This sermon was originally preached in 2015.
This chapter is certainly the greatest trial that Abraham ever faced. His twenty-five-year wait, his war against kings to rescue Lot, his walk of faith to Canaan were nothing compared to the difficulty of trusting the LORD in this task. However, by this, we learn that Abraham truly was a man of faith. He did not understand why God commanded him to do this or what God was going to teach him through this. But still he trusted that God would be enough for Him. Abraham understood that God had given him Isaac; therefore, God also had the right to take Isaac back.
SACRIFICE YOUR SON // VERSES 1-2
God now delivered to Abraham his biggest challenge thus far. Indeed, this command was the greatest test of faith that the man of faith would ever have to endure. It is, in many ways, the climax of his entire life. Abraham waited twenty-five years for God to give him a son, and now God was commanding Abraham to give Isaac back. God was probing to see whether Abraham valued God or Isaac more.
Before we get too far into whether God was just in asking Abraham to do something so unthinkable as sacrificing his own son (we will get to that), notice that this chapter begins by telling us that this was all a test. Too many people find the suspense in this chapter to be whether Isaac is going to be sacrificed or not, but that is not the intended tension. Because we know that this is a test, we should assume that God will not allow any permanent harm to come to Isaac. Instead, the tension of the chapter is upon Abraham’s obedience. Will obey the LORD or not? Is he willing to give up his long-awaited son at the command of God? The point of this chapter is upon Abraham’s obedience, not the actual sacrifice of Isaac.
Of course, one of the biggest questions to ask of this chapter is whether God was cruel to ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. First, we must note, as mentioned above, that God never intended to actually kill Isaac; rather, the entire scenario was a test of Abraham’s faith. Still, why would a good God demand something so unthinkable? God will tell Abraham later in the chapter that the test was to see whether Abraham essentially loved Isaac more than he did God. Is God such a megalomaniac that He cannot endure the possibility of Abraham loving someone or something else more than Him? The short answer is no. God is not a megalomaniac, but He does demand to have preeminence in our lives.
In order to understand how those two statements complement one another, we must first understand the nature of God. As the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Creator of everything, God is far more valuable than anyone or anything in existence. In fact, because God created all things, we can state that God is more valuable than everything combined. Therefore, if God desires to love us by giving us what is best for us, He must give us Himself. For God to give us anything other than Himself, He would be giving us lesser things. This gives great insight to Jesus’ statement, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37). Loving anything or anyone more than God is a disservice to God, others, and ourselves. We are shortchanging ourselves from the most valuable thing in existence. Thus, God is not a megalomaniac to demand that we love Him more than anything; rather, He is showing great love to us! True joy, contentment, and love can only come from God; thus, He loves us greatly when He strips away things that we love more than Him.
ABRAHAM’S OBEDIENCE // VERSES 3-10
Notice Abraham’s response to God’s command: he obeys. Surely Abraham went through countless questions in his mind, but we find none of them in the text. He simply obeys. This truly is a wondrous display of faith in God. Though he did not know why or for what purpose God was doing this, Abraham trusted that God knew better than he did. That said I believe there are two reasons that Abraham likely trusted God through obedience.
First, Abraham must have understood that because God gave him Isaac, God was also able to take Isaac. The birth of Isaac was a purely supernatural affair. There was no physical possibility by which Isaac could have been born. Sarah and Abraham were far too old to even consider having children. Sarah’s womb was dead. Yet God reached into their hopeless situation and caused Sarah to conceive and give birth. Isaac truly was a gift of God. Therefore, Abraham’s mentality was surely like that of Job. Following the death of Job’s children and livestock, Job declared, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Then after he was stricken with painful sores, Job still said, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil” (2:10)? Job and Abraham both understand that God’s blessings are from the grace of God. He does not owe us anything; therefore, it is not unjust of God to take things from us.
