“After these things, God tested Abraham.”
I suspect that we can get no further with this reading until we deal with this whole business of God testing Abraham. What is this all about and what is God up to with Abraham?
The tempting answer is, ‘God wants to see what Abraham’s made of. How faithful is he REALLY?’ Because that’s what we would do.
Like when a teacher wants to know how much his students have learned from all he’s taught them he ‘tests them.’ How else is he / she to know what they know?
We’re all very familiar with testing and being tested. Nations test other nations to see how they’ll respond. Employers test their employees to see how much they can produce. Parents test their children to see responsible they are. Children test their parents to see if they can trust them. Spouses test their spouses to see if ‘you really love me.’ We all ‘test’ others and we are all tested and we know the pressure of being tested and always having to prove ourselves to someone else.
But none of that FITS when we hear that “God tested Abraham.” This is God. And God knows Abraham better than Abraham knows himself. There is nothing in Abraham that is hidden from God or that God needs to discover about him.
God is not ‘testing’ Abraham to see if He can ‘trust’ him or to determine if he has the right stuff for the job that God wants him to do.
It just doesn’t FIT that “God tested Abraham” because Abraham has to get a ‘passing grade’ to ‘qualify’ for membership in God’s Kingdom. That strips the ‘gospel’ out of ‘THE GOSPEL.’ And we get all of that that we need from our employer or parents or children or spouse or friends.
So, here’s what does FIT. Here’s the ‘gospel’ that ‘the Gospel’ is all about.
• “God tested Abraham” because God wants ABRAHAM TO KNOW how much ABRAHAM CAN TRUST GOD.
• “God tested Abraham” because God wants ABRAHAM TO KNOW how TRUSTWORTHY GOD’S WORD and PROMISE REALLY IS.
• “God tested Abraham” because He wants ABRAHAM TO KNOW the heart and the mind and love of God FOR HIM.
This is why James makes the ludicrous statement that he does which is really not ludicrous at all in light of the gospel. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:3,12)
The trials and tests that come from God are not so that we may prove ourselves worthy of God’s love and acceptance, but to demonstrate for us in the most tangible way how faithful and true and worthy of our complete trust and confidence God is.
God is going to fulfill His Word and Promise to Abraham, and through Abraham. And it doesn’t depend on how Abraham performs on this test. But when the test is complete, Abraham’s trust and confidence in God’s Word and Promise will be multiplied exponentially, along with his joy in knowing that God’s Word is always true, and when He promises you the “crown of life” you ought to put it on and start wearing it right now.
“After these things, God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham.”
Abraham had heard God call his name once before. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you…” And then we these incredible words, “So Abram went, as the Lord told him…” (Gen. 12:1,4)
God then tells Abraham that he will be the father of many nations that will be as uncountable as the stars in the sky and that through him all the nations of the world will be blessed. But then Sarah, Abraham’s wife discovers that she cannot conceive. And Abraham wonders if God’s Word and Promise are true and dependable – BECAUSE IT SURE SEEMS LIKE IT’S NOT. Maybe he misunderstood.
But God told Abraham to wait. Be patient. Trust Me. And Abraham waits. And he turns 100 and Sarah laughs when she’s told that now, finally, she’s going to have a baby. But God says, just wait. Be patient. Trust Me. And sure enough, Sarah becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son whom she names, Isaac, which means, child of ‘my laughter.’ And God says, ‘see, you should never have doubted me. You can trust Me. “Through Isaac shall your offspring be.” And both Abraham and Sarah must have said, “forgive me for ever doubting you, Lord.”
“After THESE THINGS, God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham.’ And he said, ‘Here am I.”
God 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.”
Now here’s the part about this TEST that we must grasp if we are to understand what this is really all about and what this is really like. Abraham DOESN’T KNOW that this is just a TEST. We do. AND WE KNOW HOW IT’S GOING TO END. But Abraham doesn’t. Abraham must simply TRUST GOD.
And this is what it’s ACTUALLY like for us too. When God tests us we never know that it’s just a test. We don’t know where it’s going or how it’s going to end. We must simply trust God.
What thoughts must have gone through Abraham’s mind? God said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be.” And now God said, “kill Isaac.”
And it’s right about here that most of us say, ‘this is all very interesting, but to be honest, this is a lot more religion than I was looking for. Frankly, I just thought that it would be nice to come to church, good for the kids, maybe it would fix my spouse. We just wanted a little ‘spirituality’ to add to our ‘worldly’ lives. But this is too much. What kind of God is this who tests a man like this anyway?
