Abraham is tested

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 21-22 and Matthew 11

God had promised Abraham, in Genesis 17:19, “Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”

At this point, Abraham was over 100 years old, and had faithfully followed God.  In Genesis 12, Abraham obeyed when God told him to leave his country and family.  Abraham allowed Lot to take the lush land around Sodom in Genesis 13, and trusted God to provide for his own flocks and herds on barren mountains.  In Genesis 15, Abraham trusted God’s promise that he would have a son in his old age, and God counted that faith as righteousness.

In Genesis 22:2, we find God commanding Abraham, “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.”

This doesn’t make sense.  God had explicitly promised that God’s promises to Abraham would be passed down through Isaac’s descendants, and now God was commanding Abraham to sacrifice him – apparently destroying the promise He had made to Abraham.

By this point, Abraham had developed a very close relationship with God.  In fact, we’re told 3 times in the Bible that Abraham was God’s friend (2 Chron 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23) – and as far as I know, Abraham is the only person in the Bible of whom this is said.

We’re told in Hebrews 11:19 that Abraham reasoned that God was able to raise the dead, and that He was going to keep His promise.

So early the next morning, Abraham took Isaac and 2 servants and left for the place God told him to go.  When they got close, Abraham told the servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there.  We will worship and we (emphasis added) will come back to you.”

As they got even closer, Isaac asked his dad, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Can you imagine how this must have broken Abraham’s heart, looking down into his son’s questioning face, knowing that in a few minutes he would be killing his beloved son, who would be the offering?  Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb.”  (Actually, God had provided Isaac – as a miracle baby in his parent’s old age.)  When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar, arranged the wood, tied up Isaac, and laid him on the altar.  

As he was getting ready to kill Isaac, the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and stopped him.  Abraham then saw a ram caught in the brush by its horns, and sacrificed it instead.  God then promised Abraham, as recorded in Genesis 22:16-18, “I swear by myself, declared the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore… and through your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

I could point out all the similarities of Abraham’s being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, and God being willing to sacrifice His Son, Jesus.  I could point out the significance of another quote from this chapter, “Jehovah Jireh – on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”  (This was the mountain where Soloman’s temple was built hundreds of years later.)  I could point out the importance of obeying God, and the benefits that result.

Instead, I want to comment on who, when, where, how, and why of God’s provision.  

Who:  God tested Abraham with a very difficult test even after a life of serving God.  We see that God provided the ram in this case only after Abraham trusted and obeyed God – even though it didn’t make sense.  Assertion:  God provides for those who trust Him and obey Him.  

When:  God provided for Abraham at the very last minute, not before.  We’re told in Hebrews 4:16 that we will “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  Assertion:  God provides precisely when we need something, not when we think we need it.  (i.e.  according to God’s timing.)

Where:  God provided for Abraham only after Abraham went where God told him to go, and after he obeyed everything God told him to do.  Assertion:  God will provide if we are where He wants us to be.  We should have no expectation of receiving God’s provision if we aren’t where He wants us to be. 

How:  God didn’t send an angel from heaven with an offering for Abraham to sacrifice, God provided a normal ram, caught in a normal thicket, by it’s normal horns.  And God didn’t send a whole flock of sheep, just one ram, because that was all that was needed.   Assertion:  God will usually provide in ways that are very natural – don’t look for miracles.

Why:  In times of testing, it’s easy to only think about our problems, and focus on, “why is this happening to me?”  I think there may be two general reasons why trials come.  First, we are told in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  Note that this only applies if we are living according to His purpose.  Also note that trials are by definition difficult, and won’t seem to be beneficial at the time.  Second, ultimately, everything is for God’s glory.  Isaiah 43:7 says, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory…”  We see an example of this with God destroying Pharaoh and his army for God’s glory in Ex 14:4, 17.  Assertion:  God allows trials and gives provision for our good and for His glory.

The bottom line is, if we are faithfully following God, times of testing will come.  If we remain true to God, if we are where He wants us to be, and if we are obedient to Him, he will provide what we need (not necessarily what we want), at the very last minute, usually through normal means – and this is for our good.  If we aren’t following God, the times of testing may just be to bring Glory to Him.  I’d rather be in that first group.  How about you?

–Steve Mattison

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