talk about the sacred-secular divide, but my faith tells me that God is found in earth and rocks and buildings and institutions, and, yes, in the business world.” He’s right.
The Princeton Religious Research Index reports a sharp increase in religious beliefs and practices since the 1990s. When the Gallup Poll asked Americans in 1999 if they felt a need to experience spiritual growth, 78% said yes, up from 20% in 1994, and nearly half said they’d had occasion to talk about their faith in the workplace in the past 24 hours.
Laura Nash, a senior research fellow at Harvard Business School, says, “Spirituality in the workplace is exploding.”
Soul and body, God and daily life are finally coming together for many people in our culture. We all need that intersection to happen for us every day. So I want to answer two questions today: why? and how?
Why trust God with your life?
This week I read James Maas’s book, Power Sleep. His research proves that at least 50 percent of America’s adult population is chronically sleep-deprived. An even greater percentage report trouble sleeping on any given night. And the number who report trouble sleeping has risen 33 percent in the last five years.
Why? Why are we so stressed and anxious?
We’re working more hours than ever before in our history. The technological revolution was supposed to free our time; instead it keeps us working all the time. Cell phones, pagers, and e-mail find us wherever we are in the world. It’s as though we never left the office, because we don’t. If we can just do more, we can have more and we can be more. Or so we think.
As a result, we’re achieving financial success on an unprecedented scale, but we’re discovering that it’s not enough. As one executive in the Fortune article said, “We get to the top of the ladder and find that maybe it’s leaning against the wrong building.”
For many of us, it is.
The problem started a long time ago.
Six centuries before Christ, a poet named Orpheus began teaching ancient Greece that our souls existed separate from our bodies, and were put into them as punishment for crimes they committed in the spiritual world. The point to life, he said, was to get our good souls out of our bad bodies. Keep the spiritual from the secular.
Orpheus influenced Pythagoras, who influenced Plato, who influenced Augustine, who influenced Martin Luther and his Reformation, who influences us today. And so the Western world, from ancient Greece to modern America, has bought into this division of soul and body, spirit and life, for 26 centuries.
In our culture the “spiritual” and the “secular” are segmented. God is for Sunday, but not for Monday. Souls are for saving, but not for living. We are not to talk about our religion in public, or let it affect our public lives. The two are separate.
So while we achieve success financially, vocationally, socially, academically, it’s enough spiritually that we are periodically religious. We trust God to save our souls, while we take care of everything else.
But we can’t. God didn’t make things this way. He created the heavens and the earth, he made our planet, and he is the only one who knows how we are to live on it. When we separate our work and lives from God, we pull the plug on the only power which enables us to live and work with joy, courage, and peace. Life won’t work this way.
And it doesn’t have to. George Gallup recently conducted a poll with results he calls “among the most exciting and significant that we have recorded in more than a half-century of polling.” I’d like to know what has Mr. Gallup so excited.
Here it is. He has discovered a sliver of the American population which he calls “highly spiritually committed.” People who let God run their lives, not just their religion. People who live for God all week, not just on Sunday. People who belong unconditionally to God.
What has he learned about them? “While representing only 13% of the populace, these persons are a ‘breed apart’ from the rest of society. We find that these people, who have what might be described as a ‘transforming faith,’ are more tolerant of others, more inclined to perform charitable acts, more concerned about the betterment of society, and far happier” (emphasis mine).
God is going to ask you to join their ranks today. Here’s how.
How to trust God with your life
Our text opens with a very confusing statement: “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied” (v. 1).
You need to know that the word “test” here does not mean to tempt to do wrong, but to test so that we can do right. The Hebrew word nawsaw means to test and prove something, to show that it is so. God is going to give Abraham a faith test. And he will pass it with flying colors.
Here it is: “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about” (v. 2).
Abraham had waited 25 years for this son. When he was born God had promised his father, “it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned” (Genesis 21:12). And now God tells this elderly man, more than 110 years old, to sacrifice him to God.