Hebrews 11:17-19 Genesis 22:1-14
We’ve all had the joy of anticipation – knowing we will receive a gift or blessing at some point in the future. A birthday present, seeing a dear friend after many years of absence, a new grandchild, a long awaited and planned for vacation. And we know the joy of experiencing that blessing, enjoying that gift for a period of time.
But we’re never quite prepared for the time when God says we must let go of that gift or blessing, that we must give it up simply because he requires it. God doesn’t always expect that of us; much or even most of the time he “gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). But at times he does test us and our faith, not so he can find out how strong it is (he already knows) but to serve another purpose. When God tests our faith, it is usually because he has a lesson to teach us.
In our text this morning we see what lesson it was that God purposed to teach Abraham and the process by which he brought him to that lesson.
A. Tested v. 17a
Do you trust me enough to leave home? for an unknown destination?
Do you trust me for protection in Egypt? especially for your attractive wife? from Pharaoh who had a liking for pretty women?
Do you trust me to take care of your nephew, Lot (who had his own character issues)? from Edomite raiders? from destruction along with the evil residents of Sodom?
Do you trust me to provide the fulfillment to my promise? a son? a specific son born to you and Sarah?
Abraham’s faith had already been tested numerous times; it didn’t always hold up well under stress but Abraham never lost it. He always returned to God in trusting faith, to have his faith tested again.
One test is never enough to tell the whole story about the strength of something. If it survives, you know it could handle the test once – but you have no way of knowing how much it can handle. If it breaks, you know you exceeded its strength limit. It’s only through repeated testing that the durability of something can be determined. Fatigue testing – GE jet engine shafts
Abraham’s faith had been tested repeatedly over a period of 30+ years, not because God is mean and enjoys hassling his children. No, God had something for Abraham to learn about greatness. Remember what it is that makes faith worthwhile? Not its size, or strength, or vigor. It is the object of faith that makes it biblical faith.
True biblical faith has God as its object; any less than that is idolatry, worshiping and placing confidence in something or someone less than God. Even when we trust other people to provide for or protect us, our faith should ultimately be in God who places them in positions and enables them to help us. As God put Abraham in situations requiring faith, and now brings him right up to the edge, to the abyss of despair, each of these situations served to teach Abraham an important truth. In each one Abraham was given the opportunity to see not how great his faith was, but how great God is.
And that is the primary purpose of testing – to increase the strength of our confidence in God, the object of our faith, by teaching us just how great he really is. Remember Job? He was tested just as Abraham was. When Job asked God “Why?”, when he said “Oh that the Almighty would answer me” (Job 31:35) God did answer him, but not with an answer to why Job had experienced such suffering.
God revealed to Job his transcendent greatness, his immensity, his unfathomable power. And Job, sitting there on the ash heap, covered from head to toe with boils and destitute of everything but his wife and his faith in God, responds to his newfound understanding of God’s greatness:
Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, “Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:1-6
Abraham’s greatest test came when God told him to kill not the son of his and Sarah’s invention, but the son of promise. From Abraham’s immediate perspective he would not simply and tragically lose his one unique son; he himself would be the agent by which God required Isaac’s life. And Abraham had the rest of the night and all the next day and night and the following day and night to think about it before they came within sight of the mountain where God would demonstrate his greatness.
B. Demonstrated v. 17b-18
When Abraham and Isaac reached the top of Mount Moriah, Abraham was determined to demonstrate his absolute trust in the God he worshipped. This is clear from his mindset and his actions.
A better translation: “Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; he who had received the promises was offering up his unique son,” HCSB – The same verb, different tenses; first, perfect tense; second, imperfect tense.
“Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac” – completed action. In Abraham’s mind, Isaac was as good as dead. He had brought himself in his thinking to the point that the sacrifice was complete, he had reasoned to a conclusion, all that was left was the specific action to bring it about. Since the action to sacrifice Isaac was never complete – the Angel of the Lord interrupted Abraham – Abraham is spoken of in the second part of the verse as “offering up his son”. He was in the process of carrying out God’s command but was prevented from completing it.
What does this tell us about Abraham’s mindset? At this point he was holding nothing back. He had built the altar, laid the wood in order, bound Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. He had taken the knife and was in motion to sacrifice his son when the Angel stopped him (Gen. 22:9-11). Abraham was not looking cornerways up at heaven thinking “OK, God, you can stop me any time now. Haven’t I gone far enough? You really don’t want me to go through with this, do you?” No, in Abraham’s mind it was a done deal and Isaac would truly be sacrificed on that altar in keeping with God’s command.
Only faith in the God who made the promise, not in the possession, makes this sort of obedience possible; NOT “I’ve got what was promised, I can stop trusting God now and do it myself”. Abraham had to fix his focus on God and not Isaac in order to act as he did.
C. Reasoned v. 19a
Abraham’s was not a foolish faith that leaps blindly into the dark, trusting that someone or something will somehow prevent disaster. It was a reasoned faith, one that had been logically thought through to a valid conclusion.
Abraham began with the correct starting place: see Gen. 18:23-25 – the character of God. In order for God to be God, he must do what is right; it’s a given that God will do the right thing in all situations. From that presupposition Abraham built his logical argument:
God will do what is right
He promised that the “children of Abraham” would be descendants of Isaac.
God has issued the command to kill Isaac before he has children.
Isaac must have children to fulfill the promise.
God keeps his promises and does what is right. Therefore God must plan to bring Isaac back to life.
Conclusion: God is great enough and good enough to keep his promise.
Abraham demonstrated that on this occasion, unlike previous times, his confidence was firmly fixed on God and not himself. Since he had an absolute trust in God, he could do whatever God commanded him, knowing it would all come out right in the end. For Abraham, the results depended on God’s character and not circumstances. He absolutely believed the answer to WLC Q.7, What is God? (even though it hadn’t been written then):
A7: God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.
D. Rewarded v. 19b
God’s response to Abraham’s demonstrated “faith to let go” was the return of Isaac to his father. He graciously provided a substitute sacrifice, the ram caught in a bush by his horns, which Abraham joyfully sacrificed on the altar. The writer of our text states that from Abraham’s perspective it was like God had raised Isaac from the dead, giving him life once again.
You might wonder why God took Abraham to that heart-wrenching point of figuratively losing his unique son of promise only to give him back. Consider what Abraham learned about God in this experience:
his provision – Jehovah-Jireh (Gen. 22:14)
Abraham saw all this in ways he would not have otherwise done and only because he responded in faith to God’s command. He had the confidence, the faith to say to God, “Whatever you want, it’s yours; you can have it, I won’t try to hang on to it.”
Have you seen God’s greatness? Have you experienced his goodness? Have you been the recipient of his provision? Will you pray the prayer Frances Havergal penned: Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.