GOD TESTS ABRAHAM
Key Verse 22:19
“And through your offspring all nations on the earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me.”
Many events happened in the life of Abraham and his family in chapter 21. First God gave Abraham and Sarah a son just as he promised he would. In the same chapter God told Abraham to listen to his wife and get rid of Hagar and her son Ishmael. Lastly Abraham began to overcome his fear of men. When he confronted a problem with other men he faced them like a man with faith in God. It seemed he achieved all a man could ever expect to achieve. God however was not done training him. Abraham confronted God’s last training for his life in chapter 22 when his son was in his early teens. This would put Abraham around the age of 112. Isaac is now a boy who can think for himself. He is strong enough to carry a heavy load of wood up a mountain. To Abraham he is the most precious blessing God ever gave him. We have trepidation going into chapter. We know when life is going good, God never allows his servants to be complacent. In chapter 22 God gives a test to Abraham that pales all the other tests he had given him. He asked him to sacrifice his most precious son. What we will see is that Abraham was not asleep for the 37 years God trained. He arose to the occasion. Chapter 22 is Abraham finest hour. Let us now learn how Abraham passed God’s most difficult test of all.
Look at verse 1: “Sometime later, God tested Abraham.” All of us are familiar with taking tests. We hate to admit it yet to be honest we must confess giving tests and taking tests is the most important part of our educational system. I have heard some schools don’t give their students test so as not to hurt their self-esteem. Schools that do not test their students are doing a great disservice not only to their students but to society too. Testing helps us to learn the material from the abstract to the very practical. Testing also proves to others we are qualified in a particular subject. Here we see long before our educational system came into being God was testing the father of all his people. We should learn not to avoid testing in all its forms but to embrace it. God is only trying to better us, not to give us a hard time.
Look how Abraham responded to God’s call to test him: He said: “Abraham!” “Here I am” he replied.” Abraham’s response was like that of a servant who was watching and waiting for his master to call on him. Notice he didn’t disrespectfully say: “Huh?” or “What does he want now?” It really bothers me when I call up someone on the phone. I know he is a very educated person. Nevertheless, when I address them over the phone they grunt back. “Huh?” Maybe I expect too much from some college educated students. At the same time when God called out: “Abraham” and Abraham responded back, “Here I am”. I can tell you from a father’s point he made God very happy. I am very disturbed when I call my children and they either say “What” or nothing at all. On the other hand when they respond, “I’m coming”, it makes me very happy. Abraham’s response to God is filled with respect for God. It told God, “I am ready for your service right now”. I find Missionary Joseph Chun is like this.” He is stressed out with school, family, mission. Despite his busy schedule I’ll call him and ask him to lead group bible study. I can picture his smile on the other end of the phone. Always he responds “OK”. I am very thankful he is in my fellowship. I can learn his humble yet very challenging man of faith character.
Now let us look at what test God called Abraham to do: Verse 2 reads: “Take your son, your only son Isaac whom you love and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” In one sense this seems like a very unbiblical test. Later in Lev 20:1-5 God in part told his people: “Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death.” Some people say God gave this difficult test to Abraham to see if Abraham loved God more than God’s blessing.” It is true we should put God before his blessing. However, to keep in context with what is taught in this chapter God was testing Abraham to see if he would obey God even in this one area no one would obey God. Abraham didn’t hesitate for a moment. He made immediate plans to obey. Abraham knew no one would understand what God told him to do. Therefore he didn’t confide in anyone. Abraham’s silence in this matter speaks the loudest in his obedience to God’s test to sacrifice Isaac. He knew his wife would take Isaac and run away with him. Abraham didn’t want anyone to discourage him from obeying the clear word of God given him.
Obeying God often is a very lonely act. If we go to others for encouragement then be prepare to be discouraged. Look at verse 4. Maybe Abraham left early in the morning so he wouldn’t have to do a big honey-do list Sarah had written out for him to do. Notice when Abraham was packing for the journey he took with him the wood needed to make the burnt offering. The journey to Moriah was a 50 mile three day journey on foot about from here to Potomac Mills Mall, Virginia. It would seem more reasonable to wait till they arrive in Moriah to collect the wood than haul it for three days. We know as the days go by God’s word of direction becomes less imperative, less important; more temptations arise to not obey it. By taking the wood, it was Abraham’s way to keep his single mind resolution to carry out God’s word to sacrifice Isaac.
