Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 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 (Genesis 22:1-2).”
The story of Abraham offering up Isaac on an altar as a potential human sacrifice is rather odd, at the least. An old man asked by God to offer his only son as a sacrifice to test his faith? Maybe it’s even weird. Disgusting, even. Bizarre. Unexpected. Lord, you want me to do what again?
But that is exactly what God asked of his son of the promise. And you know what? He acted immediately.
So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son (v. 3).
Chris Ramsey, one of the elders at our church, made some great observations about the faith of Abraham in his sermon on Sunday. It was Father’s Day, and so Chris decided to preach on a father… being told by God to kill his son. Great, eh? (Spoiler: the son lived) Here are some principles of faith that can be gleaned from this story, from both Chris’ message and from my own pondering:
Positive Experience Builds Trust
Chris pointed out that Abraham had already experienced a lot of life with God guiding him — speaking to him — and blessing him. Abe had learned to listen to God’s voice and muster the courage to obey. For every step of his life after knowing God, the patriarch built trust in God as he took risk and God provided for him.
Part of this faith experience was God’s promise to provide he and his wife, Sarah, a natural-born son. Both were older than parenting age, so it took a heck of a lot of faith to believe that God would provide. Finally, after trials and incidents of various sorts, Sarah had a son, Isaac. God had promised that the entire world would be blessed through Abraham’s son and his offspring (Gen 12:1-3), making Isaac’s very life quite an important one!
Three years ago I found myself living on a high mesa west of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I never intended to end up living out in the wilderness, surviving in sub-freezing temperatures in a pop-up camper on government land. Nope, I had dreams of a nice warm adobe apartment, abundant WiFi and a hot shower. But the government shutdown and a scarcity of jobs meant rice, beans and a bed of four blankets in a 1983 Starcraft camper.
When I tell people that my faith is God was never deeper than it was at this time of my life they cannot believe it. But it was. I was living on donations and waiting for my first paycheck from Target, where I had a seasonal job doing menial tasks like re-arranging the cat food cans and putting away all those misplaced toys. My real “job” was to observe, experience and pray over the city of Santa Fe for potential church planting or missional ministry. It’s a very dark city, spiritually.
But a lack of funds meant taking risks every night on public land, listening to gunshots in the distance and having drunk men drive by my camper at high speeds at 3 am, shouting incomprehensible phrases at me and throwing things at my camper. I buried my head under the blanket and prayed to see the morning.
But I never felt more alive because I knew that God had my back. He was my loving Father in heaven and I had walked with him for 30 years. He was my High Protector and He had never let me down. I went where He asked. I never truly lacked food. My clothes were sufficient, often because a brother or sister in Christ surprised me with clothes in His Name. That happened to me the summer before. A couple in Ruidoso, outside of where I was campground hosting, said they felt Jesus wanted me to have some warm clothes for the chilly mountain autumn. So they brought me four or five sweaters from their small thrift store, a space heater, and food I could heat up. God provided. Why would He abandon me on a frozen mesa?
My experience with God bolstered my faith in Him and allowed me to continue to take “risks” to see how I might help expand His kingdom. I knew that God has provided for me before, in many circumstances, and I trusted that He would continue to do so.
2. Faith is Built Through Our Risk Met With God’s Response
Here is something that the security-minded will cringe to read: people of faith take risks and trust God with the result. Over and over again we see men and women stepping out in faith — into the uncertain — and God providing for their needs as they act. Noah built an ark. God saved him and his family. Abraham left Ur for a place he had never been. Jacob went to Egypt to escape famine. Rahab hid two spies from evil men. Ruth gleaned in the field of a stranger.
In many cases, God instructed the person to act. In those cases, the “risk” was a matter of obedience. However, other times, like when Nehemiah decided to go back to Jerusalem, the saint of old planned, prayed and proceeded to take the risk, acting in faith. Abraham’s life is filled with both examples. God told him to leave Ur and he did. But when Abraham decided on his own to go after Lot and save him from peril, God blessed that action.
In my own life, I have come to see faith-prayer-action in this light: when a child of God is following God and has a holy desire of their heart, they have God’s blessing to follow that desire and He will bless it. We too often paralyze ourselves by waiting for the voice of God to say “Go” when we already carry the blessing of God with us. Unless He said “No” or “Not yet” to you, then it is not wrong to step out in faith and trust Him with the results.
I think our Lord said it perfectly when He taught, “What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11).”
God is a loving Father to us and, because He has accepted us as His dearly-loved children, why wouldn’t He want to bless us when we truly desire to follow Him and make an impact for His kingdom?
3. God Always Seeks Our Good, Even During Hard Times
So now God wanted that Isaac’s precious life to be given up as a sacrifice? What about the promises of blessing? One thing Abraham had learned through his life of faith was that God always sought his good. Safety, security, blessing, righteousness… this resulted from his believing God and obeying. So now…
Abraham never questioned God. He obeyed, knowing that God kept His promises and, thus, there would be some way out of this command. God would provide. Somehow, some way. But what he needed to do was simply obey and see.
There is a tendency in our Church society to see God as a strict taskmaster instead of a loving Father. Maybe a few teachers who had bad dads here on earth have poisoned the message of grace, but God wants you to enjoy His blessings in this life! Jesus promised this to those who would believe in Him: “A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance (John 10:10).” This abundance should not be trivialized, though I’m not talking about an abundance of material wealth or a lack of trouble like the so-called “prosperity gospel” teaches. But Jesus wants His followers to have life — LIFE — and in abundance! To have joy. To have peace. To love and be loved. To be holy and find the blessing of God in acts of holiness.
John the apostle wrote, “Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness, for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:16-17). Grace. A God who punishes His children like a taskmaster isn’t full of grace!
Cue the Good Father analogy. “…How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” The same Paul who wrote, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” also wrote, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:1, 28).”
Abraham knew that God was for him and not against him. God considered Abraham his “friend.” He considers you His “son” or “daughter.”
As the story goes on in Genesis 22, Abraham takes Isaac and two male servants and goes to a hill in Judea later to be known as Mount Moriah. He goes up to the top of the rocky mount with his son carrying the sacrifice wood on his back. Where is the sacrifice lamb? Isaac wondered. God will provide, Abraham responded. Isaac climbed up on the altar, Abraham took the knife in his hand and then….
The angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 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 (vv. 11-13).
God never intended for Isaac to die. Human sacrifice never was part of the worship of God. The pagan nations did it. Israel, as a settled nation in Canaan, cried out against it for hundreds of years. God always intended to provide a sacrificial lamb. But Abraham knew that he needed to obey God until he heard something different. This is faith at its purest: to obey the voice of God even when it seems irrational. To trust God to provide for you even when you cannot see how.
Allen P. Ross, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, wrote: “The lessons about true worship are timeless: (1) Faith obeys completely the Word of God. (2) Faith surrenders the best to God, holding nothing back. (3) Faith waits on the Lord to provide all one’s needs.
If there is one thing I want you to take away from this pondering on faith it is this: faith without action is not going to grow. In order to trust God more and obey with less hesitancy, you need to build up experience with following Him in active faith. Step out and trust God. Look for His action in your life. Listen for His voice. Like Abraham, obey His voice even when you don’t understand the details. Know that God seeks your good and that He will deliver you from any circumstance that arises as you step out in faith.
Don’t stand on the sidelines. Be God’s!