Second, Abraham also had faith that God would give Isaac back to him. Consider Abraham’s words in verse 5: Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you. Even though Abraham is preparing to sacrifice Isaac, he still says that both of them will return from the mountain. Furthermore, when Isaac asks Abraham about the animal for the sacrifice, Abraham stated that God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice. Abraham had faith that God would provide for him. The book of Hebrews confirms that this was Abraham’s mentality. “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb. 11:19). This means that Abraham had such faith in God’s promise of blessing him through Isaac that he believed that God would raise Isaac back from the dead after being sacrificed!
We must also note that Abraham, in obedience, was prepared to thrust a knife into his own son. This meant that Abraham’s faith in God did not simply amount to intellectual knowledge; instead, Abraham’s faith led to physical obedience. His faith displayed itself via works. As Christians, we must understand this principle. Though we are not saved through works, our obedience is the outworking of our faith. We cannot claim to have faith, while never obeying the commands of God. “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).
GOD WILL PROVIDE // VERSES 11-14
Note that Abraham’s willingness to give up his beloved son prefigured the sacrifice of Christ. In Romans, Paul uses quite similar language to describe the work of Jesus: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Rom. 8:32)? Furthermore, the most popular verse in the Bible reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Though God intervened in Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, He did not do so with His own Son. For the sake of broken sinners like us, the Father did not spare Jesus. Abraham’s words have truer meaning today than he ever could have anticipated: “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Jesus Christ is the perfect sacrifice made for the forgiveness and payment of our sins, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
GOD BLESSES ABRAHAM // VERSES 15-24
After Abraham completes the sacrifice and worships the LORD, the angel of the LORD comes to him again to renew God’s promises to Abraham. In many ways, these verses conclude the narrative of Abraham’s life, with chapters 23 and 24 serving as appendices. Just as Abraham’s walk began with God pledging to bless him and his descendants, God did so again after Abraham’s greatest test of faith. Notice that this is the only promise that God has made to Abraham that included a reason. Each time that God blessed Abraham, He did so from pure grace, but now God adds, “because you have obeyed my voice.” Does this mean that Abraham had somehow earned the grace of God? Not at all! Abraham could not have even been in the place of this chapter’s testing without God’s unmerited grace! Instead, God is simply rewarding Abraham’s strong faith.
Every time Abraham made a sacrifice for God the Lord responded by giving Abraham more.
1. Abraham left his homeland; God gave him a new one.
2. Abraham left his extended family; God gave him a much larger family.
3. Abraham offered the best of the land to Lot; God gave him more land.
4. Abraham gave up the King of Sodom’s reward; God gave Abraham more wealth.
5. Abraham gave up Ishmael; God made Ishmael the father of a multitude of Abraham’s posterity.
6. Abraham was willing to give up Isaac; God allowed him to live and through him gave Abraham numerous seed.
In each case God gave Abraham a deeper relationship with Himself as well as more material prosperity.Constable, 185
The chapter concludes Abraham learning about his brother’s children. This section may seem slightly out of place; however, it makes much sense within the overall concept of Genesis. In two chapters, we will read about Abraham’s servant traveling to Nahor’s land in order to find Isaac a wife. The servant finds a woman named Rebekah, who is mentioned here. Thus, the mentioning of Nahor’s children is setting the scene for how God was going to continue to provide for Abraham’s offspring, even after Abraham was dead. That is, in fact, the goal of God’s renewed promise to Abraham in verses 15-19 as well. Because Abraham had completed his testing from God, the LORD now began to display to Abraham how He would continue to bless those of his lineage.
The End of the Matter
God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac was the capstone of Abraham’s life. By being willing to give his greatest blessing back to God, Abraham proved that Isaac was not his new god. He trusted that God knew better than himself, so he placed his entire faith in Him. More than that, Abraham’s faith manifested itself in obedience. He was willing to do whatever God asked him, no matter how difficult. Fortunately, sacrificing Isaac was never God’s actual plan. Rather, both Abraham and Isaac were able to be spared because God truly did provide the lamb for the once-for-all sacrifice: Jesus Christ.