************ Sermon on Genesis 22:1-19 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 10, 2013
"God Tested Abraham"
"Some time later God tested Abraham" (Gen 22:1). There is a difference between testing and tempting. God tests us; or, allows us to be tested. Satan tempts us. God tests us to bring out the best in us. Satan tempts us to make us fall and fail.
"Some time later God tested Abraham" (Gen 22:1). This is not a case of God wringing His hands wondering if His servant Abraham will pass the test. Absolutely not. Because, don't forget, the stories of Abraham show God as the God Who hears, the God Who sees, the God Who knows (Gen 16:11,13). He is omniscient. He is not a God in process. He is not a God for Whom the universe holds any surprises. He is not a God Who is ignorant about the actions of any man.
"Some time later God tested Abraham" (Gen 22:1). This test reveals two things. First, it reveals something about Abraham. Second, it reveals something about God.
I The Faith of Abraham
A First of all, the test reveals the faith of Abraham.
Let's start by asking what is most important in your life? What is your top priority? What do you live for? What is your idol?
In the stories of Abraham we have seen different answers to these questions. For Lot, it was the green grass and wealth of the Jordan River Valley. For Lot's wife, it was the life and people of Sodom. For Lot's daughters, it was the desire to bear children. For Hagar, the big attraction was Egypt. For Bera, king of Sodom, the most important thing in life was his crown and his throne. For Abraham, in his encounter with both Pharaoh and Abimelech, his greatest desire was safety rather than obedience.
What about you? Is obedience to God always your top priority? Or, is there a corner of your life that you withhold from God, some small thing that you keep for yourself alone, some secret sin that you persist in doing?
This is not a one time thing that I am talking about. It is a daily struggle. As you know, Abraham struggled over and over again with obedience to God and faith in God. He struggled over and over again with believing God can keep His promises. For instance, was God able to take care of Abraham and Sarah when famine came? Was God able to protect Abraham and Sarah in a foreign land? Was God able to open Sarah's womb. Or, did God need Abraham's help? It was a struggle, a daily struggle, for Abraham to obey God and to have faith in God. Yet, as we look at Abraham's life, we see progress. We see increasing sanctification. We see spiritual growth.
And, the same thing should be true for you and me. We, too, should be making progress in our walk with God. Let me put it this way: If we aren't moving forward in the Christian life we are probably moving backward!
Ten days ago Ruth & I saw a preview of Super Bowl advertisements. In one of the ads, a gazelle flees from a cheetah, who in turn is run down by a man wearing Skechers’ magic footwear. Maybe you saw it.What did I learn from the ad? Whether you are a gazelle or a cheetah you need to be running. If you aren't running, you either become lunch or you miss out on lunch. How true for the Christian life. We need to run the race. We cannot be at a standstill.
B Do you remember what Abraham was told to do in Genesis 21? Abraham was told to "get rid" of Hagar and Ishmael. The matter distressed Abraham greatly. Why? First, because he was getting rid of people who played an important role in his life. Second, when it comes to God's promises he was being told to give up any thought of Ishmael as the backup and was being told to stake everything on Isaac as the fulfilment.
It wasn't easy, what God asked of Abraham. Earlier, it wasn't easy when God called Abraham to leave his country, his people, and his father's household in Mesopotamia. It wasn't easy when God called Abraham to leave his father's bones in Haran. It wasn't easy when God called Abraham to part ways from Lot. But, then, it rarely is easy what God asks of His people.
It wasn't easy. But Abraham sent away Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham was making progress, he was growing, in his walk with God.
C But now another test. The ultimate test. God tested Abraham. God said,
(Gen 22:2) "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."In the space of three short commands, Abraham's whole world came crashing down: "Take ... go ... sacrifice." "Take ... go ... sacrifice."
"Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love ..." This is some time after Ishmael, the backup, has been sent away. This is after there no longer is a Plan B. Abraham is down to one son, the child of the promise. This is a son Abraham loves and values and adores.
"Go ... to the mountains I will tell you about." Earlier, when he was first called by God, Abraham was told to "go to the land I will show you" (Gen 12:1). He wasn't told where it was. God did not draw him a map. God did not tell him the length of the journey. God did not point out the difficulties along the way. Now, again, Abraham is told to go to an unspecified location, to a place God would show him.
"Sacrifice ..." The first time, when Abraham was told to go to the land God would show him, God promised blessing (Gen 12:2-3). But this time the result of Abraham's obedience would be the sacrifice of Isaac. By his own hand, Abraham was expected to offer up his only son, the son he loved. I looked at pictures of my sons and grandson this past week. I tried but I can't even imagine doing this. Can you imagine the sacrifice of someone you love? And, what about the promises of God? Weren't they going to be fulfilled in and through Isaac? So, what happens to those promises?
"Take ... go ... sacrifice." "Wow. You got to be kidding, God! You can't mean this God!" "Take ... go ... sacrifice." As Scripture says, "God tested Abraham." The ultimate test. The supreme test. A test unlike any other in Abraham's life.
D What happened? How did Abraham respond? Listen to what we are told:
(Gen 22:3) Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.Early. The next morning. Telling us what? Telling us Abraham wasted no time in obeying God. Telling us Abraham did not spend hours and days and years thinking about this.
