By Arlene R. Graber
In 1850, agriculture in the south of the United States was booming while manufacturing and commerce flourished in the north. In Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania, a young boy took advantage of both and eventually became a multimillionaire. In Sunday school he discovered how a tiny seed would grow and prosper if nurtured by faith and love. In a small garden behind his home, the boy learned the rewards of hard work.
By age 8, the boy could be seen going door to door, selling vegetables picked that morning; by age 9, he grew, cooked, bottled, and sold his own brand of horseradish sauce. At age 10 he was given an acre of his own, and by age 17 he was grossing $2,400 a year (approximately $50,000 in purchasing power today). Hard work, love, and faith were paying off.
After college he started his own company selling horseradish. But it failed. Determined, the young man had faith he could do it and started all over again, this time producing and marketing ketchup. Today this company still carries his name, the H.J. Heinz Company.
Henry John Heinz managed his employees with biblical principles while competitors were more interested in the bottom line. He treated his workers as family, providing free medical care, recreational facilities, and educational opportunities. At his death, the Heinz empire had over 20 food processing plants, along with seed farms and container factories. When he died, the first line of his will read, “I desire to set forth at the very beginning of this Will, as the most important item in it, a confession of my faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior.”
A Covenant of Love
We can take a lesson from Heinz, who treated his employees with love and kindness. But thousands of years before Heinz, one of the most compelling displays of love, faith, and obedience is recounted in the book of Genesis with the story of Abraham and his son, Isaac. While those around him, even his own father, worshipped idols, Abraham worshiped God daily, even when tested.
Imagine being told by God to leave comfortable surroundings and settle in a foreign country or being promised an heir when you are well past child-bearing years (Genesis 12:1-9). The normal response would be to question why and how, but Abraham loved and trusted God. He packed up his family and moved as commanded. When he arrived in Canaan, God again spoke to him, promising that his offspring would inherit all the land of Canaan. Instead of grumbling about the challenges of a new land or the folly of having an heir at age 100 and Sarah at age 90, Abraham built an altar and worshipped the Lord.
How many times have we questioned God’s plan for our lives when it doesn’t seem right? Circumstances and problems may not be fair, but trusting in God will lead to answers. We have to learn that it’s not about me or you; it’s about God and his will.
Twice before God had promised to bless Abraham with descendants too numerous to count, but now he was ready to act on it. “Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac” (Genesis 17:19). In return, all Abraham had to do was circumcise every male in his household. An even contract? It can only be described as one-sided, yet the truth is, when we become part of God’s family, the blessings we receive far outweigh anything we give in return.
The Walk of Obedience
“For we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Abraham’s most difficult test was just ahead.
God provided as promised, and a son was born to Sarah. How happy Abraham and Sarah must have been; imagine their glorious prayers of thanks.
But a few years later, the unthinkable happened. God called Abraham and gave him an order. “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you” (Genesis 22:2).
Early the next morning, Abraham chopped wood for the offering and, with Isaac and two servants, left for Moriah. Did he confer with his wife? Maybe not, as she might have tried to prevent them from going. The trip took three days, which would give a person time to question what he was about to do.
Remember, earlier God had made a covenant with Abraham: “You will be the father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you” (Genesis 17:4, 6). How would this happen if Isaac died? God had already provided a son for him. Would he really take him away now? Yet Abraham did as God instructed.
Near the end of the journey, Abraham told his servants to wait while he took Isaac to the place where God told him to go. “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy will go over there. We will worship and then we will come back” (Genesis 22:5). Notice he said we and not I will come back.
When Isaac questioned his father about the sacrifice, Abraham’s answer spoke volumes: “God himself will provide the lamb” (vv. 7, 8). At the site, Abraham tied his son up and laid him on the wood alter. Abraham raised his knife and before he struck, an angel appeared and called, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
“Do not lay a hand on the boy” (vv. 11, 12).
In an instant Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. The sacrifice had been supplied.
God’s promises are always fulfilled. Just as he provided for Abraham, he provides for us: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. . . .
I lay down my life for my sheep” (John 10:14-15).
For his obedience, Abraham was truly blessed by God, and the blessings spilled over to millions. God again reaffirmed the covenant. “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possessions of the cities of their enemies” (Genesis 22:17). These blessings were more than Abraham could have imagined.
Several years ago, I stood in my kitchen anguishing over a large tax bill which I couldn’t pay. I prayed and prayed about it. It wasn’t long before I received an offer to write a large article for a national magazine which paid more than the amount of the tax bill. My heart was overjoyed about the assignment and also that God had answered prayer. But it didn’t end there. In the mail that week I received a check from a dormant investment that had resurrected and was now profitable, and the next week the mail brought an acceptance for a long-forgotten submission. I admit I was surprised, but then I remembered God always blesses and fulfills his promises.
Faith, love, and obedience are not always easy, but when I’m about to question how or why, I think of how Heinz loved his fellow man and reaped huge benefits, and I think of Abraham and his faith and obedience during challenges and crises.
Arlene R. Graber is a freelance writer in Wichita, Kansas.
At first, Abraham’s obedience to such an extreme command can seem reckless and unwise. Shouldn’t Abraham question God or demand a reason? Shouldn’t he put Isaac’s safety first?
Abraham’s obedience goes against the typical human way. It echoes the call of Romans 6:15-23—we’re no longer slaves of sin; we’re slaves of obedience, which leads to righteousness. Like Abraham’s story, Romans 6 makes Christians cringe: slavery is a sore, ugly topic. Paul uses the word to get our attention because our spiritual state is a matter of extremes and it’s important.
What does “slaves of righteousness” even mean? Unlike human forms of slavery, slaves to righteousness are never abused or devalued or sold, and Romans says slaves to obedience receive righteousness and holiness and ultimately eternal life.
Rather than bringing clear-cut answers, Abraham’s story and Romans 6 draw us to a deeper investigation of what it means to obey God. The learning process is messy and it pushes against the way we’re wired as people—but Paul makes it clear that we’re making a choice whether we like it or not, and our decision is far from inconsequential. As you study Abraham and Romans 6, think about these questions:
• Do you view your obedience to Christ as an already-made decision, or do you decide from situation to situation whether you’ll follow God? Are there areas of your life where you’re less willing to obey God?
• How firmly is your identity rooted in being obedient to Christ? Would others say that’s something that defines you?