A Light That Burns Dim
This week I read an article about the greatest works of art of all time. And while some of the paintings were familiar to me, there were some of them that left me scratching my head. I mean I think I have a little culture, but some of these painting I had never heard of. So I did a google search of the 5 greatest works of art and I got 55 Billion results, and would it surprise you if I told you that there were 55 Billion different ideas to what were the 5 greatest works of art of all time.
Some works of art showed up more than others. The Mona Lisa, American Gothic and the Creation of Adam were prominent on the lists. But then there were pieces like Green Car Crash by Andy Warhol, Number 5 By Jackson Pollock, and False Start by Jasper Johns.
What I was reminded of this week is the fact that art and what is considered good art is pretty subjective. There are lots of things in our world that are subjective, after all it’s true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But not everything is subjective. For example you can tell when someone has a vibrant faith, and those who are just phoning it in.
This morning our series on the broken and shameful is going to lead us to look at a man who has a dad and a son with great faith, but he was happy to keep God at an arm’s length and that may have something to do with what happened on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22.
Many times when we turn and study the sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah we talk about the faithfulness of Abraham. It is the story of how he was willing to give everything he had to God. Abraham was called by God to offer his son Isaac, the son of the promise, as a sacrifice. Hebrews 11 says that Abraham supposed that God could bring Isaac back from the dead. Regardless of what he thought, Abraham got up early in the morning and took his son to Mount Moriah.
They set out on their journey, and Abraham took a knife and the fire while Isaac carried the wood. Along the way Isaac asked, We have the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb? And Abraham answered, God will give us the lamb for the sacrifice.
Now when I was a little boy, the pictures my Bible Class teacher put on the flannelboard was of an old man and his little boy, probably 8 or 9 years of age. But that wasn’t the case, many Jewish Scholars believe that Isaac was a young man, somewhere between 16 and 30 years old when this story takes place. So, while the faith of Abraham might be the point of the story, something else happens in the story that I would bet more of you understand than you are willing to admit.
When I was in school I had the opportunity to take some classes taught by Elmer Towns. Dr. Towns introduced me to this idea of the Saint John’s Generation. The name comes from the letters that John wrote. We believe that the books of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John were written to the second generation of Christians that’s why he goes back to remind them of the basics of their faith: Jesus was truly the Christ that had come in the flesh and this belief must work itself out in righteousness and love.
The basic premise of the Saint John’s Generation is that they watched their parents work out their way in this new faith. As they came to know more and more about God and the promised Messiah the fire of their faith burned bright. As we know faith is an action and as their faith grew so did their willingness to sacrifice everything for a better relationship and a better inheritance. This first generation of Christians put Christ before their families, jobs, hobbies, and anything else.
Then comes the second generation. While they have faith in God, their fire doesn’t burn as bright. It’s not that they aren’t on fire for God, it’s just that most of them were burned by the fire that blazed so brightly in their parents lives. There is a struggle between being faithful to God and not disappointing their parents. Where their parents were willing to sacrifice everything, they are tired of being sacrificed. The end result is that they become consumed with keeping the traditions of their parents, worrying about what the outside looks like in their religion. In the end they have forgotten about the faith that cause their parents to act. Their faith in God burns dim as they tend to go through the motions.
Isaac is the Saint John’s generation. It’s not an accident that the Bible gives Abraham 13 chapters and Jacob 9 chapters while Isaac only gets 7 and he has to share 6 of those with his dad or sons. All throughout the Bible narrative we see that Abraham engages God in mighty ways, but Isaac seems to have been burned up on that mountain, not by the fire of the alter, but the fire of his dad’s faith. It’s not that Isaac doesn’t have faith, it’s just that his light burned dimly. It’s all he had. While Abraham wanted to be as close to God as possible, Isaac wanted to keep his distance and God loved him anyway.
Distance in Life and Prayer - Genesis 25
While Abraham clung to God, Isaac was still having some issues with Him. While Abraham had a vibrant faith, Isaac was trying to figure it all out. For those of you who grew up in the shadow of a giant in the faith you know how hard it can be to cast a shadow of your own.
I told you last week that I like genealogies, because they are neat and orderly. In Genesis 25 Moses stops to fill us in on some times and dates that I want draw your attention to. In verse 20 we read that Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah … to be his wife. I am sure that they were like most couples who first get married. They talked about their place in the family, and about the family they would have. I mean that’s what happens right, you get married and start your own family.
Trista and I decided before we got married that we were going to wait five years before we started a family. We knew that wasn’t best for everyone, but we felt it was the best for us. During those five years I was probably asked every other week when we were going to start our family. I told folks that we got a dog because we thought if we could get a dog to survive we would think about kids. But the talk and questions were continual. I even had a friend of mine slip me the name of a doctor just incase there was some kind of problems. Everyone expected that now that we were married it was time for us to start a family.
According to Genesis 25 Isaac and Rebekah were married when he was 40, but verse 26 says that they didn’t have their children until Isaac was 60. While we waited 5 years before we started our family Isaac and Rebekah waited 20. They also lived in a time where a family was considered a blessing. The more children, especially sons, that you had the more blessed you were. That’s why the practice was to get married and begin having heirs, in that time it was not uncommon to have a child before you celebrated your first year anniversary.
