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The Lord Will Provide

The Promises of God (The Life of Abraham)

Part XVI

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 9, 1999

Genesis 22:1-24

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Genesis 22:1-24
The Lord Will Provide

Now if you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 22. Surely we realize tonight that we have come to holy ground when we come to this passage. This passage is unique in all the scriptures. F.B. Meyer rightly said of it: “So long as men live in this world, they will turn to this story with unwaning interest. There is only one scene in history by which it is surpassed; that where the Great Father gave His Isaac to a death from which there was no deliverance.” Indeed, in this passage Abraham's surrender of his son is a mirror of God's still greater love and his exercise of faith in God's promises leads him to a glimpse of resurrection hope. Isaac's potential suffering also gives us a preview of the son who would be sacrificed for the sins of the world. So let's hear God's holy and inspired word here in Genesis 22.

Genesis 22:1-24

Our Lord, we bow before Your sovereignty and Your wisdom, and we ask that for a moment that You would enable us by the grace of the Lord Jesus to enter into an understanding of this truth set forth here in this passage. That we would see it for our own hearts and souls and that we ourselves would learn the lesson of faith, that we would take courage and hope in the covenant promises because we have seen your mighty substitution displayed for us in the story of Abraham and Isaac and the ram. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

Here is the trial of Abraham's faith. When he left his father's country, by faith, we learn that Abraham loved God more than his father. Now we learn that he loved God more than his own son. This passage divides into four parts, and I frankly don't know how long or how far we're going to get tonight. We’ll just wait and see. But it divides into four parts. If you look at verses 1 and 2, you’ll see the command that God gives to Abraham. Then if you’ll look at verses 3 through 14 you will see the record of Abraham's response to that command. His obedience and faithful response to that command. In verses 15 through 19 in response to Abraham's obedience God comes and reconfirms, he reaffirms His covenant promises and commitments to Abraham. And finally in verses 20 through 24 we see a strange and at first glance disconnected comment made about the children of Abraham's brother. But as you look closer you see that the reason that this is recorded is that God has not only provided a substitute for Isaac, He's in the process of providing him a wife. God's goodness is displayed in manifold ways in this passage. So let's attend to God's holy word.

I. God's command to Abraham.
And we’ll begin in verses 1 and 2 where we see this mysterious command. And as we look at this command, I want you to remember this thing. The perplexity of this divine directive provides insight into the meaning and the necessity of Christ's atonement. When we look at this command, very frankly, it's hard for us to make sense of it. We wonder why are you commanding this. This isn't in accord with anything else we see God command in the scriptures. It's even in discord with what God has already said in the book of Genesis, in chapter 9, verses 5 and 6. It's in discord with what God says in the great sacrificial rituals of Leviticus and Exodus.

Why would God command this? And as that why comes into your mind, I want you to remember that the perplexity of this divine directive, provides insight into the meaning and the necessity of the atonement. It is in the very area where we scratch our heads and say, I don't understand, that a great answer and truth lies. So let's look at it together.

Here we are face to face with the most striking challenge that God ever issued to a human. If ever there was a test, this is one. We see different kinds of tests in the Bible, don't we? For instance, we see tests between persons. When the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon in I Kings, chapter 10, verse 1, she tested Solomon, we are told. In other words, she plied him with questions. She asked him questions to determine whether indeed he was the wisest man on earth. He passed the test, and she was amazed. Then there are those passages where God tests His people. We think of, for instance, a passage like Exodus, chapter 16, verse 4, where God says to Moses in the giving of the manna to Israel and in the giving of the instructions on how they are to gather that manna, He is going to going to test Israel to see whether Israel trusts in Him and will be obedient to Him. In that kind of test, God is testing His people's faith and obedience. He's monitoring His people's faith and obedience and challenging them to follow through.

Now by the way God's purpose is never to cause His people to stumble. James makes that clear in James, chapter 1, verse 13, when he says the Lord never tempts us so as to cause us to sin. God's purposes in testing are always to refine His people. He never Himself sets a stumbling block before His own people. His purposes are always good, and by the way, that is a very important clue in understanding this test, this command, because in verse 1 we are told that this is indeed a test by God of Abraham. Look at those words again: "It came about after these things that God tested Abraham."

Then, of course, there are those passages in the Bible where man tests God. That is never a good thing in the Scriptures. And we think of another passage in Exodus 17, verses 2 and 7 where the people of God at Massah and Meribah tested God. They doubted God's goodness and power to provide for them the water that they needed. So they provoked the wrath of God by putting Him to the test. They tempted Him as it were by disbelieving in His goodness and power.

