Teaching series from Genesis

If You Follow the One True God

Genesis 22:1-14

Teaching t07308

Introduction

We come now to the climax of Abraham's walk with God. It is one of the most dramatic and disturbing passages in the whole Bible. It is also an extremely important passage that we need very much to understand, because it is a picture of what you can expect if you follow the one true God . . . 

He will test your commitment by asking you to give him what you love the most (vs 1-10).

Read 22:1,2. This strikes us as an incredible, outrageous demand. Isaac is Abraham's only son by Sarah, God's supernatural gift to them, and the key to a whole host of promises God made to Abraham (NATION; BLESSING TO HUMANITY). Now God says, "I want you to take your son and kill him and offer him up to me as a burnt offering."

Let the record show that God abhors child-sacrifice, as he made clear through both the Law (Lev. 18:21; 20:2) and the prophets (Jer. 19:5; 32:35). But God revealed this after Abraham's time.

Why did God command this? The text says it was to "test" Abraham (22:1)-- to call on him to demonstrate his unconditional commitment to him.

This may sound like your worst nightmare about God, but this is what it says and we need to understand this truth about the one true God. Yes, there are many other truths and factors that temper this truth, and we will get to some of them shortly. But don't miss the point: If you follow the one true God, he will test your commitment to him by asking you to give him what you love most.

How can he do this? Because he is God! He is Ruler, Lord, and King. He is a "jealous" God (Ex. 20:5) in the sense that he wants to be the exclusive object of our devotion because he made us for himself. He wants us to respect him so much that all other objects of affection pale into insignificance by comparison. This is what it means to "fear" God (read Deut. 10:12), and this is what God wanted Abraham to demonstrate (22:12).

In this sense, the spirituality of the Bible is very different from most contemporary western spirituality--including "Christian" spirituality. We want spirituality, but we want it from a "domesticated God." Just as we domesticate a horse so that he uses his power to pull our wagon, so we want to domesticate God so that he will fulfill our agendas. We want him to be like a transactional counselor, who begins the session by asking us what we want to accomplish, how he can help us deal with the problems we define so we can get on with pursuing our goals for our lives.

If this is the god you want, stay away from the God of the Bible! Because he will never cooperate with your domestication project. He reserves the right to set the agenda and call on you to follow his plans, even if that means scrapping your plans and parting with what is dearest to you (RELATIONSHIPS; PLANS; POSSESSIONS; TALENTS; etc.). This is why C. S. Lewis portrayed him as a lion in his Narnian Chronicles. After meeting Aslan, one of the children tells her brother about him. "Is he a tame lion?" he asks. "Oh no," she answers, "He is not tame or safe at all!"

This is the God that Abraham had followed for over 40 years. And he knew him well enough to recognize his voice when he said 22:2. As we read Abraham's response, we get some additional insight into what it is like to follow this God.

Read 22:3. At first glance, it sounds like Abraham got up early with a smile on his face, said "It's a beautiful day--I can wait to get going!" and whistled as he made the preparations. I remember my Sunday school teacher telling the story this way, and saying that this is the way you'll feel if you trust God. Why? Because he trusted God. This certainly doesn't square with my experience, and I doubt that the text is saying this.

Abraham probably rose early because he couldn't sleep all night because of the dread and anxiety over what God asked him to do. He didn’t need to split the wood and saddled the donkey himself. He was so wealthy that he would have normally had his servants do this for him. He probably did this himself because he was "working out" his anxiety and dread.

LESSON: It is not true that following God is always easy, something you do cheerfully. It is sometimes agonizing and dreadful. Nor is it true that the longer you follow God, the easier it gets. Really, it's just the opposite if we consult scripture and people who have walked with for a long time. He calls on you for more difficult and terrifying things.

Read 22:4. This seems so sadistic. God could have told him to take Isaac out to the back yard immediately, but he tells him to take a long (50 mile), three-day trip to the site. This wasn't sadistic--there was a good reason for this, as we'll see. But imagine how agonizing this must have been. Imagine Abraham's response as the two servants and Isaac chit-chatted.

Read 22:5-8. Why did Abraham have Isaac carry the wood for his burning up the mountain? It may be because Abraham was too weak and Isaac was a strong young adult? The text doesn't say, but I believe that God told Abraham to do this--for reasons that we'll discover shortly.

Note 22:8 " . . . God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering . . . " He was expressing his trust in God, but he was also being deliberately ambiguous because he doesn't want to freak Isaac out. How could he understand why his father was going to kill him?

Read 22:9. The text is mercifully concise. Imagine the look of shock and horror on Isaac's face when he learned of his father's intentions. Imagine Abraham's agony as he told him what God commanded him to do.

If Isaac was strong enough to carry up the wood, he was strong enough to resist and run away, so he must have decided to submit to being bound! I think this took hours, as they talked this through, both decided to go through with it, said their good-byes, etc.

