Some time later…Those opening words hearken back to the last chapter and the great events which have transpired. Abraham has made a treaty with Abimelech over some water wells but even more important to our story are the opening verses of chapter 21 where the birth of Isaac is recorded as having finally occurred. At the ripe old age of 100 years Abraham has finally received his promised child through Sarah. He is on his way to becoming the father of many nations.
How many years have transpired since this time, we aren’t sure, but I would surmise that 10-15 years have passed so that Isaac is large enough to walk, converse and carry a fairly heavy load up the side of a mountain. But that is getting ahead of the text. We are told, that some time later God tested Abraham (Gen 22:1). What does it mean that God tested him?
In 2 Chr 9:1, “When the queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions. Arriving with a very great caravan — with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones — she came to Solomon and talked with him about all she had on her mind.” This queen of Sheba wanted to prove something to her own mind. She had heard about Solomon’s fame, wealth and wisdom and she wanted to judge for herself how accurate the reports were. Is this what we are talking about? Is God trying to ascertain whether Abraham is really faithful?
In Ex. 16:4, we have a similar kind of story about the provision of manna as a way for God to ascertain the heart of his people. “Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.” Is God really unsure and unaware of what Abraham will do? Does he not know how he will respond already? The scriptures are full of testimonies about how (Psa. 139:2,23) “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar…Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Certainly God knew how Abraham would respond, so why does he test him?
To answer that we need to understand that the word test can also be translated as train, exercise or prove the quality of something. Gold is tested to prove its purity; athletes are trained to prepare them for the big race, men and women exercise in order to stay healthy and to keep in shape.
The same could be said of God’s testing of Abraham. God isn’t unaware of Abraham’s response; on the contrary, he is going to put Abraham through a training regime meant to bring out the best in the man and to strengthen him for the things, which lie ahead in his life. And because of this desire of God that his people (Phil. 2:15) so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which [they] shine like stars in the universe, He will put them through very difficult things in order to cause them to grow.
A few months ago, the summer Olympics (2012) were televised throughout the world. One of the commercials that struck me contained the voices of athletes talking about some of the things they give up while training to become the best: no deserts, haven’t seen a movie or read a book, haven’t taken a day off from training for years. If that is the kind of training and sacrifice an Olympic athlete must endure in order to be prepared for the competition of the games, how much more should the man or woman of God expect the training and testing of the Lord to be hard and difficult in order to prepare us for our final abode as the Sons and Daughters of God?
There are three commands given to Abraham. First is the command to Take, second is the command to Go and third is the command to sacrifice. Take your son, God says. And not only your son, but also your only son. Father of nations I want you to take the one son you have, the one tie you have to the future. Grab onto him and lead him, grasp him and make sure he is with you. And not only is he your son, your only son, but He is the son whom you love (Gen 22:2). Take your most precious relationship, take the thing dearest to your heart, take your very connection to God and your future. This loved son is one to whom Abraham is emotionally connected. He is one to whom his life has been dedicated. He is one to whom nothing one earth is spared in order to provide for his future. He is one whom the Father dearly enjoys and brings smiles to his face, laughter to his heart and joy to life. Take him and go.
So before we move on, let me ask you? What is the most important thing in your life? With whom do you have the most important relationship? Who are you connected to, dedicated to, who brings you the most amount of joy and celebration in your life? Grasp onto them, in your mind, taking them by the hand, and leading them. You see, it is urgent. In the Hebrew there is another word that isn’t translated into English, and that is the word Now. Now, take your son, there is no time to lose. Grab it/them and Go!
So where does God want Abraham, and us proverbially to take go? The next imperative, command, is to Go to the region of Moriah. Where is this you may be asking? 2Chr. 3:1 tells us “Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David.” Abraham, like you and I, is called to take the most important, special and wonderful thing he has in life to the place where God is worshipped. He is called to head to the future location of the temple where the blood of many bulls and goats, lambs and birds will be spilled in the quest for a clean conscience and the removal of the guilt of sin.
And what is he to do there? He is to sacrifice. Now, if you were Abraham, these three commands up until this point haven’t seemed too hard. Grab my son, take him to the site of the future temple and worship together. This doesn’t sound particularly hard or trying but then as that word rolls off God’s tongue the final syllable declares to him what is to be sacrificed. Sacrifice him. And not just any only sacrifice, but sacrifice him as a burnt offering.
