Excursus Two: How Noah and Abraham Obeyed God's Words and Submitted to Him (Part One) Section Two

II. Abraham Offered Isaac Up

There is another story worth telling: the story of Abraham. One day, two messengers came to the home of Abraham, who received them enthusiastically. The messengers had been tasked with telling Abraham that God was to bestow him with a son. As soon as he heard this, Abraham was overjoyed: “Thanks be to my Lord!” But behind them, Abraham’s wife Sarah snickered to herself. Her snicker meant, “That’s impossible, I’m old—how could I produce a child? That I would be given a son, what a joke!” Sarah did not believe it. Did the messengers hear Sarah’s laughter? (They did.) Of course they did, and God saw this too. And what did God do? Unseen, God was watching. Sarah, that ignorant woman, did not believe it—but does that which God determines to do suffer the disturbance of humans? (No.) It does not suffer the disturbance of any human being. When God determines to do something, some people might say, “I do not believe it, I am opposed, I refuse, I object, I have a problem with this.” Do their words hold water? (No.) So when God sees that there are those who disagree, who have something to say, who do not believe, does He need to offer them an explanation? Does He need to explain to them the hows and whys of what He does? Does God do that? He does not. He pays no heed to what these ignorant people do and say, He does not care what their attitude is. In His heart, what God has determined to do has long been set in stone: This is what He is to do. All things and events are under the control and sovereignty of God’s hands, including when someone has a child, and what kind of child they are—it goes without saying that this, too, is in the hands of God. When God sent the messengers to tell Abraham that He would give him a son, God had, in fact, long since planned the many things that He would do later. What responsibilities the son would undertake, what kind of life he would have, what his descendants would be like—God had long planned all of this, and there would be no errors or alterations. And so, could the snickering of some foolish woman change anything? It could change nothing. And when the time came, God did as He had planned, and all of this was fulfilled as God had spoken and determined.

When Abraham was 100 years old, God gave him a son. Having lived 100 years without a son, Abraham’s days had been humdrum and lonely. How does a 100-year-old man without children, especially without a son, feel? “Something’s missing in my life. God has not given me a son, and my life has felt a little lonely, a little regretful.” But what was Abraham’s mood when God sent the messengers to tell him that he was to be given a son? (Delight.) Aside from brimming with joy, he was also filled with anticipation. He thanked God for His grace, for allowing him to raise a child in the years left to him. What a wonderful thing this was, and such was how it occurred. So, what things did he have to be happy about? (He had descendants, his family line would continue.) That’s one thing. There was another most joyous thing, too—what was it? (This child was personally bestowed by God.) That’s right. When an ordinary person is to bear a child, does God come and tell them? Does He say, “I personally bestow you with this child that I promised you”? Is this what God does? No. So what was special about this child? God sent messengers to personally tell Abraham, “At the age of 100, you shall receive a child, one that is personally bestowed by God.” This is what was special about the child: He was told of by God, and personally given by God. What a joyous thing this was! And isn’t the special significance of this child cause for thoughts to throng through people’s minds? How did Abraham feel when he witnessed the birth of this child? “I finally have a child. God’s words have been fulfilled; God said He would give me a child, and He truly did!” When this child was born and he held it in his own arms, the first thing he felt was, “This child I have not received from human hands, but from the hands of God. The child’s arrival is so timely. He was bestowed by God, and I must raise him well, and educate him well, and make him worship God and obey God’s words, for he comes from God.” Did he cherish this child considerably? (Yes.) This was a special child. Add to that Abraham’s age, and it is not hard to imagine just how much he cherished this boy. A normal person’s adoration, tenderness, and affection toward their child were all found in Abraham, too. Abraham believed the words spoken by God, and had witnessed, with his own eyes, the fulfillment of His words. He had also been a witness to these words from their utterance to fulfillment. He felt how authoritative God’s words are, how miraculous His deeds are, and, most importantly, how much God cares for man. Though, looking at the child, Abraham felt a complex and intense set of emotions, in his heart he only had one thing to say to God. Tell Me, what do you think he said? (Thanks be to God!) “Thanks be to my Lord!” Abraham was grateful, and also offered his profound thanks and praise to God. To God and Abraham, this child was of extraordinary significance. That is because, from the moment God said He would give Abraham a child, God had planned and determined that He would accomplish something: There were important matters, great matters, that He wished to achieve through this child. Such was the child’s significance for God. And for Abraham, because of God’s special grace toward him, because God had bestowed upon him a child, in the course of the history of the entire human race, and in terms of all mankind, the value and significance of his existence was extraordinary, it was beyond ordinary. And is that the end of the story? It is not. The crucial part has yet to begin.

