Submission

“And Abraham said to the young men, ‘Keep yourselves here with the donkey and I and the boy will go up there. We will worship then we will return to you.”

(Genesis 22:5)

 

At times, we are tempted to gloss over the language of this passage, but it is crucial to understanding the faith of Abraham as he is going up to the place of sacrifice with Isaac. After commanding the servants to stay with the donkey, he tells them that “we will go to worship” and “we will return.” In both cases, Abraham uses the plural form of the verb. It is clear that Abraham has every expectation that it will be both he and Isaac that come down from the mountain. Either God will provide a substitute or God will raise Isaac from the dead — either way, both will return down from the place of sacrifice. He has confidence in the fulfillment of God’s promises even if he does not fully understand how that promise will be fulfilled.

The confidence in God’s provision is a lesson that each of us could stand to be reminded up and learn from. How often do we take things into our own hands and seek our own ways and means of providing for our needs. God is gracious and he is gracious all of the time, yet somehow we forget and we worry and we wonder whether God will provide for our needs and preserve us in a given event even when God has been faithful in the past. How short our memories are when it comes to God’s grace. How often we are more like the unthankful steward who, having been forgiven 10,000 talents, neglects to forgive 100 denarii. How shameful we can be as those who carry the greatest treasure the world has ever known in our lives and who hold the key of truth in our arms.

Abraham and Isaac thus part company with the young men and head to worship God. An interesting point to note is the language for worship that is chosen here. The Hebrew word in question is the verb hÎwDj (chawah), which in itself is not overly remarkable. What is remarkable is that it is found in a rare verbal stem known as Hishtaphel. Technically, this stem is reflexive (the action is directed back at the one performing the action) and in the middle tense (the actor is performing the action upon himself). On the surface, that also may seem unremarkable. We might also add that in Hebrew, this is the only verb found in the Hishtafel construct, which in itself again is not overly remarkable given ancient verbal forms in the Old Testament.

What is remarkable is when you put all of these pieces together in the context of the event that we have before us. How can an act of worship be reflexive — that is turned back at oneself? How also can this verb be used in blessings over God’s people, suggesting that the nations will “worship” or “prostrate themselves” before God’s own (see Genesis 27:29)? The answer is found in the realization that the Hebrew language contains numerous words to communicate the idea of worship and that in this case, the aspect of worship that is in sight is that of one’s submission to another who is greater (as is the case with the nations to Jacob’s line in Genesis 27:29). Abraham understands that the act of worship he will be performing is one that is primarily focused on his own submission to God.

Our submission to God, though an act that honors our creator, is an act that we predominantly apply to ourselves (reflexive and middle). Our nature is to do our own thing; God’s demand on us is that we submit our will to his divine will. And in our submission we worship. How often we come into worship with no submission whatsoever. We say the words and go through the actions, but we withhold the one element that God yet demands from our being: our whole person. Believer, do not hold back from God, but give yourself in faith to His call and to His demand on your life. We may mouth the words of truth, but until our life is submitted to that truth, our worship is shallow at best. Abraham’s worship on this mountain will be far from perfect (for he is fallen), but he is offering everything he has in submission to God’s call; will you offer the same?

6 Comments

  1. C. Arthur

    The message in this post is central to our relationship with God. I wanted to add that God gave us an example of this submission of self in Jesus His son. Also, I am not sure Abraham was saying what he thought to the people about both of them returning. I wonder if he was saying that so that they wouldn’t stop him from going. Is that possible? I always thought that the power of this passage is that he thought he wouldn’t return with his son, but he was willing to do God’s will. God saw his faith and spared Abraham’s son, but not His own.

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    1. preacherwin

      Good morning, and you are right, our submission to God’s authority is an essential part of our life and faith. C.S. Lewis refers to it as “bare obedience” — obedience when you don’t understand even why God is taking you in a particular direction or having you do a particular thing.

      In terms of Abraham’s knowing he would come down from the mountain with his son, note what the author of Hebrews says about the event: “By faith Abraham when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” (Hebrews 11:17-19, ESV)

      The writer of Hebrews focuses not on the faith of Abraham obeying in the face of the unknown, but instead he focuses on the faith of Abraham believing that God would fulfill the promise through Isaac even if it meant raising Isaac from the dead after the sacrifice was over. That, given Abraham’s use of the plural pronoun, seems to imply that Abraham had every expectation of returning with his son, Isaac, even if that return meant the resurrection of Isaac from the dead. It is when we combine what the author of Hebrews writes with the Genesis text that we see Abraham’s faith moving from absolute obedience to absolute confidence in the promises of God. What a model that is for us as well.

      Blessings,

      win

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    1. preacherwin

      Thanks. As I was reflecting on that passage, the connection between submission to God and our worship of him really struck (and convicted me). We can be so darn independent in how we want our life to go…we sound a lot like Adam and Eve, don’t we. Worship is to be part of all of life; by definition, then, our submission to God is an expression of that worship. Thanks for the comment and reblog.

      w

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  2. C. Arthur

    Thank you for your insightful posts (Preacherwin and Stephen.) I had not thought about Abraham thinking that God could raise his son from the dead. Maybe our lack of absolute obedience is because we don’t have absolute confidence in God’s promises. I know that I’m way too independent. I lack the absolute confidence in God even though He has shown me over and over that He will take care of me my entire life.

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    1. preacherwin

      Amen, and indeed that is something we all struggle with, just like a kid not wanting to jump into his dad’s waiting arms in a swimming pool. We are called to plunge and we know intellectually there is nothing to fear, but our gut fears stepping out. We must take that step and trust that God will ever remain faithful, with him there is no shadow of change (James 1:17).

      w.

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