Sermon notes 06-28-20 Tested, Trusted and Trusting Pastor David King
Genesis 22:1-14 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” (ESV)
The passage that Tony just read for us is one of the most well-known stories in the entire Bible, and it is for a lot of us one of the most disturbing stories in the entire Bible. It is a story that horrifies us because of the sacrifice God requires of Abraham, yet it inspires us because of the faith and obedience of Abraham, and it thrills us because of the ultimate providence of God that gives the story a happy ending. The themes of sacrifice, faith, obedience and God’s providence are all prevalent is this story, but I think this story is most importantly a story about trust, on more than one level. There is the obvious trust of Abraham in a God who will provide, but there is also the trust that God has in Abraham to pass this terrible test. We might be inclined to think this three-thousand year old story doesn’t have much relevance to our lives today, but I hope we will see as we reflect together on this story that, even though none of us will be tested in the same way as Abraham, each of us are called to a relationship with God that requires sacrifice, obedience and mutual trust.
I want to begin by going back earlier in the book of Genesis in order to remind us all of the relationship between God and Abraham, and between Abraham and Isaac. God had chosen Abram (as he was called before God changed his name to Abraham) to be the father of many nations and to be the one through whom God would bless the nations of the earth. When God first brought Abram out of his native land, Ur of the Chaldeans, God told Abram in Gen. 12:3, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God took the initiative to call Abram, and God did it because God’s desire was to bless all the families of the earth through Abram. A little later in Gen. 15:5, God told Abram to look up at the number of stars in heaven, and he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And, the Scripture says, (Abram) believed the Lord.
But as we read on from there, we see that Abram continues to advance in age along with his wife Sarah with no evidence that this promise will be fulfilled. In fact, when he is 99 years old and his wife is pushing 90, Abraham (as he is called by then) and Sarah are still without any children together. But in Gen. 17:19 and 21 we find that God comes to Abraham and says to him, “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son at this time next year, and you shall call his name Isaac… I will establish my covenant with Isaac.” We know of course that God’s promise comes true the following year when 90-year-old Sarah gives birth to Isaac. This Isaac, the child of God’s promise, is the same Isaac God tells Abraham to offer as a burnt sacrifice on a mountain.
I want us to notice the choice of words that God uses when making this demand of Abraham: God does not tell Abraham simply to kill Isaac. God says to offer him as a sacrifice. When a sacrifice is offered to God it is to give to God something that is loved. If we don’t love something, it is not a sacrifice to give it up, right? That’s one reason why in the OT laws regarding sacrifices, it is required that the animals being offered are without blemish or defect. Blemished and defective animals would not be valued, so it would not really be a sacrifice to offer them up. Animals without defect or blemish would be highly valued. Offering them up would truly be a sacrifice.
Notice next how God acknowledges and emphasizes that the offering of Isaac will truly be a sacrifice for Abraham. God almost seems to be making this command all the more painful by saying, “take your son, (that’s right) your only son, Isaac, (you know, the one) whom you love.” We can hardly bear to think of the turmoil and internal agony that Abraham must have been feeling. Abraham knew that Isaac was not only his beloved son; he was also the son of the promise that God had given to Abraham. On the one hand, Abraham feels compelled to sacrifice Isaac as God has commanded. On the other hand, he surely recognizes the terrible consequences of carrying out this command. Not only will Abraham lose his son; the loss of Isaac would also seem to undo God’s promise to Abraham that he will bear offspring as numerous as the stars and be the father of many nations. Isaac was the miraculous child of the promise. If Abraham kills Isaac, how could there be any promise in the future? It is hard to imagine a more gut-wrenching decision, yet Abraham apparently doesn’t hesitate or question or debate with God. He binds Isaac and takes up his knife. Don’t you wonder what Isaac was thinking? The Bible doesn’t tell us.
