Series on Genesis, II God's Family, F The Probation of the Family, Text:18:16-22:19, Title: Tested and True


In the New Testament Abraham is called the father of all believers. This is true not only because of Abraham's historical significance, but also because of his example of faith. As Abraham believed so all God's children are to believe. The faith of Abraham developed through his life until he came to the fullest test of obedience which is recorded in this section of the book of Genesis, the sacrifice of Isaac. There is a probation taking place here. A testing which would elicit from Abraham greater trust and obedience. Genesis 22:1 says, Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “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.” If we are to draw the correct conclusion from Abraham's life we need to see first of all that in the tests of Abraham's life as in ours, God is not tempting us. James 1:13 says God does not tempt us. It is a subtle distinction. Outwardly the difference between a trial and a temptation is often indistinguishable. The difference lies in the intention. The book of Job illustrates this for us. Job was tested. As we read the opening chapters we discover that Satan was tempting Job because he wanted him to fail. God was proving that Job would succeed and remain faithful. The same event may be both a trial and a temptation. It is the motive behind it that makes the difference. With regard to our faith God tests it so that it may emerge from the fire as pure gold with all the impurities removed. Let us then look at the testing of Abraham and learn from it.

I The Preliminary Testing

In this section we see first the preliminary testing of Abraham. It is important for us to see that Abraham often failed. The Bible says Jesus learned obedience by the things which he suffered. He learned perfectly, but in Abraham's life and trials, as in ours there were failures. It was F.B. Meyer who  said that when we see a brother or sister in sin, there are two things we do not know: first, we do not know how hard he or she tried not to sin, and second, we do not know the power of the forces that assailed him or her. We also do not know what we would have done in the same circumstances. This is why we need Jesus and faith itself no matter how strong can never save unless it is faith in Jesus Christ. There are three stories in this section of Genesis that illustrate Abraham's failures. The first is Sodom and Gomorrah which God has determined to destroy. Abraham did plead for the cities in prayer in 18:20-25, Then the LORD said, The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know. The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham approached him and said: Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right? Notice that one of the three visitors was the Lord Himself. The two angels went to Sodom, but the third man remained and it turned out to be Jahweh. When Abraham finally gets down to asking for the deliverance of 10 souls, God grants his request and Lot and his family are saved, although his wife is turned into a pillar of salt for looking back as we read in Genesis 19. But we should also note that Abraham didn't want God to destroy Sodom, and after God did we can discover that the children of Lot's daughters became pagan nations, the Moabites and Ammonites, who were enemies of God's people. Abraham needed to learn that this world must be judged by God alone. The second story is about Abraham and Abimilech in Chapter 20. We learn that Abraham lied and almost brought God's judgment on another people because he lied about Sarah being his sister rather than his wife. God delivered him by the skin of his teeth. His rationale is that he is surrounded by unbelief, and no one else fears God. Clearly he needed to learn that God could preserve his life. The third story has to do with Hagar and Ishmael in Chapter 21., and Abraham's abortive attempt to fulfill God's promise. Abraham was required to send Hagar and Ishmael away, Genesis 21:9 and 10, Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac. This was a very painful experience for he loved Ishmael, but the lesson he learned was that God could keep his own promises. So don't be so hard on yourself. Failure is part of the process of learning necessitated because the faith of a sinner needs to grow. So many Christians equate the Christian life with continued success. We are like Avis car rentals whose motto is “We try harder.” Holiness eluded the Pharisees and brought Jesus’ condemnation upon them because they left no room for failure. How are you saved they ask Jesus. Keep the commandments Jesus says. They answer, all these we have done from our youth up. God’s first interest isn’t your perfection. it’s your penitence. it isn’t all the achievements, it’s what you learned from the failures. But now comes the perfect test.

II The Perfect Test

The perfect test is the offering of Abraham’s only son Isaac, the promised seed. It is perfect because nothing could be closer to Abraham's heart, because the promise of God is centered in Isaac, and because it is the example of the love of God himself who sent his only Son to die for us. Let us look at three things. the call,the commitment and the commendation.

