Today’s reading includes Genesis 23:1-24:51, Matthew 8:1-17, Psalm 9:13-20, and Proverbs 3:1-6. However, there is still so much good stuff in Genesis 22, I am camped out there today.
After Isaac was born, Abraham was very happy. After many years of waiting, God had finally fulfilled His promise with his son, Isaac. But one day, God asked Abraham to do something very difficult. He told Abraham to take Isaac to the hills of Moriah, and offer him as a sacrifice.
When Abraham laid Isaac on that altar, he was offering his own flesh and blood. He was offering himself. If you are a parent, you understand how our children are such a huge part of us. In fact, I am sure that Abraham would have been much happier to climb up on that pile of wood and set himself ablaze rather than to have to tie his Long-Awaited Promise to that altar. And yet, he obeyed.
Truthfully, in the past I have simply ignored this story. In the past, I felt a lot like a little boy in my Sunday school class. When I was teaching this story of Abraham and Isaac, at the point when God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the little boy said, “Gosh, that was mean of God!” I quickly tried to explain the reason so that he would understand. Our misunderstanding sometimes causes us to question the character of God. Since my heart is so in love with God, I don’t like that feeling of misunderstanding to surface, so I tend to just ignore that part of the Bible. I am not proud to confess this. It is not the right approach.
Thankfully, God has really been changing that in me in the past decade. If we truly understand the nature and character of God and His complete everlasting lovingkindness, mingled with a holy fierceness—then we won’t fear what the Bible says, as if somehow we would have to make excuses for God and Who He is. Forgive me, Lord, for times I have felt the need to be God’s PR person, His image manager. He doesn’t need me in that position. We don’t need to manage His image; we need to realize that we were made in His image and need to be transformed to look more and more like Him. When we feel misunderstanding arise, we should simply say, “Give me eyes to see and ears to hear.” Jesus is in the business of making the blind to see and the deaf to hear. He can do that literally or spiritually!
So that is what I did. I asked him to help me to see, hear, and understand this story. I read and studied and prayed. And slowly, I had a different understanding of the “mean” story. Let’s look at Genesis 22.
Genesis 22:1 says, “some time later…” Some time later means that Abram had gotten some mileage in with God. He had been walking with God for a while. He had cut a covenant with God, God had changed his name to Abraham, which meant “Father of Many”; and that process of becoming the meaning of his name had begun because the promised son, Isaac, had been born. But we can’t assume that walking with God will keep us from pain or problems. It won’t. But it will give us strength and courage to face the pain and problems that will inevitably come. God called, “Abraham!” God called Abraham by name, by his new covenantal name. And Abraham responded. His immediate response was the response of a servant.
He had already learned that the faith-filled response is always “Here I am.” Moses said it, Samuel said it, Isaiah said it, Abraham said it, and most importantly, Jesus said it. “Here I am to do your will and to do it in your way.” That is the only acceptable response. The Holman Concise Bible Commentary puts it this way:
Within a few years the Lord tested Abraham by commanding him to offer his covenant son as a burnt offering. The intent was to teach Abraham that covenant blessing requires total covenant commitment and obedience. The narrative also stresses that covenant obedience brings fresh bestowal of covenant blessings. Abraham’s willingness to surrender his son guaranteed all the more the fulfillment of God’s promises to him.
Again, look at Genesis 22:1: “Some time later, God tested…” God tested, not tempted. God does not tempt us, as we learn from James 1:13. God tests us to confirm our faith, to burn off the impurities. God wants to solidify in our minds our faith and our commitment.
After all those years, Abraham finally trusted God and His covenantal promises. He had learned to trust God even when he didn’t understand everything. So Abraham immediately obeyed God. The next morning he set out on a three-day journey to the hills of Moriah with Isaac with some of his young servants, and plenty of wood for the altar.
When they arrived at the mountain that God had told him about, Abraham left the young men below and took Isaac and the wood with him. Though he didn’t understand God’s request, he still obeyed. He spoke in faith when he told his young servants, “You stay here; we are going on ahead to worship God, and we will come back to you.” Hebrews 11:19 tells us that Abraham reasoned that even if God made him sacrifice Isaac, then surely He was powerful enough to bring him back to life again. This is significant because it had not yet been recorded that God had actually done this. This is before Jesus rose from the dead, before Jesus raised Lazarus or any others. This was faith speaking.
As they were going up the mountain, Isaac asked Abraham, “Where is the lamb that we will use for the sacrifice?” Abraham replied, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” We see the importance of speaking out our faith. Our words can derail our faith. We must be careful what we speak.
When they arrived at the place God sent them, Abraham built an altar there. He placed the wood on the altar. He tied up Isaac, his only son, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. Just as Abraham had lifted up the knife in his hand, an angel of the Lord called from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” In his toughest hour, God called him by name.
And Abraham said, “Here I am.”
God said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’”
Suddenly Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket. In a foreshadowing of what was to come and at just the right time, God Himself provided the sacrifice needed. So Abraham took the ram and offered it up as burnt offering instead of his son.
Now that may seem like a strange story to you. Why would God tell Abraham to sacrifice his only son? There are two reasons for God’s strange request: A test of promise and A word of prophecy.
First, let’s look at A test of promise. Remember that God had made a covenant, or unending promise, with Abraham. Now that God had given Abraham what He had promised, He needed to test Abraham’s heart to make sure that Isaac was not more important than God in Abraham’s heart. God should always have first place in our hearts above everything and everyone else. When Abraham obeyed God, even when He asked him to do something so hard, God knew that He had first place in Abraham’s heart.
Next, A word of prophecy: A word of prophecy means God revealing His plans for the future. It is sort of like previews at the movie theater. At the beginning of the movie, you see clips of movies that are coming soon. You don’t see the whole movie, just a little bit to encourage you to be excited about what is to come. A word of prophecy is sort of like that. Now, let’s remember some facts about the story:
- God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son as a sacrificial lamb. This son had to carry the wood for the sacrifice.
- God told Abraham to go to the hills of Moriah.
- God told Abraham to travel for three days to get there.
- At just the right time, God Himself provided the needed sacrifice.
If we fast-forward in history, we see that this situation was a preview of what was to come.
- God sacrificed His only Son as a sacrificial lamb. He too had to carry His own wood, the cross.
- Jesus died on the cross, on one of the hills of Moriah.
- Jesus stayed dead for three days before he defeated sin and death forever at the Resurrection.
- At just the right time, God Himself provided the only acceptable sacrifice to cover our sin.
You see, God wasn’t really asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son. God was telling the world that He was going to sacrifice His only Son, Jesus, because God loves the world so much! What in your life are you holding onto, scared to let go of? Lay it down. Offer it to God as a sacrifice, knowing that He can be trusted with the most sacred and precious treasures of your heart.