Saturday, October 18, 2008

Genesis 22:1-2 Can You Really Trust God?

Genesis 22:1-2: Now it came about after these things, that Go tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham! And he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Take now your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.

We do not know at this point exactly how much time has elapsed between the time Abraham and Abimelech made their covenant and when God called Abraham to test him. We do know the testing occurred after the covenant, however.

The New American Standard Version uses the word ‘test’ instead of ‘tempt’ as used by the King James Version. When one checks the original Hebrew, we find the word ‘nacah’ which according to Strong’s Translation means, in the order of most common use, to test, try, prove, and finally tempt. I believe the use of ‘test’ is more correct here as later scripture will bear out, but for now let us accept it because it appears to have been the most common use of the Hebrew word it translates from.

Things were going along just fine without major incident or so we would assume from the last phrase of chapter 21 and then all of a sudden we read that God wanted to test Abraham. God simply called out to him by name, “Abraham!” This very personal call along with the outcome of the testing leads me to believe that what God was doing was indeed bringing Abraham into an ever closer relationship with Himself. God calls all men to Him but some He decides to take the extra distance of the closer relationship and we see that throughout later scripture as well. For many years I lived my life thanking God that I had not been tested. I even went one step further and asked God, “why not me, God?” I kept telling my family that I could not understand why so many suffer in this life and I was not. Then when I was sixty years of age, I was faced with both cancer and the separation of my son from his wife, in a matter of a few weeks. Rather than be completely thrown off base, God had prepared me for this time. I believe by Abraham’s response and later his actions, God had prepared Abraham for the testing He was about to put him through. In my own experience, this testing also drew me much closer to my Savior.

When he heard God’s call, the man who knew that God was in all that he did, simply replied, “Here I am.” Unlike Adam’s silence to God’s question of “Adam, where are you?” Abraham appeared before the Lord immediately. That is what God Almighty expects. That is how the angels reply when asked to do something. And then God gave Abraham the most difficult test any father could ever receive. “Take now your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah.” Abraham was to take Isaac his son and go to Moriah. Surely that did not pose any problem. Abraham had been moved around by God before and if Isaac was to be the means by which Abraham was to become a great nation, then perhaps relocation was in store. But why did God say, “Take your only son whom you love, Isaac”? Did Abraham not love Ishmael? Of course, he did. But from God’s perspective, Isaac was the son of promise and faith, while Ishmael was the son of disobedience by Abraham’s taking matters into his own hands. A careful study of the words used here, however, does not indicate that Abraham only loved Isaac, but rather that Isaac was his only true son in the manner explained above.

I am reminded of an ex-friend of mine who left his wife and children to take up with a twice divorced woman who herself had young children. When I confronted him with his sin, one of the excuses he gave me was, “How can I possibly leave these young children who finally have a man in the house they could trust and call ‘daddy’?” Our sinful ways allow us to come up with many lame excuses for continuing in our sins, as my friend did, and these children weren’t even his. But from this verse we have a sense of God’s take on the matter – the children given to us in a God-ordained marriage and family are the one’s that matter most to Him. We may have legal and social responsibilities to others, but before God, the children given to us through a holy marriage are our true children.

The instruction to Abraham so far would have been most acceptable, especially coming from God who called him by his name. But then comes the zinger – “and offer him there as a burnt offering.” Wow. The word ‘offering’ does not appear earlier in the scriptures except in Genesis chapter 4 in reference to the offerings that Cain and Abel made to God. The word ‘sacrifice’ is not introduced until much later in Genesis. But between the time of Cain and Abel and Abraham’s time, the practice of offerings made unto God must have continued and Abraham was fully knowledgeable of exactly what that meant.

I think we need to stop here and seriously ponder the situation. Here was a man who wanted to trust God and be blessed. Here was a man whom God promised He would bless. He had even promised that the blessing would come through Isaac. And now, all of a sudden, God says, “Go and offer Isaac as a burnt offering.” What is Abraham to make of all this? What is any father or parent to make of it? What are we as believers to make of it? And what if God clearly spoke to us and expected something similar in our own lives?

I cannot begin to fathom what my reaction would be to such a request from God. I do know that God does not contradict Himself. I also know that in Abraham’s day there were no Ten Commandments yet or other laws in the land that prohibited the taking of life. I know that God was not pleased with the first murder that did occur when Cain killed Abel. And I know that God provided a way out for Abraham as the story unfolds. But the principle is still there. God may very well ask me to do a very difficult thing that was perfectly legal and did not contradict anything else He has ever said. The question remains the same – “How will I react?” How will you react when God wants to test you?

As I look closely at the last phrase of verse 2, I notice two things. First, God did not provide any instructions to Abraham that He did not intend for Him to actually carry out. Let me explain. God said take your son and He expected Abraham to do that. God said go to Moriah and He expected Abraham to do that. Then God said ‘offer him as a burnt offering’ and I believe that is exactly what God expected of Abraham – that he be willing to ‘offer’ Isaac as a burnt offering to God. We will see by his actions, Abraham did just that. The second thing I note from this last phrase in verse 2 is this: God left out some details. He said “you’ll do this on a mountain that I identify to you later.” God wanted Abraham to move forward on faith. He would not be given all of the details. He would not be able to see the end clearly in his mind’s eye. He had to move on a willingness to obey and then on faith that he would be given the exact instructions when the time came. That is what God expects of us. Full obedience to His exact words, a willingness to obey in every respect, and faith to go forward when we do not clearly see the end.

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