In this study of Abraham, we will focus on the apex of his life—the events leading up to Genesis 22. This chapter is extremely important to us, because
- we see evidence of why Abraham is the father of faith
- it is very critical to our understanding of Old Testament theology and the purposes of God in sacrificing His Son on the cross. (What a picture this is!)
- it reminds us that we all have at least one great test sometime during our life. (Do you believe that?)
In Chapter 21 Abraham and Sarah are in their old age, and have received the promised son from God.
Most of us know even the prospect of this miracle child's birth brought laughter to everyone. When Abraham, at 99 years old, heard of the pregnancy , he fell down in laughter. Sarah couldn't control her laughter either (Gen. 17:17; 18:12). So God named their son Isaac, meaning "laughter;" and after he was born he continued to bring joy and laughter to his parents (Gen. 21:6-7).
Sarah said in Gen. 21:6-7, "God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me." 7] And she added, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age."
Can you imagine the care and attention this child was given? (A spoiled child, perhaps?) Try to picture your grandmother and grandfather having a child. Just the thought makes you smile.
Then something very unusual happens.
After several years of not hearing directly from God, the silence and laughter was broken by words that seemed to speak of judgment and even cruelty. It seemed what God said to Abraham was calculated to hurt as deeply as possible. We could call this an unfair test in Abraham's life… or we could refer to it as:
Gen. 22:1-2—Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. 2] 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."
Can you imagine how shocking it would be for us to hear these words? I cannot even imagine how I would have felt, had I been Abraham. But I am not Abraham, and it's important for us to understand that these statements make no sense at all unless we see them through Abraham's eyes. Even seen through his eyes, it is easily the greatest test of his life, certainly one of the greatest tests anyone has ever had to endure.
There is one very special key here that will help us to unlock and apply this incident. Without this key, you and I will miss the enormity of these events and how we might learn from them.
It is essential to understand what the word "test" means. "Some time later God tested Abraham"—v. 1a. It doesn't mean to tempt or test to do evil. James 1:13 teaches us, When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone..." So Abraham was not tempted by God; he was tested by Him. "Test" (tested—"nagah") means to try, or prove, or to be approved. God, knowing what Abraham was made of, intended to prove and approve him as good.
(Incidentally, this is the first time the word "test" is used in the Bible. It is always significant when a word is used for the first time in Scripture.)
Note that God never tested Abraham's nephew, Lot, in the same way he tested Abraham. Why?
- It is already obvious what was in Lot's heart. (Let me tell you his story).
- Genesis tells us all the lesser tests in Lot's life that he had failed.
- many previous tests,
- and preparation.
I read through Genesis 12-21 in preparation for this study and noted the lessons God taught Abraham before Moriah. Follow along in your Bible.
Abraham was tested when he was led to leave his homeland—12:14; Acts 7:2-3. Would he follow willingly?
He was tested to see if he would believe the promises he had received when there was no logical/visible reason for them to come to pass.
Genesis 12:8-10. Abraham learned to believe the promises of God and to be a productive follower, even while he waited for the promises of God to be fulfilled. We see, in the tent he lived in and the altars he built, evidence of his trust. Everywhere he went he would build an altar to God and live in a tent as he waited for God's promises.
Likewise, we should keep on the move, doing the logical and wise thing as we wait for God's promise and provision.
Each test was not always a success, however.
In a test in Egypt, he failed his "spiritual exam" by becoming fearful and telling a half truth in order to save himself—12:11-13:2. (See Gen. 20:12-13 for insight. Sarah really was his half sister, but she was also his wife.)
Abraham learned even failure can be a good teacher and can prepare you for what is ahead. He also learned he could trust God for his protection and provision. When he left Egypt, he was very wealthy in livestock, silver and gold, so he acknowledged the lessons learned and the provision of God by returning to the place he had built an altar and calling out to God (Gen. 13:4).