After Abraham received Isaac from God, he raised Isaac as commanded and asked for by God. In his daily life throughout those unremarkable years, Abraham led Isaac to sacrifice, and told Isaac stories of God in heaven. Little by little, Isaac came to understand things. He learned how to give thanks to God, and to give praise to God, and he learned how to obey, and to give offerings. He knew when offerings were given, and where the altar was. Next, we get to the key point of the story. One day, at a time when Isaac started to understand things but had yet to reach maturity, God said to Abraham, “I do not want a lamb for this sacrifice. Offer Isaac instead.” For someone like Abraham, who so cherished Isaac, were God’s words like a bolt from the blue? Never mind Abraham, who was of such an old age—how many people in the prime of their lives—people in their 30s and 40s—could bear to hear this news? Could anyone? (No.) And what was Abraham’s reaction after hearing God’s words? “Ah? Was God mistaken in what He said? God is never mistaken, so is it the case that my old ears misheard? I’ll check again.” He asked, “God, are You asking me to offer Isaac? Is Isaac the sacrifice You want?” God said, “Yes, that’s right!” After confirming, Abraham knew that God’s words were not wrong, nor would they change. It was exactly what God had meant. And was it hard for Abraham to hear this? (It was.) How hard? In his mind, Abraham thought, “After all these years, my child has finally started to grow up. If he is offered as a living sacrifice, that means he will be butchered on the altar like a lamb to the slaughter. To be butchered means he will be killed, and his being killed means that from today onward, I will be without this child….” With his thoughts having gotten to this point, dare Abraham think any further? (No.) Why not? To think further would bring even greater pain, like a knife to the heart. To think any further would not mean thinking of happy things—it would mean agony. The child was not going to be taken away, unseen for a few days or years, but still there; it was not like Abraham would constantly think about him, and then meet the child again at some opportune moment once he had grown up. That was not the case. Once the child was offered upon the altar, he would be no more, he was never to be seen again, he would have been sacrificed to God, he would have returned to God. Things would be as they had been before. Prior to the child, life was lonely. And would it have been painful if things had carried on like that, him never having a child? (It wouldn’t have been very painful.) To have a child and then lose him—that is enormously painful. It is a devastating thing! Returning this child to God would mean that from then onward, the child would never be seen again, his voice would never be heard again, Abraham would never watch him playing again, would not be able to raise him, would not be able to make him laugh, would not see him growing up, would not be able to enjoy all of the familial joys that came with his presence. All that remained would be pain and longing. The more Abraham thought about it, the harder it got. But no matter how hard it was, one thing was clear in his heart: “What God said and what God is going to do was not a joke, it could not be wrong, much less could it change. Moreover, the child has come from God, so it is perfectly natural and justified that he be offered unto God, and when God wishes it, I am duty-bound to return him unto God, without compromise. The past decade of familial joy has been a special gift, one that I have enjoyed in abundance; I should give thanks to God, and not make unreasonable demands of God. This child belongs to God, I should not claim him for my own, he is not my personal property. All people come from God. Even if I am asked to offer my own life, I should not try to reason with God or dictate terms, to say nothing of when the child has been personally told of and bestowed by God. If God says to offer him, then I shall!”