And here God tests Abraham, and the test is spelled out in excruciating form in verse 2. He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac.” You feel the first part of those directives, don't you? “Take your son.” You know Abraham could have very easily said anything else, God, anything else, but not Isaac. You've already told me that it will be through Isaac that the line of promise will be established. “Anything else, Lord, but Isaac.” And the word is, “Take your son.” And then there's, “your only son.” This man has just sent his other child into the wilderness to never see again, and I cannot imagine how that word felt to Abraham. He's all you've got, Abraham, take him. Take that only son of yours that you love.

In the years that Abraham had dwelt alone now with Isaac his heart had been knit with him. There was a time, you will remember, when Abraham will cry out before the Lord. “Oh, that Ishmael might live before you.” But now his heart has been knit to Isaac, and God waits until that knitting has occurred and then says to him take the son that you love. And then He calls him by name. You take Isaac, the one who is the laughter of Sarah, and you offer him as a burnt offering. Abraham is called in response to this command to weigh his trust in God's promises, in the balance of common sense and human affection and life-long ambition and indeed everything earthly that he knew.

We can almost hear Jesus whispering here. “If a man loves his father or mother or sister or brother more than Me, he is not worthy of Me.” Or in Luke's more pointed version of that passion in Luke 14:26, “If you do not hate father or mother or children, you are not worthy of Me.”

This test must have been a quandary to Abraham. It seemed to be against God's law. God had already said in Genesis 9, verses 5 and 6, you shall not murder, you shall not take the life of another. It seemed to be it was against natural affection to ask a father to take his son's life. God gives no reason or explanation for this. How perplexing that must have been for Abraham. The command itself seems inconsistent with the promise. God had promised it through the line of Isaac would the blessing come and now he's being told to take Isaac's life. How detrimental would obedience to this command be to Abraham's marriage? How would he look Sarah in the face again? How would he speak to Sarah with the blood of Isaac splattered on his garment and say, “Sarah, I have taken our son's life.” Abraham could have argued with God. Lord, what kind of a witness is this going to be to the pagans around us? Is it going to say that You are one of these child sacrifice receiving Gods just like their barbaric god?

Abraham is a poster child for Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Abraham is told to go to Moriah and not only to slay his son, but to offer him there as a burnt offering. Moriah, as you know, reappears in II Chronicles, chapter 3, verse 1. There we are told that it was on Mt. Moriah that the angel of death that had been sent by God against Jerusalem was withheld by the divine command of God. It was there on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, that David offered up an offering of thanksgiving to God for His sparing of the people of Jerusalem. And it was there on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, that the temple of Solomon was built and thousands, upon thousands, upon tens of thousands, and hundreds of thousands of sacrifices were offered to God and it was there in the vicinity that our Lord was crucified without the gate.

Why does God command this action? Is it because human sacrifice was culturally acceptable at the time, and so God thought that would be an appropriate thing for Abraham to do. No. Is it because He didn't mean this command literally. No. No, on the one hand God meant this as a test, as the supreme test of Abraham's faith. God's secret will resolves all conflicts, all apparent conflicts in His revealed will, and God meant this as a test of Abraham's faith. This would not only build Abraham's faith, but it would show us the meaning of faith, and on the other hand this whole scenario provides us with a central or shadowing of the work of Christ on the cross and that is the one real sacrifice. Nowhere else in the Scripture will you find God asking for the sacrifice of a son. In fact, you’ll find Him forbidding it in the law of Moses, but in this passage God is going to show the connection between the sacrifice of a son, the substitute of a sacrifice in the place of that son, and the fulfillment of the covenant promises.

And though Abraham no doubt did not see to the bottom of that great connection between the sacrifice of the son and the substitute for his son, and the fulfillment of God's covenant promises, in the light of Calvary we see the glory of what God is doing here. And the very perplexity of what God has commanded suddenly is flooded with light when we understand that God intends to explain to us the central principle of substitution, and He intends to express to us something of His own involvement in the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary.

You see, this passage is a poignant reminder of the cost of that sacrifice to God, our heavenly Father. Indeed it is a reminder of the father's involvement. When we see Abraham in response to this command trudging up the side of Moriah, we know that his heart is breaking because he loves his son. But Abraham's love for his son is a pale shadow of the Father's love for His Son. And the heavenly Father is saying here, when you see My Son ascend to Calvary don't you dare think that you love Him more than I do. And when we see Abraham's hand raised to slay his son, the Father is saying, don't you think that I'm some passive standby witness from a distance of what is happening at Calvary. I am the one who is bringing this to be and I'm doing it because it's the only way that you can be spared from your sins. I'm not standing back at a distance and watching My son suffer. I am the One bringing it about. I am the one with the knife in My hand and that knife is there because it is absolutely necessary that a substitutionary sacrifice be given for you if you are to be with Me forever. So the Lord is showing us His involvement at Calvary. And He's showing us the cost of that involvement and He's showing us the supremacy of faith in receiving that benefit.

