FROM ABRAHAM TO MOSES
Abraham and Isaac: Part Two
To understand the significance of this episode, you need to appreciate how important Isaac was to Abraham. Although Ishmael was Abraham's first-born son, Ishmael was nevertheless the product of a convenient set-up Sarah had made to produce a son. Isaac, on the other hand, was the product of the love relationship between Abraham and Sarah. For all practical purposes Isaac was Abraham's only son (Gen. 22:2), both legally AND emotionally.
Those of us who are parents can understand the love Abraham would have for his son. You cannot explain the love of a parent for a child; you can only experience it and appreciate the way Abraham felt for Isaac. Abraham loved his son as much as we love our children, and since Isaac was the son of Abraham's old age and the son after so long a wait, Abraham probably even loved and valued Isaac more than most parents love and value their children. God is about to ask Abraham to make for a sacrifice which for many would be the ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice of one's own child.
More though is involved here than simply the love of a parent for a child. Isaac embodies the very reason that Abraham had followed God in the first place. Abraham had left home and kin to follow God--on the basis of the promise that Abraham would be the father of a great nation which implied he would be the father of at least one son. Twenty-five years elapsed before God fulfilled His promise to Abraham through the birth of Isaac. The promise though has been fulfilled, and Isaac is the fulfillment of that promise. Abraham's relationship with God revolves around this boy. The death of this boy would be more than just the death of a son; it would force a crisis upon the promise God had made with Abraham and upon their relationship.
THE GENESIS ACCOUNT
We do not know how old Isaac was when God appeared to Abraham this last time. Some suggest that Isaac was just a lad of maybe 8, while others feel that he could have been as old as 35. However old Isaac is, he is old enough to be a conscious, active player in what is about to happen.
By this time Abraham is well over 100 years old, anywhere from 108-135 years old (depending upon Isaac's age). He is definitely living in the twilight years of his life, when everything should be drifting towards tranquility and serenity. He has earned the rest that has come his way. Like a streak of lightning on a cloudless day though, God appears to Abraham and instructs him to do what (Gen. 22:2)?
Look at how God describes Isaac in order to understand how much Abraham loves Isaac: "Take now your ___________, your ___________ son, whom you _________." God is asking for the death of the great love of Abraham's life, Isaac.
The instruction though is worse. How specifically is Isaac to die (Gen. 22:2)?
It is one thing for a disease to ravage your child's body and kill him. It is one thing for your child to be killed in a freak accident over which you had absolutely no control. It is quite a different matter though for you to be the author of your child's death. God is coming across as a monster.
It is at this time that all our rationalizing will kick into high gear. "Did God really tell me to do that?" "Surely I misunderstood Him!" "Maybe I need to test God and tell Him that if it rains tomorrow, then I will know He said this, but if it does not rain, then He did not say this." "A loving God would never require the death of my son at my own hands." If we don't know that God will ask for hard things at times, then we don't know the God of the Bible. The only God we worship is the One we've made up in our own imagination. If He will sacrifice His own Son on the tree, then what makes you think He won't ask us to give up our own children? God may not have us slay our children physically, but He may indeed ask us to give them up to Him in other ways. (The same applies to everything and everybody else in our lives.)
So Abraham rises the next morning to start the journey to Moriah (the mountain ridge on which the old city of Jerusalem now sits). He chops the wood for the sacrifice and heads out with Isaac and 2 servants. The journey requires 3 days of travel. Every look at Isaac along the way must have stabbed Abraham's heart.
The most poignant event occurs as Isaac and Abraham arrive at Mount Moriah. What does he instruct the young men to do (22:5)?
Now there is a clue in verse 5 to what Abraham believes is about to happen. According to verse 5 who will return after the sacrifice has been offered? Why do you think Abraham said "we" and not "I"?
Note Abraham's faith here. God has told him NOTHING about the outcome of the sacrifice. Remember he has access to only 21 chapters of what God has been doing in the Bible and there is nothing in those 21 chapters which would indicate that God was going to do this--with the single exception of what God did to Abraham's body to produce Isaac. We can raise our eyebrows over the way Abraham gave Sarah away to Pharaoh and to Abimelech; however, in this one act Abraham's faith is attaining to a height that few of us will ever attain to or even be asked to attain to.
As if matters were not bad enough, what does Isaac ask Abraham and what is Abraham's response as they approach the summit of Mount Moriah (22:7-8)?
If you think that living the Christian life always produces happiness, then this story informs you that you are seriously mistaken. Sometimes the Christian life can be crushingly hard. The ultimate result of living the Christian life is NOT crushingly hard; however, in the mean time it can be extremely tough. If we don't realize that, then we will be severely disappointed in life.
When Abraham and Isaac reach the summit of Moriah, they prepare the altar for sacrifice. After the altar has been prepared, what does Abraham do next to Isaac (22:9)?
Although we know that God stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, would Abraham have slain Isaac if God had not stopped him?
It is important to note at what point God actually stopped Abraham from slaying Isaac. At what point does God stop Abraham (22:10-11)?
For all practical purposes Isaac is a dead man as far as Abraham is concerned.
Fill in the blanks to see why God stopped Abraham from slaying Isaac: "for now I know that you __________ ____________" (22:12).
This was the point of the whole exercise. What was more important to Abraham--Isaac or God? The blessing or the God who gave Abraham the blessing? It's the same issue we have to deal with today. Most of us can attest to the fact that God has blessed us tremendously--our spouse, our children, our jobs, our homes, our wealth, our church, our relationships, our freedom, our nation, our health, etc. What happens though whenever God wants us to give these things up? Are we going to cling to the blessings God has given us, or are we going to cling to the God who blessed us in the first place?
Abraham has passed the supreme test of faith. He looks up and sees what caught in the thicket (22:13)? What does he do at that point?
