GREAT MEN OF THE BIBLE: The Old Testament

Abraham
The Supreme Act of Faith in the OT

Abraham

Gen. 22:1-19

INTRODUCTION

To appreciate the significance of this story, we need to think back on the life of Abraham. When Abraham was 75 years old, God appeared to him and promised that He would bless him. According to Gen. 12:2, what did God promise to make of Abraham?

For this to happen, Abraham needed at least one thing to happen. He needed to have at least one son. For the next 25 years (with the exception of Ishmael through the slave Hagar), Abraham has no children. Finally, when Abraham is 100 and his wife Sarah 90, she gives birth to Isaac. Isaac is not only Abraham son; he also stands for everything for which Abraham followed God in the first place.


THE DARK SIDE OF GOD

1 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2 He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you." 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.


At the age of 9, C.S. Lewis lost the most important person in his life to cancer, his mother. At the age of 19, he lost his best friend to the war. At the age of 58, he married for the first time a woman named Joy Gresham. She had just been diagnosed with terminal bone cancer. She died within 3 years. It seemed that whenever God brought a person into his life with whom Lewis got really close, that person would die.

While processing her loss, Lewis wrote one of the most significant studies on grief ever written (A Grief Observed). In it he writes: "Bridge-players tell me that there must be some money on the game 'or else people won't take it seriously'. Apparently it's like that. Your bid - for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity - will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it." It can otherwise become all academic. For example, when the NC students and I talk about death, it is all academic to them. For me, it is no longer academic. My dad died when he was 26; both my granddads died when they were 72. I am now playing for high stakes; it is deadly serious for me. When the NC students start processing death, it will become deadly serious for them too.

All the grief we experience in this life, even as Christians, leads us to ask: Is God good or is He a Cosmic Sadist? In the story before us, it is easy for us to think of Abraham asking himself the same question. According to v. 2, what does God command Abraham to do?

Such a command would be like a streak of lightning flashing across a blue, cloudless sky...so totally unexpected. But lightning it is, lightning striking right at Abraham's heart. Abraham’s world with one command is being turned totally upside down. What was Abraham's response?


THE ESSENCE OF ABRAHAM'S FAITH

4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5 Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you." 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" 8 Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.


The above statement of Abraham to his young men is the greatest statement of faith, at least in the OT. Abraham knows that he is going to take Isaac up to the top of Mt. Moriah and sacrifice him. What does Abraham tell the young men that he AND ISAAC are going to do (v.5)?

Notice that there is no change of subject at the end of v. 5. Both will go up AND both will return. According to Heb. 11:19 what did Abraham believe was going to happen after he sacrificed Isaac?

How in the world did Abraham come to this conclusion?

  1. It was the only way to reconcile God's promise to bless him through Isaac and God's command to slay Isaac.
  2. Also, he had to an extent already experienced resurrection earlier (see Rom. 4:17-21, esp. 17). The past probably gave him some hope for teh future.

As difficult as the journey must have been for Abraham, the trek up the mountain must have been almost unbearable. There he is walking up the mountain with his son who loves and trusts his father so much, not realizing what his father is about to do to him.

What does Isaac ask his dad in v. 7?

What is Abraham's response?


THE CONCLUSION

9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 12 He said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." 13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. 14 Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the LORD it will be provided." 15 Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, "By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.


At this point, Abraham prepares everything for the sacrifice, even his own son for the sacrifice. Right as he is about to slit Isaac's throat, what happens?

Unfortunately, because we have heard the story many times, we have lost the thrill or the sense of impending danger in the story. We have the luxury of knowing what God was going to do because we have heard the story too many times; Abraham did not have that luxury. He thought that Isaac was a dead man/boy. He hoped and believed, though, that God was going to raise the boy from the dead. He had nothing to base this on, other than maybe the fact that God had earlier produced the life of Isaac from Abraham's and Sarah's dead bodies. Life (birth) from death (dead reproductive organs) is one thing; actual rising from the dead is something entirely different. Yet Abraham believed God to such an extent that he was willing to obey God in this matter.

Someone once remarked that this action on the part of Abraham really wasn't all that big of a deal. First, I was stunned because I cannot imagine anything else being more difficult to do: first, sacrifice your own child, and second, risk jeopardizing the very reason you followed God in the first place. Whether you or I are impressed really is irrelevant. The fact is that God Himself was impressed. In fact, God is so impressed with Abraham that He actually calls Abraham what (Isaiah 41:8)?

Abraham is the only person in the entire OT given this label. Whereas we are called friends of Christ, we are never called friends of God, not of God in an absolute sense. When Abraham is called a "friend of God," God the Father is included—in fact, it may refer primarily to the Father. Christ calls us "HIS" friends; He never calls us friends of the Father.

Why would God ever put a person through such an ordeal, especially one who believes in Him? Sometimes rough things happen to Christians because they have sinned; sometimes they experience persecution because they are following Jesus. Sometimes natural calamities or diseases strike a person. Nearly all that is understandable. But God telling you to sacrifice your own child? Where does THAT come from?

If you compare the translation of v. 14 in the KJV with the translation in the more modern versions of the Bible, you will notice a difference. KJV: "The Lord will see" vs. Modern Translations: "The Lord will provide." So which translation is right? Both are because the Hebrew verb used here can be translated either way. God DID provide, but He also SAW. He not only provided the ram to be sacrificed instead of Isaac, He was also looking to see if Abraham's faith could withstand the test.

Bottom line is this: God was testing Abraham's faith. Did he truly believe that God would keep His promise? Apparently he did because he was willing to sacrifice his beloved son for God.

But why does God want to test our faith? Testing does grow our faith. But is there more? I think there is. According to Heb. 5:8, because Jesus suffered, what was He able to learn?

I think that is the key here. God not only calls us sons/daughters. He is transforming us into legitimate sons and daughters of His. To be truly His sons/daughters, we need to obey Him. Obedience is the essence of sonship. Obedience is going to require faith. Unless you are a slave, something God does NOT want us to be, then we are going to obey our Father out of a sense of trust. Abraham passes this test with such flying colors that Paul calls him what? "So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham the _________________" (Gal. 3:9).

If we are God's sons, much less Abraham's sons, then we are going to be men of faith. Christ, God's Son, has demonstrated this for us. Beloved, don't be surprised if God calls you to a Mt. Moriah experience. He doesn't hate you or me; He is just developing us into fully fledged sons of God, sons who can truly be in a wonderful relationship with Him.

Apparently, Lewis' illustration of the bridge game is right on target here: "Bridge-players tell me that there must be some money on the game 'or else people won't take it seriously'." Well, God apparently wants us to take our relationship with Him seriously. The cost for us to be in a relationship with God is total: parables of the hidden treasure and of the pearl of great price:


On the night of C.S. Lewis' conversion, he claimed that he sensed God's presence in a dramatic way. God, though, did not approach him saying: "All or nothing!" He felt that God really gave him no choice at all. God just came to him saying: "All." That is basically what God was saying to Abraham in this story: "All." If something costs nothing, it's normally not worth having; since God is worth everything, it costs us all to be in a relationship with Him. Only those who are fully obedient to God regardless the cost (like Jesus) will qualify as sons of God.