Hebrews 11:17-19

17By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, 18of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” 19He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.  Hebrews 11:17-19


I took a philosophy course when I was in college as an elective.  I can’t remember the title of the course, what we read, what we wrote, or what we learned.  But with crystal clarity I do remember my professor telling us that, in his opinion, the story of Abraham and Isaac is the most disgusting, horrific, story in the Bible and it ought to be removed.


That line affected me on lots of levels.  I’ve never forgotten it.  It wasn’t the idea of “removing” a story from the Bible that stuck with me, it was the shock I felt at hearing him talk about a story in a completely opposite way from what I had thought my whole life.


At some point I had been taught – and I say “at some point” because I have no memory of how it came about – that the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac was proof positive that Abraham was a man of incredible faith.  It made Abraham a hero in my book…and Isaac incredibly lucky that God intervened when God did.  The story was intended, in my young mind, to encourage me toward the blind faith of Abraham.


By attacking the story, my professor was challenging my conception of faith.  He was putting himself (and me) above the story.  He was thinking critically.  He was drawing out the implications of where such a story would lead.  That was the moment for me when I quit trusting “what I thought I once knew” and became open to the possibility that faith might lead me to new places, new ideas, new possibilities.


I think, at that moment, my faith became faith.


Christians, Moslems, and Jews all trace their family stories back through Abraham.  Thus we share ideas of faith, devotion, following God’s promises, benefiting others, and willingness to sacrifice.  But look behind the broad strokes and it is clear that we all remember very different things about Abraham and we draw very different conclusions.


I’m thinking we should talk more and fight less.  And I’m thinking we should look far more closely at what we are willing to sacrifice and what we would do well to simply let go.


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, stories define us yet stories can also bind us.  Bless us with the openness to hear old stories with new ears, with the willingness to truly engage, and with compassion toward those captured by very different stories than ours.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


7 Responses to “Hebrews 11:17-19”

  1. Melanie Says:

    Very appropriate for today’s world of people fighting and killing for how they interpret God’s Word. Well done.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    i love this and i would love to hear more on the subject of abraham and isaac.. this story is one of the most intriguing in all the bible.

  3. Georgene Says:

    I have great faith but this story has always disturbed me. I think of the people who actually kill their children or others because they “hear the voice of God.” We consider them insane and yet Abraham is exalted for his faith. How do we know when it is a message from God and when we are just hallucinating?

  4. Bert in Bellingham Says:

    I agree with Pr. Kerry’s philosophy professor. Whoever wrote the story perhaps was trying to illustrate a gross test of faith by that old man up there in the white robe who shakes is fist at us. As a thinking Lutheran Christian, I see the story as Biblical fokelore and seriously doubt it ever happened. Nonetheless, the message of strong faith and redemption absolutely there and shines as a light in the tunnel.

  5. Bert in Bellingham Says:

    Please excuse a couple typos!

  6. Judy Says:

    In a recent bible study, one of the participating Pastors said that if you read the rest of the book of Hebrews, it appears that Sarah never again speaks to Abraham. Implying, perhaps, that she could never forgive him for his willingness to obey God to the extent that he would have killed their son. She also thought this was a horrendous story. Lots of food for thought.

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