Monday, November 17, 2008

The Testing of Abraham Part 3

by Robert Fraire

In this third and final installment on the testing of Abraham we will actually look at the passage in Genesis 22 that begins:

1Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."
2He 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."

Here is Abraham the faithful friend of God who, after many years, finally had seen God give him the son through whom God would bring about his covenant with Abraham. He was an old man about 112 years old. And it would have seemed that Abraham would have quietly lived out his life seeing his son grow and marry. But God had a big test for Abraham.

We really can't put ourselves in the shoes of Abraham in that we don't have a covenant with God that His blessing would come through one of our children and God doesn't come directly to us and tell us to do things like sacrifice our children. So our ability to relate directly to Abraham is limited. But we can understand that this young son whom he loves and whom God has placed many promises simply can't die. From an earthly perspective it seemingly would have made God a liar (because God said it was through Isaac that Abraham's descendants would be named) and it would have broken Abraham's heart to lose Isaac. So what is this Godly man to do?

Scripture tells us what he did: 3So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey

A lesson we should learn here is that Abraham had true faith in God and took him at His word. Since God said go and sacrifice Isaac, then Abraham would do exactly that. He understood that he had no other choice, and he knew that God's wisdom far surpassed his own so that whatever God called for was ALWAYS the best option.

So with a heart that I am sure was racing and unsure of the future, this friend of God put the whole weight of his trust on God and took his son exactly as instructed. But Abraham was not a robot. He didn't shut off his mind and just move. He thought about God's promises concerning Isaac, he Believed that they would come to pass. But he also believed that God had the right to demand the life of his son, so his son would be dead! So how could these things be reconciled? The New Testament book of Hebrews does tell us Abraham's thoughts. It says in Hebrews 11:19

19 considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead...

So Abraham continued his journey to the hill that God would show him with Isaac and servants until God showed him.

4On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance.
5Abraham 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."
6Abraham 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.

At this point the moment of sacrifice is fast approaching so as they walk up the hill Isaac asks a reasonable question. He had undoubtedly watched many animal sacrifices, so he knew they needed the actual sacrifice. Abraham's answer is deep and important for us to examine.

7Isaac 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?"
8Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.

Abraham's response is translated for us "God will provide for Himself the lamb..." in other translation is is rendered "God will himself provide the lamb..." Abraham's statement is prophetic. For God did provide the lamb that would take away the sins of his chosen people. In fact God provided Himself AS THE LAMB (in Jesus, who is the Son of God and is God). Abraham trusted that this situation would be resolved by God providing the solution whether through rescue of his son or through the resurrection of his son. He knew that his part in this drama was to believe God and to act on that belief!

9Then 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.
10Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."
12He 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."

At exactly the last moment God had His angel stop Abraham. The test was complete, Abraham had done exactly what God had told him to do, and God preserved Isaac through the faith of Abraham. This is a great story of Abraham's faith lived out. But there is one final question that I will cover in brief.

What does the last line of verse 12 say. "...for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me" What does that mean. The most straight forward reading would seem to mean that God didn't know prior to Abraham's actions whether his faith in God (fear of God) was genuine. Did God learn something that he didn't know before? Again many people might think that way, if they don't take into account the character of God. God knows all things and is sovereign over all things. He reads the hearts of men before they do anything. So God did know exactly what Abraham would do. So why then the test? If it wasn't for God's benefit, what was the purpose?

Fortunately for us, this is not a hard question to answer in this case. This historical fact of Abraham's exercised faith is cited in James 2:

21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?
22You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;
23and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God.

In this passage we learn that it is us who benefit from God's test and Abraham's obedience. You see in Genesis 15:6 it tells us that Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. So Abraham already had saving faith. But just as the book of James instructs us, we gain evidence of that true faith by acting in accordance with what we believe.

So would you pass this test? The answer lies in whether you have true, saving faith or not. If you quickly answered this question "No" then it is a fruitful exercise for you to examine whether you truly have faith that God is just, loving, and authoritative over your life. In our lives today, are you willing to suffer physical beatings in order to proclaim the gospel to the lost? Are you willing to lose your job and wealth for the sake of God? These are tests that may come into your life. The true believer's faith will be tested and found true. If you shrink back from the thought then it is time for you to "count the cost".

What do your really hold most dear? God or anything else?

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