Abraham’s Greatest Test

Genesis 22

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
June 2015

For the last three months, we have been studying in detail the life of the patriarch Abraham.  He is one of the greatest characters in the Bible.  He is a giant of the faith.

God made a special covenant with him that he did not make with anyone else.  He is the only one in the Bible who is called “a friend of God” and he is called that three times.

Abraham was a great man.  God blessed him.  He was extremely wealthy.  He was like the Bill Gates of his day but even Abraham had problems.  He did not live the perfect life.  He had struggles with sin and he had many trials in his life.  He had problems.

He had many tests which we have seen already in Genesis. There are different lists of these tests.  According to Jewish tradition, Abraham faced ten tests.  I want to list just some of the tests that he faced.

The Tests of Abraham

1. THE FAITH TEST.  God gave him a command to take a big step of faith.  He told him to leave his family and friends, take a long dangerous journey and to go to a place he had never been to before.  When he got there, he received his second test.

2. THE FAMINE TEST.  When Abraham got to Canaan, there was a famine there.  Food was scarce.  Instead of trusting God, he left the Promised Land where God told him to do and went to Egypt.  It turned out to be disastrous.

3. THE FEAR TEST.  Abraham failed this test twice.  He lied to Pharaoh and to Abimelek to save his life and ended up giving his wife to another man in marriage, not once but twice. When he got back into the Promise Land, he encountered another test.

4. THE FAMILY FEUD TEST.  A family fight broke out over grazing territory for animals.  Abraham resolved this one peacefully with his nephew Lot but had to say goodbye to him.

5. THE FRIENDSHIP TEST.  When his close friends and family members were in danger, Abraham went into action.  Lot was taken captive and he got together an army and rescued him, as well as the people of Sodom, at great risk to himself.  He went against a superior army.

6. THE FAME TEST.  Abraham defeated Kederlaomer and was instantly a war hero.  He was famous and was offered the spoils of war but he refused them.  He didn’t go to war to get rich and he did not take credit for the victory.

7. THE FERTILITY TEST.  God promised Abraham and Sarah a son but it wasn’t happening.  Years went by.  Decades went by and still no son.  It was embarrassing.  His name meant ‘father of a multitude” but his wife was childless and infertile.  Abraham decided to get a child another way and help God out.

8. THE FAREWELL TEST.  He had to disinherit his firstborn son Ishmael and kick him out of the house, after he continued to mock the promised son.

9. THE FIDELITY TEST. When we get to Genesis 22, we come to the greatest test of Abraham’s life. This was a test of loyalty.

Christians call this “the offering up of Isaac”.  Jews call it “the binding of Isaac” (Akedah Yitzhak).  It is a very familiar story of Scripture.  It is a powerful story.  All of us have heard it as a child.  It is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. This passage is also very important.  Isaac is a type of Christ.

This whole chapter is a beautiful picture of Christ.  One preacher called this “a dress rehearsal for Calvary”.  Is Isaac a perfect picture of Jesus here?  No.  Isaac does not die for anyone here.  There is a substitute that dies in this chapter but it is not Isaac.

In fact, a ram has to die for Isaac (22:13).  However, there are some similarities between Isaac and Jesus here that are amazing.  What happened to Isaac foreshadowed what would happen to Christ two thousand years later.

Isaac: a Type of Christ

1) Isaac had a miraculous birth.

His wife was too old to have children. She was past menopause.  She was ninety when she gave birth.  Jesus also had a miraculous birth.  He was virgin born.

2) Isaac was loved by his father.

Isaac was loved by his father (22:2) and so was Jesus. Jesus said that the Father loved him before the foundation of the world (John 17:24).

3) Isaac was called Abraham’s only son.

Isaac was called Abraham’s only son (22:2).  Jesus also is called “the only begotten son” or “only unique son” (John 1:14; 18; 3:16; 18; I John 4:9).

4) Abraham offered up his son in sacrifice.

God offered up his son in sacrifice. John 3:16 says, “God so loved that world that he gave his only son.”

5) Isaac was a willing sacrifice.

He did not resist or struggle when his father tied him up and tried to offer him in sacrifice. He did not try to run away from his elderly father.  Jesus also went willingly to the cross (John 10:18).

6) Isaac carried the wood up the mountain (22:6). Jesus died on a wooden cross and even carried his own cross (John 19:7).

7) Isaac was tied up at the altar (22:9) and Jesus was nailed at the cross (I Peter 2:24).

8) Isaac was offered on a hill in Jerusalem (Mt. Moriah) and Jesus died on a hill in Jerusalem (Golgotha). The two are close together.

The Muslims built a mosque over the place where Abraham offered up his sin.  It is called The Dome of the Rock.  It is built on the highest part of Mt. Moriah where most believe that Abraham offered up Isaac.

9) The chapter mentions the period of three days (22:4). What were the three days for? The trip from Beersheba to Mount Moriah was a three-day journey.  You could probably get there in less than an hour by car.  It is fifty miles south but, in those days, it took three days.

During that walk, Abraham had only one thing on his mind, Isaac’s death.  That is all he could think about, but he also believed that he would rise from the dead afterwards (Hebrews 11:17-19).  Jesus was in the tomb for three days and afterwards rose again from the dead.