A The Call

The call comes in 22:1 and 2 and was contrary to Abraham's perception of God's holy nature, Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, Abraham! Here I am, he replied. Then God said, 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. Abraham knew that the false gods of other nations were worshipped by human sacrifice. He knew that this was not consistent with the nature of Jahweh. In obeying the call Abraham stretches far beyond what we could expect. notice when Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb for sacrifice?” We read in verse 8, Abraham answered, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son. And the two of them went on together. And Abraham later called the place Jehovah Jireh, the Lord will provide. This is Mount Moriah a hill of Jerusalem on which tradition says Solomon built the temple. It is sacred to Muslims and Jews It is presently contested. Now the main point here is not that we should think we hear God telling us to do things contrary to his Word and his nature today. God spoke to Abraham in a different era and a crucial time in the history of redemption. What he asked him to do will not be repeated because it only happened for our instruction in this age. The point we are to take away from this is that true faith knows that God will provide in the worst extremity. Is it possible to have a situation or problem to which God does not have the answer? No! Let me remind you that we are not all called to be pioneer missionaries far from home, but we are all called to endure hardness as good soldiers. A Bavarian king in the eleventh century went to a monastery and asked to spend the rest of his life in contemplation. The prior said “I don’t think you can do it because you’re a king and if you come here you have to obey me.” The king said, “I will.” Then said the prior, “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you. The king’s eulogy said he learned to rule well by being obedient. We sing, “Where he calls me, I will follow.”

B The Commitment

In verse 9 and 10, the Hebrew language is very graphic and what it says here is that Abraham reached out his hand, literally, “sent it out” to take the knife. In verse 12 the angel of the Lord says literally do not “send out” your hand. This implies much more than a mere stretching out of the arm. it is an act of the will, an act of the most amazing determination. This act, Abraham was willing to do because he believed God so much that he considered that if Isaac died God would raise him from the dead in order to fulfill the promise that his seed would come from Isaac. Hebrews 11 makes this very clear in verses 17-19 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. Again, as faith learns that there is no problem for which God does not have an answer it proceeds to the point where even death itself cannot be a barrier to God's keeping his promise. This is where Abraham has come, and this is what God expects of us, to face death in triumph knowing that the Lord will provide. The essence of true faith always goes back to the cross. The way we know all God's promises are true is that the promise of the Savior, Jesus, the Lamb of God is true. As Abraham sent forth his hand so God sent forth his son, but there was no one to say to God, do not send him forth. In fact the exquisite irony of this story is found in the fact that if Isaac dies the promise is dead and then Jesus doesn't have to come. The substitution of the ram in the thicket reflects God's irrevocable decision to send his Son. if there is no substitute for Isaac, there is no substitute for us.

C The Commendation

There follows in the story God's approval of Abraham's act of faith. Two things may be noted. God first approves Abraham's fear, in verse 12, Do not lay a hand on the boy, he said. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son. We know that a true believer does not stand in dread of God's final judgment. In fact, he believes that he has passed from judgment into eternal life. Unfortunately many draw the conclusion from this that the fear spoken of is nothing more than respect or reverence. This does a disservice to the concept because the words respect and reverence in the 20th century context are very shallow words. Surely respect and reverence did not lead Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Look up the word fear in your Bible concordance. The command to fear God is mostly frequently addressed to believers. It is wrong to suggest that the fear in view is any less intense than the love we celebrate. People do not want that. they want Jesus to be a happy tour guide for heaven, paid to be courteous and polite. Author Betty Eadie’s bestseller, “Embraced by the Light,” was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 40 weeks, including 5 weeks as #1. In November 1973, Eadie allegedly died after undergoing a hysterectomy, and returned five hours later with the secrets of heaven revealed by Jesus. Eadie says that Jesus “never wanted to do or say anything that would offend me” while she visited heaven. Growing up my mother was a strict disciplinarian. If you answered back, your next move better be to duck. I feared. Knowing her love was so great that she would willingly die for me didn’t take away the fear of temporal judgment. It took away the fear of being cast off. Hebrews 12:7 says What son is not disciplined by his father? God’s wrath is exactly commensurate to God’s love. You cannot see the love of God in the cross of Christ unless you see his wrath and judgment as well. In the second place God blesses Abraham and this blessing is in verses 15-18, The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, I swear by myself, declares 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. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me. This does not mean that God’s plan would fail without Abraham’s obedience. The obedience was part of the plan. In the same way the obedience of Christ was necessary for God’s wrath to be satisfied. The offering of Calvary had to be a lamb without blemish and without spot. All God’s people are saved and blessed because God put his fear into Abraham’s heart.