If we pause and review the circumstances of our failures, we often find God's provision and protection even there.
On another occasion, Abraham was tested when it became obvious that the land he and Lot (his nephew) were living on could not support them living together with all their tents, cattle, and families (13:5-12).
Abraham gave Lot the chance to choose the best land rather than have any conflict with him. Lot, after choosing the best land, pitched his tent toward Sodom (13:12), and eventually moved into that very wicked city.
Abraham learned to have great confidence in the Lord's provision, even while living in less than ideal circumstances.
There is a powerful lesson here for us as well. Not having all we want may shield us from many temptations, e.g., Lot living in Sodom.
Eventually Abraham was tested again, but this time by the circumstances his nephew Lot had gotten into in Sodom (14:1-17).
Lot was captured by some marauding kings, and Abraham was his only hope for rescue. Genesis 14 tells us Abraham fought and won a formidable enemy with just "...318 trained men born in his household..." He then brought back Lot, his family, all their goods, along with many other people who had been captured.
This experience taught Abraham he could trust God in the greatest of challenges—even insurmountable odds—and God would provide a victory. Even when our families are in trouble, we can trust God to provide us with the solutions and wisdom for their dilemmas.
When Abraham finished the battle and brought back Lot, he was tested when the king of Sodom offered him the spoils of war (14:21-24).
Abraham, however, refused to take any of the spoils for himself. He didn't want it to appear that his success or riches had come from anyone but God.
This experience teaches Abraham and us that even in success we will be tempted to take the praise for ourselves, or to give it to someone else.
God is the One who provides, and we shouldn't give the praise to our process, our families, our talents, our education, or even our initiative. God deserves all glory, for He is the One who provides through our hands.
When he was blessed by the king of Salem and received bread and wine from him, Abraham was tested to see if he would not only receive, but also give to God and His work (14:20).
Abraham shows us the first sign of acknowledging God's gifts and blessing by giving 10% of what he had to the priest of the Lord. He could have continued to receive and never give, but knowing everything he had received had come from God, Abraham took the opportunity to give to the king of Salem [that is, Jerusalem].
Abraham learned a tithe willingly given to the work of the Lord is a thankful acknowledgment that the provision we have received is from God (See Heb. 6:20-7:4).
Abraham was tested to see if he would believe God's promise concerning an offspring, when he had no children and was age 99—15:5.
"He (God) took him outside and said, 'Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.' 6] Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness." (See 17:1-21 also.)
Abraham learned to trust in God's promise for his family, even when he couldn't see how it might be fulfilled. We should know that this kind of belief is rewarded by God. It is acknowledged by Him and is the result of His righteousness working in us!
If we believe God's promise, no matter how unlikely it might seem, then God will reveal to us more insight into His plans and desires for His people.
Principle: People of insight and vision for the future are people of faith in God's promises today.
Principle: If we can't seem to trust God for His promises in the present, we will have little insight and vision in the future.
Principle: Sincere and deep faith in God's promises will be rewarded with vision and insight into how these promises will be fulfilled.
Abraham was tested when he was told the sign of the covenant between him, his offspring and God would be circumcision (17:9-27).
Abraham learned when God calls us to a covenant relationship, He requires evidence of our commitment: our obedience (See also Gen. 21:4.).
17:22] When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him. 23] On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. 24] Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25] and his son Ishmael was thirteen; 26] Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that same day. 27] And every male in Abraham's household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.
Here we see evidence that Abraham believed, because immediately he did what the Lord had asked him to do. That will be our test as well!
Abraham was then tested by the events about to take place in Sodom and Gomorrah (18:17-33). v. 20—Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous...")
Though the city deserved judgment, Abraham interceded for its righteous, especially his nephew Lot and his family. Even though Lot was living in a place detrimental to his family's spiritual life, Abraham interceded with the Lord: 23] "...Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?"
Abraham learned that our responsibility reaches beyond our immediate family, and includes the need to intercede for those we know who are living outside the will of God, especially our extended family.
