Ever feel like you're being tested? If so, you can empathize with Abraham in Genesis 22. Not knowing what God had in store, and not understanding why God was calling him to do the unthinkable, Abraham obeyed God anyway. And if Abraham could trust God in spite of his test... we can too.
“A SACRIFICE AND A SIGN”
While most of us can outline our lives on the basis on the basis of achievement, we seem to chapter our lives by graduation from high school or college or marriage, the first child, retirement. You can outline the life of Abraham on the basis of the tests that came into his life. Thus far, we have discovered three of them in our studies. The first is the test in Chapter 12 of Genesis where Abraham is told to leave Ur of the Chaldeans. This was a test, because it meant he would leave all that represented security, all of his family and his friends. It meant leaving stability. And yet, he took the test, and he passed it. The second test is in Chapters 13 and 14 as we studied where Abraham was told to separate from Lot, and he gave Lot the choicest piece of land potentially, and sure enough, Lot in his selfishness chose the fertile region of the valley, and Abraham separated from him going to the rocky regions of northern Canaan. The third test was when he had to trust God for a son, and we studied in our last session Chapters 15 to 21. And he waited years. In fact, he would wait nearly twenty-five years for the son. And yet, that test came, and Abraham proved that his faith in God, those small, was true. We, in fact, suggested in our last session that the amount of faith is not the issue; it is the object of your faith. In other words, you could have little faith in thick ice and survive. You could place great faith in thin ice and drown. The essential ingredient is wherein you place your faith.
Now the fourth test is the one before us, and in fact, we will conclude this morning the series on the life of Abraham. And this test is, Abraham, will you now give your son back to me.
Would you turn to Genesis Chapter 22. Genesis Chapter 22, and we’re going to begin with just the first verse.
Now it came to pass (text says “about”) after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And Abraham responded, “Here I am.” The word ““test” is a correct translation. Perhaps your might read, “tempt.” The Hebrew word is
naha (?), which should be translated something other than tempt. God does now tempt us. He tests us to strengthen us. Satan will tempt us to weaken us. But here we have, in fact, a test.
And He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”
He says, in effect, the same thing four different ways so that there could be no confusion. Abraham, take your son, your only son, the one whom you love, and if you’ve missed it, it happens to be Isaac. I think Abraham wasn’t confused after God spoke to him. And what he will now encounter is probably the greatest test of the four that have come into his life.
Before we go any further into the text, let me make some application. We normally do this at the end, but I want to make it here. I want to apply what happens in our lives from Genesis Chapter 22 when we are confronted by tests, or testing. Let me give you some things that I think come from the text about testing.
First of all, it’s true that sometimes a test will come after years of comfort or perhaps we could call it victory. For thirty years now, after the birth of Isaac, Abraham had been experiencing prosperity in the land. He had all of his prayers, as it were, answered. He had his son; he was prospering materially. He had thirty years of comfort, and then bang, that’s when God says now, Abraham. I could almost imagine Abraham thinking, as you and I think, this is probably the last time I’ll ever have to trust God. And just about the time we think we’ve got that nailed down, God invades our lives with a test. It can come after years of comfort or a victory.
Secondly, sometimes a test may seem inconsistent with God’s promise. Let me explain this. As you know, from Genesis Chapter 12, if you’ve been studying with us over the few weeks that we’ve been in this passage, you know the promise was, Abraham, I’m to give you a promise. It includes land, it includes blessing and it includes a seed, that is, a son. And Genesis Chapter 17 Verse 19 God says, your seed, your son, will bear a son. All right, that’s the promise. Now God comes along and says, Abraham, I want you to kill your son. And Abraham is scratching his head. Now how is this consistent with the promise of God? If my son will have a son, how in the world is God going to accomplish this if I kill my son? But herein lies one of the mysteries of God’s testing in your life and in mine. Sometimes it seems totally inconsistent with what we think God is supposed to do in our lives. We have the promise. He says to you, I want to conform you into the image of my son. That’s a process. We often mistake it as a product. And so we say, Okay Lord, wake me up when it happens. Let me know when you’re finished. And then we get all confused, because somewhere between point A and point B a test comes, and it doesn’t seem to make any sense. Lord, how could this conform me to the image of your son? Why is this happening? What are you doing? We fail to realize that the nature of testing means that sometimes backward to us means forward with God. It may seem inconsistent.