Notice who is missing in the procession? We see Abraham. We see Isaac. We see two servants. We see a donkey. In Scripture, the absence of Sarah is conspicuous. I dare say every single mother here, and some of the men, has noticed her absence. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Abraham concealed the command of God from Sarah otherwise he would have been hindered in his obedience to God. That is understandable. During the reign of Solomon a mother would rather give up her son than have him cut in two. Likewise, we can well imagine the thoughts and protests that would have been going through Sarah's mind – her miracle child, her only child, the child of her old age, the child of promise, was going to be sacrificed. But we hear of no protests. No delays. No schemes. Instead, early the next morning Abraham got up and set out.
Once at the appointed place, listen again to Abraham's response:
(Gen 22:9-10) When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. (10) Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.Again, Abraham wasted no time in obeying God. Again, no protests, no delays, no schemes. All that we see and hear is simple obedience.
E How do we explain the behavior of Abraham – and Sarah? Why would they be willing – like pagans and idolaters – to sacrifice their son? The answer is found in verse 5. Abraham said to his servants, "We will worship and then we will come back to you" (Gen 22:5). We. Not I. Not me. We. Abraham said this even though he knew Isaac was to be sacrificed and killed. Telling us what?
It is Hebrews that fleshes this out for us. We should never read Genesis 22 without also reading Hebrews 11:
(Heb 11:17-19) By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, (18) even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." (19) Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
Why was Abraham willing to offer Isaac? How do we explain Abraham's obedience? The only answer is faith: that is, Abraham was sure of the future; and, Abraham was certain of what he did not see. Yes, Isaac is the child of promise! Yes, all of God's promises can only be fulfilled in and through Isaac. But the God of Abraham and Sarah is so almighty, they believed He can raise the dead.
Abraham and Sarah had the faith to believe that their God would do the humanly impossible to keep His promises. They believed God's promises would be fulfilled in spite of the sacrifice and death of their son. They believed so they obeyed. Their attitude? "God said it; I believe it; that settles it!" Their attitude? "The Judge of all the earth will do right, even if I don't understand what He is doing!" Abraham and Sarah believed in the resurrection before a single resurrection happened. What faith!!
Is this your faith too? No matter what God takes from you, no matter what God demands of you, no matter what testing God permits in your life, do you believe in God and His promises? You lose your home or your dairy; do you still believe? You lose a child or a spouse or a grandchild; do you still believe? Your lose your health; do you still believe? You lose your friends; do you still believe? You lose a bundle of money; do you still believe? You lose your job; do you still believe? You lose control of your body through age or disability; do you still believe?
II The Provision of God
A "Some time later God tested Abraham" (Gen 22:1). First, this test reveals the faith of Abraham. Second, this test reveals the provision of God.
Imagine the scene. Isaac was bound and laid on the altar, ready to be sacrificed. The knife was in Abraham's hand. Abraham's hand was raised over Isaac, the blade pointing down, aimed for Isaac's heart. You can be sure Abraham was going to make it as quick and as painless as possible.
"Abraham! Abraham." For the second time in four days he heard God saying his name. "Here I am." For the second time in four days he adopted a listening attitude. "Don't lay a hand on the boy. Don't do anything to him."
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
B Do you remember Isaac's question of his father Abraham as they climbed to the place of sacrifice? "Father? The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Do you remember Abraham's response? "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."
"God himself will provide." And He did. He provided the ram. Abraham called that place "The LORD Will Provide." And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."
This is not the only time that God has provided the ram. On another mountain, Mount Calvary, and at another time, Good Friday, God also provided the ram. We know Him as Jesus, the Lamb of God.
C In the Gospel of John we hear something from the lips of Jesus about Abraham.
(Jn 8:56) Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.What was Jesus talking about? What did Jesus mean? At Mount Moriah, Abraham came to see the way of salvation through Jesus Christ.
When it comes right down to it, what actually happened at Mount Moriah? At Mount Moriah, a ram was sacrificed as a burnt offering in the place of Isaac.
Sacrifices in the Old Testament period had a variety of meanings. Some were freewill gifts, given by a thankful heart. Some had the character of a fellowship meal, with God and man seated together. Some, like Abraham's willingness to offer Isaac, expressed total consecration to God. But many Old Testament sacrifices also expressed the idea of substitution – a sheep, a goat, or a bull taking the place of a sinner. On Mount Moriah, it was a ram that took the place of Isaac. The principle of substitution starts here in Genesis 22:13.
One of the teachings that lies at the heart of the Gospel is the substitutionary atonement of Christ. As sinners, we all lie under the judgment of God. As sinners, we all deserve the wrath of God. As sinners, we all should pay the supreme penalty – eternal punishment of body and soul. But what does God do? Not only does He provide the lamb for the burnt offering, but He does so in our place, for our sins. So Jesus experienced what we should experience. So Jesus was punished in our place. So Jesus was condemned in our place.
This course is set in Genesis 22. From this point onwards, the way of atonement is headed towards the death of Jesus on our behalf.
I would like you all to turn with me to Isaiah 53. Let's read verses 4-6 in unison:
(Is 53:4-6) Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. (5) But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (6) We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.Did you hear it? The substitutionary atonement of Christ? He suffered and died, He was the sacrifice, in our place.
A ram suffered and died in the place of Isaac. Likewise, Jesus suffered and died in your place and my place. Isaac was spared. Likewise, you and I are spared. All the punishment that our sin deserves has been taken on by our substitute.
Substitutionary atonement. That's the wonderful result when God tested Abraham.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page