Because of what happened on Moriah, Abraham names the place Jehovah-Jireh, which means what? "The Lord will ________________ (22:14)." It is at this point that the King James Version does a better job of translating than our modern versions do. The KJV translates it "The Lord Will See." In other words, in each of our lives will come a day in which the Lord will see whether or not our faith is genuine. It may come in different forms for each of us--through the loss of loved ones, health, wealth, fame, reputation, etc., but it will come. On that day the Lord will see whether or not we have faith like Abraham or if we've been playing the game of religion all along.
The scene now goes from high stress to great joy. After God "sees" that Abraham's faith is genuine, He reiterates the promise He had made earlier to him. What is that promise (22:16-18)?
Abraham returns home and for the remainder of his life lives out a life of peace and serenity.
THROUGH THE EYES OF THE APOSTLES
Justification by the Kind of Faith which Works
From the earliest days we have known Abraham to be the man of faith in the OT. Yet up to this point we have seen Abraham as a mixed bag. Whereas it is true that Abraham had exercised faith by following God to the land of Canaan and had exercised faith in letting Lot choose his land first, he had also shown a stunning lack of belief whenever he handed over Sarah first to Pharaoh and then later to Abimelech. Yet the sacrifice of Isaac, more than any other instance, provides the evidence that Abraham is THE man of faith in the OT.
James picks up on this very idea in his letter to Jewish Christians. Apparently some were claiming that once they believed in Jesus, it did not matter what they did afterwards. They could live a life of sin and it would not matter because they had believed in Jesus to be their Savior. According to James though faith which does not positively change a person's life is not Christian faith. According to James if a person's faith does not change his life, what is true of that person's faith (James 2:14, 17)?
James is NOT saying that a person's works save him/her. He's just saying that legitimate faith changes a person's life, a person's works. Any other kind of faith is bogus as far as the NT is concerned. According to James what is the evidence that this bogus kind of belief is wrong (James 2:19)?
According to James what is the supreme OT example which proves that saving faith changes a person's life (2:21-23)?
What other OT example does James use to illustrate this principle (James 2:25)?
One of the most bogus arguments between Baptists and Methodists/Catholics, etc. is that of "once saved, always saved." Baptists will claim that once a person genuinely believes, he is always saved. Methodists claim that a person who believes in Jesus and yet slips away loses his/her salvation. Our response is that the person who "believes" and slipped away never really believed in the first place. For all practical purposes both denominations are saying the same thing because both denominations believe that ultimately that man will not be saved on judgment day. All true Christian denominations agree that the best evidence that a person has been saved is the changed life he or she lives.
As Baptists we need to be careful that we don't comfort the comfortable. I've heard evangelists preach that you can accept Jesus as Savior and yet not as Lord, and that this person while saved will just simply not enjoy the wonderful blessings God has for him. That person will enjoy the blessings of God in eternity, just not the blessings of God in the here and now. That simply is not taught in the NT. The truth is that the only way for my life to be changed is to allow Jesus be Lord of my life and to let Him give me the strength to live that life. A person whose life has not been changed by Jesus has no evidence he or she is saved. Salvation is not merely fire insurance.
At this point many extremely conscientious believers panic. They wonder if they have performed enough good works. That's not the point. The question I need to ask is "Am I being transformed," not "Am I doing enough good works?" Am I better than I was BEFORE I became a Christian, or has there basically been no change in me?" Those are the questions I need to ask and not whether or not I am doing enough good works.
A Foretaste of the Resurrection
According to Heb. 11:19 what did Abraham believe God was going to do after he slayed Isaac?
How did Abraham arrive at this conclusion? The author of Hebrews gives us a clue to what might have been going on in Abraham's mind in Heb. 11:18. What had God promised Abraham concerning Isaac in Heb. 11:18?
Here is the crisis Abraham faced. God said that He was going to fulfill His promise to Abraham through Isaac. Isaac is the key to the fulfillment of God's promise. Yet in Gen. 22:2 God tells Abraham to slay Isaac. The 2 words seemingly contradict each other. God is going to fulfill the promise through Isaac, and yet Isaac is to die. Abraham has no thoughts at all that God is going to stop him from slaying Isaac. The only solution Abraham could come up with to solve this dilemma was that God was going to resurrect Isaac after Abraham had slain him.
Was there any basis for such a belief? Earlier we talked about the miracle of resurrection God had performed in Abraham's body. Maybe Abraham thought that since God had performed a miracle of resurrection in his dead body, then God was going to perform another miracle of resurrection in Isaac's dead body.
Moreover, observe that the command to slay Isaac comes at least 33 years AFTER Abraham had started following God, not at the beginning of their relationship. During those 33+ years look at how good and faithful God had been to Abraham. When Abraham gave up Sarah to Pharaoh, how did God respond?
When Abraham gave Lot first choice of the land, how did God respond to Abraham?
When Abraham went to save Lot from his enemies, did God give Abraham the victory?
When Abraham gave Sarah to Abimelech, how did God respond?
When Abraham was past the age of siring children, what did God do to Abraham's and Sarah's bodies?
The crisis is this: for 38 years God has been good to Abraham, exceedingly good to Abraham. Now all of a sudden God is a monster. Which view of God is true? Whereas it is true that God was just testing Abraham, Abraham did not know that. He was definitely taking a risk. The alternative might have been true from Abraham's standpoint. It all might have been just a joke, and God really was a monster. Yet all these years of God being good and faithful most likely gave Abraham the hope that though God would slay his son, God would also raise his son. Abraham's hope was not based upon wishful thinking; it was based upon God's faithfulness and goodness to Abraham in the past. In the same way God's goodness and faithfulness to us in the past should give us the calm assurance of His faithfulness in the future.