A man was walking along a narrow path, not paying much attention to where he was going.1 Suddenly he slipped over the edge of a cliff. As he fell, he grabbed a branch growing from the side of the cliff. Realizing that he couldn’t hang on for long, he called for help.
Man: Is anybody up there?
Voice: Yes, I’m here!
Voice: The Lord.
Man: Lord, help me!
Voice: Do you trust me?
Man: I trust you completely, Lord.
Voice: Good. Let go of the branch.
Voice: I said, let go of the branch.
Man: After a long pause, Is anybody else up there?2
Like this dangling, cliffhanger, are you ever afraid that God might ask too much of you? Consider for a moment what would be too much? Our daily lives are built around people and things we enjoy: a spouse, children, friends, a job, a hobby, possessions, and future plans. These are the pillars and beams of our earthly support system; and if one of them is removed, we sometimes feel as though the framework of our lives is collapsing around us. But there are times when God says “Let go!” and the nuts and bolts that hold our world together suddenly snap. If you’ve ever been in that situation you know the pressure a test like that can exert on your faith.3 Abraham was well acquainted with such strenuous tests. In Genesis 22, we come to one of the greatest chapters in the entire Bible. It is also one of the greatest crises in the Bible. This crisis is a crisis of obedience and it is structured in three flowing segments.1. The test of obedience (22:1-8). Our passage begins with the phrase, “Now it came about after these things.”4 This phrase looks back over Abraham’s pilgrimage of faith.5 During these years, Abraham encountered several tests; some he passed and others he failed.6 Abraham was quite human, like you and me. Yet, despite a mixture of success and failure, God sought to mature Abraham and use his life powerfully. Maybe you have had your share of success, but you’ve also experienced some failure along the way. You need to know today that God has not discarded you, nor is He finished with you. In fact, He wants to take you to your next spiritual level. He does this through tests. Notice the next phrase “God7 tested8 Abraham.” The word “test” still conjures up nightmares for me: burning the midnight oil to memorize volumes of facts, noticing my increased heart rate as the instructor passed out the test, staring into space and trying to remember a name or a date. We have all been through the stress of tests.9 Yet, it is wrong to assume that tests only take place in school. The real tests take place in the course of our lives. In these tests, whether we pass or fail is of the utmost importance.
We must keep two things in mind here:
• First, there is a vast difference between God’s purpose in testing a person and Satan’s purpose in testing a person. God tests to confirm and strengthen. Satan tests to corrupt and weaken. In the New Testament, James lets us know that God was testing Abraham so his faith could be “perfected” before men (Jas 2:22). The word “perfect” means complete or mature.10 Persevering through tests and being obedient to God made Abraham’s faith visible to an on looking world. God tested Abraham in order to give him an opportunity to display his true character.11
• He will do the same for you. Every test God brings into your life is an opportunity for you to shine and advance to another spiritual grade level. This ought to excite you. Even if spiritual tests are difficult, they have a wonderful purpose: to make you more like Christ so the world can see God’s greatness revealed in you (Prov 17:3; Jas 1:2-4, 12-14; 1 Pet 1:6-7).
• Second, we need to be aware that Abraham had walked with God for about 35 years before God tested him in this most severe way.12 God did not give him this severe test until He knew Abraham was equipped for it. One of the great things about God is that He does not give us tests we cannot pass. His tests come when we are prepared. Furthermore, He supplies an extra measure of grace to help us through times of testing (1 Cor 10:13). God is not like some of our former teachers who gave us premature tests or pop quizzes on information they had never covered in lectures. He is gracious and faithful. He wants for us to receive the highest grade possible!
We are told from the very first verse in this chapter that Abraham will be tested. Notice when God calls Abraham’s name, Abraham responds with, “Here I am” (22:1; cf. 22:11).13 He was willing to hear from God and be moved to action. Howard Hendricks, the great Christian writer and teacher, likes to say that great leaders must be “FAT: faithful, available, and teachable.” Do those characteristics define who you are? Obedience and discipleship demand that you be a person who is FAT. Sometimes people and things can become too important to us. We grip them with closed fists and white knuckles, so God has to pry open our fingers to loosen our hold.14 This is not ideal. Are you in the midst of a test? Is something that is important to you at risk or being taken from you? A job? A dream? A friendship? Your finances? Don’t let God take it from you; give it to Him! Be a FAT person for the glory of God.
The Lord speaks again in 22:2: “Take now your son,15 your only16 son, whom you love,17 Isaac,18 and go19 to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains20 of which I will tell you.” This verse is not made up of a series of gracious requests. Instead, God gives three blood-curdling commands (“take, “go,” and “offer”) without an explanation.21 Abraham was not simply to wound his son and then nurse him back to health.22 He was to offer his son as a burnt offering. Can you feel this man’s pain? It must have been horrific!
The question that is often asked at this point in the text is, “How could a God of love command Abraham to offer up his only son as a sacrifice?” For family devotions, Martin Luther once read this account and his wife, Katie, said, “I do not believe it. God would not have treated his son like that!” “But, Katie,” Luther replied, “He did” (see Isa 53:10).23 Thus, we are forced to the conclusion that the sacrifice of Isaac could not have been wrong, whether only attempted or accomplished, because God is incapable of evil (Jas 1:13-15; 1 John 1:5). Much more than this, as Luther recognized, it could not be wrong to sacrifice an only son because God actually did sacrifice His only begotten Son (see John 3:16).24
Shortly after our first child, Joshua, was born, as his father I dedicated him to the Lord. I’ll never forget that moment. I had just finished getting him ready for bed when the Lord impressed upon me that he did not belong to me. While little Joshua was lying on his back on our changing table, I got down on my knees and acknowledged to the Lord that Joshua was His. I told the Lord that He could have His sovereign way with him. I love Joshua with all that is within me, but I told the Lord He could take him from me at any time if that was in accordance with His perfect will. I pray that will not be the case, but Joshua is not mine; he is not Lori’s. He belongs to God and God alone! You see, it’s one thing to say, “The Lord blessed me with a child,” but the question is, what do you say when the Lord asks for your child back? Life is merely on loan to us, both as parents and as children. God can ask for its return at any time. Are you living with this realization? I challenge you today to hold loosely what God has given you.
In 22:3-4, we see that Abraham obeyed God’s commands immediately and unquestioningly. Moses informs us that Abraham “rose early in the morning.” Now, if I had been Abraham, I would have spent at least a day or two praying and fasting. I would have talked things through with my wife. I would have sought the best pastoral counsel available. But not Abraham…he obeyed (Ps 119:60). Scripture does not say, but I suspect his decision to get up early may have had more to do with torment than eagerness.25 Notice Abraham “saddled his donkey” and also “split wood for the burnt offering.” This is a man who is over 100 years old and has numerous servants. What was he thinking? My guess is he was probably trying to occupy his mind with activity so he wouldn’t have to think about what lie ahead. Yet in spite of all of this, he “arose and went to the place of which God had told him.” What is even more unbearable is that he could not finish the deed quickly; he was given time to think about what lay ahead. It was a three-day26 journey from Beersheba to Moriah27 (50 miles). Three days in which to think about what he must do. This was all a part of the test of obedience.God bless you
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