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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45 am service, 2006-09-03

Text: Genesis 22:1-14

As we seek to do the Lord's work of building His kingdom, we will sometimes face difficulties and trials which make us feel discouraged. When this happens, we must go the Scriptures to learn how to face such difficulties and trials. And what we will learn is that we must have faith in God. In fact God often allows us to go through trials deliberately in order to test or refine the faith we have in Him. This morning, we will see how this worked in Abraham and his son, Isaac.

Abraham was known for the faith he had in God. He believed God's promise to give him and his barren wife a son, and God miraculously did this when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 years old! Abraham's faith in God was therefore vindicated and all hopes of having a multitude of descendants were now going to be fulfilled as Isaac would then grow up, get married and have his own children. We can imagine how lovingly Abraham and Sarah must have doted on their precious son, taking the greatest care to nurture him with only the best food they had, and with the most comfortable environment they could provide. How well they must have watched Isaac and protected him from all harm and danger - whether of sickness or injury. This was their son, their precious miraculous son, who was their great hope and their future!

I. God's Testing of Abraham

But now the very God who had given Abraham this son was about to tell him to do something quite unthinkable: to sacrifice him as a burnt offering to the Lord. This brings us now to our text in Genesis 22. Let us turn our Bibles now to this passage and read the first two verses. '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.'

The command is made up of three simple verbs: 'Take' 'get', and 'offer him'. Nothing was stated as to why this was to be done. It seemed so contrary to all that God had spoken before to Abraham. We can imagine the great shock that Abraham might have felt when he heard it. 

Perhaps he might even have wondered if he heard God correctly, and said, 'Lord, are you really telling me to take Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering?' But surely that would mean that Isaac would have to die! I don't understand this. I thought that Isaac is the son You promised to give me and that through Him, your promise to grant me a multitude of descendants would be fulfilled.' The Bible does not record any response from Abraham to this commandment, except one: Complete obedience. Dearly beloved, how would you have responded, if you had been in Abraham's place? This was clearly the greatest faith crisis he ever had to face in his life. How would you cope if you were the one facing this crisis?

Some of us may be tempted to react to this is by complaining that God's command is too cruel, inhumane and unreasonable to carry out. How can God tell me to do that? He is not fair. He obviously does not love me nor my son. He is a bloodthirsty God who is absolutely insensitive to the agony and death of his own people. 

Have you sometimes felt that way when things did not go very well for you? Have you sometimes questioned God or doubted His goodness in allowing you to experience loss or pain? Well, please understand that such a response is not of faith. It is the response of doubt and unbelief which is the very opposite of faith. Faith is confident that God is always good, righteous, fair, just and loving no matter what He does. And this was true in Abraham's situation as well. 

God's Word clearly reveals that God is not unreasonable, cruel or bloodthirsty. He is most gracious and merciful. He hates any kind of human bood sacrifice. In fact when God gave His laws to Israel about 400 years later, one of the prohibitions was against human blood sacrifices. This is found in Deuteronomy 12:31 'Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.'. Deuteronomy 18:10 says, 'There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire.'

Why then did God command Abraham to sacrifice his son if He is so firmly against human sacrifices? Was He contradicting Himself? No, He was not. The text of Genesis 22 makes this clear in the very first verse. Let us look at it again: 'And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham,' The word 'tempt' here means 'to test' or 'to prove'This word is important to the whole passage and provides the right perspective for us to understand it. It reveals that God had no intention of taking Isaac away from Abraham. There is actually no thought or intention of an actual blood sacrifice, although Abraham at this time did not know it yet. 

But the command was meant only to test the faith of Abraham. And Abraham passed the test very well, with unquestioning obedience. Look at v.3 'And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.'

II. Lessons from Abraham's Faith

The Bible does not give us any details of Abraham's initial reaction to what he heard from God. But I think we can safely assume, that as a loving father, he must have been very troubled in his heart, and must have shed tears in great anguish. Abraham had probably spent the whole night without any sleep. But finally at daybreak, Abraham took his son with him up to Mount Moriah. He built an altar and laid Isaac on it. But at the very last moment, just before the knife was plunged, the Lord sent an angel to stop him. Abraham's faith had been proven. There was no need now for Isaac to be sacrificed. You can imagine how greatly relieved and glad Abraham must have been to receive his son back.

There are four lessons about faith that we can learn from Abraham: Firstly, we learn that the reason why we need to have faith in God in any crisis or difficulty is our incomplete knowledge of God's plan. God does not require us to know every single detail before we obey Him. There are many things He has chosen not to reveal to us yet. But He wants us simply to trust Him. According to Isaiah 55:8,9 'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.' 

And in every crisis we face, we must believe that God has a good purpose for whatever He does, and for whatever He allows to happen in our lives. Romans 8:28 assures us that 'all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.' We ought to realize that the trials we face have a divine purpose. They are not there merely by chance or accident, but by God's design. They have all been carefully planned and deliberately woven into the fabric of our lives for His glory. Thus we should humbly submit ourselves to whatever trial or testing that the Lord puts us through, just like Abraham did. 

Dearly beloved, are you facing a trial at present in which you are greatly perplexed? Do you wonder why God is allowing this to happen to you? Please be aware that there are things being accomplished that you do not know about, and that this gives you an opportunity to trust Him for the things you do not know. Where knowledge ends, faith in the Lord begins!

The second lesson about faith that we can learn is that faith obediently submits to God's will. Abraham obviously loved Isaac very much, but to him obedience to God's will was even more important than loving Isaac. Faith makes us willing to give or offer up anything God requires from us, even the things that may be most precious to us. Faith must make us willing to surrender all, and to abandon all that we have, to God. It acknowledges that our lives and all that we have are not our own anymore, but God's, to shape and to use in any way He wants to. 

In short, our faith must be a faith that makes Him fully Lord of our lives. God must be made Lord of all, or else He will not be lord at all. Dearly beloved, if the Lord should require you to give up something very precious to you for His sake, would you submit obediently to Him? Or would you withdraw and go away sorrowful like the rich young ruler? There is a way to overcome any unwillingness to submit obediently to the Lord: Focus on His power and provision. God's requirements are not designed to deprive or destroy you, but to bless you.

Thus, the third lesson about faith that we can learn is that faith confidently depends upon God's power and provision. Although we do not know all that Abraham felt and thought as he was preparing to offer Isaac, we have two important clues in the passage: The first is found in the reply that he gave to Isaac's question. In v.7 Isaac innocently asked him 'Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?'

Abraham's reply was 'My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.' Let us not think that Abraham was telling Isaac a lie here. The truth of the matter was that if God had commanded that Isaac is to be sacrificed, then Isaac must be the lamb that God has provided. But of greater significance here, is the confidence expressed here by Abraham that God will provide. This shows Abraham's faith in God's unfailing provision. 

The other clue to Abraham's thoughts is found in Hebrews 11:19 which says 'Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead' Abraham really had no doubts at all about God's unlimited power. He can do anything. If He wants to, He can even resurrect the dead body of Isaac back to life. But it turned out that God did not choose to do that, but to provide a ram as a substitute to be sacrificed.

In the same way that Abraham depended on God's unfailing provision and power, we too need to depend on His unfailing provision and power when we meet with adversities in life. We must believe that God will provide whatever is needful.

If we suffer any loss, we must believe that God will either sufficiently provide and return whatever it is that we have lost (as He did for Job), or that God will provide us with sufficient grace to bear the loss (as He did for Paul). But in whatever way God provides, the fact remains that He will provide! And in any crisis, we must have firm confidence that God can do anything that He wills to do. It is well within His power to raise the dead back to life if He wants to, or to remove all traces of cancer, or to provide timely material and financial help, or to change the heart of an estranged spouse, or a prodigal child. 

But while all things are within His power to do, this does not mean that He will always choose to use His power the way that we would like Him to use it. For instance if I have cancer, I am confident that if God wills, He can remove my cancer immediately and miraculously. But I must not presume that He will do that in my case, as I have no right to expect Him to do that. I must simply accept whatever God chooses to do for me, as good. His ways are so much higher than my ways. He may choose to remove my cancer by the use of medical treatment, or He may even choose to let it remain. This last option does not mean that God is less powerful than what He is.

The Lord can provide and He will provide, whether by miracle or by ordinary means, whether by life or by death, whether by deliverance or by suffering, whether by gain or by loss. And when we go through any trial, we should confidently say, 'I do not know how the Lord will provide, and I do not know what the Lord will provide, But this one thing I know by faith - The Lord will provide!' Dearly beloved, perhaps your faith is being severely tested right now. Trust in God's provision and power, for when you do that you will find benefits and blessings!

This lead us to the fourth lesson that we can learn from Abraham's faith: Our faith benefits by being manifested, proven and refined through crises. This is seen in the response that God gave to Abraham's unquestioning obedience, in v.12 '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.' This verse reveals the hidden purpose of God for the strange command He had given to Abraham - it was designed to prove Abraham's love and devotion to God. In the process it also proved Abraham's faith, since the writer of Hebrews stated plainly that Abraham offered up Isaac by faith. Abraham's faith was precious to God. 

And it was God's plan that Abraham's faith should be fully revealed and refined, not for God to see (because God already knows it, being omniscient), but for Abraham and all his descendants to learn from (including us, who are his spiritual descedants) The only way in which this could happen was by putting Abraham through this severe trial. 

