Genesis 20 recorded another failure of Abraham to trust in the Lord. Abraham lies about Sarah being her sister rather than trusting God to deliver them. Rather than revoking God’s promises, God continued to be faithful to his word. Abraham and Sarah bear a miracle child in Isaac and Ishmael is provided for in the desert after he is sent away. God’s prior faithfulness to Abraham is what opens this scene in Genesis 22. “After these things God tested Abraham.”
This is a very important piece of information, but it is information that is not given to Abraham. As in the book of Job, we are being told what is going on while the person who is dealing with the situation does not know what God is doing. This is the nature of a test. We do not know we are in a test. We are living life as if it were another day, no different than any other day. Abraham does not know he is entering a test. We do not know when we are entering a test. But now it is time for a test. Here is the point before we even begin the account of Abraham’s life: your faith will be tested. You faith will be tested. It is a reality. It will happen.
Please notice that God is doing the testing. The question of the test is always this: Will you be loyal to God? Therefore testing occurs to know what is in our hearts. This is the stretching of our faith. A test is necessary for our benefit to demonstrate what it means to trust God fully. We cannot know if we trust God fully until we are put in a position where we must trust God fully. It would be like in school claiming to know everything that was taught in the school year. You cannot fully know until you take the test and prove that you know. In the same way, we cannot know if we would trust God fully at all times unless we are put in those circumstances. Will you really walk wholeheartedly before your God?
Tested Faith (22:1-10)
God calls to Abraham. Please listen to these words and think about what God has said. “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2 ESV) Can you imagine the emotions and the intensity of hearing this command? Think about how you would feel. Think about what you would think about this command. This command goes against all common sense and rational thinking. How could God ask this of me? Is this not what we do with God? How could God ask me to do this? How could he ask me to make such a sacrifice? How could God ask me to give up so much? This cannot be right! But the one thing that I think had to be going through Abraham’s mind is this: Isaac is the miracle child that God said all the nations would be blessed through. Now God is commanding me to offer him up as a burnt offering. These two things do not make sense. How can these two things reconcile? Yet this is the command.
We cannot help but be amazing at Abraham’s immediate obedience. Abraham does not sleep in. Abraham does not drag his feet. Abraham gets up early in the morning, makes preparations, and sets off to obey the command of the Lord. How can Abraham do this? Why is Abraham able to have this kind of faith? How can he have this faith in the face of such a great sacrifice commanded of him? Keep these questions in your mind and we will answer them as we continue to study the account.
There is a tremendous amount of foreshadowing that the author wants the reader to sense as the account unfolds. The first foreshadowing is found in verse 4. It is on the third day that Abraham saw the place from afar where the sacrifice would be made. The third day is a picture in the scriptures as the day of the Lord’s deliverance and restoration. The prophet Hosea declared:
“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. (Hosea 6:1–2 ESV)
It is on the third day that Esther goes in to save the Jews from their death sentence (Esther 5:1). It was on the third day that Hezekiah was healed from his death sentence (2 Kings 20:8).
The next foreshadowing comes in verse 5. Abraham tells the young men to stay with the donkey while he and his son go and worship. Then they will come back to them. Now, some will suggest that this is what Abraham had to say. He had to say that they both were coming back because his servants would stop him. We must first recognize that Abraham is master over his property and servants are not going to stop him from doing anything he wants. But the real reason why we know that Abraham believed he and his son would return is because of the discussion Abraham has with Isaac. Read verses 6-8. When Isaac asks where the lamb is for the burnt offering, notice the answer Abraham gives: “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering.”
Think about what Abraham just said. The Lord will provide for himself the lamb. The Lord will provide what we need, Isaac. The cost will come from God, not from us. The Lord will provide the lamb for himself. The writer of Hebrews gives us an amazing insight into the mind of Abraham at this moment.