II. Abraham's obedience of faith.
And then we turn to verses 3 through 14 and we see Abraham's obedience of faith. And again God, through Abraham's faithful obedience, presents key truths about redemption to us in this passage. Let's walk through these verses, beginning in verse 3. Abraham, in response to this command, gets up early the next morning and he doesn't just get up early because it's a long journey. This is a picture of the unhesitating faith in God. If you had been given the command take your son, your only so that you love, would you have gotten up early to do it? And Abraham perseveres through a three day journey that must have been agonizing. When they arrived at this place, the place that the Lord had showed him, Abraham says to his men, "I and the lad will go over there and we will worship and we will return." And you need to understand that Abraham's words are not the words of deceit to his servants nor do they mean that he expected a substitute for his son to be provided. Rather, we are told by the inspired writer of Hebrews that Abraham expected God to raise his son from the dead. Hebrews 11, verses 17 through 19 says: “By faith Abraham when he was tested offered up Isaac and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son. It was he to whom it was said, in Isaac your descendants shall be called, he considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which He also received him back as a type.”

We can't know how Abraham felt on that three-day journey. We don't know the doubts and fears that make and fill his heart and mind. But we do know that before he arrived at Moriah, Abraham had worked the problem through. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and that He would raise his son. In verse 6 Abraham loads the wood on his son's back. Two thousand years later we are brought to mind that detail in John 19, verse 17 where we read, “Jesus went out, bearing his own cross,” and so the two of them walked on together. In verse 7 Isaac asked a question that must have pierced his father's heart. It's heart-wrenching. “My father, where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Matthew Henry says, “’My father,’ said Isaac; it was a melting word, which, one would think, would strike deeper into the breast of Abraham than his knife could into the breast of Isaac.” And then Abraham utters a word that he could not see to the bottom of: “My son, the Lord will provide Himself.” God's method was His own affair, and it would take them both by surprise. Abraham expected resurrection. What he got was a substitute.

The story slows to an excruciating pace in verses 9 and 10 and every single detail is spelled out to us until God intervenes at the last second. The exact moment of intervention wrings the last drop of meaning from the experience. On the human side, the ultimate sacrifice is faced and willed; on the divine side, not a vestige of harm is permitted, and not a nuance of devotion is unnoticed. And in the wake of that substitution Abraham utters a name of God: Jehovah-Jireh, you have sung it, Yahweh-Jireh, the Lord sees, the Lord provides because on the mountain of the Lord it will be made clear. Here we see the love of the father for the son. The son's love for the father. The willingness of the son, the principle of substitution.

Abraham shows us the meaning of faith here, trusting in God despite all the evidence to the contrary. And that man who relies on God takes more into account than the man who does not believe. He believes that God will raise him from the dead. Abraham also shows us here how obedience flows from faith. Again Matthew Henry says, “Here is an act of faith and obedience which deserves to be a spectacle to God, angels and men. Abraham's darling, Sarah's laughter, the church's hope. The heir of the promise lies ready to bleed and die by his own father's hand, who never shrinks at the doing of it. We cannot help but be moved by the picture of this story.

And yet as we said at the very beginning there is a story which goes beyond it. For on the peak of Calvary, there was no substitute for the Son. I love the way the King James phrases the cry of the angel of the Lord. You remember the cry comes from heaven: “Touch not the lad.” Don't you lay a finger on him. And that cry never comes at Calvary. There is just darkness inside as the Lamb of God is slain for the sin of the world. The Father forsakes Him. The Son accepts it as a substitute for all who trust in Him. Trust in Him tonight. Let's pray.

O Lord, when we come to passages like this, we are profoundly aware of our own inadequacies. We cannot do justice to the glory of Your word. The truth of Your plan of redemption is so profound that no human could have invented it. It's one of the grand testimonies to the authority, the truthfulness of Your word. What man would have invented a plan of redemption like this? We are moved when we see the sacrifice. We’re moved when we see the substitute. So when we see Isaac, O Lord here, help us to see Christ. We praise You even as we trust in Him. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

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