Does God ask the impossible? Has he put you in a situation that you can't be expected to obey? Is it true he won't let you be tempted beyond what you can bear? If anyone could make that claim it was Abraham.
Today's passage is the climax of the faith journey of Abraham, it began with promises made to 75-year-old Abraham. At age 100, Abraham saw the fulfilment of one of those promises, the birth of Isaac to Sarai.
It was a great way to end a story 25 years in making. But apart from the laughter by Sarah and the circumcision of Isaac, it’s a touch of an anticlimax. The real high point comes in Genesis 22, this is the single greatest expression of faith in the Old Testament. We might say of Abraham what Jesus said of the Centurion “Nowhere in the whole Old Testament have we seen faith like this”. Like us he is on a journey learning to trust in the promises of God.
Abraham had good reason to trust, with the miraculous birth of a son, he is assured of a nation, with the treaty with Abimelech he is assured of his place in the land, with the removal of Ishmael the line of Isaac is secure. No one could see what God had in mind for Abraham.
1. The Lord tests his friend Abraham
Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” ~Genesis 22:1-2 (NIV)
We have questioned the ethics of Abraham, Lot and Sodom and now we are tempted to question the ethics of God himself. It's tempting to take out the scissors and cut this out of the bible, but once you understand how it fits in the bible you want to bring the magnifying glass over this passage. Remember: Testing is not Tempting. The purpose of a Test is for us to grow our faith and deepen our dependence on God. The purpose of a Temptation is for our faith to fail, for us to give up and turn away from God. God tests and Satan tempts.
When my daughter Maddy was young, we would play French cricket, she said: “Dad when you hit the ball you want me to catch it when I hit the ball I want you to miss it.” That is right Maddy! That is why I'm like God and you’re like Satan” God wants to test our faith and grow it and Satan wants to tempt our faith and fail.
The shock of this test may not have been as great for Abraham. Abraham came from a world where people sacrificed humans. They did it in Ur and in the land of Canaan where he lives. In fact, human sacrifice has occurred in nearly every continent for anyone likely to be unhinged. Be assured, God will never ask anyone to do what Abraham was asked to do. There are 100 verses in the Bible against human sacrifice. All of which was written after Abraham.
They built high places …to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin. ~Jeremiah 32:35 (NIV)
God never intended Abraham to go ahead with the sacrifice, He says human sacrifice is detestable, it never even entered his mind. But at this stage, Abraham does not know that and what is so heart wrenching is that the one about to be sacrificed is, your son, your only son, whom you love. It was not just a quick break of the neck, it was a whole burnt offering. Abraham’s first response is his willingness to listen, Here I am Lord. What is surprising is the lack of emotion, Abraham was distressed when Ishmael was sent away but there is no mention of distress in this passage.
Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” ~Genesis 22:3-5 (NIV)
Abraham doesn’t procrastinate, he is up early the next morning He is distracted, he saddles the donkey which is work normally for a servant. He is confused, the donkeys are loaded before the wood is cut. It’s a 3-day journey to the place of sacrifice, 3 long days to carry this burden, 3 long days to change his mind.
What is going on in Abraham mind?
Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. ~Hebrews 11:19 (NIV)
Abraham approaches this test knowing 2 things, God promised to bless the world through his son Isaac and God commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac. The only way Abraham resolved the problem is by understanding that God would raise Isaac back to life. We know that because
…We (Isaac and I) will worship and then we will come back to you.” ~Genesis 22:5 (NIV)
The Isaac he goes up the mountain to sacrifice will be the Isaac who will come back down the mountain. It is no less an extraordinary act of faith. So Abraham obeys God but the tension is excruciating.
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. ~Genesis 22:6-8 (NIV)
2. Its the Lord who Provides
Isaac, now a teenager is strong enough to carry the wood, the tender language increases the tension “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. As Abraham carries a knife in one hand ready to plunge it into his son, and he carries fire in the other hand to burn up his son's body, Isaac is unaware of what is going down, just trusting his beloved Father. When Isaac asked the obvious he is told “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” He never dreamed it would be him.
Then the hour comes, they arrive at the God-appointed place. The altar is built. The wood arranged. Isaac is bound up and laid on the altar.
Then he [Abraham] reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. ~Genesis 22:10 (NIV)
Stop! He really was going to do it!!!! Abraham would not withhold even his son, his only son, from God. Abraham was saying to God “Everything I have and everything I am is yours Lord” At which point God steps in.
