Chapter Five

The Ultimate Test

(Genesis 22)

ďAt the set time which God had spoken,Ē Isaac was born to Sarah. As God had commanded, Abraham circumcised Isaac when he was eight days old. He grew from infancy to boyhood.

The future must have looked quite secure to Abraham and Sarah. God had kept His promise precisely as He said that He would. Isaac was a growing boy. The heir through which God could keep all His promises was a part of the family. After having received a child in their old age, they could look at the rest of Godís promises as inevitable. The difficult, trying, doubt-ridden years were now a thing of the past.

Then God again spoke to Abraham. It was a brief, incomprehensible revelation containing a single instruction with no explanation and no assurances. ďAbraham, take Isaac, the son you love, to the land of Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.Ē That unbelievable instruction was the total extent of Godís message.

There are many ways in which Abraham could have reacted to Godís message. (1) He could have doubted that it was God who was speaking to him. God never before had required human sacrifice. God always had given him assurances and encouragement. Both the request and the nature of the message was out of character with God. (2) He could have set aside the request because it did not make sense. It violated every aspect of Godís promises given in Ur and renewed in Haran and in Canaan. It was a seeming violation of the covenant itself. God had promised him a son, and God specifically said Isaac was that son of promise. God had made it quite clear that Isaac was the heir. It was through Isaac that the descendants were to come. It was the descendants who were to possess Canaan. Through the descendants the universal blessing was to come. Without Isaac none of that could happen. (3) He could have agreed to obey after God gave an explanation. Since God always had given Abraham assurances, Abraham could have declared obedience was reasonable only if God explained how the covenant would be kept if Isaac died. Yet, Abraham reacted in none of these ways.

The Faith of Righteousness Functions

Abrahamís reaction to Godís request exceeded the merely remarkable. (1) He rose up early the next morning (v. 3). He did not delay the sacrifice by taking his time. He did not take ďone last day to rememberĒ with his son. (2) He saddled a donkey for himself and selected two young men to accompany and to assist them on the journey (v. 3). He wanted to make the journey as quickly as possible. (3) He cut the wood for the sacrifice, and he took the wood and fire with him (v. 5). He made full preparation prior to the journey to complete the sacrifice promptly. (4) When he neared the place of offering, he ordered the young servants to stay behind (v. 5). He made certain that no one would interfere with the completion of Godís request.

The entire situation is almost too painful to envision, here was a man over 100 years old with the son for whose birth he had yearned for over 25 years. He loved Isaac more than he loved his own life. Isaac represented all of the hopes and the dreams of Abrahamís entire life. For three days Abraham traveled with his son knowing that every step moved them closer to Isaacís death. For three days he watched and listened to the son he loved knowing that these were the last days, that he was preparing to kill him.

If the journey was heart rending, how much more painful were those final minutes together? When they reached the mountain, Abraham had Isaac carry the wood for his own sacrifice while Abraham carried the knife and the fire. Is it not remarkable that Abraham could even speak to answer when Isaac asked, ďWhere is the lamb for the sacrifice?Ē Can the thoughts of Abrahamís heart, can the surge of his emotions be imagined as they built the altar and laid the wood? What kind of faith is it which would move a man to tie up the son he loves more than life itself, to place that son helplessly on the altar, and to look upon that sonís face as he raised the knife to end the boyís life? What did Isaac think or say as his father placed him on the altar? What look was upon Isaac's face as he watched his father raise the knife?

What kind of faith could function in such a manner? The faith which believed that God, regardless of circumstances, would keep His promises. The faith which believed that even the death of Isaac could not stop God from keeping His covenant. The faith which trusted God so implicitly that it would obey God even when Godís request could not be understood. That was the faith which God reckoned for righteousness.

Only the instruction of an angel stopped Abraham. In Godís sight, Abraham sacrificed Isaac. Because of Abraham's faith, God again affirmed the promises of the covenant.

What Was The Object?

