A Legacy of Faith

 

Week of May 20, 2012

 

Bible Verses:Genesis 22:1-3, 7-14; 26:2-5.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson is about the faith and obedience of Abraham, a faith that impacted his son, the nation of Israel, and the entire world.

 

Faith Tested:Genesis 22:1-3, 7-10.

 

[1]After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." [2]He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." [3]So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. [7]And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" [8]Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together. [9]When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. [10]Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. [ESV]

 

Faith in Crisis. It is necessary to review briefly the background of this incident in Abrahamís life. From the beginning, when God had called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, God had promised that He would make him into a great nation. This promise was repeated and enlarged many times during the years of Abrahamís pilgrimage. But in all these years Ė from Abrahamís early seventies to when he was ninety-nine years old Ė Abraham had only one son, Ishmael. When Abraham was ninety-nine, God appeared to him again and changed his name from Abram (father of many) to Abraham (father of a great multitude). Though it seems foolish from a human point of view for Abraham to have believed God Ė he was now long past the age at which he could still engender children, and Sarah was past the age of conceiving and bearing them Ė Abraham did believe God and did receive his son. His name was Isaac, and he was born when Abraham was one hundred years old. God specifically confirmed this son as the son of His promise [17:19]. Abraham loved Isaac and was extremely proud of him, but even more important, all of Abrahamís spiritual hopes were centered in him. Suddenly this peaceful world was shattered. God put Abraham to a great test, probably the greatest test any of Godís servants have ever endured: sacrifice your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love [22:2].

 

Is God a Liar?The test was conducted on a spiritual level that involved Abrahamís perception of who God was and of whether or not he would continue to trust Him as the only faithful and truthful God. The problem was not merely that Abraham loved Isaac. That was true enough. What was even more important was that God had promised that all future blessings, including the blessings of salvation, were to come through Isaac. God had told Abraham that Isaac was to live, marry, and have a family, and that from that family there would come one who would be the deliverer. Now God says that Isaac is to be sacrificed, and for the first time in all Abrahamís experience with God he is confronted by a conflict between Godís command and Godís promise. Earlier, Abraham had been tested as to whether he would believe that God could do the seemingly impossible task of giving Abraham and Sarah a son. That was a test, but it was not as hard as this one. This test involved a conflict apparently within the words of God Himself. God had promised posterity through Isaac. But God had now also commanded Abraham to kill him. How could this problem be resolved? There were only two ways. Abraham could have concluded that God was erratic, wavering from one plan to another because He did not know His own mind. This had not been Abrahamís experience of God. The long wait for the son had taught him better than that. Or Abraham could have concluded that, although he was unable to see the resolution of the difficulty, God could nevertheless be trusted to have a resolution, which He Himself would certainly disclose in due time. This was the harder of the two solutions to accept, but Abrahamís experience of God led in this direction. Abraham acted in a manner consistent with his knowledge of God. That is, he trusted Him, concluding that whatever Godís purposes may or may not have been in this situation, God had at least shown that He could not be His enemy. God was his friend. When the command to sacrifice Isaac was first given, Abraham did not understand how, if the command were carried out, the promise could be fulfilled. But that was all right. Abraham left the difficulty with God, which is the essence of true faith. What is faith? Faith is believing God and acting upon it. This is what Abraham did. God had shown that He could be trusted, so Abraham believed God and acted, even though he could not understand the solution to the difficulty. How promptly he acted! The test tells us, Abraham rose early in the morning [3].

 

Faith in Bloom. Abraham was not only exercising faith, however. He was also working with it, pondering the situation, trying to figure out what was happening. ďHow can God be true to His promise if I sacrifice Isaac?Ē, he must have been asking himself. And during the three day journey, Abraham continued to work on this problem of Godís promise. But by the end of the journey he had reached a conclusion in verse 5: we will go over there and worship and come again to you. Abraham intended to sacrifice Isaac, as God had commanded him. But by this time he was sure that the outcome would not be the end of Isaac, since he says that after they had worshiped, both he and his son would return and join the two servants. What had Abraham come to believe? The author of Hebrews tells us: By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac Ö. He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead [Heb. 11:17-19]. Abraham had faith to expect a resurrection. He had come to the conclusion that he was going to see a miracle.

 

Faith Rewarded. God did provide a resurrection, figuratively speaking [Heb. 11:19]. But it was not until the last minute, and not before Abraham had demonstrated his total willingness to offer up his son. Here was proof of how much a mere man would do for love of God. But we must see how this incident is also a pageant of how much more God would do as an expression of His love for fallen men and women. Abraham was only asked to sacrifice his son; he did not actually have to do it. Even if he had, there was only a physical death involved. But when the time came for God, the heavenly Father, to sacrifice His Son, it was not a mere physical death; it was a spiritual death, one that achieved redemption for sinners. When Godís hand was raised at Calvary, there was no one to call out, Do not lay your hand on the boy. When God offered up His sacrifice, the hand that was poised above Christ fell. Jesus died. Through that death, God brought life to all who trust in Christís sacrifice.

 

Faith Proven:Genesis 22:11-14.