We can learn something from Abraham how to hold onto and obey God’s word. Like Abraham God sometimes gives us a difficult command to obey. We can’t just file it back in our mind. We need to make a plan to obey it. We need to have a stringy. Otherwise we will obey it only for a couple of days then cast it off as not to important. Paul Lim gave to the CBF children a necklace with a wooden cross hanging on it. The children told me they wore it to help them remember Jesus rose from the dead. I think carrying around a load of wood, or a necklace or anything tangible is a good thing which can help us to obey God’s word. One point is indisputable. God blessed Abraham in this chapter because he obeyed this very difficult word. Obedience may seem like a small matter to us. It is a very important matter to God. James 2:21-24 teaches us of the importance of combining faith and deeds. It reads: “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” We should learn from Abraham not only his life of faith but also how he was able to obey God’s word.
Look at verses 4 and 5. “On the third day he saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants: “Stay here while I and the boy go over there. We will worship, and then we will come back to you.” I suspect Abraham did not want his servants to accompany him because he knew out of their concern for Isaac they would try to stop him. Moreover notice Abraham did not speak foreboding words of death of his son. He spoke words of resurrection hope. We will worship then we will come back. Abraham included Isaac’s return with him back to his servants. Hebrews 11:17-19 in part teaches: “By faith, Abraham when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham reasoned God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” Not once in this entire chapter did Abraham speak about death.” He spoke words that showed he had faith in God’s power to raise the dead. If we were to break down the whole act of worship and sacrifice God directed Abraham to carry out, we see Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead even if he cremated the boy when he offered him as a burnt offering. There is no limit in God’s power to raise the dead. We should never pay any tribute to the power of death. Rather if we must speak words we should speak words of God’s power to overcome every form of death. We should not speak self fulfilling words of doom and death.
Look at verse 6a: “Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, while he took the fire and the knife. This verse shows Abraham was very serious about obeying God’s word to sacrifice his son. Just as Jesus carried his own cross he would be crucified on, Isaac was made to carry the wood he would later be layer on to be sacrificed. Infact theologians believe the same place Abraham would offer Isaac as a burnt sacrifice later would be the same place Jesus Christ was crucified on. Abraham carried the instruments he would need to sacrifice as a burnt offering. His faith in God’s power to raise the dead was serious. He was also serious about obeying God’s word. Just as James wrote, Abraham’s faith and actions were working together.
As the two walked higher up the mountain, Isaac did not complain about the heavy load of wood his father made him carry. At the same time he could not help but think his father had forgotten to bring something very important. Look at verse 7; “Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes my son? Abraham replied. “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” There are a few ways Abraham could have answered this question. He could have told him exactly what God told him to do. “Isaac, actually God told me to offer you as the burnt offering.” This is not how Abraham answered the question. Here we learn sometimes what God tells us to do does not mean we should share it with others. Now let us read what Abraham said in reply to Isaac’s question in verse 8 “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” In light of all that is written about Abraham in the bible we know Abraham was not saying these words just to keep Isaac from running for his life. Look carefully at the verb provide Abraham uses. Notices he didn’t say in the past tense: “God himself provided”. Instead we see he was looking into the future for God to provide. He told Isaac: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” According to the teaching of Jesus Christ to some very angry Jews in John 8:56, Abraham actually saw Jesus Christ himself as the lamb who would take away the sins of the world. Jesus said: “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” There are many opinions on Abraham’s frame of mind as he walked up that mountain to obey God’s word to sacrifice his one and only son he loved. Obviously some say he walked up that mountain stealing himself to put to Isaac to death. In light of Jesus’ words I have a different opinion. I believe Abraham was rejoicing because God opened the eyes of his heart to see Jesus Christ the substitute Lamb of God, not only for his own son Isaac but for all peoples of the entire world. Abraham saw this majestic vision of God and he was glad. He was glad God called him to go and sacrifice his one and only son. The prophet knew, once he obeyed God’s command he would set into motion the greatest, most indestructible salvation promise of God ever given to this world ravaged by the power of sin and death. Abraham gladly shared with his son: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering my son.”