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)
God said that the offspring would come through Isaac. Then God said to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. Abraham told his servants that he and Isaac would come back to them after worshiping. Abraham has told Isaac that God would provide for himself the lamb. Abraham recognized that if it comes down to it, God was able to even raise Isaac from the dead. How many resurrections have occurred in history by the time we get to Abraham in the scriptures? None. No one has been raised from the dead. Why did Abraham think that he was coming back down the mountain with Isaac? Why did Abraham think that God could raise Isaac from the dead? Abraham believed this because God said his offspring would come through Isaac. Abraham has learned the faithfulness of God. Abraham has learned through his failures and God’s successes like the miraculous birth that God always keeps his word.
Fearing God (22:11-12)
God’s faithfulness led to Abraham’s faithfulness. Therefore, knowing the faithfulness of God, Abraham knew he was coming back down with Isaac somehow. As Abraham raises the knife to kill his son so he could offer him to the Lord, the angel of the Lord calls to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” The angel continues, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
This is an important statement for our consideration. Did God not know the faith of Abraham? Of course God knew. But God expects that faith to be shown during the moment of crisis and difficulty. God knows you can be faithful. But will you? Just like a test in school, the teacher knows you know this information. But do you really know it for the time of the test? The test is needed to know if we fear God. We need to know if we truly walk by faith. In the test, will you hold fast to the Lord? Are you willing to sacrifice everything for the Lord? We are called to trust in the Lord even at a great personal cost. The true worshiper will hold nothing back but will obediently give to God whatever he asks. Stop and think about this for a moment. This is what it means to fear God. God says that what Abraham did displayed that he feared God. Fearing God means holding back nothing but giving everything God demands even if it is at great personal cost.
This is why we become concerned when you choose not to come worship the Lord and study the scriptures with your brethren. It shows an unwillingness to sacrifice something (time and comfort) for something fairly convenient (driving in a car and meeting in air conditioning to study God’s word). If we choose not to do this, it is hard to think that we are sacrificing in the other areas where God has made demands on our lives. It is not that we want bodies in the pews. Our concern for you is that you are not willing to fear God by holding nothing back. Will we suggest by our actions that God is asking too much from us? Before we answer this question, let us consider the main point of this paragraph.
The Lord Provides For Himself (22:13-19)
Abraham told Isaac that the Lord would provide for himself. Abraham lifts up his eyes and finds a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. Abraham offered the ram instead of offering Isaac. The Lord provided the sacrifice to be made on that mountain that day. Thus Abraham called the name of the place, “The Lord will provide” (22:14) and the place continued to be called, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” A beautiful picture is shown here at this moment. The Lord will provide a sacrifice on this place.
In 2 Chronicles 3:1 we learn that the Lord instructed Solomon’s temple to be built on Mount Moriah. Fast forward 960 years from the temple’s completion and on this mountain, outside the city walls, the Lord will offer his only Son on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. The foreshadowing is amazing. Abraham was called to offer his son Isaac on the altar. But God stops Abraham from completing the act. It is not Abraham who will offer the sacrifice. The Lord will provide for himself the lamb. When Jesus is lifted up on the cross, there is no one to stop what is happening. There is no one to shout from heaven stop the sacrifice of Jesus on the altar on this mountain. As the apostle Paul declared:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32 ESV)
But what happened to Abraham? Abraham received his son back. The writer of Hebrews makes this point directly. “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:19). The text foreshadowed this. “On the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place from afar” (22:4). Abraham said he would come back with his son together. While no one stop the slaying of the Son of God, on the third day the Father would receive his Son back from the dead. The Lord did provide for himself the sacrifice so that we could be set free from our sins. Now we will return to the question we asked earlier: Is God asking too much from us to obediently give to him whatever he asks?
God will test your faith. The only way to know if you fear God is for your faith to be tested. In your test, are you going to sacrifice whatever God asks of you? Will you hold fast to God even at great personal cost? Will you obediently give to God whatever he asks? He did not spare his own Son but freely gave us all things. What are you holding back from serving and loving the Lord because of all he has done for you?