A burnt offering is exactly what it sounds like, a sacrifice by fire. It is only sacrifice type where the one offering it doesn’t partake of any of the meat, rather the entire animal is dedicated to God and completely consumed by the fire. (Lev. 1:9) He is to wash the inner parts and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.
Sacrifice your dearest, closest, deepest thing to God. Completely, set it before him and allow him to determine its outcome. To consume it if he desires.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I was Abraham this request from God has just moved from the acceptable to the horrific. This is a nightmare, taking shape. I would be shaking, unable to sleep, racing in my mind, questioning what I heard and wondering what I have gotten into. Do I really want to follow this God any longer? I wish we were told more about Abraham’s internal thought that night after this conversation with the Lord, but we aren’t rather we are simply told about his response.
First we find out that early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey (Gen 22:3). He starts preparing. Abraham didn’t wait; he didn’t lollygag around the tent the next morning dragging out his preparations. Rather he goes right to it, obediently following the commands of the Lord, no matter how costly. He made the necessary preparations and then just as God commanded he took his son and headed to Moriah.
So let me ask, “What is God calling you to take to Moriah and sacrifice?” Every day we awaken, God is extending an invitation to each of us to recognize his primacy in our life by laying out all that we value on the altar for him to sift and consume as needed. As Christians, we are called to daily take up our cross and follow our Lord! The sheer image and metaphor Christ paints in Matthew 16:24 is reminiscent Abraham’s call to take Isaac and go to Moriah and sacrifice. Each of us must respond, not just once in our life, but daily, even hourly or by the minute. What is God calling you to take to Moriah and sacrifice on the mountain of the Lord? Is it your career? Hunger for power? Or Money? Unforgiving heart? A Self-image based on who you know, what you have, or how you look? Is it a dream, maybe of owning something one day, or of the fairy tale prince charming? Maybe it is the ideal of comfort or ease, or retirement? The possibilities are endless. <PAUSE>
Each of us has something or someone that captures our attention and consumes our thought life, our time and our emotional energy. God is inviting us, like he invited Abraham, to take it, go and sacrifice it on Mount Moriah. Are we being obedient to offer it up to God or have we found detours which sidetrack us from the call of God to take, go and slaughter it on the altar? Training for the faith requires immediate obedience! There is no putting off until tomorrow what needs to be done today.
But there are two specific statements that Abraham makes that are worth considering. The first is found in verse 5, the second in verse 8. In the first statement he tells his servants, We will worship and then we will come back to you (Gen 22:5). It is fascinating to me that Abraham understood his journey as an act of worship. He doesn’t appear to be bitter about it, but rather simply declares, the commands of God and obedience to them are a matter of worship, true worship, particularly when they are combined with faith in God’s promises. This is what James had in mind as he declared, (James 2:20-22) You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
Abraham understood that presenting one’s dearest, most treasured possession or relationship, or idea or whatever it is that one values greatly, presenting it to the Lord and leaving it with him is a matter of worship. It is a matter of setting aside all other things in order to pursue the one thing that matters most – the Lord. Abraham is living out the parable of the pearl of Great price, or the treasure in the field. He is being asked to give it all in order to grow in his own relationship with the Lord. But the second thing that fascinates me from his statement to the servants is his declaration that after worshipping, we will return. Is this a lie meant to keep the servants from hindering him? Is it a prayer uttered in hopeful expectation? Is it a prophetic foretelling of the future? Or is this faith?
Heb. 11:17-19 answers that question by declaring: 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, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. Hebrews tells us that Abraham was exercising faith. He didn’t know how God would fulfill his promises, but he trusted God enough to know that God’s word must stand firm and it cannot be moved. Abraham knew that though the Lord gives and the Lord takes away (Job 1:21), the Lord never lies (Num 23:19) and so in faith, he offered to God all that God demanded, trusting that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and his mercies never come to an end.
Now lest you think this story is simple about the ethical demands and the difficulties, which the servant of God must endure, let us look further into the story. The second statement of Abraham, which I said struck me deeply are these words, spoken to his son, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen 22:8). You see in these words Abraham is prophetically declaring his faith in the God of creation to ensure that the appropriate sacrifice for worship is provided.
