“A test of Love (part a)”
II. Vs. 1-10 A journey of sacrifice
The 22nd chapter of Genesis is one of the most interesting chapters in the entire Bible. Interesting for several reasons:
- Theological: Does God ever ask us to do something that is contrary to His own character and nature?
- Practical: How would you respond if you were asked to kill your own child?
- Spiritual: What spiritual implications does this story have as seen in the NT?
The answers to these questions ought to challenge us to take a journey of sacrifice.
II. Vs. 1-10 A journey of sacrifice
Vs. 1 “Now it came to pass after these things”, sets the stage as to the timing of the event that Abraham is about to share with us. The phrases purpose us to get us to ask the question, “After what things?” The answer is after the events of chapter 21, which you will recall all centered around God keeping His promises. These three seemingly unconnected events each dealt with God keeping His promise. So we could write above verse 1 of chapter 22, “After God showed that He always keeps His promises He tested Abraham!” Without this context you would never be able to understand the events of this chapter. Allow me to sight two stories that reveal this:
- L.A. Times columnist Jack Smith in his column said that if God told him to do this he would have told God to mind His own business. This seems to always be the response of people who don’t understand God’s Word.
- Worse yet is the story of Andrew Cate who was sentenced to 60 years in prison after he was convicted of fatally shooting his two-year-old daughter. The reason for his action, he told the courtroom, was he expected the Lord to do a miracle and just like the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac stop him at the last moment so he could win his brother to Jesus. The purpose was not so that God would do a miracle in order for someone else might be saved.
The context is that of God “always keeping His promises” which leads me to the next thing that needs to be pointed out, the test was for Abraham’s benefit not the Lords. I’m aware that the angel of the Lord says in verse 12 “for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” But look at the words, “God tested Abraham”, God knew what was in Abraham’s heart it was Abraham that did not yet know.
But how does this square with James 1:13 “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” Some versions even use the word “tempted” in this verse instead of “tested”. The key to understanding this is to be found in the word “tested” which is “assayed or proved”. In other words God knew what Abraham was in character but it he still had to be proved or tested so that all including Abraham would see. The difference between what God does here and what satan does it that God’s tests are to bring out what is good and satan’s tests are to solicit us to do evil. God’s tests are designed for us to pass, satan’s are aimed at us failing. This “test” was not a test that would produce faith rather it was one that revealed faith. It is this fact that James speaks of as he uses this story in chapter 2:21-23 “Was not Abraham our father justified by works “when” he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.” The word “when” in James 2:21 would better be rendered “in that”, thus it would read “Was not Abraham our father justified by works “in that” he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” We know that the words “In that” is the right translation based upon what James goes on to say, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Abraham was not “justified by works” (saved) when he offered Isaac rather you will recall that this had happened in chapter 15:6 when He believed God about the promise of having a child approximately 40 years earlier. James is saying that the “proof or test” of Abraham having been justified or saved is to be seen in an obedient life. The greatest example is 40 years after he had given his complete trust to God he proved it by laying that which he loved the most upon God’s altar. All that this test or proof did was show that Abraham only had one person on the throne of his heart and it was not Isaac! Abraham’s response is an immediate, “Here am I” which he will repeat two more times in this chapter.
“The most difficult love to let go of is the one that you are most certain is a gift of God”. Yet with that said to place the promise above the promiser is the hardest form of idolatry to overcome.
Vs. 2 There are four things to note here in verse 2:
- “Take now your son, your only son Isaac”: As far as the child of promise was concerned God declares to Abraham that he only had one son. What this points out is what is brought to our attention in the story of Cain & Able, God never recognizes the offering of anything produced in the energy of our flesh.
- “Whom you love”: This is the first mention of the word love in the Bible and it is in reference of a father’s love for his son. Abraham is being asked to give the dearest love on earth he has to God. In so doing he will learn of the difference of loving God more than even His blessings! In each of the synoptic gospels the first time we read of love is God the Father calling down from heaven and saying, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Then in John’s gospel the word “love”, which occurs more than any other book of the Bible, mentions the word for the first time in the very familiar third chapter verse 16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not parish but receive everlasting life!” It seems that “love” in the Bible is continually being defined as a “fathers” love for his only son.
- “Go to the land of Moriah, …on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you”: Moriah means “chosen by God”, this mountain range will one day the be the sight of the temple built by Solomon and rebuilt by Herod. The temple would be located where there was a threshing floor according to 1 Chron. 21:18-26. Which means there had by prevailing winds which would be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Geographically the temple mount is the lowest of the hills followed by the Mount of Olives and the highest peak would be Calvary where tradition says that Abraham took Isaac.