Minute by minute, second by second, time passed in this way, the moment of sacrifice drawing ever closer. But instead of growing ever more miserable, Abraham felt increasingly calm. What calmed him? What allowed Abraham to escape the pain and have the correct attitude toward what was to happen? He believed that, in view of all that God had done, one’s attitude should only be one of submission, and people should not try to reason with God. His thoughts having reached this point, he was pained no longer. Carrying the young Isaac, he advanced, step by step, toward the side of the altar. Upon the altar there was nothing—not like usually, when a lamb would already be there waiting. “Father, have you yet to prepare today’s sacrifice?” asked Isaac. “If not, then what will be sacrificed today?” What did Abraham feel when Isaac asked this? Is it possible he felt happy? (No.) So what did he do? In his heart, did he hate God? Did he complain to God? Did he resist? (No.) None of these. What shows this? From everything that happened next, it is clear that Abraham truly did not think such things. He put the firewood that he was going to light on the altar, and called Isaac over. And at the sight of Abraham calling Isaac to the altar, at that moment, what do people think? “What a heartless old man you are. You have no humanity, You’re not human! He’s your son, can you truly bear to do this? Can you really do it? Are you really that cruel? Do you even have a heart?” Isn’t that what they think? And did Abraham think these things? (No.) He called Isaac to his side and, unable to say a word, took out the rope he had prepared and bound Isaac’s hands and feet. Do these actions suggest that this offering was going to be real or fake? It was to be real, unadulterated, not just for show. He hoisted Isaac onto his shoulders, and no matter how the young child struggled and cried out, Abraham did not ever consider giving up. He resolutely placed his own young son upon the firewood, to be burned at the altar. Isaac cried, screamed, struggled—but Abraham was performing the actions for sacrificing to God, preparing everything for the sacrifice. After placing Isaac upon the altar, Abraham took out a knife usually used to slaughter lambs, and held it firmly in both hands, as he raised the knife above his head, and pointed it at Isaac. He closed his eyes, and as the knife was about to descend, God spoke to Abraham. What did God say? “Abraham, stay your hand!” Abraham would never have imagined that God could say such a thing as he was about to return Isaac to Him. It was not something he had dared think. And yet, one by one, God’s words slammed into his heart. Thus was Isaac saved. That day, the sacrifice that would really be given to God was behind Abraham; it was a lamb. This had been prepared by God long in advance, but God had given no prior indication to Abraham, instead telling him to stop just as he had the knife raised and was ready to bring it down. No one could have imagined this, not Abraham, nor Isaac. By looking at Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, did Abraham truly intend to sacrifice his son, or was he pretending? (He truly intended to do this.) He truly intended to do this. His actions were pure, there was no deception involved.

Abraham offered his own flesh and blood as a sacrifice to God—and when God had him make this offering, Abraham did not try to reason with Him by saying, “Can’t we use someone else? I’ll do, or any other person.” Rather than say such things, Abraham gave his most cherished and precious son to God. And how was this offering made? He had heard what God said, and then just went ahead and did it. Would it make sense to people if God gave Abraham a child, and after the child grew up, He asked Abraham to give the child back, and wanted to take the child away? (It would not.) From a human perspective, would that not have been completely unreasonable? Would it not have seemed as though God were toying with Abraham? God gave Abraham this child one day, and just a few years later, He wanted to take him away. If God wanted the child, He should have just taken him; there was no need to cause that person such suffering by asking that he sacrifice the child on the altar. What did the child being offered on the altar mean? That Abraham had to slaughter him and then burn him with his own two hands. Is this something a person could bear to do? (No.) What did God mean when He asked for this sacrifice? That Abraham should personally do these things: personally tie his son up, personally place him upon the altar, personally kill him with a knife, and then personally burn him as an offering to God. To humans, none of this would seem to be considerate of man’s feelings; not one of these things would make sense according to their notions, mindset, ethical philosophy, or morality and customs. Abraham did not live in a vacuum, nor did he live in a fantasy world; he lived in the world of man. He had human thoughts and human views. And what did he think when all of this befell him? In addition to his suffering, and apart from certain things that had him puzzled, was there rebellion or rejection in him? Did he verbally attack and abuse God? Not at all. Precisely the opposite: from the moment God commanded him to do this thing, Abraham dared not treat this lightly; rather, he began preparing right away. And what was his mood as he began these preparations? Was he glad, joyful, and happy? Or was he pained, sorrowful, and depressed? (He was pained and sorrowful.) He was pained! His every step was heavy. After becoming aware of this matter, and after having heard God’s words, each day felt like a year to Abraham; he was miserable, incapable of joy, and he had a heavy heart. What, however, was his one and only conviction? (That he must obey the words of God.) That’s right, it