And so it is, a ram is given to Abraham. Incidentally, some of you may notice that Abraham declared a lamb would be given and a ram was provided, but both words speak about a male sheep. In Hebrew a male sheep, or lamb, doesn’t become a ram until it is singled out from the flock as the specific sacrifice to be offered.
Now what is really cool is the way this ram is provided and what he does and stands for. God brings out the ram, he causes Abraham to see it and lay hold of it and the ram takes the place of Isaac, being offered in his place. So what does all this mean to us? It means that just as God provided on his holy mountain a sacrifice to take the place of Isaac so that Abraham’s worship could continue and be acceptable so also he will provide and has provided already a sacrifice for you and I. You see, as we trek up the mountain with that thing of greatest value in our grip, coming to sacrifice it and leave it at the altar, we will cross over the last hill and as we crest the summit, there we will find the Lamb of God already slain upon the altar. We need not catch him, nor offer him, for he has offered himself, freely. For as the author of Hebrews tells us, (Heb. 7:27) He sacrificed for [our] sins once for all when he offered himself.
In fact, this whole episode in the life of Abraham is a grand foreshadowing of the Eternal and heavenly Father who does offer his Son completely on the altar in order that you and I may worship freely at the altar and enjoy the benefits of salvation. Where Abraham almost offered his son, the Scriptures declare, (John 3:16) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. In the words of John the Baptist, Jesus is (John 1:29) “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
He is the ram caught in the eternal plan of God so that we never have to fear being unable to accomplish all that the Lord God requires. He is the perfectly obedient one, hearing the call of God to take his beloved brothers and sisters and go to the cross and die with them so that they might truly rise from the dead, never to fear death again. He is the one on which all our hopes hang, not snagged in a thicket against his will, but willingly led like a lamb to the slaughter, silent before his shearer (Acts 8:32), offering up his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28).
In the Abraham story, God provided the ram and then promised Abraham a blessing of immense proportions – giant numbers and massive control over the cities of their enemies, but in Christ we have been given all things. As Romans goes on to declare, we have been given justification (Rom 8:33), an intercessor in Christ himself (8:34), the security of knowing that we are never to be separated from the love of God (8:35), the promise of conquest over all that tries to assail us and draw us from God (8:37). We gain victory over the grave, life everlasting, possession of all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms. We have power to heal and forgive, power to bless and to curse, power to discern God’s will and power to speak with God directly. We have power to trust in the completed works of Christ and power to flee temptation. We have been given all things not because we have obeyed but because he has obeyed in our stead and invited us to be clothed in his righteousness so that we can go out in to the world as victorious ambassadors of the love of Christ.
And since this is true, (Rom. 8:31-32) What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
So people of God, the next time the call of God and the sacrifice he asks seems great, look to the cross and remember the story of a father who sacrificed his son and then bring your dearest offering not as a burnt offering but as an offering of thanks for all that God has done, and as you do, receive from him the gift of life.
- A tested Faith (Gen 22:1, 2Chr 9:1, Exo 16:4, Ps 139:2, 23, Exo 20:20, Phil 2:15)
- 3 Commands: Take, Go, Sacrifice
- Loved son (Dt 30:16, Ps 31:23)
- What is most important, connected to, dedicated
- Go (2Chr 3:1)
- To worship, to God, place of temple
- 3 Commands: Take, Go, Sacrifice
- Up to this point, okay
- Completely leave it with God (Lev 1:9)
- Early (Gen 22:3)
- Faith – looked and saw, hope for future? (Gen 22:5, James 2:20-22, Heb 11:17-19, Job 1:21, Num 23:19)
iii. Willingness to leave it all, not withheld (Gen 22:12)
- What are you called to leave, give up at the cross?
- God Provides
- Ram – (Gen 22:8, Heb 7:27, John 3:16, 1:29, Matt 20:28, Acts 8:32, Luke 24:27)
- Rom 8:31-32
 This is what is behindEx. 20:20 when, “Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” Moses is telling the people of the Lord that their God is an active part of daily life and that life includes training and exercise in order to keep a deep-seated reverence and awe in the forefront of their minds.