There are four significant stories in today's reading, the birth of Isaac where we see God keeping His promise to Abraham and Sarah. There is the testing of Abraham when God asks him to sacrifice his one and only son. We read of the death of Sarah and the search for a wife for Isaac. In all these accounts we see the hand of God at work, fulfilling promises, answering prayers and showing His covenant faithfulness to Abraham and now Isaac. God has a plan for His people, and we will watch as we read, that plan unfolding.
Today I want to take a closer look at chapter 22, the greatest test of all. I was talking with a good friend last night and we both remarked about how God tests us. Sometimes the tests seem fairly easy and we are great full for that. Other times God takes us to the very edge of the cliff and lets us look over. These tests often take us to the end of ourselves as we seek to do God's will and be obedient, but they are nerve wracking, challenging, and they stretch us farther than we have ever been stretched before. This is where Abraham finds himself. We have seen God call Abraham His friend. We have seen promises and covenants made between God and Abraham. God has gone before Abraham, leading and guiding and because of his faithfulness, God has prospered Abraham and his family. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. At long last the promise of descendants was beginning. And then came this test. What must Abraham have thought? Did he ask are you serious God? Did he tell Sarah? Scripture tells us Abraham left the next day. He was obedient. Did he say to God...OK I know you have a plan but I'm not sure I understand this one? Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck writes ”Life is difficult. Once we truly know that life is difficult, once we truly understand and accept it, then life is no longer difficult.” This is something we all need to learn. Life in obedience to God is not easy.
Many of us look at God's request of Abraham and say how unfair it is, how unreasonable. This is Abrahams only son. He is old and it appears God is going to wipe out everything Abraham and Sarah lived for. When God sends trials into our lives our first response is often, why or why me. We want explanations, answers. But God doesn't often provide those. Instead, what He does provide is His provision and His promise. We do not see Abraham question God. He does not drag his feet in being obedient. He leaves the next day. Here is a man of great faith who trusted Gods promise of descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and sand on the beach. He took Isaac and two servants, and they set off. They have provisions for the time they are gone, firewood for the sacrifice and the means to start the fire. Isaac may have had the burden of carrying the firewood, but Abraham alone carried the burden of the command to sacrifice his only son.
Scholars debate Isaac's age at this time. Many believe he was still a youth, perhaps in his early teens. But there is also a school of thought that believes Isaac was much older, perhaps even into his mid-twenties. Whatever his age, he was old enough to know that to offer a sacrifice you needed an animal. Isaac asked, where is the lamb for the sacrifice. Carrying an unimaginable burden, we witness Abraham's great faith. He simply says, God will provide.
As Jesus trudged up the hill to Calvary, I wonder how heavy God’s heart was. Jesus was His one and only Son too. He loved Him. They all knew this had to happen, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus had come to earth. It was still awful, so awful that once Jesus took on the sins of the world God the Father could not look at Him. We see Jesus faithfulness. He could have called down the armies of heaven to set Him free. Instead, like a lamb led to sacrifice, the Son of God laid on the rough wooden cross as nails were driven into his wrists and feet. He felt the pain as the cross was stood upright. He struggled to breathe just like every other person who had hung on a Roman cross. He did it so we can spend eternity with Him in heaven.
Abraham and Isaac trudged up the hill, Isaac carrying the wood and Abraham the burden of what God had asked Him to do. An altar was built. The wood for the fire was placed atop the altar and Abraham bound his one and only son, placed him on top of the firewood and prepared to carry out God's command. Abraham raised his knife. He was that close before God acted. I always wonder what Isaac was thinking, and if Abraham ever asked him to take a trip again, did he go. Scripture does not record a conversation between father and son. We do not see Abraham linger. Once Isaac is placed on the altar Abraham raised his knife in obedience. Not only did God take Abraham to the edge and let him look over, it feels like God was dangling Abraham over the Grand Canyon, holding onto him by just an ankle.
Now God knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Abraham is faithful. Here are some things to think about. Abraham carried a knife and the fire. The knife would end Isaac's physical life and the fire would burn his body as a sacrifice. In Isaac’s case, God provided a substitute. There was a ram caught in a thicket. But there was no substitute for Jesus. No one could take His place. He was the only sacrifice that could completely take away the sins of the world. God provided Abraham with a ram, but Isaac asked about a lamb. We see the lamb in Jesus Christ. Isaac felt neither the knife nor the fire. Jesus felt both. Isaac’s loving father was right there. God turned away from Jesus. Isaac did not die while Jesus did. Scripture tells us Abraham returned home with the two servants, but nothing is said about Isaac. We do not see Isaac again until he is seen meeting his bride, Rebekah. The next event we see on God's calendar is the return of Jesus Christ to claim his bride, the church.
Both Abraham and Isaac came away from this test with a deeper understanding of what it means when God provides. He gives us what we need when we need it. He meets our needs when the time is right. Sometimes it feels like God will never answer, He will never arrive. But God is never late. Not in Abraham and Isaac’s life, not in ours. Testing grows and stretches us. It draws us closer to the Lord. And that is what He wants.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W