Friday, December 16, 2011

Passing the Test

The study of last week's lesson focused on the Lord's promise of protection and prosperity to Abram. He further confirmed the covenant regarding the promised biological seed, their being innumerable as the stars, their being in captivity for 400 years, judgment to be given to the nation of their affliction (Egypt), and God's prophesied life of peace to a good old age for Abram. Gen 15:1-6, 12-18 This week's lesson focuses on Gen 22:1-2, 6-14

'And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt 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.' Gen 22:1-2 Abraham believed their lives was beginning to settle down...for a moment. He was mistaken. Another trial had stepped in Abraham's path.

A number of things occurred between chapters 15 and 22 to give Moses, the writer of Genesis, the need to write 'And it came to pass after these things,...' Gen 22:1a Upon learning that Abram was to bear seed of his loin versus an adopted seed, Sarai presented her handmaiden, Hagar unto him. See Gen 16. Hagar became pregnant with Ishmael, the seed of the flesh. Sarai, jealous, sent them away, but the Angel of the Lord required Hagar to return. Abram was 86 at that time. In Gen 17, God renewed His covenant with Abram and changed his name to Abraham. He changed Sarai's name to Sarah and implemented the sign of circumcision as a '...seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised' Rom 4:11 Believers today are not sealed with a physical mark; they receive the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion. Eph 4:30 Thirteen years later, Abraham and Sarah became the proud parents of the promised seed, Isaac. Gen 21 When Sarah saw Ishmael mocking her son, she ordered Abraham to cast out Hagar and her son. Abraham was grieved, but God consoled him when He told him Ishmael would become the father of a great nation. Hagar and Ishmael had departed when '...God did tempt Abraham...' Gen 22:1b For this reason, Isaac was the only son at the beginning of today's lesson. He was the son of promise from God for a chosen nation.

What was the temptation? After God appeared He told Abraham to take his only son Isaac, the one who he loved, to a mountain in Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. This was no pop quiz or school exam. This was a test of faith. Abraham and Sarah had waited a long time for their bundle of laughter, Isaac, the seed of promise. Although child sacrifice was a common practice in the Near East, it was never condoned by God. The sacrifice of animals on the altar was the common practice of presenting burnt offerings to God in atonement for sins. Nowhere else in biblical history does God ever ask a person to sacrifice his or her child as a burnt offering. It was a test of Abraham's love of his son versus his love of God. Further, God commanded Abraham to go to the land of Moriah, a three day's journey, which gave him plenty of time to contemplate the sacrifice. Moriah is the mountain range where Jerusalem is situated (2 Chron 3:1) and also where Calvary stood. Abraham's intended sacrifice of Isaac, his "only begotten son"-in Moriah where Jerusalem was built-directly parallels God's ultimate sacrifice of His "only begotten son," Jesus, at Jerusalem on Mount Calvary.

Many were the objections that Abraham could have made. Was this not murder? Isaac was innocent. Had God not promised Isaac to be the seed of many nations? The Scripture does not mention Sarah. She may have objected if she had known of the test. How could he ever tell Sarah or any of his brethren what he had done? What would the enemies say? Would he be setting precedent to the killing of innocent children? Would people later believe it was o.k. to sacrifice children as a burnt offering? Putting his objections aside, he had to trust God. He rose early in the morning, made preparations for the sacrifice and saddled an ass. He took two young men and Isaac with him and they headed toward the mountain range of Moriah. After three (3) days journey, Abraham saw his destination. He and Isaac got off the saddled ass to continue toward the destination alone. Abraham did not want any distractions to his obedience to God. He told the young men they were going to worship alone and they would come again; i.e. wait at that appointed spot with the saddled ass for their return.

'And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.' Gen 22:6 Abraham took the wood off the saddled ass and laid it upon Issac. Unknown to his son, he was carrying his "cross", while Abraham had the fire and a knife in his hand. 'And Isaac spoke unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.' Gen 22:7-8 Isaac asked the obvious question. Where was the sacrificial lamb for the burnt offering? Isaac did not have to accompany Abraham in prior ceremonies to know that an animal was offered as a sacrifice for the burnt offering. It was customary practice. Isaac did not know the anguish Abraham felt. However, in the midst of the anguish, Abraham was ready to sacrifice his beloved Isaac in faithfulness to God. He responded to Isaac that God would provide the lamb. He did not see the lamb, but he knew God never failed him.

'And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.' Gen 22:9-10 Abraham built the altar at the place where God instructed. It was probably one of the most saddest times in buillding an altar as it could potentially mean the funeral of his only son, Isaac. Abraham laid the wood in order, to have a continuous fire once the sacrifice was lit. The Scripture reads Isaac was then bound and placed on the altar. Remember that Isaac was young and Abraham was of an old age. Isaac could have protested. Scripture does not reflect any objections from Isaac or an attempt to escape. We can only assume that he was obedient and had faith in God, also. Abraham took the knife to kill his son.

'And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.' Gen 22:11-12 The Angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven, directing him to stop the sacrifice of his son. Abraham was applauded for passing the test and Isaac was rescued. God's test may require that we give up something very near and dear to us. In Abraham's case, it was Isaac. He did not withhold his love for his son from his love for God.

'And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.' Gen 22:13-14 Now that the altar was built, it was necessary for Abraham to thank God for delivering his son. He had prophesied that God would provide himself a lamb. He spoke it into existence. When he looked up, he saw a ram caught in a thicket. He then retrieved the ram and sacrificed it to the Lord. The bond between the Lord and Abraham was ever so much more strengthened at that moment. The promise that God would provide himself a lamb was ultimately fulfilled by the Lamb of God. John 1:29 Abraham was so thankful to God that he gave the place a new name: Jehovah-jireh, meaning 'the Lord will provide'. And where God sees and provides, it should be praised.

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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