Summary: Abraham faced the greatest trial of his life when God asked him to sacrifice the child of promise. From it, we learn that God tests our faith, grows our faith, and models sacrifice as the Heavenly Father gives his only Son for us.
Sometimes we go through such heavy trials in this life. And, if we’re honest, we may wonder, “God, why are you allowing this to happen to me? I’m trying to follow you best I can. Why, Lord?” Yet, perhaps the better question would be, “Lord, what do you want me to learn out of this?” How do you keep that perspective that God is still at work, even through trials? Consider some lessons from today’s story. First,
1. God tests our faith. There will be times in your life when God allows you to go through trying experiences. Most of you have lived long enough to look back and identify some of these times. James 1:2-3 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” God uses tests and trials to grow us.
Abraham faced the trial of his life. God told him to sacrifice his one and only son. Remember that Ishmael had been sent away. Only Isaac remains, the child of promise, the one that took 25 years to be born, the answer to God’s promise that Abraham and Sarah will parent a nation, more descendants than the sand on the seashore or the stars in the sky. And now God says to kill him! What is Abraham to think?
It’s the major trial: will Abraham trust in the promise? Or will Abraham trust in the God who gave the promise? Will he let anything or anyone come between him and his God? Will his relationship with God remain top priority in his life?
Perhaps Jesus was thinking of this priority when he said, much later, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). As a Jewish rabbi, Jesus taught by exaggeration. Does he literally want us to hate our closest family members? Of course not. But he exaggerates to make the point that nothing and no one should come between us and him. You can only serve one master. Jesus must be the number one priority of our life. That’s what it means to be his disciple.
And that’s what Abraham must come to terms with. Will he obey the God who gave him this son of promise? Of course, Isaac too must come to terms with his own obedience. Most scholars think Isaac is between 17 and 20 years old, so he could easily overpower his elderly dad. My dad used to play wrestle with us boys, pinning us to the ground and tickling us. I remember the first time I came home from college and pinned my dad. Never did he wrestle me again.
Isaac could resist, but he doesn’t. He yields, allowing his father to tie him up. The rabbis call this story, “The Binding,” and portray Isaac as a great hero who allows himself to be bound as a sacrifice to God. Isaac chooses to obey his father, trusting that his father has heard correctly from God.
And Abraham? Hebrews 11:19 tells us, “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” The story illustrates this. Abraham tells his servants in verse 5, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham is very clear that both he and the boy will go AND both he and the boy will return. He believes if God chooses for the boy to die, then God will bring him back to life. That is faith. That is costly obedience.
God will test your faith at times. God will call you to costly obedience. And out of that, you will learn something new about God. That is the second big lesson I see, that, out of hardship,
2. God grows our faith. When you endure times of testing, your faith has an opportunity to grow. Your understanding of God will mature.
In our story today, Abraham is obedient to God to the point of taking the life of his one and only son, the son of promise. As he lifts the knife into the air, at the last possible moment, the voice of the Lord intervenes and stop him. Immediately, Abraham notices a ram caught by his horns and sacrifices the ram in place of Isaac. Abraham names that place, “The Lord will provide,” or Yahweh Yireh, because God provided a sacrifice in place of Isaac.
Nothing catches God by surprise. God wasn’t looking down from heaven and saying, “Well, look at that! Where did that ram come from?” No, God knows all along how this test will play out. The test is not to teach God something; it’s to teach Abraham something about himself and his God. Abraham now knows a whole new dimension of God as provider because Abraham obediently put himself in a place of learning. He put himself in a place of desperation for God.