Let me give you one illustration of this. A rather facetious one. While preparing for the ministry, I would have never in my wildest imaginations taken Hebrew grammar or Hebrew exegesis. For one thing, the class lasted an hour and a half, and there aren’t many things that you would like to do for an hour and a half on a hard bench. For another thing, the class began at seven o’clock in the morning, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Three mornings a week, I watched the sun rise through the window of my classroom. That was an exciting time in my life. You can hear it in my voice. I would have never suggested this is a class that I want to take. But after it was finished, I was glad. You may be in a class, you may be right in the middle of a course that God has designed in the curriculum in preparing you for your ministry, maybe in the life of another believer or in the lives of your family members or in the church or whatever. You would never sign up for it. There’s nothing about it that’s attractive. In fact, you may never learn to love it, but that course that God has enrolled you in is not an elective. You can’t get exempt from it. You can’t even audit it, you know, where you take it but you don’t have to do the homework. Huh, ugh (faded out on tape). You have to go through it. That’s the nature of testing.
Let me give you one more principle about testing that I have discovered from Genesis 22. It is this. Sometimes a test may involve your most prized possession. That which you value the highest is that which God suggests you make a change, you give it up. Do you really trust me for this? Imagine, waiting twenty-five years for a son, and then going through thirty years of watching him grow into adulthood, and now God says I want you to kill him, give him back to me. Take your beloved son. How much easier would it have been for Abraham, but I don’t find it in the text, to say, Lord, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give you Ishmael. Let me put him on the altar. Oh no. Ishmael represented the past. God wanted that which represented the future. You and I have little trouble giving God our past. Lord, all of the sins, all of my life that I’ve experienced up to this point, I have no problem trusting you with that. You take that. But my future, tomorrow? Huh, ugh. How much harder it is to give God something precious, something in the near future.
Jay Herndon (? - need to verify proper name) is a missionary in Ireland in a poor mining village, and he tells the story that I read this past week of something that happened in that village. It was one cold afternoon and the company bus was returning from the mines filled with the men of the village after a long days work. This was in the winter time when it was dark, the roads were slick with ice. Kind of like Friday, where you wouldn’t want to put on your breaks suddenly or turn suddenly because to the left was the mountainous wall and to the right was the sheer cliff. This was a very narrow and dangerous road. The men could see just a few feet ahead of the oncoming bus the figure, the form, of a little boy sitting in the middle of the road playing in the snow with his back to the oncoming bus, and they knew, it’s like an eiry hush fell over the bus as the men knew the driver would have to make a split second decision. To swerve or to stop would mean skidding, perhaps destroying the lives of the men, the fathers of the village. To continue forward meant the certain death of that boy, who was oblivious to the oncoming bus. Jay Herndon writes that after the bus stopped a few hundred feet beyond the crumpled form of the boy, the driver of the bus was the first one off. And he ran back and he picked up the lifeless form of his own son, and he buried his head in the boy’s coat and he wept.
You see, we have the dumb idea that Abraham is skipping up Mt. Moriah whistling songs. This is a wonderful day in my life. Absolutely not! This is real. This is painful. He was asked to take a knife and plunge it into the heart of his own son, and though he believed God would raise him from the dead, it didn’t obliterate the pain, the confusion. Imagine this happening to you. Would you note Abraham’s incredible response? Notice the text. Let’s read Verses 3 to 5.