Abraham was tested with the timing of God's promises (Gen. 21:1-4).
Abraham learned to have patience for God's promises.
The work God has for us is not limited to our time clock or what we think are the optimal circumstances. Abraham learned patience through his testings, and so should we. When it comes to the work of God, He decides the time and the place. He also delights in doing His work through obedient servants, regardless of age, talent, "connectedness", or financial position.
Some of the most unusual and laughter-filled moments of our lives will happen when we least expect them.
Let me read the illustration of how Abraham's patience was rewarded:
Gen. 21:1—Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. 2] Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3] Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. 4] When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. 5] Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6] Sarah said, "God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me." 7] And she added, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age."
The question is, with all these lessons, was Abraham prepared for the testing he was about to face on Mount Moriah?
Moriah wasn't climbed in a day.
Abraham had been preparing for approximately 50 years, on the hills and slopes of his life, for his final triumph of faith. He was tutored patiently through all the previous tests and experiences of his life. Now comes the final.
Let's recap his lessons to this point.
- #1: The Trust Test—12:14. Abraham learned he could trust God when he didn't have all the facts or know where he was going. (He teaches us to do the same.)
- #2: The Tent and Altar Test—12:8-10. Abraham learned to believe the promises of God and to be a productive follower, even while he waited for the promises of God to be fulfilled.
- #3: Failure Tests—12:10-13:2; Gen. 20:12-13. Abraham learned even failure can be a good teacher and can prepare you for what is ahead. He learned he could trust God for his protection and provision.
- #4: The Finance and Resource Test—13:5-12. Abraham learned to have great confidence in the Lord's provision, even when he was living in less than ideal circumstances. He also shows us that not having all we want may shield us from many temptations, e.g., Lot living in Sodom.
- #5: The Warfare and Family Tests—14:1-17. This experience taught him he could trust God in the greatest of challenges—even insurmountable odds—and God would provide a victory. Even when our families are in trouble, we can trust God to provide us with the solutions and wisdom for their dilemmas.
- #6: The Praise Tests—14:21-24. This experience teaches Abraham and us that even in success there will be moments of temptation to take the praise for ourselves, or to give the praise to someone else.
- #7: The Giving Test—14:20. Abraham learned a tithe willingly given to the work of the Lord is a thankful acknowledgment that the provision we have received is from God. (See Heb. 6:20-7:4.) How are you thankfully acknowledging God's provision?
- #8: The Faith Test—15:5;17:1-21. Abraham learned to trust in God's promise for his family, even when he couldn't see how it might happen. If we believe God's promise, no matter how unlikely it might seem, then God will reveal to us more insight into His plans and desires for His people.
- #9: The Obedience Test—17:9-27. Abraham learned when God calls us to a covenant relationship, He requires evidence of our commitment: our obedience. (See also Gen. 21:4.)
- #10: The Intercession Test—18:17-33. Abraham learned our responsibility reaches beyond our immediate family, and includes the need to intercede for those we know who are living outside the will of God, especially our extended family.
- #11: The Patience Test—Gen. 21:1-4. Abraham learned to have patience for God's promises.
It is essential we know the New Testament's perspective on testing and temptation as well. Two familiar Scriptures are foundational.
I Cor. 10:13—No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (Some tests have temptations surrounding them, too.)
James 1:2—Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3] because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4] Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (Notice the impact of test!)
As we meld these New Testament verses with Abraham's tests, we could say again that with each test Abraham was gaining experience on the foothills, developing perseverance. As he was tackling the lower mountains, they were preparing him for a greater challenge. Then God said, in essence: "Now Abraham, tackle Moriah. I think you are mature, not lacking anything."
It is important to see that God was testing Abraham with the most severe type of positive command possible. Think about it:
God was not testing Abraham's reason. No! God was testing Abraham's willingness to obey without seeing any rationale.
