Genesis 22:1 “…….. God tested Abraham……..”
This passage of Scripture, like a smooth stone thrown into a calm body of water, causes ripples throughout the “waters” of the Scriptures. The account is emotionally gripping. At times it is mentally perplexing. It certainly is personally challenging. And as Scripture, it is spiritually edifying. Ultimately, this account in Genesis points us to great Biblical truths concerning God’s provision of our perfect substitute, sacrifice, and savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Abraham himself becomes a wonderful example of faith (Hebrews 11:17-19) and a faith that works (James 2:21-23). Abraham indeed passed the test that he was given by God!!
I want us to move through various sections of this account and consider different personal aspects of the challenge that Abraham faced. This test was a test that God specifically gave to Abraham and to no one else. At the same time, I think we can learn lessons from Abraham’s test since we all face tests in the life of faith (James 1:2-4, 12; 1 Peter 1:6-9).
Our text tells us that “God tested Abraham.” We do not need to question what this text is about. God tested Abraham. God does not tempt us to cause us to sin. He cannot and will not do that as the Epistle of James teaches us (James 1:13). But, God does allow tests, indeed, God tests us as He wills to produce a stronger faith, fresh obedience, personal purity, and ultimately spiritual growth for our good and His glory. God’s testing is for the purpose of producing good fruit and indeed it brings ultimate blessing.
I personally have never really enjoyed tests, not even tests in school! But, I have to admit that tests have helped me learn. And that is the case with tests in our lives. God knows what we need, and God knows how we need to grow. Yes, God’s specific goals may be hidden from us at the time of the testing, but we can trust that God is sovereign and His plans and purposes are righteous, good and loving.
As we go through the account, I want to express my observations in terms of devotional applications. This is a familiar account and the narrative is not hard to follow. I want us to consider lessons we can learn as we seek to answer the type of questions that Abraham had to answer as he faced this crucial test assigned to him by the Lord God.
Notice, first of all, that:
God chose the time of this test for Abraham. The test came late in life, “after these things,” things that are referred to in the previous chapter.
a) This test came after God’s many dealings with Abraham and God’s promises to Abraham, which started in Genesis 12. We are now in chapter 22, much later in Abraham’s life! This was not a test at the beginning of his “faith journey.” This took place later in life and may have been unexpected.
b) This test came after the child of promise was born (Genesis). This was the child that was promised to Abraham as the beginning of many offspring. This was the child Abraham loved, even as the Lord says in our text (Genesis 22:2). Abraham having experienced God’s faithfulness to His promise due to the birth of Isaac is now being asked to trust and obey God in a challenging way at this time.
So, when God communicated His test to Abraham, Abraham needed to answer an important question:
Will I trust and obey the Lord with my unexpected test, even if I don’t fully understand it?
There was no question about what God was asking Abraham to do. Abraham understood that clearly. The challenge I am referring to is that God didn’t give any specific reason why He was asking Abraham to do this. Although offering sacrifices was a common enough practice, this was a very unusual sacrifice indeed, especially after God’s promises to Abraham about this child.
Is it not true for us that many things in life are not understood at the time? We have a limited picture of life and our circumstances. As challenges come our way, we are tested as to whether or not we will trust God or just question God or refuse to respond in faith and obedience.
Abraham had to decide whether he would still trust God and choose to obey Him, even though this may have seemed like a strange command to obey. This is especially true is the light of the timing of the test. There is no evidence that Abraham questioned God at all. And as we will see, his response was immediate.
A second lesson from Abraham’s test is:
a) Specific difficult actions were commanded to Abraham. Just look at the verbs (ESV), the actions that Abraham was to undertake: “take, go, offer.” To be asked to sacrifice his own son, the son of promise that he loved, must have been incredibly difficult to obey. This test would involve every fiber of Abraham’s being.
b) The actions would involve a Journey, a journey of three days. Every step would be difficult. This was not simply an immediate act called for, that would be completed in a few minutes. It involved preparation, steps, and details. God wanted this sacrifice to take place on a specific mountain that He chose.
c) The Journey would end in a costly sacrifice, a most costly sacrifice. Isaac was to be offered as a “burnt offering.” Abraham was being asked to sacrifice his beloved son.
So, Abraham needed to answer this question:
“Am I willing by faith to persevere in the detailed personal obedience involved in this test?
As noted above, it is one thing to do something specific for the Lord that takes little time and effort. It is another to have to follow steps of obedience that lead to a difficult painful climax. Obviously, the hardest act for Abraham would be to “offer” his own son. But, this was not to be done until the third day after many preparations and every step of the journey of obedience. The mountain of sacrifice was always ahead as he traveled towards Mt. Moriah. What a test of faith and obedience!!