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,” he said. “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.” ~Genesis 22:11-12 (NIV)
Imagine for a moment if God did not step in, what a different God we would worship. What a different world this would be. God would be no better than Satan himself.
This was a unique test and Abraham passed the test, he was found faithful. He was already justified by faith alone, but that faith that was justified is a true faith, marked out with a radical obedience. He withheld nothing from God. God knows that Abraham truly fears him. Abraham was right
So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” ~Genesis 22:14 (NIV)
Notice the future tense, On the mountain of the 'Lord will provide'. God's people waited 2000 years to see how God will provide. Until John the Baptist pointed to Jesus saying:
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! ~John 1:29 (NIV)
This passage has all the co-ordinate to understand the cross of Christ
a) The God-appointed place
Mount Moriah is the same place where Solomon built the temple (2 Chronicles 3), 1000 years later. It's same place where Christ will be sacrificed, once for all at the cross 2000yrs later.
b) The God-appointed person
Isaac was Abraham's one and only son whom he loved. Ultimately it would be God himself who would offer his one and only Son,…whom the Father loves.
Can't help but think of John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
c) The God-appointed sacrifice
He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. ~Genesis 22:13 (NIV)
The Ram was offered “instead of his son” God's one and only Son would be offered instead of us.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. ~Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)
In the movie - the Doctor, a skilled surgeon is about to go into life-threatening surgery as a patient and he is scared. As he is laying on the table a fellow doctor comes alongside and says “Bill, do you want me to go with you” Bill says “I don't want you to go with me, I want you to go instead of me.” Isaac rejoiced to see the Ram take his place and we rejoice to see Christ take our place at the cross.
One Jewish Rabbah Midrash commentary on this passage says Isaac carried the “wood on his back like a condemned man carrying the cross.” This has Jesus fingerprints all over it. The big difference here though is Isaac was both ignorant and passive in his silent acceptance while Jesus fully understood and was actively obedient in his silent acceptance.
With Christ, we have the first consenting sacrifice in the bible. The cross is no act of child abuse. “I lay down my life and I take it up again”
3. The Lord who makes an oath
It’s the only time God makes an oath by himself.
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 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 possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” ~Genesis 22:15-18 (NIV)
The promises of God are expanded again, descendants as like sand of the sea not just stars of the sky, blessings include victory over enemy cities, blessings which were grounded in promises of God are also grounded through the obedience of Abraham.
So now we see that
• Those promises to bless the world now turn on a God who makes an oath by himself to keep his word, locked in
• Promises turn on God the Father who will provide by not withholding his one and only son
• Promises turn on the willing sacrifice who is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world
• There will be no blessing without the seed of Abraham bound on that wooden cross.
In view of those many mercies, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God.
Here is the big idea: God will never ask of you what only He can do–Offer his one and only Son. But he calls you to offer your body as a living sacrifice and yes that means your faith will be tested. Not as a trip hazard to catch you out but as a Father shaping his children to become more like Christ.
I was talking to some friends about this passage, the wife shared how she didn’t like the idea of God testing us, as if God were some insecure lover trying to catch us out. Then she talked about how seriously unwell she has been for the last 6 weeks. She said “I have never felt more loved by my husband” Her husband's love was tested through the suffering and it exposed a deeper love for her. Testing is a good thing, friends.
If Augustine is right then sin is in part disordered loves. We love the wrong things or we love the right things the wrong order: we love our dog or car or sport more than people of God; we love our jobs more than our family; we love our family more than we love God; we love somethings too much and other things too little.
Times of testing clarify. Do I truly fear God more than others? Do I love him more than anything or anyone? If Comfort is your god, you will resent God testing you. I’m tempted to say: "I want a quiet life. Lord, leave me alone." If pleasure is your idol you will medicate or blame others through Gods sometimes painful providence.
For us to mature, God places us in situations like a broken heart, a lost dream, a failed project or a tragic loss, they challenge us to re-arrange priorities, to re-order our loves so we can say “Lord everything I have and everything I am is yours.” Can you pray to God, “Lord if anything bad happens to my kids and grandkids…may I never stop trusting that you are Good.”
There is nothing in your life off limits to God, He can ask you to change or remove or re-align an area of your life, but God moves at the pace we can manage. He did not ask Abraham to sacrifice his son at Genesis 12 that came 40 years later.
How is God using COVID to re-order your loves? Are you leaning into God or lounging back from him? Has COVID caused you to push toward God or to push God and his people away? Make these COVID days your best days as a Christian, but you can't face any test unless you know this promise.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? ~Romans 8:31-32 (NIV)