was that he must obey the words of God. He said to himself, “Blessed be the name of my Lord Jehovah; I am one of God’s people, and should obey God’s words. Regardless of whether what God says is right or wrong, and regardless of how Isaac came to me, if God asks, then I must give; such is the reason and attitude that must be found in man.” Abraham was not free from pain or difficulty after accepting God’s words; he felt pained and had his own difficulties, and these were not easy to overcome! Nevertheless, what happened in the end? As God had wished, Abraham brought his own son, a young child, to the altar, and everything he did was seen by God. As God had watched Noah, so had He watched Abraham’s every move, and He was touched by everything he did. Though things did not end up as anyone thought they would, what Abraham did was unique among all humankind. Should he serve as an example for all those who follow God? (Yes.) He is a model for all among mankind who follow God. Why do I say that he is a model for mankind? Abraham did not understand many truths, nor had he heard any truths or sermons uttered by God to him personally. He had merely believed, acknowledged, and obeyed. What did his humanity possess that was so unique? (The reason of a created being.) Which words reflect this? (He said, “Blessed be the name of my Lord Jehovah; I should obey the words of God, and whether they correspond to man’s notions or not, I must submit.”) In this, Abraham possessed the reason of normal humanity. What’s more, they showed that he also possessed the conscience of normal humanity. And where was this conscience reflected? Abraham knew that Isaac had been bestowed by God, that he was a thing of God, that he belonged to God, and that Abraham should return him unto God when He asked, rather than always clinging to him; such is the conscience that man should possess.

Are the people of today possessed of conscience and reason? (No.) In what things is this reflected? No matter how much grace God bestows upon people, and no matter how many blessings or how much grace they enjoy, what is their attitude when they are asked to repay God’s love? (Resistance, and sometimes fearing hardship and fatigue.) Fearing hardship and fatigue is a concrete manifestation of a lack of conscience and reason. People these days make excuses, try to dictate terms and strike bargains—yes or no? (Yes.) They also complain, do things in a perfunctory and slippery manner, and covet the comforts of the flesh—these are all concrete manifestations. People today possess no conscience, yet still they often praise the grace of God, and count up all such graces, and are moved to tears as they count them. However, after they’ve finished counting, that is the end of it; they still keep being perfunctory, keep going through the motions, they keep being deceptive, and they keep being sly and slacking off, without any particular manifestations of repentance. What, then, was the point of your counting? This is a manifestation of a lack of conscience. So, how is a lack of reason manifested? When God prunes you, you complain, your feelings are hurt, and you then no longer wish to do your duty and say that God has no love; when you suffer a little whilst doing your duty, or when the environment that God sets out for you is a little difficult, a little challenging, or a little hard, you no longer wish to do it; and in none of the various environments set out by God are you able to seek to submit, you are considerate only of the flesh, and you wish only to cut loose and run wild. Is this, or is it not, being bereft of reason? You do not wish to accept the sovereignty and arrangements of God, and you just want to gain benefits from Him. When you implement a little work and suffer a bit, you assert your qualifications, think yourself above others while you enjoy the benefits of status, and start to put on the airs of an official. You have no desire to do any real work, nor are you capable of implementing any real work—you wish only to give orders and be an official. You want to be a law unto yourself, to do whatever you want, and to act wantonly. Apart from cutting loose and running wild, nothing else is manifested in you. Is this possessing reason? (No.) If God gave you a good child, and later told you bluntly that He was going to take the child away, what would your attitude be? Could you harbor the same attitude as Abraham? (No.) Some people would say, “How could I not? My son is twenty years old, and I offered him up to the house of God, where he now does a duty!” Is this a sacrifice? At best, you have simply led your child onto the right path—but you also have an ulterior motive: You are afraid your child might otherwise perish amid disaster. Is this not so? What you are doing is not called making a sacrifice; it is not at all the same as Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. There is simply no comparison. When Abraham heard what God commanded of him, how difficult would this instruction have been for him—or for any other member of humankind—to carry out? It would have been the hardest thing in the world; there is nothing harder. This was not simply offering up something like a lamb or a little money, and it was not a mere worldly possession or material object, nor was it just an animal that had no connection to the person making the offering. Those are things that a person can offer up with a fleeting burst of effort—whereas the sacrifice that God asked of Abraham was of another person’s life. It was of Abraham’s own flesh and blood. How difficult that must have been! The child also had a special background, in that he had been granted by God. What was God’s goal in bestowing a child upon him? It was so that Abraham would have a son that would be raised into adulthood, get married and produce children, thus