Abraham and Isaac are not the only ones in this story who have a stake in the outcome. I want to suggest that God has a stake in it as well. A significant point for us to consider is the way in which God speaks to Abraham. When God tells Abraham what he wants him to do, God uses a Hebrew word, “Na,” that is very rarely used by God in the Scriptures. The word “Na;” is an interjection of entreaty or urgent request. It can be translated as the word “please” spoken with great urgency. We do not find very often in the Scriptures that God uses the word “please” when issuing a command. He most often says, “thou shalt not;” he does not say “please do not.” But the literal translation of what God says here to Abraham is, “Take please your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.”
Why is that significant? It might just indicate that God has as much at stake in this test as Abraham does. God earnestly desires to bless the families of the earth through Abraham. But Abraham has to prove himself worthy by his faithfulness. The outcome matters every bit as much to God as to Abraham.
And notice that God does not force Abraham to trust him or obey him. God has chosen Abraham to be the one through whom God will bless all the families of the earth, but God does not force or compel Abraham to be worthy of this high honor. Abraham is not without freedom of choice in this matter. If Abraham were not free to resist the command of God, this would not really be a test, right? If Abraham could not have chosen differently, the outcome would have been a foregone conclusion. But God seems not to have known beforehand how Abraham would respond. When Abraham demonstrates his faith and his trust in God by his obedience, the angel of the Lord seems to learn something in Abraham’s response, because the angel says to Abraham on behalf of God, “Now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
This story is a test not only of Abraham’s faith in God, but it is also a test of God’s faith in Abraham, in the sense that Abraham’s response to the test will affect God’s next move. As one commentator has described it, “God took the risk that Abraham would respond. Abraham took the risk that God would provide.” We do not know what God would have done if Abraham had either failed the test, or if he had actually killed Isaac. God could surely have found another way to bless the nations of the earth, but another way might not have included Abraham. In fact, it seems unlikely that God could have used an untrusting and disobedient Abraham to fulfill God’s purposes. Abraham obeyed God, but not out of some sort of blind obedience. The reason Abraham obeyed God is because Abraham trusted God.
So then, what about us? Friends, we can be thankful that none of us will be asked to make the same kind of sacrifice that God required of Abraham. Yet I think there are several ways in which this story applies to our own lives.
First, we can be sure that to follow God means we will have to make sacrifices. Like Abraham, in order to obey God, we may have to give up things that we love and things that we were counting on to secure our future. Moreover, I believe that God earnestly desires to use us, like Abraham, to bless others; and like Abraham, our obedience is a means through which God blesses others.
Our obedience, like Abraham’s, comes down to a two-fold matter of trust; our trust in God and the trust God places in us. Do we trust God enough to obey even when our security is threatened, when everything we had hoped for in the future is threatened? Can God trust us to obey so that through our obedience, others can be blessed?
The story of God testing Abraham is primarily about trusting that God will provide. God intended from the beginning to provide the sacrifice, if only Abraham would show himself to be faithful. Abraham trusted God. He voiced his trust in God when Isaac asked him the question, where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answered by saying, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” God indeed provided the ram for the sacrifice, yet God stopped Abraham from killing Isaac before Abraham saw the ram. You might think that once God stopped Abraham, a sacrifice would no longer have been necessary. But it seems that a sacrifice was necessary, and God provided it.
Brothers and sisters, a sacrifice was necessary to secure the future of Israel … and a sacrifice was necessary to secure our eternal future. This story prefigures another very familiar story, the story at the heart of Christianity. It is another story about God providing a sacrificial lamb: the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.
When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, God was not asking Abraham to do something God was not willing to do himself. The difference is that God went all the way in offering his Son as the sacrifice for our sins. God so loved the world that he gave his Son, his only Son Jesus, whom he loved. Our response is to trust and obey, and when we do, we will be blessed to be a means through which God blesses others.
Thanks be to God.
Let us pray.
We thank you, God, that it is your desire to bless all the families of the earth. Thank you for the gift of your Son, whom you gave as a sacrifice for our sins, out of your great love for us. Though the power of your Holy Spirit, give us faith like Abraham. Help us to trust and obey you so that you can use us to be a blessing to others. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.