So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey. Did you notice that he rose early? If there was ever a day I would have wanted to sleep in, it would have been that one. But he rose early. He took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood, an older man, for the burnt offering. And I imagined as I read this, wouldn’t it have been nifty for Abraham to not split the wood for the sacrifice, get up to the rocky part of Mt. Moriah and say, Oh Lord, guess what I forgot? I forgot the wood. I guess we can’t have the offering. But Abraham is actually preparing every detail so that this can take place. He split wood, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship and we will return to you.”
There are two things in Abraham’s response to this test. The first is submission to the will of God, and the second is the surrender of his son. Now we preached this passage as we were going through Hebrews 11, and I just touched on something that I want to major on for the remainder of our time this morning, and that is the beauty of this passage being an illustration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And you say, wait a second. Aren’t you reading a lot into this Old Testament passage? I don’t see it in here. Where are you getting that? Well, my justification for that illustration comes from two New Testament passages.
Would you turn to the book of Hebrews and Chapter 11. Hebrews Chapter 11 Verse 19. Let’s start with Verse 17. Hebrews 11 Verse 17.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” Yet he considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type.
The word is parabole, from which we get our word, parable, that is, he is a type, he is an illustration of Jesus Christ being killed and being resurrected from the dead. All right. That’s gives us a clue now.
Turn back to Romans. The book of Romans Chapter 4. Note Verse 19 and following. Romans 4:19
And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Now, note this, not for his sake only was it written, that it was reckoned to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
He who was delivered up because of our sin or transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. Here it’s even clearer that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, just as in parabolic form Isaac was raised from the dead. God considered that Abraham had literally put him to death, although his hand never struck his son.
Now with this understood, let’s go back to Genesis Chapter 22 and try to discover where Jesus Christ is to be found. And I’ve come up with three major areas where we can see Jesus Christ. The first is in the symbols of death. Note Verse 6.
And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offerings and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.
You have the symbols of death being wood, fire and a knife. The wood, now don’t overlook the fact that Isaac was to be a burnt offering. Don’t forget that all Abraham was to do was not just strike him with the knife; he was also to burn him as a burnt offering. The Old Testament teaches us that burnt offerings were for sin. So Isaac was to be offered up as an offering for sin, and he was laid on the wood. In fact, notice Verse 9.
Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood, and he bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood.
Wood is never mentioned in the Old Testament burnt offering passages, but it is emphasized here, in fact, it’s mentioned five times. Interesting enough, Isaac carries the wood up the hill, just as Christ, until he stumbled, carried the wood up the hill. And then he was laid on the altar on top of wood, just as Jesus Christ was laid on the wooden cross and nailed to it. I think we can see Christ in the wood mentioned five times in this text.
Another symbol was the knife to piece Isaac with, and we know, of course, the Old Testament prophets would say that one day the Jews, Zachariah writes, will one day look on him whom they have pierced. He was pierced through with a spike in his hands and in his feet.
There was also the symbol of the fire, which typifies throughout the entire Old and New Testament “tribulation” or “judgment.” The first time “fire” occurs is in Genesis Chapter 19 Verse 24, where it talks about fire coming down from heaven to burn up Sodom and Gomorrah. The last time it’s mentioned is in Revelation Chapter 21 Verse 8, where it talks about those who rejected the lamb, rejected the sacrifice, are cast into the lake of fire, which burns forever. So fire here being a symbol of the wrath of God, as we know Christ endured the wrath of God as it was typified in fire.
I want to show you something else where I see Christ. It is in the submission of Isaac. Let’s back up to Verse 7.
And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “ God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
That’s a double positive in the Hebrew, which is meant for emphasis. It shows unity. Abraham didn’t tie a rope around his son and say, “Come on, obey me!” No! Isaac went along in obedience and submission to his father. Can you see Christ in that? It’s a neon sign. Christ who said I came to do the will of who? My father, even to death on the cross. Isaac portrays Christ in his submission.
