Is there something God has given you that you’re in danger of valuing over God Himself?
Last week in Genesis 15 Abraham received the certainty of God’s blessing (land, descendants, blessing) by faith, in spite of his doubt and in spite of promised hardship and trouble. This led us to discuss the way those of us trusting in Christ have every blessing in Christ, even though we must be sustained by faith as we await the fulness of blessing at Christ’s return.
This week’s passage, in Genesis 22, is about Isaac, sort of. Abraham has received the promised son from “his own body,” but will now be tested to see if He still trusts God now that he has received the promised son.
The passage is a paragon of excellence in ancient literature, but, this doesn’t mean it’s made up (like a parable). This story is also beautiful for its historicity and truth. All Jews trace their heritage back to Abraham, and we’re looking at the beginnings of God’s great story of redemption that culminates in the very “real” work of Jesus on the cross that makes God’s work in the blood, sweat and tears of my life “real” as well.
Abraham’s fear of the LORD is tested by God (:1-3).
After these things God tested Abraham … take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and off him there as a burned offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you (ESV). Important here is that Abraham has already sent away Ishmael (21.14), the son of the flesh whom he had received after attempting to manipulate the blessing. And important to generations of Israelites reading this account is the place—Moriah. We find the Mountains of Moriah again in 2 Chronicles (the end of the Bible, to the Jewish mind) where King Solomon builds the Temple at the place where God had “appeared” to David (2 Chron 3.1) and where God would appear to and provide for His people.
So Abraham rose early in the morning …
Abraham’s demonstration of his fear of the LORD involved a willingness to surrender that which was dearest to him (:4-8).
Abraham departs, and on the third day of the journey Abraham arrives at the place of worship and instructs his servants to remain while he and Isaac make the sacrifice. He knows two things at this point: God had promised him that the blessing would come through Isaac, and God had commanded him to sacrifice him. And yet, “we” [plural] will come again to you. Hebrews 11. 19a gives the clue we need here: He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead. Abraham really expected to kill his son, but he also expected God to raise to back to life!
Abraham’s demonstration of his fear of the LORD resulted in God’s provision (:9-14).
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the alter there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the alter, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham! And he said, “Here am I.” 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 (:9-12).
Notice what God now knows by experience, along with Abraham: Abraham truly fears God, and Abraham would not withhold his son from God. In other words, Abraham isn’t willing to exchange God Himself for that which he loves most!
And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looks, and behold, behind him there was a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnet offering instead of his son. 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 (:13-14).
In the end, God Himself provides the sacrifice necessary. That’s a picture of Jesus on the cross, isn’t it? But, there’s also significance in the wording. The word “provide” (verse 14, ESV) can mean either “to provide” or “to appear” or “be seen”. Second Chronicles 3.1 talks about how the LORD was “seen” by David at this very place of sacrifice. Verse 8 of our passage, in the mouth of Isaac, says the LORD will “provide” the sacrifice. It’s both, isn’t it? The God who provides sees the hearts of His worshippers and will be seen by them. So at Mount Moriah, the site of the Temple in late Old Testament history, the worshipper could bring his best offering to God. If he brought his first-born son (not for sacrifice, but for service!), he could know that God would provide for his needs, though he loses the economic services of his son. And there at the alter the worshipper would “see” the LORD.
But this true story foreshadowing God’s redemption goes deeper still, doesn’t it? There was a day when God the Father—like Abraham before—took His Son, whom He loved, and laid Him on the wood, and then raised His hand with the knife, so to speak. And on that day Jesus—like Isaac before—laid on the wood and resisted the desire to call down legions of angles who would have rescued Him in an instant. And, on that day there would be no angel to stand between the Father and the Son. And the “knife” fell … And on that day the Father and the Son passed the test that Abraham had foreshadowed millennia before. And because THEY passed the test, the blessing is as good as done, and we in Christ are the beneficiaries.
The willingness of both Father and Son to sacrifice what was dearest to them resulted in God’s provision for sinners, and the LORD appeared to us for salvation.
Abraham’s demonstration of his fear of the LORD resulted in blessing (:15-19). Then, God confirms His covenant with Abraham through the mysterious messenger. I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offering shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice (:17-18).
Millennia after the writing of Genesis, the Apostle Paul will understand this “offspring” to be a collective singular. Hear Galatians 3.16: Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
The Old Testament worshipper would recognize that God had promised to preserve the blessing for the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jews. They will (future tense!) enjoy the blessing, when they say Barak h’ab Beshem Adonai (“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD” (Luke 13.35). But, we know that the blessing will come ultimately through ONE descendant. And it’s through Jesus (the ultimate seed) that those from all nations of the earth (Jew and Gentile) will be blessed.
So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived in Beersheba.
Abraham’s demonstration of his fear of the LORD involved a willingness to surrender that which was dearest to him which resulted in God’s provision and confirmation of blessing.
And, about us …
And then what about us? Sometimes, God asks us to give up something he wants us to have, if we’re in danger of valuing the thing or the person more than God Himself. Then, if it’s in His plan, we may receive it back.
True worship requires fear of God. Fear of God requires desiring God for His own sake, not just desiring His blessings. Desiring God for His own sake requires offering up that which is dearest to us … Perhaps, we’ll receive it back, cleansed and set apart for God’s purpose in our lives.
Do you have a true story from your own live about something you’ve delivered to the LORD but then received back? As we think about our own hearts, we need need to read or hearts, along with Genesis 22, from the vantage-point of the work of Christ.
Our worship will involve a willingness to release that which is dearest to us, in exchange for which, we will know God’s provision and blessing in Christ.