 

[11]But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." [12]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." [13]And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. [14]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."[ESV]

 

The names of God are windows through which His character is seen. The names tell us that He is the Most High God, Possessor of Heaven and Earth (El Elyon), the Almighty God (El Shaddai), the Eternal, Unchanging God (El Olam), the Lord (Adonai), the God Who Is There (Jehovah Shammah), and much more. Since the names of God declare His attributes, we are not surprised that the unparalleled revelation of Godís wisdom and grace in Abrahamís near sacrifice of his son brings with it another of Godís names: Jehovah Jireh, which means ďthe Lord will provide.Ē In Abrahamís day, God provided a ram for sacrifice in place of Abrahamís son. But what Abraham really learned was that at the proper time, God would provide His own Son to die for our salvation. We must take this a step at a time. To begin with, the Hebrew word transliterated Jireh is actually a form of the common verb ďto see.Ē It has various shades of meaning and thus is translated in scores of ways in the Old Testament. When Isaac asked Abraham where the lamb was for the burnt offering and Abraham replied, ďGod himself will see to it,Ē [7] he was declaring that God had all things under His control and would provide what was needed at the right time. And this is what happened. Father and son climbed the mountain. An altar was built. Wood was placed on the altar. After binding Isaac and laying him on the altar, Abraham raised his knife to kill his son. But at this very moment, God intervened to say, Do not lay your hand on the boy [12]. Abraham then saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. Realizing that God had provided the ram for the sacrifice, he took it and offered it in his sonís stead. Abraham named the place Jehovah Jireh, that is, ďJehovah will see to it,Ē as indeed He had. God had seen to Abrahamís problem. But since the tense of this name is future rather than past (ďwill seeĒ rather than ďsawĒ), Abraham was not merely thinking of his own past experience; he was also reflecting on the fact that it is Godís abiding character that prompts him to see to our problems and that at His appointed time He would undoubtedly provide for the great problem of sin. God would provide a Savior. When God eventually gave His Son for us, it was on the very mountain where Abraham had offered his sacrifice. We know this from 2 Chronicles 3:1, which identifies Jerusalem with Mount Moriah. The fact that this was the place God intended to build His city and in which He intended to have His own Son die, explains why He had Abraham make the three day journey to get there. God was showing that it was on this mountain that He would see to our salvation.

 

Faith Multiplied:Genesis 26:2-5.

 

[2]And the LORD appeared to him and said, "Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. [3]Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. [4]I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, [5]because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws."[ESV]

 

The parallel between Isaac and Abrahamís lives is suggested at the start of Genesis 26, for we are told that there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. Who can miss what this is saying? In Abrahamís time there had been a great famine. It is mentioned in Genesis 12:10. There Abraham failed to trust God and instead went down to Egypt, where he pretended his wife Sarah was his sister, thus getting him in trouble with Pharaoh. What will Isaac do in this similar situation? Sadly, Isaac exhibited the same lack of faith and repeated the same sin. It is true, of course, that Isaac did not actually get to Egypt. He had stopped at Gerar, and then God appeared to him and told him to remain in the land. Gerar was a border country. Still, there is no doubt where Isaac was heading. Why was it so bad to go to Egypt? Egypt represents the world and therefore cannot be the place of Godís blessing. If Isaac is to be blessed, he must remain in the land of promise. At this point we find God appearing to Isaac as He had to Abraham on eight separate occasions. To Isaac He appears only twice, here in verse 2 and later in verse 24. But this is most significant. God showed no impatience whatever. Instead, He appeared to Isaac, instructing him to stay in the land and promising him a blessing. There is another reason why Godís response is significant. It is not only that God responded by appearing to Isaac, which He could well have refused to do. It is that He responded with such a full reiteration of the covenant [3-5]. It seems an extraordinary thing that we can fall into sin immediately after receiving a great blessing, but our nature is such that this is possible. This is what happened to Isaac. In Genesis 26:2-5, he has received a reiteration of the Abrahamic covenant. So far as we know, it was the first time in Isaacís entire life that God had spoken to him directly. On the basis of that experience, he should have been floating on cloud nine. But immediately after this, while he is in Gerar, we find him repeating the sin of Abraham Ė lying about his wife for his own self-protection. Rebekah was beautiful. Isaac found himself worrying whether the men of Gerar might kill him for the sake of his wife. Abraham had twice worried about the same thing regarding Sarah Ė once when he was in Egypt, where Pharaoh ruled [Gen. 12:10-20], and once in Gerar, the land of King Abimelech [Gen. 20:1-18]. It is a strange thing. God had appeared to Isaac to say that He would bless him. He said that He would make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, that He would give him all the lands promised to his father Abraham, and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. Yet here was Isaac, worrying whether God could preserve his life in the Philistinesí territory. Strange? Yes, but no stranger than our own failure to trust God to care for us. How sad that the world should see in Christians the same duplicity and failures it sees in itself. This episode ends in a manner almost identical to that of the earlier episode involving Abraham. Abimelech, who was more upright than Isaac, rebuked him [10].

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† Describe the conflict that Godís command in 22:2 must have caused Abraham. Imagine yourself in Abrahamís place. What doubts and concerns would be going through your mind? What do we learn about true faith from how Abraham handled this test?

 

2.†††††††† In the Hebrew culture, oneís name identified certain characteristics of that person. We see this in the various names given to God in the Old Testament. Each name was intended to emphasize a particular attribute of God. What is the meaning and significance of the name Abraham gave God: Jehovah Jireh?

 

3.†††††††† God rewarded Abrahamís faith by providing a ram as a sacrificial substitute for Isaac. Think about how God uses this test to provide another promise to His people concerning how God will deal with their sin and need for salvation.

 

4.†††††††† In 26:6-10, how does Isaac respond to Godís promised covenantal blessing? Do you see this same thing happening in your own life? After receiving a blessing from God, we turn around and sin against Him by not putting our trust in Him when confronted by a new test of our faith.

 

References:

Genesis, Volume 2, James Boice, Baker.

Genesis, Volume 2, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman.