In The Beginning

Genesis Chapter Twenty Two

I

Genesis chapter twenty-two starts with a quick fast-forward into the lives of Abraham and his son Isaac. You see, about 10-20 years have now gone by since the events of the last chapter.and Isaac is now somewhere between 13 and 23 years old. It was during this time that Abraham was presented with a serious challenge to his faith...

"Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, 'Abraham!' 'Here I am,' he replied. Then God said, 'Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about'" (Genesis 22:1-2).

These verses begin by saying that God "tested" Abraham, and this is certainly an idea that's familiar to anyone who has ever taken an exam at school. That's because the word used for "test" in this passage means "to prove," just as a exam in school is used to "prove" that a student knows what he or she has been taught. (1)  But this concept isn't only used in the classroom. That's because different kinds of tests are also used by people in many different areas today. 

For example, an athletic coach may draw up a play that looks good on a chalkboard. However, that play will still have to be run in practice with real players to prove that it actually works. Or lets say that a designer has an idea that seems to work well in simulation. A good designer will always test their simulation by building a prototype or "beta version" to see if it really works. 

An artist or musician will often follow a similar approach. For instance, a graphic artist may sketch out a test subject while a sculptor might fire a test piece to validate their idea for a  piece of work. A musician may write out the music for a song idea and then record a "demo" version of that music to see if it really sounds the way it should. In fact, the term "demo" refers to a test recording or practice version of a song that can be used to demonstrate (or prove) that a particular piece of music sounds good. 

In much the same way, a teacher may ask his or her students, "Do you know all the material that I've taught you?" Since any student can say "yes" to that question, a test is the only way to really prove that's really true. So in a similar way, Abraham's test was designed to demonstrate and prove that his faith in God was authentic, genuine, and real.

(1) "Nacah" New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright 1994, 2003, 2006 

II

"Some time later God tested Abraham" (Genesis 22:1a).

It's important to remember that there is a difference between a test and a temptation. The main difference is that a test is something that happens externally while a temptation is something that happens internally.  When used in a spiritual sense, a "temptation" refers to an attractive opportunity to do something that doesn't honor God. In fact, one of the Biblical definitions of the word "tempt" means to try and see whether something can be done. (1)  

While God may sometimes allow a test to come into our lives, a temptation to do something wrong or evil never comes from God. We know this because the New Testament book of James speaks very clearly on this subject...

"When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone..." (James 1:13).

When it comes to enduring temptations, the Scriptures tell us that, "...God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). This means that God is always looking out for you during those times when you may feel tempted to do something wrong. Remember that God will always provide an "escape hatch" to help you deal with temptation, if you're willing to take it.

So here's the test that God designed for Abraham: "'Go get Isaac, your only son, the one you dearly love! Take him to the land of Moriah, and I will show you a mountain where you must sacrifice him to me on the fires of an altar'" (Genesis 22:2 CEV). Now as difficult as this may sound to us today, its clear what God told Abraham to do: Abraham was to offer his son as a human sacrifice.

This type of sacrifice was practiced by some other cultures of Abraham's time so this idea of dedicating his son as a sacrificial offering was something that Abraham was probably aware of. Of course, we could also say that the idea of offering a human sacrifice is something that's completely out of character for the God of the Scriptures. However, we should remember that Abraham didn't have a complete Old and New Testament on his bookshelf at home during this time. Abraham was gradually learning about God over time, and as far as we know, God had never given Abraham any instructions about offering this kind of sacrifice before.

(1) Thayer's Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved

III

So God basically said to Abraham, "Take Isaac to the area of Moriah and I'll show you where to go from there." Moriah was located about 50 miles (80 km) away from where Abraham was staying during that time, a distance that represented about a three day journey. Now before we continue with this story, lets stop and think about the situation that God put Abraham in by asking him to offer his son as a human sacrifice. For example, how was Abraham going to explain this to his wife Sarah? After all, Sarah had been waiting for Isaac's birth for decades and now Abraham wanted to end his life. 

Or how about those other people who were sure to say, "This is the son that God promised to give you- and now He wants you to kill him?!? What kind of cruel God would ask you to do something like that?"  We should also remember that God had promised to bless Abraham through his son Isaac- how could that possibly happen if Abraham had to sacrifice his life? So if Abraham was really serious about doing what God told him to do, it was clear that he would have to put himself in a position where other people might not understand (or agree with) what he was doing. 

"Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled 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. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance" (Genesis 22:3-4).

These details are too important to miss because they help us understand just how serious Abraham was about doing what God told him. First, notice that Abraham made sure to get up early the next morning. He didn't sleep late or do anything else that would prevent him from following through on what God told him to do. Abraham was serious enough about following God's instructions that he got up early to get started right away. 

Next, Abraham personally saddled his donkey for this trip. While this was a job that Abraham might have given to one of his workers, he apparently felt that the preparations needed for following God's instructions were too important to leave to someone else. Finally, Abraham made sure to leave nothing to chance by personally cutting up the wood for this sacrificial offering before making the trip. In all these things, Abraham provides us with a good example as we seek to follow God's instructions for our own lives.

IV

"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'"  (Genesis 22:5).

Look again at what Abraham said in this verse:"Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." Did you notice anything that seems contradictory in this statement? 

If not, then take a moment to think about what God told Abraham to do. Remember that God told Abraham to "Take your son… go to the region of Moriah…. (and) sacrifice him there..." (Genesis 22:2). Now a sacrificial offering of this kind has to involve the death of whatever is being sacrificed, right? But look again at what Abraham said: "We will worship and then we will come back to you"  (emphasis added). Notice that Abraham didn't say, "I will come back to you." He said, "...we will come back to you."  

So what does this mean? Well, this implies that Abraham had so much faith in God that, even if he had to offer his son as a sacrifice, he was convinced that God was going to bring his son back from the dead.

"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, 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?'" (Genesis 22:6-7).

Look at how God stretched Abraham's faith in these verses. First God told Abraham to "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and sacrifice him as a burnt offering..." (Genesis 22:2 emphasis added). Next, Abraham had to chop the wood that would be used to sacrifice his own son. After that, God had the father and son make a three day trip to the site of the execution. This meant that Abraham had three long days to think this over. And if that wasn't enough, Isaac apparently started to get a little suspicious about the whole situation. He said, "Dad, we've got the fire and the wood- where's the sacrifice?" How do you think that you would feel if you were in Abraham's position and your son asked you that question? 

But we'll soon see that Abraham was more than ready to provide the right answer. 

V

"Abraham answered, 'God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.' And the two of them went on together" (Genesis 22:8).

So Abraham clearly demonstrated his trust in God even when he didn't totally understand why God had instructed him to do what he was told to do. What God told Abraham to do was impossible to understand on a human level, yet Abraham's faith in God never changed. In fact, it seems that Abraham had so much faith in God that he totally believed that God would keep His promise even if he wasn't completely sure how that promise would be fulfilled.

But before we go on, we should also take a moment to give Isaac some credit here as well. Remember that Isaac was probably somewhere between 13 and 23 years old when this event took place, so it's not like he was a small child during this time. On the other hand, Abraham was over 100 years old when he and Isaac took this trip to Moriah. Once Isaac figured out that he was going to be the sacrificial offering, it would have been very easy for him to say, "Listen Dad, you keep on going if you want but I'm going to turn around and start heading back right now." 

After all, what could Abraham realistically do to stop Isaac if Isaac decided not to go through with this? Do you think that Abraham (at more than 100 years of age) had the physical ability to make Isaac (who was in his teens or early '20's) go to the site of his own execution? Probably not. So its clear that Abraham wasn't the only person who was demonstrating his faith in God at this time. Isaac could have easily gotten out of this if he wanted to, but he willingly went along with the plan that God had given to his father even though it was certain to result in his own death.

"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" (Genesis 22:9). 

Abraham and Isaac are both following God's instructions to the letter in these verses and they are both demonstrating their faith in God as well. Abraham trusted God enough to tie up his son in preparation to kill him and Isaac trusted God enough to let his father do it.

VI

"Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, 'Abraham! Abraham!' 'Here I am,' he replied. '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'" (Genesis 22:10-12).

This passage features two critical words that are important in understanding the meaning behind these verses. Those two words are "know" and "fear.

First, the word "know" means to "ascertain (or to "discover with certainty") by seeing"  (1)  The word "fear" means "to fear, reverence, honour, respect." (2) So this passage isn't talking about how God discovered that Abraham was afraid of Him- it means that Abraham had now demonstrated the fact that he respected God above everything else. You see, "faith" doesn't just mean that someone believes in God- it also involves acting on what you say you believe. This idea is so important that the New Testament book of James uses this event in Abraham's life to serve as an example... 

"Didn't our ancestor Abraham receive God's approval as a result of what he did when he offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice on the altar? You see that Abraham's faith and what he did worked together. His faith was shown to be genuine by what he did. 

The Scripture passage came true. It says, 'Abraham believed God, and that faith was regarded by God to be his approval of Abraham.' So Abraham was called God's friend. You see that a person receives God's approval because of what he does, not only because of what he believes" (James 2:21-24 GW).

So Abraham's unseen faith was proven by his visible actions- and what was true for Abraham is also true for everyone else as well: what we do will eventually reveal what we really believe.

"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. 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'" (Genesis 22:13-14).

Notice that Abraham didn't rename this area, "The place where God put me to the test" or "The place where Isaac was almost sacrificed." Instead, he named it, "The place where God provided." In giving this place a new name, Abraham made sure to put the emphasis on God (where it belonged) and not on his personal experience or feelings.

(1) New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary

(2) The Online Bible Thayer's Greek Lexicon and Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon

VII

"The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, 'I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 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, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.' Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba" (Genesis 22:15-19).

There are approximately 10 billion trillion stars in the universe (1) and it seems that no one has come up with a reliable estimate of calculating the amount of sand that exists along the seashore- there are just too many individual sand grains to count. These details help illustrate the point of the verses that we see quoted above. 

In these verses, God is not necessarily saying that Abraham will have an estimated 10 billion trillion descendants, but -like the grains of sand along the beach- there will just be too many to count. So whether Abraham looked up at the stars at night or down at the sand along the seashore by day, he would always have a constant reminder of God's promise to bless him.

"Some time later Abraham was told, 'Milcah is also a mother; she has borne sons to your brother Nahor: Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel (the father of Aram), Kesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel.' 

Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. Milcah bore these eight sons to Abraham's brother Nahor. His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also had sons: Tebah, Gaham, Tahash and Maacah" (Genesis 22:20-24).

The last time we saw Abraham's brother Nahor was way back in Genesis chapter eleven and it's possible that the traveling caravans that passed by that area helped carry the latest news between these two families. This may be how Abraham received word that his brother's family had now grown to include twelve children (including the children born to Nahor by his concubine [or secondary wife] named Reumah). 

So what's the point of including this family information along with those barely pronounceable names? Well, this list of family members includes one very important granddaughter: Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham's nephew Bethuel. Rebekah will turn out to become a very important person later on because she will eventually meet her future husband in Genesis chapter 24- and guess who she ends up getting married to? (2)

(1) How many stars are known to exist? ChristianAnswers.Net http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/star-number.html

(2) If you need a hint, try taking a look over here

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