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The Offering of Isaac (Genesis 22)

The offering of Isaac is one of the best-known stories of the Bible. In fact, it has become synonymous with faith and obedience.

Why would God need to test Abraham? The answer is implied in verse 12: "For now I know that you fear God." As mentioned in one of our previous readings, Genesis weaves together several recurring themes. Two of those themes are the sovereignty of God and our submission to Him. Did Abraham really have a proper fear of God—respect for who God was, His divine power and awesome purpose? Did he really believe and trust in God from his innermost being? Or was Abraham merely obedient because some instant gratification was in it for him? Would Abraham obey when it appeared greatly to his present disadvantage to do so? Obedience, of and by itself, is not necessarily a sign of love or submission. One can obey out of terror or pursuit of material gain. How would God know? A test was required.

What must Abraham have been thinking? He didn't delay to obey (he rose early the next morning), but as he and Isaac journeyed to Moriah his mind was not on the weather. Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us what Abraham was thinking: "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure" (KJV). Abraham accounted that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead in order to fulfill His promise that Abraham's primary line of descent would be through Isaac—rather than through any of Abraham's other children. The Greek word translated "accounting" signifies exactly what it appears to mean—to add up. Abraham was adding up the situation as he proceeded to Moriah. He was considering God's promise, God's integrity, God's character—adding up all the facts and coming to the conclusion that God would have to resurrect Isaac. Abraham's faith was being built by a sober consideration of who God was!

Abraham's confidence can even be seen in Genesis 22. He tells his servants, "Stay here with the donkey, the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and WE will come back to you" (verse 5)—that is, he told them that he and Isaac would return. Indeed, Abraham truly believed it. His willingness to put the knife to Isaac's throat proved both his obedience and his faith, while proving also that he had an intelligent faith and a submission to God's sovereignty not based on a pursuit of selfish advantage.

But Abraham was not the only one being tested. It seems that Isaac, too, was being tested. Would he submit to his father's apparently crazy intentions? Would he struggle against his father? Isaac's response was simple submission. There is not a hint of resistance given, not a contrary word spoken. Isaac foreshadows the unquestioned obedience and willing submission of Christ to God. Jesus never resisted His Father's will. Though His death would be humiliating and painful in the extreme, Jesus was committed to doing his Father's will—"Thy will be done" (Matthew 26:39, 42)

But Abraham and Isaac weren't the only ones being tested. God was also allowing Abraham to put Him to the test. Would God become a breaker of His own word? Abraham had known God for more than 30 years. He had left his family and kindred for God. He had kept God's laws, statutes and judgments. He had observed God's providence in his life. He had spoken directly with Him on several occasions. He had reasoned with God over Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham knew God—or so he thought. Now Abraham added up the situation. For three days Abraham pondered what he had been asked to do, and who had asked him to do it. For three days the mental calculations were performed. The bottom line: If God is God, He would keep His promise. How the promise would be kept was another matter. But in the end, Abraham really would know God—and that God would always keep His word.

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