carrying on the family name. And now, however, this child was to be returned unto God before he had reached adulthood, and those things would never happen. So, what was the point in God’s having granted Abraham a child? Could an observer make any sense of this? In light of people’s notions, it makes no sense. Corrupt mankind is selfish; no one could make sense of this. Abraham could not work it out, either; he did not know what, ultimately, God wanted to do, other than that He had asked him to sacrifice Isaac. Thus, what choice did Abraham make? What was his attitude? Though he was unable to figure all this out, he was still able to do as God commanded; he obeyed God’s words and submitted to every word of what He asked without resisting or asking for a choice, much less trying to dictate terms or reason with God. Before Abraham was able to make sense of everything that was happening, he was able to obey and submit—which is absolutely rare and commendable, and beyond the ability of any of you sitting here. Abraham did not know what was going on, and God had not told him the whole story; nevertheless, he took it all seriously, believing that people should submit to whatever God wants to do, and that they should not ask questions, that if God says nothing more, then it is not something people need to understand. Some people say, “You’ve got to get to the bottom of it, though, surely, right? Even if it involves dying, you’ve got to know why.” Is this the attitude that a created being ought to have? When God has not allowed you to understand, should you understand? When you are asked to do something, you do it. Why make things so complicated? If God wished for you to understand, He would already have explained it to you; given that He has not, there is no need for you to understand. When you are not required to understand, and when you are incapable of understanding, everything depends on how you act and whether you can submit to God. This is hard for you, is it not? In such circumstances, you do not submit, and you have nothing left in you but complaining, misinterpretation, and resistance. Abraham was the exact opposite of what is exhibited in you. Like you, he did not know what God was going to do, nor did he know the reasoning behind God’s actions; he did not understand. Did he want to ask? Did he want to know what was going on? He did, but if God had not told him, where else could he go to ask? Whom could he ask? Matters of God are a mystery; who can answer questions about matters of God? Who can understand them? Humans cannot stand in God’s stead. Ask someone else, and they won’t understand, either. You can think it over, but you won’t figure it out, it will be incomprehensible to you. So, if you do not understand something, then does that mean you do not have to do as God says? If you do not understand something, can you simply observe, procrastinate, wait for an opportunity, and look for some other option? If you cannot understand something—if it is incomprehensible to you—does that mean you do not have to submit? Does it mean you can cling to your human rights and say, “I have human rights; I am an independent person, so what entitles You to make me do silly things? I tower between heaven and earth—I can disobey You”? Is this what Abraham did? (No.) Because he believed he was just an ordinary and unremarkable created being, a person under God’s sovereignty, he chose to obey and submit, to not treat any of God’s words lightly, but practice them in their entirety. Whatever God says, and whatever God tells them to do, people have no other choice; they must listen, and after listening, they should go and put it into practice. Moreover, when putting it into practice, people should practice it thoroughly and submit with peace of mind. If you acknowledge that God is your God, then you should obey His words, keep a place for Him in your heart, and put His words into practice. If God is your God, then you should not try to analyze what He says to you; whatever He says goes, and it does not matter that you do not understand or comprehend. The important thing is that you should accept and submit to what He says. This was the attitude Abraham had when it came to God’s words. It was precisely because Abraham possessed this attitude that he was able to obey God’s words, was able to submit to what God commanded him to do, and could become someone who was righteous and perfect in the eyes of God. This was despite the fact that, in the eyes of all those haughty and supercilious people, Abraham appeared foolish and muddled by disregarding the life of his own son for the sake of his faith, and casually placing him upon the altar to be slaughtered. What an irresponsible act that was, they thought; what an incompetent and heartless father he was, and how selfish he was to do such a thing for the sake of his faith! This was how Abraham was viewed in the eyes of all people. However, was that how God saw him? No. How did God see him? Abraham was able to obey and submit to what God said. To what extent was he able to submit? He did so without compromise. When God asked for what was most precious to him, Abraham returned the child to God, sacrificing him for God. Abraham obeyed and submitted to everything that God asked of him. Whether viewed through the lens of the notions of man or through the eyes of the corrupt, God’s request appeared highly unreasonable, yet Abraham was still able to submit; this came down to his integrity, which was characterized by true faith and submission to God. How was this true faith and submission reflected? In just two words: his obedience. Nothing is more precious or valuable for a true created being to possess, and nothing is rarer and more commendable. It is precisely this most precious, rare, and commendable thing that is so absent in followers of God today.