This chapter has some important applications for us today.  What can we learn from this chapter?  There are three things.  First, we learn that God tests us (22:1).  He tested Abraham.

He tested him more than once and he will test us.  He may test our faith and ask Him to trust Him for something.  We might have to wait for years for something, like Abraham did.

He may test our obedience and we if we will do what He says.  God tested Adam and Eve’s obedience in the Garden.  He may also test our endurance.  Job’s endurance was tested to see if he would continue to worship God under terrible circumstances.

He might test our love.  Remember, Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37 ESV).

A second lesson we learn from this chapter is that God provides for us (22:14).  In fact, Abraham gives us another name for God here.  He calls him Jehovah Jireh (God, our Provider).  It is the fifth special name for God in Genesis.  God provides for our needs, not all of our wants but our needs.

He does not always use an angel to do that, like He did in this chapter. Paul says, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 ESV).

A third lesson is that God rewards obedience.  Abraham was rewarded for his action.  God promised to bless, not only Abraham and his descendants but all nations through his descendants because of his action (22:15-18).  He still blesses obedience today.

This is also one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible.  What God asks Abraham to do here is shocking.  It is disturbing.  It raises all kinds of moral issues and ethical questions.

I need to give a viewer warning here.  In this class, we want to look at some of these hard questions.  These are the kinds of questions that are not raised in Sunday School classes.

All of the critics of the Bible and atheists love this chapter.  They use it to mock the Bible.  Here you have a loving father trying to his kill his own son in cold blood.  How is that for family values?

The Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz says that Abraham committed attempted murder in this section and is praised. Is God endorsing child abuse here?  Does this passage condone child abuse?

We will look at these questions later but I would say at the outset is that this passage does NOT sanction child abuse.  You have to take it in context.  The problem is that some people only read the first two verses of the chapter.

You have to read it from the beginning to the end.  Many read the words, “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” and stop.

That is the danger in reading half of the Bible.  If you read the whole chapter, you find that child sacrifice was NEVER God’s plan.

He never intended Isaac to die.  That was not His will.  Abraham did not know that at the time but we know it. What happens at the end of the story?

An angel steps in to protect Isaac.  He calls Abraham’s name twice (“Abraham, Abraham”).  God mentioned his name once at the beginning of the chapter (22:1)  but now the angel really wants to make sure that Abraham heard him.  He is old.

He might have been hard of hearing. He says to Abraham, “Do NOT lay your hand on the boy or do ANYTHING to him” (22:12). At the end of the story, angel says, “Don’t touch him.  Don’t lay your hands on him”.

God did not command this because he wanted it to happen.  He commanded it because it was a test (22:1).   God did not want Isaac’s life.  He wanted Abraham’s heart.

Let’s look briefly at this chapter.  When do these events take place?  The first verse says “sometime later”.  Isaac was two or three at the end of the last chapter.  How old is he in this chapter?

The Bible doesn’t say but we know that he was not a child.  We have two hints.  Isaac does two things.

He was old enough to understand that if you were going to have a sacrifice, you had to have an animal and he was strong enough to carried wood for the burnt offering up the mountain.  A child couldn’t carry the firewood.  He was at least a teenager and may have been older.

Genesis 22 describes four things: God’s command, Abraham’s response, God’s provision and God’s reward.  We need to see all four of these things.

God’s Command

“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” (22:1-2 NIV).

What did God tell Abraham to do here?  God did not just tell Abraham to offer him a sacrifice. He told him exactly what to sacrifice, namely, Isaac, his prized possession.  He told him to put his only son the altar.

God told him to take the son that he loved, the one who brought joy and laughter to his life and he was to tie him up, take a knife, plunge it into the heart of his own son and then burn him to ashes.

A burnt offering involved fire.  The whole offering was completely consumed.  God prescribes other offerings of which only part is burned and the rest is eaten by the worshipers. But the burnt offering is consumed completely.

Abraham is told to offer, not an animal but his own son Isaac, the son that was just born in the last chapter.  This was the son that Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham waited a hundred years for this child to be born.  He waited his entire life to have this son and one he gets him, God tells him to go offer him in sacrifice.

God says, “offer him as a sacrifice.”  In the last chapter, God told Abraham to send his firstborn son away.  He got rid of him in Genesis 21.  He has one son left, Isaac and now God tells him to take him and offer him up on an altar.  Several things stand out to me about this command.

1. It came from God Himself.

Many people think God is talking to them and telling them to do things that he is not.  They go around saying “God said this” and “God told me that” but what they say did not come from God.

We have all heard stories about mentally unstable people who have murdered their children and gone on to defend their actions by claiming that God told them to do so. God told me to divorce my wife, to drown my kids.

Notice how the second verse begins, Genesis 22:2 reads “THEN GOD SAID Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go …. Sacrifice him … as a burnt offering”. There was no mistake about this.

Abraham did not misunderstand God and say “I think he wants me to do this”.  This was not a hunch or an intuition.  God spoke to Abraham many times.  He recognized God’s voice.