The same thing is true about our trials. They are placed in our lives by God to reveal our faith and to refine our faith. If you feel that your faith in God is not strong enough, and you pray, 'O Lord, please strengthen my faith,' please be prepared to face some trials and crises. God uses them to accomplish His mighty work of changing our lives. By putting us through them, he refines our faith. We become like Christ. We develop virtues. We become less and less dependent upon ourselves and more dependent upon God. Through trials we become better than what we were before. And so we endure them patiently and willingly. We endure them now with better understanding and with greater trust in God who lovingly brought these trials into our lives.

Thus far we have learned four important lessons from Abraham about having faith in times of testing - 1) we need faith because of our incomplete knowledge of God's plan for us. 2) We express faith by submitting ourselves to God's will. 3) We exercise faith by depending confidently upon God's provision and power in times of adversity. And 4) our faith benefits by being manifested, proven and refined through times of adversity. 

II. Lessons from Isaac's Faith

Besides learning from Abraham, we will now see that there are also wonderful lessons on faith that we can learn from his son, Isaac. In some ways what Isaac went through was more severe than what his father went through in this crisis. He had less time than his father to respond with faith. 

When his father took him up to Mount Moriah in Genesis 22, Isaac did not know what his father was about to do to him. It was only at the last moment that he knew. His question in v.7 shows his ignorance: 'Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?' And unlike his father who had the benefit of many years of experiencing and seeing God at work in his life, Isaac was probably only about 10 to 18 years old then. But whatever Isaac lacked in personal experience was compensated in the godly way that his father had brought him up. 

As a loving father, Abraham probably took the young boy with him whenever he went out to tend to his flocks. He would talk with him about God, and he would answer whatever questions his inquisitive son would ask him. Isaac would also be there with him when he worshipped God in the offering of animal sacrifices. This speaks to us who are fathers - do we take time to teach our own children about the things of God? Let us learn from Abraham's example to invest quality time to teach and train them to obey God. From our passage in Genesis 22 it is obvious that Abraham had done that for Isaac. He made sure that his son knew every detail about the whole procedure for sacrificing a lamb to God - how to bind the lamb, cut it up and lay the pieces on the altar with the firewood, and then calling upon the Lord in prayer. And it was because of this that Isaac could now observe that his aged father had this time forgotten the most important item for the sacrifice - the lamb!

In verse 8 Abraham replies 'My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. 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.' As his father started to tie his hands and feet and put him on the wood, Isaac must have suddenly realised what was happening to him. If you were in Isaac's place what would you have done at that moment? Would you have struggled, jumped off the altar and run away? Would you feel angry and resentful against your father for trying to take your life away from you?

What is striking about Isaac is that he did none of these things. Being young, he could easily escape and outrun his aged father. But he simply submitted himself willingly and immediately to his father's will, even though he knew that he was about to die for this passive submission. It takes a lot of courage to do that, to say the least. 

But I believe that more than courage was involved here. Through all the time that he had spent with his father, Isaac knew him well enough to know that he would never harm him at all. Abraham must have lavished great love on him, because he was the promised son, the one who was born miraculously in his old age. Isaac might have seen the tremendous heaviness and pain in his father's heart as they went up to Mt Moriah. He might have sensed so much his father's spirit of faith and obedience to God, that he himself now caught it and became one with his father in faith and obedience to God.

Hence this event was not only revealed and refined Abraham's faith, but it also revealed and refined Isaac's faith. The only difference is that Abraham's faith was exercised in an active manner, while Isaac's was exercised in a passive manner. Nearly two thousand years later our Lord Jesus demonstrated the same kind of passive obedience when He went to the cross at Calvary. Isaiah 53 tells us, 'He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not His mouth.' When Isaac willingly submitted himself to his father's act of binding him and laying him on the altar of sacrifice, he became a beautiful foreshadow of Christ, submitting Himself to being prepared for crucifixion. Like Isaac, Christ could have resisted any attempt to have him arrested and crucified. He could have had 12 legions of angels to deliver Him at any time, if He wanted it. But he did not. 

Dearly beloved, there are times when we have to be like Isaac in his passive faith and obedience, times when we must simply yield and surrender ourselves passively and completely to do God's will. Romans 12:1 tells us 'I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.' Is your life consecrated for the Lord's use? Are you daily submitting yourself to do God's will? Whenever we think of Isaac, let us remember that we, like him, are to yield our bodies as a living sacrifice unto the Lord, for His use. 

Dearly beloved, there is no doubt that you and I need to learn these precious lessons on faith well from the trial that both Abraham and Isaac faced on Mount Moriah. God has made them clear to us in His Word because He knows that we need them. Some of us may be going through trials now. Others may soon be experiencing them. It may come suddenly and unexpectedly. 

We really can't tell what our next trial will be or when it will happen to us. But at least we now know what we should do when it comes. Let us ask the Lord to help us apply these lessons when God tests our faith.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25