Why did God make that request of Abraham? The response, ďGod wished to prove Abraham,Ē is correct but likely unclear. What was God proving? Had not Abraham already proven his confidence in God many times? What need was there for further proof after Abraham had left Ur and Haran, after he had left his family, after he had wandered in Canaan, and after he had trusted God to give him an heir? Was God being excessive in His testing? Was God unsure of Abrahamís trust or loyalty? What specifically did God hope to accomplish by this episode?

First, it must be understood that God was not seeking Abrahamís failure. God was vindicating Abrahamís faith. This incident occurred not because God doubted Abraham, but because God had confidence in Abraham. God was providing Abraham the opportunity to establish the most complete relationship with God possible. That relationship is possible only through the maturing of the faith reckoned for righteousness.

Second, God wanted Abraham to make it evident that the faith reckoned for righteousness still characterized his life. The point of Isaacís sacrifice can be seen in two simple questions: did Abraham place his faith in the fact that Isaac was alive? or did Abraham place his faith in the God who gave him Isaac?

The faith of righteousness dies when the believer places his trust in the things which God has given rather than continuing his trust in the God who gave. It is possible to place oneís trust in God the Promiser before the promises are received, and later to replace oneís trust in the blessing which has been received. When one trusts the material blessings God has given rather than the God who gave the material blessings, the faith of righteousness dies. When one trusts the strength which God has developed in his life rather than in the God who gave the strength, the faith of righteousness dies. When one trusts the wisdom God has made possible rather than the God who authored the wisdom, the faith of righteousness dies.

After the birth and development of Isaac, Abraham easily could have placed his trust in the fact that Isaac was alive, was his heir, and could be the source of all the anticipated blessings. Had Abraham done that, the faith reckoned for righteousness would have been dead. Abrahamís confidence and trust had to remain where it long had beenóin God the promise keeper. Did Abraham trust God because he knew God kept His word? If Isaac were dead, would Abrahamís trust in God and His promises remain unshaken? Or, was Abrahamís confidence in God now limited to Isaacís life and well-being? Could God keep His promises with or without Isaac, or could God keep His promises only if Isaac lived?

Abraham clearly proved that his life continued to be ruled by the faith which God could reckon for righteousness. It was God and God alone Abraham trusted. The God who gave him Isaac would keep His promises even if Isaac died. Isaacís death would be no barrier to God fulfilling His covenant. It was because of such faith that God regarded Abraham a righteous man.

The Central Lesson

Abraham was quite an obedient man. So notable are his acts of obedience that he easily could have been declared the symbol of obedience. Leaving Ur and Haran, wandering as a foreigner in the land of Canaan for many years, and the willingness to sacrifice Isaac rank among the great acts of obedience of all ages and generations. Yet, Abraham is not the symbol of obedience.

Abraham is the symbol of faith. It is significant that a man of great obedience is the symbol of faith. There is not and never has been a conflict between obedience and faith. The two are so interdependent that either is meaningless and valueless without the other.

Abrahamís faith relationship with God declares an ageless truth which is as alive today as it was in Abrahamís lifetime.

The means of Abraham being righteous before God and the means of a Christian being righteous before God are one and the same. The obedient Abraham did not achieve righteousness before God through his obedient acts. The obedient Abraham was accepted as being righteous by God because of his faith. It was Abrahamís ability to trust Godís promises which allowed God to accept him as a righteous man. That fact must be understood clearly, and Abrahamís life can be the basis of that understanding.

Chapter Five Questions

1. Discuss Abraham and Sarahís probable feelings about God and their future after Isaacís birth.

2. What did God command Abraham to do with Isaac?

3. Discuss some of the ways Abraham could have reacted to Godís instruction.

4. State specifically how his faith of righteousness did respond to Godís instruction.

5. Discuss as many difficult, heart-rending moments as you can envision which must have occurred between the time Abraham awoke after the vision and the time he placed Isaac on the altar.

6. Why is Godís request of Abraham difficult to understand?

7. Was God seeking Abrahamís failure? Explain your answer.

8. What purpose was Godís request for Isaacís sacrifice to serve in Abrahamís life?

9. What does this incident teach us about Abrahamís faith of righteousness?

10. What is the central lesson to be learned in Abraham about faith?


Discuss ways the faith of righteousness might be put to the test in the life of a Christian today.

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