Now we enter the climax of the test and we note that:
a) There was no delay in his response (22:3)
He got up early in the morning and prepared to go. There is no hint of hesitation or questioning of God. Abraham responded directly and submissively to the command of God.
b) There was a display of remarkable faith (22:5, 22:8)
The writer to the Hebrews is needed for us to understand Abraham’s words. Somehow, Abraham had a belief that Isaac would live and that he and his son would return from the mountain of sacrifice (Genesis 22:5). Either Abraham was lying in what he said in verse five, or he spoke in faith and hope. Either Abraham was hiding the truth from his son in verse eight, or He was speaking in faith and hope. How much Abraham knew as he spoke these words in verses five and eight, we do not know. But, the writer to the Hebrews helps us to understand that Abraham believed in a God who could even raise Isaac from the dead if necessary. “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:19 ESV).
I call this “remarkable faith,” because it receives remarks in Hebrews 11. I could speculate further concerning this faith explained in Hebrews 11, but let it be our guide in interpreting Abraham’s faith displayed in this passage in Genesis 22.
c) There was Resolute Obedience (22:9-12)
Abraham followed through with specific obedience as God directed. He came to the right place. He prepared the altar. He bound his own son, Isaac, as the sacrifice. Isaac was placed on the wood. The knife was lifted to slaughter his own son. From what we can tell Abraham’s intention was to obey God and sacrifice the son that he loved.
Abraham answered the question:
Will I sacrifice what is most dear to me if the Lord asks me to do that?
To state this for us in another way, a third test question is:
Can I honestly say that I am holding back nothing for myself in my devotion to the Lord, everything is given to Him?
This is what the Lord wanted to see in Abraham’s life, total obedience, holding back nothing (Genesis 22:12,16). Abraham was willing to give everything, indeed he was willing to sacrifice his most beloved son. He was willing to give up his own son in obedience to the Lord. He feared God, He reverenced God, He obeyed God fully. It was only the interruption of the Angel of the Lord that kept Abraham from following through and doing what God had commanded.
How about you and me? It is almost dangerous to turn to self-evaluation, isn’t it? But, in keeping with the climactic aspect of Abraham’s test, we need to ask some hard questions about ourselves.
Are there areas of our lives that we attempt to hide from God or are not willing to offer to Him?? Are we withholding anything from God that He asks of us? This may point to something that needs to be set aside or sacrificed in the sense of removing it or letting it go. On the other hand, it may be that complete obedience on our part involves offering something to the Lord that we have kept to ourselves and not genuinely given to Him for His use and pleasure.
In my way of thinking, this test of Abraham was really a test of full surrender, indicating that God was first in Abraham’s life. Abraham “feared” God (in the best and fullest sense of that word), even more than he loved his own son.
This Scripture calls us to be honest with the Lord. If there is something that you or I have not given to the Lord, we need to surrender ourselves and “it” afresh to Him. He knows us. He desires our complete loving obedience placing Him first in our lives above all else.
Surrender and sacrifice are not always once for all in practical experience. Sometimes we learn that we are keeping something from the Lord. Ask Him right now. Lord, have I surrendered everything to you?? The Holy Spirit will help us in the process of surrender and putting to death anything that needs to be removed from our lives (Romans 8:13). The Holy Spirit will also help us offer our lives as a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice to the Lord (Romans 12:1).
It may be that the words of a beautiful, words written by Brooke Fraser, may help us in our response:
“……. Lead me to the cross
Where your love poured out.
Bring me to my knees
Lord I may me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to you
Oh, Lead me
Lead me to the cross…….”
To be fair to the narrative before us, there is another truth that we must consider as we view the final words of this account. And in terms of the broader truths of Scripture, this last point is the most important.
Now we move beyond the specific test of Abraham and we learn from Abraham’s passing of the test and God’s interaction with him. The passage before us and the rest of Scripture points to truths and blessings that need to be considered in the light of God’s response to Abraham.
Notice the blessing of:
a) The Satisfaction of the Lord (11-12)
The Lord was pleased with Abraham’s response. Abraham passed the test. Praise God for that! The Lord’s satisfaction is stated by and through the angel of the Lord. He expresses that now He knows that Abraham feared God because he did not withhold his son from God. I don’t believe this means that God had a gap in His own knowledge that needed to be filled. What is being communicated is that Abraham has proven his total obedience and allegiance to God. God has seen Abraham’s total surrender in his response to the test. Abraham’s loyalty to God is known in experience, it has been demonstrated and God is acknowledging that to Abraham in a way that Abraham can understand. Abraham knows that God knows that He is satisfied with Abraham’s response. In a very direct sense, because of the test given to Abraham, God proved Abraham’s surrender, his surrender is now known in experience in a way that it was not known before.
As we think about our tests, God can make all grace abound towards us in this life to be “overcomers,” to be faithful, to be people of faith, to be obedient in the times of trial and testing. We can know the blessing of sensing the Lord’s pleasure as we follow Him in sincere faith and total obedience. But, another blessing is taught in this text, which leads to a truth that speaks loudly from Genesis to Revelation.
b) The Provision of the Lord (13-14)
Ultimately, the Lord Himself provided the sacrifice that day (Genesis 22:13). The text clearly states that the ram was sacrificed “instead of his son.” Previously Abraham had expressed faith and hope in the Lord’s provision, probably not knowing how the Lord would provide (Genesis 22:8). This event in Abraham’s life and this specific place would ever be remembered in the light of the Lord’s provision, it was called “The Lord will provide” (Genesis 22:14). Indeed, this truth of the Lord’s provision is stated twice in this one verse.
This truth for Abraham has become a central truth throughout the Scriptures and for us today. The ultimate substitute and sacrifice was provided when God did not spare His own Son, God’s beloved Son – Jesus Christ. In full obedience to His Father, Jesus went to the cross for us. He became the perfect substitutionary sacrifice, God’s provision for us and our sins. Ultimately, our own sacrifice would not be enough, due to our own sinfulness. But, what we could not do, God did by sending His Son for us.
The Lord provided for Abraham and the Lord has provided (in like manner for us), but in a much greater way. And, the Lord will provide for us, since He has proven His most generous provision in the gift and offering of His own Son (Romans 8:31-32.)
I suppose Abraham could have missed the moment, and not sacrificed the “ram” provided by the Lord, but he didn’t. A sacrifice did take place that day, but it was with the Lord’s provision. Abraham offered that sacrifice instead of his own son, acknowledging the provision of the Lord.
What a picture of Jesus becoming our provided substitute, and the One who fulfills the demand of God. Praise God that the perfect sacrifice has been made. We live in the light of the Lord’s provision. Our faith and obedience are now connected to His provision for us. We do not obey to be forgiven, we obey because through our faith in the Lord’s provision in Jesus, we are forgiven and given new life. But, this leads to further promised blessings:
c) The Promises of the Lord (15-19)
The promised blessing concerning the land in our text is connected specifically to Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 22:16-17). But, when the Lord says, “and in your offspring shall all nations of the earth shall be blessed,” this points to an even greater blessing (Genesis 22:18 ESV). The nations have been blessed especially by entering into the blessings of the faith-family of Abraham in and through Jesus Christ. We who are united to Christ Jesus have received the blessings of being sons and daughters of God through Him. And in our text, this is directly connected by God to the obedience of Abraham in this test (Genesis 22:18).
There are always blessings related to faithfulness to the Lord. Some blessings are experienced in this life, and some await eternity. But, we can be assured that our surrender in total faith and obedience to the Lord will bear fruit and blessing by God’s grace and in God’s time.
The last question I want us to consider is given in the light of the result of the test. Abraham needed to answer this question as he would outlive the rest of his days. You could call this a “bonus” question:
Will I truly live in the light of the Lord’s provision and the Lord’s promises for my life?
Abraham took advantage (in the right sense) of the Lord’s provision. He did not seek to ignore or avoid or belittle what the Lord provided. We dare not do that with our loving Lord Jesus who is our provision through His sacrifice. We must live in the light of the Lord’s provision for us. This is true for salvation. We must accept His death on the cross for our forgiveness and salvation. We, also, need to accept our lord’s provision and find confidence and hope in His promises to take us through this life as well.
God repeated His promises of blessing to Abraham on a number of occasions. I think I am correct in saying that this is the last time that these promises were declared to Abraham in the Scriptures. Abraham had to live his life in faith and in hope that the Lord would fulfill His promises.
We look back to the Lord’s sacrificial provision for us almost 2000 years ago. Praise His Name! And it is in the light of this provision that we live by faith and in hope of the future blessings of God. God’s provision is the basis of our lives in Him. And this provision should lead to lives of and obedient faith and faithful obedience in complete surrender to the Lord.
So, let’s summarize what I am calling “The Abraham Test.”
Abraham passed the test. How about us?
The Bonus Question:
This life of faith begins with trusting the Lord for salvation from sin and eternal death, through what Jesus Christ did by becoming the perfect sacrifice. This trust is the trust that continues in faithful obedience as the Christian faces the challenges and tests that come our way.
Abraham is a remarkable example of faith and faithfulness. He finds himself in a list of great examples of faith and faithfulness in Hebrews 11. The whole Epistle to the Hebrews makes it clear, though, that Jesus is our ultimate example, and so much more (Hebrews 12:1-3). So, we learn from Abraham’s test, but we fix our eyes on Jesus who passed His test faithfully and completely. And it is through the Lord Jesus that we can find the strength to pass the tests that come our way. He is the “founder and perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV). Ultimately, this account in Genesis 22 points to the Lord Jesus Christ in profound ways, and it is in Him that we enter the spiritual life and race, and find Him to be our substitute, our savior, our example and our strength as we face our own tests in this life.