Summarizing all the tests is the question with the most value: Would Abraham put God's desire ahead of his own feelings for his son and obey, even though he could not see the reason?
This was no snap quiz. There were insurmountable obstacles to Abraham's obeying:
- His own reasoning powers
- His love for Isaac
- His love for Sarah (the boy's mother)
- His knowledge of who Isaac was (the one through whom God's promises would be fulfilled)
- His knowledge of the character of God. Remember, Abraham pleaded—on the basis of what he knew God was like—that God would spare Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:25)
God displayed His man.
God knew what was in Abraham, and chose to display him to the world. Thankfully, in contrast to the culture of his day, Abraham loved God more than anything else.
Note: Remember, it is through Abraham God's Son would come!
Here in Genesis 22, we also see what Calvary meant to God the Father.
Of course, in other great passages of Scripture we see what Calvary meant to the Son (Ps. 22; 69; Is. 53). But now on the stage of Abraham's life, we see enacted in type and shadow the Father's love for all mankind.
One author said: "as we put our hand upon the beating of Abraham's heart we can, in a sense, measure the pulse of the heart of God. What Moriah meant to Abraham in terms of agony, heartache and pain, is what Calvary meant to God a thousand, or ten thousand-fold greater."
Mt. Moriah represents the highest possible pinnacle of surrender and sacrifice. Few men have climbed so high. In fact, only one peak is higher than Mt. Moriah—Mt. Calvary.
Mt. Moriah also shows us God's character, and that He will provide a solution to every need.
This passage has been a stumbling block to so many people. Our problem, on this side of the New Testament, is that we are offended that such a choice could be given to Abraham or any man. But when we study chapter 22 in the light of all of Scripture, we will see what a wonderful picture it is.
Before moving on to Part Two, please work through the following:
Inventory your life and make special note of the tests you have gone through. You may have failed in many ways, and you recognize God's provision and blessing are not in your life because you have been more like Lot than Abraham. But an inventory is still a helpful exercise.
You might be in the midst of a huge test and are confused and overwhelmed. If you are in Christ and have walked with Him, I want you to know you are ready for this present test. How do I know it, and how can you know it?
- by reviewing the circumstances you have gone through
- by capsulizing the lessons you have learned
- by applying those lessons to your present situation
James 1:2-4 says, Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3] because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4] Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
If you haven't been insightful, or find it difficult to remember the past, I want to encourage you to start with the lessons from Abraham's life. There are two ways to learn: by your own experience or by the experience of others. So be smart and learn from Abraham. Take these lessons, review your life, and provide the illustrations from your own experience. When a Moriah-like test comes, it may take your breath away or cause you to temporarily fall down. If that happens, learn from your failure. Pick yourself up and start walking again.
Circumstances in your life probably range from minor irritations to significant challenges. You may not think of your present circumstance as "the trial" of your life, but this current test (e.g., children, bills, jobs, neighbors, family stuff, relationships, school, resource management, ministry, parents, etc.) is taking a lot of your time and attention.
Let me put these everyday challenges in perspective for you. These are how God is building maturity in you. Most of our growth will occur in circumstances not overtly spiritual; but common, ordinary, everyday. We miss their significance because we don't recognize them as part of God's plan to prepare us for Mt. Maturity. Take the everyday stuff of your life today and see it in the light of the foothills of Mt. Maturity. God has something in mind for you far greater than you can imagine, and the preparation for God's best plan is decided in the everyday events of your life. I'm praying for your climb.
- Solomon: How the Mighty Have Fallen
- Samson: The Man Who Brought the House Down on Himself
- Timothy: A Minister in the Making
- Daniel: Another Look at the Lions' Den
- Judas: A Person God Could Not Use
- Paul: Becoming a Basket Case
- Nebuchadnezzar: Grass-Eating 101
- Cain, Abel, Eve and God
- The Book of Jonah
- Jacob: Made Weak to Win
- Moses—The Law of God