Notice then what God’s word says: “The two of them went on together.” It does not say Isaac dropped the wood and ran for his life. If there is one person that knows the parent is not telling the truth is their teenage child. I have five children. Especially the oldest three humble me because I cannot fool them. If I try to bring them to a place I like but they do not like, I attempt to do it by describing the place with many adjectives I think they would be attracted to them. They can read me like a book. I end up going by myself. Isaac already a young boy who had faith in God could see his father's glad certainty about God’s provision. More than that I believe the anticipation of witnessing God providing the lamb made his heavy load of wood much more bearable to carry up that mountain.
Even in much less important matters of life we can believe God will provide. Once in Matthew 6 Jesus could sense his disciples had many anxieties about their future as Jesus disciples. Questions that were important to them but afraid to ask kept arising in their minds. “How will I feed myself and my family if I follow Jesus? Am I going to be homeless and are my children going to have to wear shoes with holes in them?” Jesus gave them a great promise in Matt 6:33 which applies to all people: “Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” Anyone who seeks first God’s kingdom and righteousness never has to worry if they and their family will be provided for. Jesus has and Jesus always will provide everything needed for those who seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. Last Friday as I was preparing for bible study my youngest daughter Mary Anna invited me to come downstairs to watch a video with her and the other children. It was tempting. I could hear the video. It sounded exciting. Nevertheless God helped me to share with her I had to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. I told her I had to put first things first. It didn’t even occur to me my words would change her plans but they did. Instead of going downstairs where all the other children were she went back to her room, found her bible and came back to the table to study it next to me. Again I was humbled and reminded of Jesus words: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
When Abraham and Isaac reached the place on the mountain the Lord told him about. Abraham went right to work. He built an alter and arranged the wood on it. Then he bound Isaac. If this scene was reenacted by Hollywood we probably would have been shown a violent struggle between Abraham and Isaac. Maybe they would have had Abraham ask Isaac: “Son hand me one more piece of wood to put on the alter.” As Isaac handed his father the piece of wood Abraham would have reached out his left hand while at the same time sucker punching Isaac with a left hook to his chin to knock him unconscious. I don’t think Abraham had to struggle with Isaac to bind him. Abraham had planted faith in Isaac that God would provide. If anything Abraham with more words of reassurance would have said: “Ok Isaac let me bound you.” Isaac would surrender his body to his father to be bound. Then Abraham would tell him to relax as he picked up his son and laid him on wood piled on the alter. Many artists have either painted or sculptured the next scene of Abraham picking up his knife. The most common scene depicted is Abraham lifting up his son’s neck to slice his throat. We know for a fact no one on earth is anywhere close by to witness what Abraham is about to do. On the other hand all of heaven is transfixed and sitting on their preverbal edge of their seat watching to see what Abraham would do. Just as Abraham was about to give the mental command to his arm and the hand holding the knife to slay his son, a loud command from heaven was shouted down to Abraham. Look at verses 11 and 12: “But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven. “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Now we see exactly what God was testing Abraham for - to see if he really feared God. God said: “Now I know that you fear God.” God didn’t care if Abraham knew Chemistry, physics and mathematics or anything else men and women care about. What God was looking to find out from this test was if Abraham really feared God. You see if one really fears God he will deny what is most dear to him and obey God even if no one else is watching him deny himself to obey God. Many people have a difficult time reconciling with God’s word that teaches God wants us to fear him. Hidden with in this fear of God is the power of God that enables one to obey God. Under this is found the faith in God spoken of in Hebrews 11: 6 that teaches without such faith it is impossible to please God. God knows there is no greater test to see if one fears God than to have him obey God’s word to sacrifice the most precious gift God has given him. God knows this very personally because he himself sacrifices his one and only son Jesus Christ. If we are disturbed with the teaching we must fear God, it is because we know when we truly fear God it means we have to obey God even when no one is around us to watch us obey God. It is easy to obey God when everyone is watching us. I am not saying this is a bad thing. This is why Paul encourages us to be around good company not bad company. Nonetheless we will find ourselves alone with only heaven watching us. At these times what will we do? Will we fear God and obey his word? Or will we give into our weaknesses or put God’s blessing before God? The highest form of obedience is to obey God when no one but heaven is watching us. This is the obedience Abraham displayed on that very lonely mountain in Moriah. Abraham’s obedience forever impressed God. It took Abraham around 35 years of walking with God before he could pass this test. Maybe today we cannot pass this test. Not withstanding this is the test of test we should be constantly praying and personally struggling to study the bible for. When we can obey God’s word as it relates to our own weaknesses or untouchable area of our life then we too will join Abraham to be a person God can say: “Now I know that you fear God.”