Read 22:10. Abraham went all the way! He raised the knife and was ready to plunge it into his son's heart, and then light the fire and burn his son up. James says that this act completed his faith in God (Jas. 2:22).

SUMMARIZE: The God that really exists will ask you to demonstrate your commitment to him by asking you to give him what you love most. But you will never be able to do this unless you understand something else about God.

He will test you in order to bless & never to harm you (vs 11-13).

Read 22:11-13. At the last possible second, after Abraham has shown his willingness to go all the way, God intervenes through his angel. You can imagine how quickly Abraham answered, and how readily he obeyed!

God provided a substitute offering for Isaac, and he gave his son back to him. Now the very son who had been such a reminder of God's goodness and faithfulness, who also had been such an agonizing reminder of God's "jealousy," was now again (in a much deeper way) a reminder of God's goodness and faithfulness.

This brings us to the second lesson of this story, which is every bit as important as the first lesson. God will test you in order to do you good and never to do you harm.

This is because God is good and loving. As Oswald Sanders said, "His sovereignty is tempered by his love." He is a Ruler far more powerful and authoritative than we can imagine--but he is also far more good and loving than we can imagine (read Jer. 29:11). This is why the passage that tells us to fear God ends with this assurance (read Deut. 10:12,13).

Abraham knew this about God, and this is why he was willing to obey him even to the point of offering his son up.

We saw a hint of this in 22:5 " . . . we will return . . . " Abraham took seriously God's command to kill his son. But he also took seriously God's promise to bless the world through Isaac's offspring. He knew God wasn't capricious or abusive, but rather good and faithful. And he knew that God had always tested him for his good in the past (MOVING FROM HARAN). So he concluded that God would raise Isaac from the dead after he killed and burned him (read Heb. 11:19). This didn't take away the pain and dread, but it undergirded him with hope.

This is why those who offer up to God what they love the most never regret it. They realize it was (all along) an invitation into deeper experience of God's goodness and love.

Sometimes, he gives you back what you offered to him, so that you can never look at it the same way again--not as your right to clutch on to, but as God's gift to glorify him with (ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP; PLANS/DREAMS FOR YOUR LIFE; JOB; POSSESSIONS).

At other times, he does not give it back, but he enriches your life in other ways so much that you never regret what you gave to him (SAME EXAMPLES: ANOTHER RELATIONSHIP; BETTER PLANS; MORE SECURITY IN HIS MATERIAL PROVISION).

This is the crucial issue: Do you believe that God is wise and good in this way, to the extent that you will give him what he asks? Sometimes we decide to believe he isn't, and we get outraged that he would ask us for what we love, and we embitter ourselves against him and cut ourselves off from the blessings he would have already showered on us by now. God never cuts us off from his blessing; we cut ourselves off by clutching on to our idols instead of giving them to God.

He will work through your obedience to advance his plan to bless the world (vs 14).

There is another blessing that God gives you when you trust and obey him, and this blessing is so great that it is difficult to put into words. He will work through your obedience to advance his plan to bless the world--usually in ways beyond anything you could imagine. This is exactly what 22:14 is getting at (read). Abraham named the mountain "The Lord Will Provide" because God fulfilled his statement to Isaac (22:8) there. But Moses says there was a significance to what happened on that mountain that pointed to something God would provide in the future.

Remind of TYPE. God is so awesome! In the same event he tested Abraham's faith and blessed him, and he also provided a prophetic picture of how he would bless the world through Abraham's "seed." This is what makes sense of some of the details of this story we noted before.

Why God made him go to this region and mountain. This is the same mountain on, on which the temple was built (2 Chron. 3:1), on which the animal sacrifices were offered, and on which Jesus was crucified 2000 years later to pay for the sins of the whole world.

Why God had him offer his only, beloved son. Jesus' famous statement in Jn. 3:16 is probably a purposeful echo of 22:2,12. What God did not make Abraham go through with, he did go through with himself, because this was the only way we could be forgiven and reconciled to God.

Why God had Isaac carry the wood to the site and voluntarily submit to his own death. Jesus voluntarily bore his own cross to Golgotha (on this mount) and subjected himself to crucifixion--because he loves us with a boundless love that freely gives himself for us.

Why the angel of the Lord intervened. This "angel" is the Lord himself (22:12 "me"), and is probably the pre-incarnate Christ. As he intervened to spare Isaac's life, he knew that on that site 2000 years later his own life would not be spared--so our sins' penalty of death could be paid.

This is the starting point for some of you here today. What God prefigured 2000 years before Jesus gave his life is still applicable and available to you 2000 years after he did it. If you want to know this God who wants you for himself so he can bless and work his purpose out through you, you need to come to the cross of Jesus and ask him to forgive you and make you his child.