But then we shut our mouths. Because what do we read? “So, Abraham rose early in the morning…” without hesitation or delay or procrastination. Abraham doesn’t say, ‘well let me pray on it Lord.’ ‘Let me talk it over with the misses and I’ll get back to you.’
No, he saddled the donkey, recruited two servants to help, gathered the wood for the burnt offering “and went to the place that God had told him.”
If you’re ever looking for an EXAMPLE to imitate, consider Abraham.
“On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar.” From this point on it would only be father and son. The servants would go no further than this. This is not their test, its Abraham’s.
Abraham’s instructions to them were as follows, “stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there – pointing to the mountain in the distance. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
What a strange thing to say, “WE will come back to you.” What was Abraham thinking? Shouldn’t he have said, ‘I will come back to you?’
What else could he have been thinking but that if God said, “through Isaac shall your offspring be,” then God keep His promise even if He had to raise Isaac from the dead.
Abraham has already learned through a previous ‘test’ that when God says ‘Sarah will have a baby,’ even though her womb is as good as dead, Sarah will have a baby. He has learned that life from the dead is not impossible for God.
Up to this point in the journey, the donkey had carried the wood for the sacrifice. But now, without the donkey and Abraham being well over 100 years old, he loads the wood for the sacrifice on the back of his son, his only son, whom he loves, Isaac.
“And Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac, his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.” Isaac carries the wood for his own sacrifice – as in – “So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross to the place of a skull, which in Aramaic is called ‘Golgatha.’ (John 19:17)
But what Jesus understood from the beginning, Isaac doesn’t. And so he asks, “Father, where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
And again we hear the words that are born from a faith that we can only admire and praise.
“God will provide for Himself a lamb for the offering.” And again we read, “So they went on, the two of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told them, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.”
Incredibly, there is no indication of a struggle from Isaac. The son goes willingly in perfect obedience to his father.
It’s worth pausing here for a minute to point out that, besides the obvious fact that Isaac is giving us a preview of Jesus, notice how Isaac also shows us the meaning of the 4th Commandment. This is what it means to honor your father and your mother. Never has there been a clearer example of obedience to God by obedience to parents than this.
And this too. Where does Isaac get such great faith? Up to this point in Genesis, we’ve be given no evidence that God has ever spoken with Isaac. All Isaac has seen is the example of his father.
How many of us fathers can hope to think that our children will see the same in us as Isaac saw in his father? But maybe a big part of what we should be getting from this text is simply to see the faith of Abraham and let it rub off on us too – because after all, we too are children of Abraham.
Now, the time has finally come. ‘Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.” Luther says, “If God had slept for an instant the boy would be dead…” Marveling at Abraham’s faith, Luther says, “Never in all history was there such obedience, save only in Christ. But God was watching, and so were the angels. See how God is at hand in the hour of death.”
“But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven saying, ‘Abraham, Abraham.’ And once again Abraham said, “Here am I.” And he is told to put the knife down, the test is over.
And God said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God.” And how does He know? “Seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.” God sees the faith in the heart by the works and deeds that we do in faith – trusting Him.
“And Abraham lifted up his eyes.” “And behold, behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering INSTEAD OF HIS SON.”
Can we even begin to imagine the emotions that must have overcome both Abraham and Isaac? And what about their faith now? Would there ever again be a doubt in their mind that God’s Word is true and His Promise is as good as done?
Yes, there will. Because they’re only human like we are. And the devil is always ‘tempting’ us to doubt. And we do.
Abraham is not our Savior. And neither is Isaac. Nor are they the standard to which we must live up to if we want to be saved.
Jesus Christ is our Savior. He is the One who has lived up to the perfect standard that not even Abraham could attain. All of the Promises of God for you, for me, for the whole world, are fulfilled through this SON, this ONLY SON, whom GOD LOVES.
This GREATER THAN ISAAC is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit where He faces all of the temptations to doubt God’s Word and Promise that we face – all by Himself. But His faith in God is perfect. For not only does He willingly carry the wood for His sacrifice and without resistance allow Himself to be bound to it, but as the hammer is raised over the nails and the muscles in that Roman arm was flexed for the striking blow, THERE WAS NO VOCE TO CALL IT OFF.
He is the Ram whose head is encircled with thorns who is sacrificed unto death, even death on a cross, as the substitute for you and me and the whole world.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we knew the outcome of every trial and test that God gives us ahead of time? My friends, WE DO. We see it in Jesus Christ – our Savior. CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12)