â€œAfter these things, God tested Abraham.â€
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, â€˜God wants to see what Abrahamâ€™s made of. How faithful is he REALLY?â€™ Because thatâ€™s what we would do.
Like when a teacher wants to know how much his students have learned from all heâ€™s taught them he â€˜tests them.â€™ How else is he / she to know what they know?
Weâ€™re all very familiar with testing and being tested. Nations test other nations to see how theyâ€™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 â€˜you really love me.â€™ We all â€˜testâ€™ 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 â€œGod tested Abraham.â€ 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 â€˜testingâ€™ Abraham to see if He can â€˜trustâ€™ him or to determine if he has the right stuff for the job that God wants him to do.
It just doesnâ€™t FIT that â€œGod tested Abrahamâ€ because Abraham has to get a â€˜passing gradeâ€™ to â€˜qualifyâ€™ for membership in Godâ€™s Kingdom. That strips the â€˜gospelâ€™ out of â€˜THE GOSPEL.â€™ And we get all of that that we need from our employer or parents or children or spouse or friends.
So, hereâ€™s what does FIT. Hereâ€™s the â€˜gospelâ€™ that â€˜the Gospelâ€™ is all about.
â€¢ â€œGod tested Abrahamâ€ because God wants ABRAHAM TO KNOW how much ABRAHAM CAN TRUST GOD.
â€¢ â€œGod tested Abrahamâ€ because God wants ABRAHAM TO KNOW how TRUSTWORTHY GODâ€™S WORD and PROMISE REALLY IS.
â€¢ â€œGod tested Abrahamâ€ 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. â€œCount it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.â€ 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.â€ (James 1:3,12)
The trials and tests that come from God are not so that we may prove ourselves worthy of Godâ€™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 doesnâ€™t depend on how Abraham performs on this test. But when the test is complete, Abrahamâ€™s trust and confidence in Godâ€™s Word and Promise will be multiplied exponentially, along with his joy in knowing that Godâ€™s Word is always true, and when He promises you the â€œcrown of lifeâ€ you ought to put it on and start wearing it right now.
â€œAfter these things, God tested Abraham and said to him, â€œAbraham.â€
Abraham had heard God call his name once before. â€œNow the Lord said to Abram, â€˜Go from your country and your kindred and your fatherâ€™s house to the land that I will show youâ€¦â€ And then we these incredible words, â€œSo Abram went, as the Lord told himâ€¦â€ (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, Abrahamâ€™s wife discovers that she cannot conceive. And Abraham wonders if Godâ€™s Word and Promise are true and dependable â€“ BECAUSE IT SURE SEEMS LIKE ITâ€™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 sheâ€™s told that now, finally, sheâ€™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 â€˜my laughter.â€™ And God says, â€˜see, you should never have doubted me. You can trust Me. â€œThrough Isaac shall your offspring be.â€ And both Abraham and Sarah must have said, â€œforgive me for ever doubting you, Lord.â€
â€œAfter THESE THINGS, God tested Abraham, and said to him, â€˜Abraham.â€™ And he said, â€˜Here am I.â€
God said, â€œtake 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.â€
Now hereâ€™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 DOESNâ€™T KNOW that this is just a TEST. We do. AND WE KNOW HOW ITâ€™S GOING TO END. But Abraham doesnâ€™t. Abraham must simply TRUST GOD.
And this is what itâ€™s ACTUALLY like for us too. When God tests us we never know that itâ€™s just a test. We donâ€™t know where itâ€™s going or how itâ€™s going to end. We must simply trust God.
What thoughts must have gone through Abrahamâ€™s mind? God said, â€œThrough Isaac shall your offspring be.â€ And now God said, â€œkill Isaac.â€
And itâ€™s right about here that most of us say, â€˜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 â€˜spiritualityâ€™ to add to our â€˜worldlyâ€™ 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? â€œSo, Abraham rose early in the morning…â€ without hesitation or delay or procrastination. Abraham doesnâ€™t say, â€˜well let me pray on it Lord.â€™ â€˜Let me talk it over with the misses and Iâ€™ll get back to you.â€™
No, he saddled the donkey, recruited two servants to help, gathered the wood for the burnt offering â€œand went to the place that God had told him.â€
If youâ€™re ever looking for an EXAMPLE to imitate, consider Abraham.
â€œOn the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar.â€ 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 Abrahamâ€™s.
Abrahamâ€™s instructions to them were as follows, â€œstay 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.â€
What a strange thing to say, â€œWE will come back to you.â€ What was Abraham thinking? Shouldnâ€™t he have said, â€˜I will come back to you?â€™
What else could he have been thinking but that if God said, â€œthrough Isaac shall your offspring be,â€ then God keep His promise even if He had to raise Isaac from the dead.
Abraham has already learned through a previous â€˜testâ€™ that when God says â€˜Sarah will have a baby,â€™ 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.
â€œAnd 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.â€ Isaac carries the wood for his own sacrifice â€“ as in – â€œSo they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross to the place of a skull, which in Aramaic is called â€˜Golgatha.â€™ (John 19:17)
But what Jesus understood from the beginning, Isaac doesnâ€™t. And so he asks, â€œFather, where is the lamb for a burnt offering?â€
And again we hear the words that are born from a faith that we can only admire and praise.
â€œGod will provide for Himself a lamb for the offering.â€ And again we read, â€œSo 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.â€
Incredibly, there is no indication of a struggle from Isaac. The son goes willingly in perfect obedience to his father.
Itâ€™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, weâ€™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 â€“ because after all, we too are children of Abraham.
Now, the time has finally come. â€˜Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.â€ Luther says, â€œIf God had slept for an instant the boy would be deadâ€¦â€ Marveling at Abrahamâ€™s faith, Luther says, â€œNever 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.â€
â€œBut the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven saying, â€˜Abraham, Abraham.â€™ And once again Abraham said, â€œHere am I.â€ And he is told to put the knife down, the test is over.
And God said, â€œDo not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God.â€ And how does He know? â€œSeeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.â€ God sees the faith in the heart by the works and deeds that we do in faith â€“ trusting Him.
â€œAnd Abraham lifted up his eyes.â€ â€œAnd 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.â€
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 Godâ€™s Word is true and His Promise is as good as done?
Yes, there will. Because theyâ€™re only human like we are. And the devil is always â€˜temptingâ€™ 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 Godâ€™s Word and Promise that we face â€“ 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.
Wouldnâ€™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 â€“ our Savior. CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
â€œBlessed 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.â€ (James 1:12)