Theology (noun) the study of the nature of God and religious belief.
Abraham’s theology was tested in the laundry room of real experience. So is ours. His belief in God’s faithfulness spent 25 years in the laundry basket of delay. His faith in God’s goodness was whirled about in the washing machine of a risky future, famine and fear. His theology was hung out to dry on the washline of conflict and then pressed under the iron of testing. But when Abraham was around 115 years old, the iron got piping hot in the greatest test of all. God’s command to slaughter Isaac as a burnt offering may have been an acceptable practice in Canaan, but it conflicted with everything Abraham understood about the loving, faithful God who had sworn a covenant and guaranteed it with His own life (Gen 15; 17:19; 21). It made no sense at all. God had assured Abraham that Isaac would inherit the covenant promises—the nation, land, descendants and blessing to the nations. Isaac had been born by a miracle of God from a barren mother in her nineties (Gen 21:1-2). Along with the agony of killing his beloved son who brought laughter to their home, Abraham could not square God’s command with his covenant. Surely we would not blame Abraham if he ditched God at this point and followed his instincts and reason, just as he did in Egypt? “Did God really say…?” must have crossed his mind more than once on that terrible journey. However, Abraham did not delay or argue with God. Abraham’s darkest hour of fear was also his finest hour of faith.
As this ancient father trudged for three days up Mount Moriah with his only beloved son, his torment could only be paralleled by God the Father as His Son journeyed from Gethsemane to Golgotha two thousand years later.
Let us learn from Abraham’s faith in the darkest night of the soul.
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together,7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
A father and son
In the three dreadful days it took for father and son to walk to the place God had told him about, Abraham had plenty of time to process the sting of God’s command. But time was not the same for the eternal Yahweh. In his sovereignty, God had already provided a ram in the thicket and instructed the angel to stay Abraham’s hand. God knew the outcome of the test but Abraham did not. As God’s faithful friend for over a century, Abraham must have felt that God had turned against him in his old age.
Amazingly, the author does not even mention how Abraham or Isaac felt on this journey. Our text only provides painful details of what they did. Just unquestioning, humble obedience and a brief exchange between father and son:
“Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Isaac asks his father. “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen 22:7-8). As a parent I want to scream at them to run home and abandon this ill-fated excursion!
But, in his darkest hour, haunted by doubt, despair and disorientation, Abraham chose to believe God rather than his perceptions.
The promised son also obeyed, rather than out-run or out-wrestle his aging father. Isaac, a sturdy youth, allowed himself to be bound and placed on the altar, like a meek lamb, a silent sheep before its shearers. One cannot help but see images of the Promised One in Isaiah 53:7; 10.
Father and son’s faithful obedience was not born from a stoic sense of duty, but from a deep conviction that God would miraculously ‘provide’ on the mountain (Gen 22:8; Heb 11:17; 18; 19). They obeyed even though the means of provision remained a mystery.
Abraham teaches us something important about faith in the dark night of the soul which is confirmed by the wise advice of Jon Bloom:
“When your perceptions tell you something different than God’s promises, always, always, always trust God’s promises over your perceptions.” (When Your Worst Storm Comes.)
Father, I pray that you would give me grace to trust and obey you, even when my instincts and feelings pull me in another direction. May I act on your word, even if it leads to the loss of something precious. I cling to the certainty that somehow you will always provide.
Father and Son
“Your only son that you love” echoes three times in this story (Gen 22:2; 12; 15), emphasizing the crux of Abraham’s test:
Isaac was Abraham’s promised seed, but he was also his only, beloved son. It is impossible to miss the parallel with the unique, earth-shattering sacrifice on a nearby hill two millennia later, when the Father of heaven did not spare his only begotten Son:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Abraham trusted that God would provide on the Mountain of the Lord. God did indeed provide (Gen 22:8; 13-14): First a ram in the thicket in exchange for Isaac’s life. Then His own Son in exchange for every sinner who believes (Rom 8:32). The truth of God’s provision was revealed to John the Baptist on the day Jesus was baptized,
“Behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
“The Ram in the thicket” was a preview of the main feature film, “Jesus The Promised One”! God’s Son was provided on the mountain of the Lord in 33AD.
I wrote a little poem titled “Father and Son”
Not a bundle of sticks, but a wooden cross
Borne upon his bloodied back
A Father grieves a precious loss
As noonday sky turns black.
Not a thicket, but a crown of thorns
Frames His disfigured face
“My God, My God!” The Father mourns
As the Son bears our disgrace.
The Father did not stay His hand
When darkness fell upon the land
For His perfect will was finally done
When He did not spare his only Son.
Father, thank you that you loved us so much that you did not withhold your only beloved Son. It was your will to make his life an offering for sin, so that you could suspend your hand of judgment on all who believe (Isa 53:10; 11). Thank you that your Son saw the ‘light of life’ when He was raised from the tomb and that I am one of those stars in the sky and grains of sand on the seashore you promised Abraham– a child of the covenant!
Epilogue on Abraham!
We have come to our last devotion in the life of Abraham. I hope you have enjoyed the journey! His remarkable story weaves together the faith, obedience and sacrifice of a flawed man who walked with the Lord and unwittingly became a central pivot of redemptive history. Just so that you know, Abraham saw his son Isaac marry Rebekah, and then went on to live to 175 years, “an old man and full of years, and he was gathered to his people” (Gen 25:7). That is a beautiful epitaph for a great man, isn’t it?
But even greater than the mortal man himself, are the stunning previews of the gospel screened through Abraham’s life two millenia before the appearance of God’s Anointed. Like all of us, Abraham saw through a glass dimly, but he believed that God would do what He had promised, and Jesus commended him highly for this expectant, hopeful faith:
Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
“You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:56-59)
Abraham’s faith ebbed and flowed like ours, but Paul makes a stunning statement about God’s promises to Abraham:
Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” (Gal 3:8).
Abraham was not blessed because he obeyed and was willing to sacrifice his son, although this pleased God greatly. Abraham was blessed because he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:9; Rom 4:22; Gal 3:6). Faith in God’s provision made Abraham a friend of God, not his obedience or sacrifices. It is the same for us today. Only Jesus, the perfect God-man, can be our once-for-all sacrifice. Only the Son of God qualifies as the human substitute who stays the Father’s hand of judgment against us (Heb 10:5-6; 7).
Only when we trust in the ‘Lamb’ God provided, do we have the right to call God our ‘Father’ and we are called His ‘friend’.
As children of God, it is only natural that we will want to live a life of sacrifice and obedience, as Abraham did (Hebrews 13:15-16, Phil 4:18 and Romans 12:1). Sacrifice and obedience are always woven together in the lives of God’s friends, because they are the proof that faith is real (James 2:20-23).
Father, I can scarcely believe that I am called your friend! Help me to trust your promises and build my life on them, regardless of my confused vision. Help me to obey like Abraham and Isaac without needing to know how all the pieces fit together.
A Blessing for fellow pilgrims
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Heb 13:20-21).
- Listen to this great hymn sung by Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin: The Wonderful Cross.
- Useful Resources for further reading (Click on the title):
- Jon Bloom, Not by Sight.
- Jon Bloom, Things not seen.
- Jon Bloom, Don’t follow your heart.
- Nancy Guthrie, The Promised One—Seeing Jesus in Genesis. Crossway books.
- Timothy Keller- Real Faith and the Only Son, The Gospel according to Abraham.