Abraham did not end the sacrifice with the angel’s words “Do not lay a hand on the boy.” His faith was so strong; he knew God must have a lamb standing close by. He looked up. Sure enough, verse 13 reads: “there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.” He knew this was no coincident. Rams are known for their agility on rocky mountain slops that normally would plunge the common man to his death. For him to be caught in a thicket was an act of God. Abraham went over, took the ram and offered it as the burnt offering instead of his son. This entire incident is a foreshadow how God would provide Jesus his son as a substitute sacrifice for our sins. We deserve eternal death. But by grace through faith in Jesus’ death for our sins, God gives us eternal life as a gift.
Now look at verses 15-17. Especially take note what these promises to bless Abraham are founded on. They are found on an oath God sword to himself with the words: “I swear by myself.” These arresting words awed the writer of Hebrews. He explains their meaning to us in Heb. 6:16-18. “Men swear by someone greater than themselves and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.” We have always been taught: “Nothing is impossible for God.” The Hebrews writer teaches us this does not apply to lying. Rather it is impossible for God to lie. God gave these promises he made to Abraham not only on a promise but also an oath to encourage us in the unchangeable nature of these promises. Our American government we are told made many promises to the American Indians. Some they kept. Many they broke. I don’t mention this to criticize our government but to show even for a super power in this world it is extremely and often impossible to keep one’s promise for any length of time. This is exactly why we should not have faith in men or governments but in God’s promises built on God’s oath to himself.
Specifically applying to us and all the people of the world is the blessing God gave to Abraham in verse 18. “And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” This one offspring God promised who would bless all nations is Jesus Christ. Before God called Abraham, what cataclysmic event impacted all peoples of the world? It was God’s flood judgment which swept away all living things on earth except Noah and those with him in the ark. God sent this terrible flood in response to men’s wickedness. God said after the flood the flood did not cure man’s wicked nature. Every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood God said. The wickedness within us is our greatest enemy. It brings the greatest source of harm to us and others. If it is not resolved eventually it will bring the wrath of God. Psychologists now call many parents toxic parents. Not because they are feeding their children toxic waist. Rather because their behavior is toxic to their family. They heap verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse upon their children. They involve themselves in self-destructive life styles that destroy them and their family. The problem has been clearly identified. Psychologists can pinpoint every single toxic behavior. However, only the Bible offers the cure. God’s cure for all people is found in verse 18. Apostle Peter interprets verse 18 in Acts 3:25, 26 “He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed. When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” Notice the words: “Bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” Men either give us drugs to temporally turn us from our wicked ways. Other times those we love separate from us to escape our wicked ways. In even other cases the state will put us in prison because of our wicked ways. None of these is a cure. We need a heavenly power to turn us away from our wicked ways. The resurrected Jesus is God’s heavenly power to turn us from our wicked ways.
Before I knew Jesus I was headed on a high way to hell. I was a violent man like the man in Mark 5. I terrorized my sisters which according to my relatives was a bad omen for worse things to come. Then one day God’s servant shared Jesus and God’s word with me. I can say this Jesus turned this wicked child of the devil into a shepherd. Our society is filled with the most able men and women who are shipwrecking their lives. We read about their down fall in magazines, newspapers and on TV. Today in the Bible we read about the one they need and all people need to turn them from their wicked ways. It takes spiritual courage to share Jesus with others. We will never be popular when we share Jesus. Regardless, let us pray God may help us share Abraham’s offspring with others so they can be truly blessed.