In fact, this sounded a little similar to the very first time God spoke to Abraham.  What did He tell him to do?  He told him to GO somewhere to a land God WOULD SHOW HIM.  What did God say to do here?

GO to the region of Moriah to a mountain I WILL SHOW YOU.  Now Abraham was called a prophet in Genesis 20.  Here God wants him to act as a priest.  He wants him to offer Him a sacrifice, a burnt offering.

2. It seemed illogical

This command did not seem to make much sense for two reasons.  First, no reason was given for this command.  When God told Adam and Eve not to eat from a tree in the garden, He gave a reason.  He said, the day they eat from that tree they will surely die.

When God told Noah to build a boat bigger than a football field and three stories tall, he gave a reason for doing it.  He told him that He was going to destroy every living thing on the planet in a worldwide flood of water. God did not give Abraham a reason.  He just told him to do it.

Second, it seemed to contradict God’s promises.  God told Abraham that he would have as many descendants as the stars in the sky (15:5) and the dust of the earth (13:16).  He said “In Isaac your seed will be called”.  The Messiah was to come into the world through Isaac.

God said that he would bless the whole world through Isaac and his descendants and now God tells Abraham to kill him.  Isaac was not married at this time.  He did not have any kids.

He was not a father and God just told him to offer him as a burnt offering.  Abraham obeyed even when it did not make sense.  it is our duty to obey God’s commands and His duty to keep His promises.

3. It seemed to be immoral.

Can we all agree that murder is wrong?  The Sixth Commandment prohibits murder. If murder is wrong and if God commands someone to commit murder, then isn’t God commanding someone to sin?

What Abraham had to do last week seemed barbaric.  He send his firstborn son away in the hot desert.  What he does now seems even more barbaric.  He puts a knife to his son’s throat. Isaac was not only to die; he was to die by Abraham’s hand.

In fact, Genesis 22:1 KJV reads, “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham”.  That is a bad translation.  God cannot sin.

He cannot tempt anyone to sin.  “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:13-14).

Here is the answer.  What God asked Abraham to do was NOT wrong.  Murder is ALWAYS wrong.  It is a violation of the moral law of God.  It is wrong at every time and in every place but God cannot murder.

People who do not understand the Bible talk about all of the murders of God.  Bill Maher calls God a psychotic mass murder who drowns innocent women and children in a Flood.

That is not murder.  God created life and He is taking what He already owns.  God can’t murder.   Whenever God gives man the authority to kill, it is not murder.

When God gives the state the right to execute mass murderers, it is not murder.  God is the only one who has the right to take a life and whenever He authorizes someone else to do it, it is not murder.

The problem today is that many people kill for God.  They use this passage to justify murder.  Look at all of the ISIS savages who are beheading people and crucifying children, all in the name of God but God never told them to do that.  They have blood on their hands.  They think they are serving God but they are actually serving the Devil.

Abraham’s Response

Abraham’s response is almost as surprising as the command.  He did not argue with God.  He didn’t say, “I will do anything else.  I will show my devotion to you in any other way”.  He didn’t say, “God I offered you a sacrifice.

It is a burnt offering but it is not Isaac.  He didn’t procrastinate.  He didn’t say, “I will do it but I am going to take my time.  Maybe in a few years I will get to it”.  He didn’t ask other people what they thought he should do in this situation.

Abraham did not give God delayed obedience.  He did not give God partial obedience.  He gave God instant obedience and total obedience.  He obeys God completely.  He is even willing to give up his own son. “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” (22:3). Not just the next morning but EARLY the next morning, he gets up and prepares for the journey.  He even cuts the wood that will be used to burn his son up.  This old man goes out and splits the wood for the sacrifice.

Abraham gives an example here of perfect obedience, even when he did not fully understand.  He obeyed when the command and the promise seemed to contradict one another.  He did what God said immediately.

Some have called this blind faith.  It was not blind faith.  It was obedient faith.  Abraham did exactly what God told him to do but he also used some common sense.  He did not tell Sarah and he did not tell Isaac (22:7).  He said, “We are going to worship”.  That was true.

Abraham had some weaknesses but his strength was his instant and total obedience to God.   When God told Abraham that the sign of the covenant was circumcision, he circumcised his whole house that very day (17:23).

He got circumcised at the age of ninety-nine and Ishmael got circumcised at the age of thirteen (17:24).  When God told Abraham to listen to his wife and send Hagar and Ishmael away, early the next morning he did exactly that (21:14).

God’s Provision

God provided for Hagar and Ishmael’s needs in the last chapter and he provides for Abraham’s needs in this chapter. At just the right moment, God provided an animal for Abraham to sacrifice.  Both times God used an angel to speak to them.  In both cases, their eyes were opened and they saw something they had not seen (a well of water, a ram).

God’s Reward

By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (22:15-18 ESV)

What is the point here?  God blesses obedience.  He rewards obedience.  That is what we see here.  God gave Abraham a radical test of obedience.  He passed the test and God blessed him for it.  Look what happened to Job.  He lost his health.  He lost his wealth.

He lost his family but everything was doubled in the end.  God still does this today.  He rewards radical obedience.  What did Jesus say?  ‘Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29 NIV)



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