So why did Isaac and Rebekah wait 20 long years before they started their family? The answer is found in Genesis 25:21, Rebekah couldn't have children. While you might just think this is an aside to the story, I believe it is the story. The fact that it took Isaac 20 years to ask God for His favor speaks volumes about His relationship with God.
There is nothing that reveals more about your faith than your prayer life. How you approach God and what you are willing to ask for reveals how you view God. Every time you approach God or refuse to approach God it reveals what you believe about His character.
Remember that Isaac was deeply influenced by his fathers faith, the same faith that took him to Mount Moriah. Instead of living a life of faith, I believe that Isaac was living a life of fear. Fear that if he and Rebekah had a child that God would ask him to make the same sacrifice, and this time God may not provide a ram. Then what would he do? Could he go through with it? Could he sacrifice his son as well? Isaac’s life is lived with God at a distance. His candle is dimly lit, but God was not done with him.
A Different Calling - Genesis 26
For many of us when we get to Genesis 26 we think we are watching a rerun of what happened in the life of Abraham. You may remember in Genesis 12 there is a famine in the land and Abram takes his family to Egypt and then lies and says that Sarai is his sister. When we get to Genesis 26 we think here we go again. The same deception raises its ugly head and Isaac proves that he is his fathers son. Frightened about his own safety, Isaac gives in to the temptation to pass off Rebekah as his sister, thinking his protection was more important than her purity.
The similarities between this sin of Isaac and Abraham are numerous, but this is a different story. Genesis 26 is the only chapter in the bible that is devoted exclusively to Isaac. While he is mentioned in other chapters, he is not the focus of attention. While there are some striking parallels to the life of Abraham, we can’t miss the major differences.
Before Isaac was even a sparkle in his parents eye, God approached Abraham and said follow me. For the first 75 years of his life Isaac lived as a nomad, that’s how Abraham showed his faith. You followed God and relied on His protection and blessings. Now that Abraham is gone and Isaac is the patriarch the family, he get’s ready to do what his dad had done.
In Genesis 26 we see that a famine was in the land and Isaac was making plans to move down to Egypt, just like old dad. But God is not looking for Isaac to be Abraham, He is looking for Isaac to develop his own faith. That’s why in verse 2 God tells Isaac, Do not go down to Egypt, but do as I tell you. Live here as a foreigner in this land, and I will be with you and bless you.
While Abraham lived his life on the move following God, God was content to bless Isaac and build trust with him in a different way. God knew the fear and struggles that Isaac had, that’s why God treated him a bit different. God needed Isaac to trust Him and follow Him in faith. God is going to lead Isaac to where he needs to be, but he has a different call.
Isaac settled down in Gerar and planted crops which resulted in a huge harvest. God blessed him and he grew richer and richer, in fact he accumulated so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines began to envy him. But everything wasn’t perfect. Genesis 26:15 says that the Philistines stopped up all the wells that Abraham's servants had dug.
Digging a well was considered a claim of ownership of the land. Rather than recognize his claim, the Philistines began to fill up the wells dug by Abraham. Their envy was so great that they would rather fill in a well that benefited them, than to allow this claim to remain unchallenged. Isaac was not a fighter so he packed up his family and moved.
Four different times Isaac and his servants dug again the wells that Abraham had first dug. But Isaac refused to stay where there was conflict and hostility. So he would dig a well and face conflict and move on. What he didn’t realize was that as he moved from place to place, he was actually on a journey back to where God wanted him all along.
Verses 22-25 is the key to the change that occurred in Isaac’s life, the time when he came to know God for who He really is. Let’s read it together (Read Genesis 26:22-25)
Up to this time Isaac moved so that he could avoid arguments and find abundant water. In verse 22 he dug a well and there was no fighting over it, so you would think that he would live there for the rest of his life. But for some reason he moves one more time, this time to Beersheba.
It was not a mistake, or happy consequence. Isaac had been to Beersheba before, it was back where we started in chapter 22. God had been using the conflict with the Philistines to move Isaac back to the place where Abraham settled down after they came down from Mount Moriah. Instead of dragging Isaac to a place where he didn’t want to go, God loved him enough to lead him back to the place where his fear could once again become faith. It was at Beersheba that God had finally broken through Isaacs fear and now he was willing to be led.
Whatever Faith You Can Give
The great part of this story is that God blessed Isaac even though he was distant. God blessed Isaac even though he was guided by fear instead of faith. God blessed Isaac because that is God’s nature. God wants us to know that He loves us. And God wants us to share His love and grace with others.
Abraham was considered faithful because he was willing to give it all. But Isaac was considered faithful because he gave what little he had. While it took most of his life, the point of Isaac’s story is that God is patient, and will continue to love you while you deal with your fear and struggles.
Isaac was not perfect, in fact he was broken and shameful, but he still believed. Isaac still brought what little faith he had to his family. When he was an old man, all he had left was a blessing, but through faith he was able to pass the blessing that he received to his sons.
If you are a part of the Saint John’s generation I need you to understand that it wasn’t God’s desire to burn you; it was His desire to bless you so that you can bless others. God understands, He does not get tired of you, He is full of love. And while following him may not be safe, it is better.
God wants you to trust Him with whatever faith you have. The story of Isaac is that He will take what every you can give and use it for His glory. This is the God that used a small bowl of oil and changed the life of a widow and her community. This is the same God who used an 80 year old runaway shepherd to lead his people out of Egyptian slavery. And this is the same God that will take those who have been burned up in the faith of others, and bless them so they can be a blessing to others.