Scripture: Genesis 22:1-14
Genesis 22 gives us a rare chance to look on as someone’s character is put to a heart-wrenching test. The story is short and the characters are few: God, Abraham, and his only son Isaac. But their story teaches us many lessons. Let’s watch as God tests Abraham to determine the depth of his loyalty and obedience.
“And it came to pass after these things, that God did [test] Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And He said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” (Genesis 22:1-2)
Here we find Abraham and his family in the southern-most end of Israel, somewhere between the towns of Beersheba and Kadesh-Barnea. The land currently belonged to the Philistines, but Abraham had the permission and blessing of Abimelech, the king of Gerar, to stay in that territory.
“These things” in verse one refers to chapter 21 which records three main events in Abraham’s life:
- the miraculous birth of Isaac;
- the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael; and
- the Covenant between Abimelech and Abraham concerning a disputed well.
Abraham was then a wealthy, powerful man who was enjoying watching his son Isaac grow into manhood.
We’re not sure exactly how much time passed after the covenant with Abimelech before God spoke to Abraham. The only clue we have is in verse five when Abraham refers to Isaac as a “lad.” The same word is used of Ishmael in Genesis 21:12, who at the time was 16 years old. So it seems reasonable to guess that 12-14 years have passed and Isaac is a young teenager. And now God hands Abraham a test.
Why did God choose to test him? For that matter, why does God choose to test us?
Lesson 1: God Tests Us to Help Us Grow and Become More Like Christ
This is the first lesson we need to learn because all of us will be tested. Peter writes, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (1 Pet. 4:12).
James tells his readers to “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations [trials]” (James 1:2).
Yes, the Bible is clear. All of us will be put to the test. But why? Let me share with you two main reasons:
- To expose the areas of our lives that need improvement, and to refine our character like a precious metal in the fire (Deut. 8:2-3).
- To build the spiritual muscle of endurance so that we will be able to persevere to the end (James 1:2-4).
Tests are intended to make us more like Christ. When we choose to trust and obey, in spite of the pain and heartache, we grow and our character is refined.
Lesson 2: God Cares About Us and the Things That Are Dear to Our Hearts
Did you know that God is not insensitive to our feelings? Our English translation of verse two lacks the tenderness that comes across in the Hebrew. I think we often picture this booming voice from heaven calling down to Abraham…. That’s not how it was.
God knew what He was asking of Abraham; He knew it was the most heart-wrenching command Abraham could ever be given—so God softened His command by phrasing it as a personal request. This is how it would have sounded to Abraham: “Please take your son, your only son, whom you love….”
Notice those extra phrases describing Abraham’s feelings for Isaac: “your only son, whom you love.” Now Isaac wasn’t Abraham’s only son; he had another—Ishmael. But Isaac was the son of promise and the son of Sarah.
God wanted to show Abraham that He knew the intimate relationship between father and son. He knew how deeply Abraham loved Isaac. And that love, of course, gave the test its bitter edge. How would you respond to such a request?
Let’s just pause here for a moment and focus on this scene. Let’s watch Abraham with sympathy and uncertainty—will he obey? What will he do?
“And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his [donkey], and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3).
Wow! You can’t help feeling admiration and amazement as you read those words—to watch as a man faces the greatest challenge his faith has ever encountered, and see him respond in simple obedience. I find myself thinking, “I wonder what I would have done?”
Lesson 3: We Must Obey God Without Delay
How long did Abraham wait before he started out on his journey? Did he say, “God, give me a month, and then I will go and sacrifice my son to you.” No, Abraham obeyed without delay.
How many of us delay in our obedience? Friends, when God asks us to do something, He shouldn’t have to ask twice. There is no substitute for instant obedience.
Abraham got up early the next morning, but I doubt it was because he was eager to begin the day. I rather think it was because he hadn’t slept much that night. Yet he got up and began preparations for the journey. Did you notice that verse three is filled with verbs—verbs of obedience.
Abraham “rose,” he “saddled,” he “split” wood, he “arose and went.” Abraham loved God, was fully surrendered to Him, and was proving it with every step he took. At first glance these verses seem so cold and detached—no sign of emotion from Abraham.
But wait! God is telling this story—what greater words of praise could God give than to speak of Abraham’s simple obedience. God is emphasizing what is most important to Him—obedience to His commands!
And so they started their journey—Abraham, Isaac, and two young servants set out north toward the mountains of Moriah. Actually, Abraham and Isaac were walking toward Jerusalem—walking toward the place that would one day be the place where the Lamb of God would be offered as a sacrifice for our sins.
Abraham was unaware of this, but God wasn’t. And that makes the story all the more meaningful to us as we read it today.
“Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the [donkey]; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” (Genesis 22:4-5)
Three days. Three days of walking beside a son you knew you were soon to sacrifice—not watching from a distance, but up close, with your own hands bringing the knife up to cut his throat. What agony of soul Abraham must have suffered. Few narratives in the Old Testament pull at your heart as this one does.
Yet, strangely enough, the story gives us no hint of Abraham’s true thoughts and feelings. Have you ever wondered what Abraham was thinking during those days of traveling? The text in Genesis leaves us in the dark in this regard.
It’s not until almost 2000 years later, in Hebrews 11:17-19, that God finally pulls back the curtain and reveals to us what filled Abraham’s mind as they made their way north toward the mountains: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”
Lesson 4: We Must Anchor Our Faith in the Person and Promises of God
Each day as the mountains drew closer, Abraham was thinking about God’s promise. He knew God promised that it would be through Isaac that his descendants would come, and they would be as numerous as the sands of the sea. He also knew the person of God—that what God said, God would do.
But now this same God was asking him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering; how then could the promise be fulfilled? The only possible way was the resurrection of Isaac from the dead. And that’s what Abraham believed God could do!
That is why Abraham told his servants that he and Isaac would return to them. Did you notice that in verse five? Abraham wasn’t lying to them in order to conceal his true purpose; Abraham was convinced that if Isaac was offered to God, God would bring him back from the dead.
What do we do when life’s circumstances seemingly contradict God’s promise? How do we respond when we watch everything we expected God to do disappearing before our eyes? Do we question God? Do we question His goodness?
Abraham’s faith was anchored in the rock of God’s word, and when the storm was upon him and the cable strained, his trust in God held him fast! And so it must be with us. We must believe that God will do what He has promised, no matter what impossibility may stand in the way.
Originally posted in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.