- “And offer him there as a burnt offering”: The word’s “offer and burnt offering” come from the root word that means “to ascend or be high” and though slaying a sacrifice was implied God did not actually tell Abraham to slay His son. In the Mosaic Law this type of offering was known as a “sin offering” and signified a complete surrender to God. The animal was first slain by having its throat slit, then it would be cut up and quartered to be place upon the fire so that the smoke would ascend up towards heaven.
So was God demanding a “human sacrifice”? The answer is simple by looking at what scripture says, you see you always interpret the difficult passages in light of the ones that are plain. In Deut. 12:31 we read “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.” God wanted Abraham to give spiritually what the sacrifice meant outwardly. God spoke in terms physically that Abraham would comprehend the kind of surrender of the greatest earthly love to the greatest love. It also must be understood that God knew that Abraham would not fully comprehend this thus he had already provided a ram. What God wanted was not Isaac’s life but rather Abraham’s heart. In obeying the Lord, Abraham showed to himself that Isaac “the promise” was not an idol in the way of God “the promiser”. “We must not ever trust in the promise above the Promiser”.
Vs. 3 There is not the slightest bit of hesitation on Abraham’s part, he seeks no other opinions, there is no argument from him towards God, no fleece or compromise. Know what else is missing in this text? We are not told how he felt about this. Because obedience is not based upon how we feel. So what is it based upon? Well, Heb. 11:17-19 tells us; “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” Abraham’s obedience was based upon a five-letter word TRUST! He did not know how God was going to do it but He knew that God was going to do it and if need be God would raise his only son from the dead. The HOW and the WHY were not Abraham’s problem they were God’s. “We must never doubt in the dark what God has told us in the light!” So Abraham saddles up the donkey, split the wood by himself. Abraham does not ask his servants to do what God had asked him.
Vs. 4 Moriah was about 30 miles from where Abraham lived and took three days for them to arrive. What a great picture we have of the resurrection as Isaac was dead to him from the moment God had told him to offer his only beloved son now three days have passed.
Vs. 5 Two things of note here:
- The words “young men and lad” are the same in the Hebrew and refer not to a small boy but rather to a young adult. We know that in 23:1 that Sarah lived to be 127 and that she was 90 when Isaac was born which tells us that 37 years had passed from Isaac’s birth to Sarah’s death. I’m of the opinion that Isaac is 33 years old which would make him the same age as was our Lord at the time that He traveled this same hill.
- Abraham tells two young servants stay while he and Isaac go up on Calvary to worship. Then Abraham says something very interesting, “And WE will come back to you”. No one had ever came back from the dead but Abraham believes that God is able. They are going to worship the Lord after the third day of Isaac who is 33 being dead to his father upon a hill called Calvary and Abraham says, “Both of us are coming down the hill!” The only thing impossible in Abraham’s eyes was that of God breaking his promise of 21:12, “In Isaac your seed shall be called!”
Vs. 6 Did Abraham somehow know that this was a test, that God would not require this of him? This verse answers this question with NO! If Abraham knew that this was a test why the wood upon the back of Isaac? Why the knife in one hand and the fire in the other? Spurgeon said, “Abraham took the knife up that hill, he did not forget it. As he took that knife it was cutting into his own heart with every step they took yet he kept walking. Unbelief would have forgotten the knife or dropped it along the way but faith takes it and hangs on to it even though it is cutting your own heart deeper with each step!”
Notice also the phrase, “and the two of them went together”, Isaac was 33 he could have easily over powered his father. Literally the phrase in Hebrew means “the two of them went in agreement.” In Heb. 10:5-7 we read speaking of Jesus “When He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come; In the volume of the book it is written of Me; To do Your will, O God.”
Vs. 7-8 Isaac asks a very good question “Where’s the lamb?” In the 13th verse we are told that a ram is caught in the thicket by its horns but a ram is not a lamb. Isaac understood that innocent blood must be shed for sinners to be able to approach God thus he asks about the provision for the sacrifice. Literally this phrase in Hebrew is “God will see the lamb for Himself”. Hundreds of years later a prophet named John the Baptist looked out across the Jordan River where he was baptizing and on the bank of the river answered Isaac’s question, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) You see there was another father’s son who would walk up that same hill at the same age with wood upon His back only there would be no ram caught in a thicket as God would provide Himself a Lamb.
Vs. 9-10 It was not the twine that held Isaac as it would not be the nails that would hold the Son of God. No it was the love of his father that placed him on the altar atop the wood. So a Son lay on top of the wood ready to be sacrificed and a father with a knife in his hand was ready to take his son but God will provide a sacrifice. “Abraham displayed his heart towards God by willing laying his son upon the altar, but God also displays His love towards a sinful world by placing His son upon the altar of the cross.” As God spoke to Abraham in verse 12 “now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” We too can say to Him, “Now I know that you love me, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”