Verses 9 and 10. Let me read Verse 9 and let’s go on to Verse 10 again.
Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. Notice now, Abraham is a lot older than Isaac, but Isaac allows him to tie him up and put him on top of the altar. And I have a feeling that Isaac probably climbed up there on his own accord. I doubt Abraham, being old, was able to lift a thirty year old son. Note the submission.
And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
And Isaac said, “Stop!” He never did. He might have closed his eyes. And I would imagine that Abraham was weeping. But he submitted to his father.
There is another place where I see Jesus Christ in this text. It is seen in the prophetic announcement that is so beautiful from Abraham. Note Verse 11.
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” And he said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and
took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.
Here’s the prophetic announcement.
And Abraham called the name of that place, Jehovah-jireb (?), which is translated, The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”
It’s future tense. This is the prophetic announcement of Abraham who says, One day God will provide the lamb. He didn’t here. He provided a ram. He will one day provide a lamb for the burnt offerings.
In John Chapter 1 Verse 29, John the Baptist saw Jesus Christ coming toward him. And you know what he said? He said, “Behold, look, the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world!” He’s here. God had provided.
One more from Genesis Chapter 22 that’s really a discovery of the development of history, rather than from the text. And this is perhaps one of the most powerful. If you were with us in Hebrews 11, you’ll remember this. Mt. Moriah is nothing more really than a ridge of hills. It would be a place where Solomon would later build his temple. It would be destroyed. But just a stone’s throw from the temple and from the place where Isaac was offered would be a city that would be built called Jerusalem. By the time of Jesus Christ, that ridge of hills was no longer referred to as Moriah, but it had been given a slang Aramaic expression, because of the way that one of the ridges was shaped. It was not called Golgotha, the place of the skull. It is something to recognize the fact that the place where Isaac was offered as a type of Christ offered as a burnt offering for sin as it were would be the very place where Jesus Christ would hang from the cross. The burnt offering being given up as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. The prophetic statement of Abraham had indeed come true. God had provided the lamb.
(?) Bliss (need to verify proper name here; unfamiliar to transcriber) was a well known hymn writer of yesteryear. In fact, our hymn books are filled with his hymns. He was one day traveling to Pennsylvania to be with some friends. He spent most of the time on the train writing lyrics for yet unpublished hymns. As he was approaching, as the train was approaching Ashtobulah (? need to verify name of city), Ohio, they had to cross a steel and wooden ridge that spanned a ravine several hundred feet deep. The winter weather had shaken the moorings of this bridge, and when the train was half way across, it gave way, and the train plunged into the ravine below. The passenger coaches immediately ignited with fire, because of the pot bellied stoves inside that burst upon impact. And Philip Bliss (?) and his wife were never identified. Everyone thought that all the belongings, the manuscripts, the songs yet unpublished, had also gone up on flames, until they discovered weeks later his trunk had been placed mistakenly on another train as they had made a stop earlier in the journey. Inside the trunk they found several manuscripts. One of them had the set of words entitled, “My Redeemer.” The fact that the song would be sung after Philip Bliss (?) would be in the presence of his savior made these words more meaningful to me, and I think to you as well. Let me read them.
Philip Bliss (?) wrote:
I will sing of my Redeemer and His wondrous love to me
On the cruel cross He suffered from the curse to set me free.
I will tell the wondrous story how my lost estate to save
In his boundless love and mercy He the ransom freely gave.
I will praise my dear Redeemer His triumph power I’ll tell
How the victory He giveth over sin and death and hell.
I will sing of my Redeemer and His heavenly love to me
He from death to life hath brought me the Son of God with Him to be.
My friend, do you have that assurance? Have you been to Mt. Moriah? Have you been to Golgotha? Have you been to the cross and accepted that burnt offering as your savior? Has the death of Jesus Christ made a difference in your heart? Has the resurrection of Jesus Christ made a difference in your life?