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  • Jim Lovelady

Day 26: The Ram in the Thicket

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”--Genesis 22:2

The Abraham and Isaac story is one of the most enigmatic stories in the Bible.

Child sacrifice was common in the ancient near eastern culture of which Abraham was a part. It seems outlandish and grotesque to us but put yourself in the culture of primordial altar sacrifice. Your understanding of things is that, in order to have a good crop this year you must show allegiance to your god by offering a gift--to get on that god's good side. So maybe you offer some grain from last year. Maybe it works and you have another good year. But maybe it doesn't work and now you have the anxiety that maybe you didn't give your god a big enough gift so next year you give an animal. Your gifts get more costly as the years go by. You appease the god and it’s a good year but sometimes it doesn't work so your gifts naturally got more and more costly until, in order to really prove your love and dedication and dependence on that god, you offer up your first born son. You offer up your entire legacy, your future as a family, a clan or tribe. This is your everything…and you gladly kill your son in order to keep life as you know it going. It's crazy, right?

We aren't so different in our day and age. Just look at the way we sacrifice our children on the altar of success, sports and education--with our overbearing hopes for them, our "living vicariously through them", our self-righteous religious demands, our graceless expectations, our exasperating manipulations, and our culture of abortion…all so we can have our perfect suburban American life. It's crazy, right?

Child altar sacrifice is the cultural context within which Abraham lives so when God asks him to offer his son as a sacrifice for the family, Abraham knows the drill. But THIS sacrifice story takes a shocking turn (for that culture) when God intervenes by sending an angel to stop Abraham from going through with it. Instead of Issac, God provides a ram, stuck in the thicket, to be the sacrifice. This is God's way of revealing a primordial grace by saying, "I'm not like the other gods. I don't require that kind of sacrifice. I am the one who will provide the sacrifice…you'll see."

The Abraham and Isaac story is also one of the most paradigmatic stories in the Bible.

This story shaped Israel's understanding of sacrifice and the expectation for how God would work salvation in and through his people. Jesus understood this story very clearly as he made his way to the cross. Jesus, the Messiah, understood that his story was a fulfillment of the Abraham and Isaac story. All this time that story was actually pointing to him.

In the garden of Gethsemane we see Jesus' soul was in extreme torment. On the one hand he knew that, for the joy set before him, he would endure the cross but on the other hand he begged to have that cup removed from him. I don't think the tension of his desires and his submission to his Father ended until the moment where Jesus gave up his spirit. I'm pretty sure that at any time during Good Friday, if God had said, "Never mind, you don't have to go through with this," Jesus would have gladly exited the situation or, as was his habit, "disappeared into the crowd". So let's assume this tension as we examine how Jesus goes to the cross knowing that he sees himself as Isaac dying for the sins of the family.

Let's really get into that moment. I imagine Jesus might have had this hopeful notion that at any moment the Lord would send his angels to save him (a reference to the Abraham story, indicating that everyone knew what Jesus "thought" he was doing--"If he thinks he is Isaac dying for the sins of Israel, let him save himself!"). That desire to come down off the cross had been and always would be tucked into "not my will but yours, Oh Lord" but the "let this cup pass" hope was there nonetheless.

The hope was there when he was mocked and scorned.

It was there when he was whipped and beaten.

The hope was there when they laid a crown of thorns on his head.

"Will you send your angels now? Nevertheless, not my will but yours oh Lord."

Every moment was a tension between, "let this cup pass" and "nevertheless, not my will" until, as darkness fell and Jesus hung on the cross he realized there would be no one intervening in this sacrifice. Heaven was silent. There would be no ram in the thicket to be the atoning sacrifice. Jesus realized there is no ram…because he was the ram!"

God had forsaken him and he cried out in agony, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?--Romans 8:32


Where have you been living under an ancient sacrificial system? You don't have to live that way anymore! You don't have to live under the anxiety of not knowing whether you have done enough, given enough or sacrificed enough. You don't have to kill your kids, getting them into the college or career of your choice. You don't have to kill yourself for the American dream.

Our God is a God who provides the sacrifice. Our God offered himself as the ram. And if he would do that, how hard is it for him to take care of your children, to provide you a job, to guide your every step, to graciously give you all things?

I confess my natural tendency is to appease the wrath of others, my own expectations and even you. Remind me that you are not mad at me and that you are the one who knows me and loves me with an everlasting love. Remind me that I have nothing to prove. Amen.

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