People today are educated and knowledgeable. They understand modern science, and have been profoundly infected, conditioned, and influenced by traditional culture and depraved social mores; their minds swirl, they have labyrinthine notions, and inwardly, they are in utter disarray. Having listened to sermons for many years, and whilst acknowledging and trusting that God is the Sovereign of all things, they still possess a dismissive and insouciant attitude toward each of God’s words. Their attitude toward these words is to ignore them; it is to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to them. What kind of person is this? They ask “why” about everything; they feel a need to figure everything out and thoroughly understand everything. They seem to be very serious about the truth; on the outside, their behavior, the price they pay, and the things they give up suggest an indomitable attitude toward faith and belief in God. However, ask yourself this: Have you held to God’s word and to His every instruction? Have you implemented them all? Are you someone obedient? If, in your heart, you keep answering these questions with “no” and “I have not,” then just what sort of belief do you have? To what end do you actually believe in God? Just what have you gained from your faith in Him? Are these things worth exploring? Are they worth digging into? (Yes.) All of you wear glasses; you are modern, civilized people. What about you is really modern? What about you is civilized? Does being “modern” and “civilized” prove that you are someone who obeys God’s words? Such things mean nothing. Some people say, “I am highly educated, and I have studied theology.” Some say, “I’ve read the classical Bible several times, and I speak Hebrew.” Some say, “I’ve been to Israel a bunch, and have personally touched the cross that was carried by the Lord Jesus.” Some say, “I have been to Mount Ararat and seen the remains of the ark.” Some say, “I have seen God,” and “I have been raised up before God.” What use is all this? God doesn’t ask anything demanding of you, just that you obey His words in earnest. If this is beyond you, then forget everything else; nothing you say will be of any use. You all know the stories of Noah and Abraham, but simply knowing the stories by itself is useless. Have you ever thought about what was most rare and commendable in those two men? Do you wish to be like them? (Yes.) How much do you wish this? Some people say, “I so wish to be like them; I think about it whenever I’m eating, dreaming, doing my duty, reading God’s words, and learning hymns. I’ve prayed for it so many times, and have even written a vow. May God curse me if I do not obey His words. It’s just that I don’t know when God is speaking to me; it’s not like He tells me with thunder in the sky.” What use is all this? What does it mean when you say, “I so wish”? (It is just wishful thinking; it is a mere aspiration.) Of what use is an aspiration? It is like a gambler who goes to the casino every day; even when they’ve lost everything, they still want to gamble. Sometimes they might think, “Just one more try, and then I promise I’ll quit and never gamble again.” They think the same thing whether they are dreaming or eating, but after thinking about it, they still go back to the casino. Each time they gamble, they say it will be their last time; and each time they leave the doors of the casino, they say they’ll never come back—with the result that after a lifetime of trying, they still never manage to quit. Are you like that gambler? You frequently resolve to do things and then deny your resolutions, it is second nature for you to deceive God, and this is not easy to change.

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