Faith Rest Drill; Abraham's Final Exam. Genesis 22:1-19
The faith-rest drill involves three steps. The first step is that we focus our thinking on a promise from God, we focus our thinking on some principle that we know, or just some fragment of a passage that we remember, and that begins to stabilize our emotions in the midst of some kind of adversity, some situation, or whatever it may be. Then we think through that, thinking it over and over, not like a mantra but in order to focus our thinking. Remember, the Christian life is based on thinking, not emotion. Then we begin to think through that promise or principle in terms of the rationale behind it, the reasoning that is presented within the promise or the principle. Then we come to a conclusion. That conclusion is not some sort of academically derived statement that floats up there in our mind, but it is a conclusion that has reality in our life. We conclude firmly that this is my reality. Remember that our ultimate definition of faith is that when the Word of God, a promise of God, a principle of doctrine, is more real to us than our emotions, our fears, our worries, our anxieties, the negative circumstances that we face, the Word of God is more real to us than our experience, then we are walking by means of faith. We see a great example of that in the situation with Abraham in this chapter.
Genesis 22:1 tells us that we must understand the events of Genesis 22 in light of the context that has preceded it. The context that has preceded it, that has structured all of the Abrahamic narrative, is the Abrahamic covenant. Every test in Abraham's life relates to one of the three elements of the Abrahamic covenant—land, seed, blessing—and this test is going to specifically relate to the seed. A test is designed to reveal something, and in the plan of God what He is doing is revealing the truth of This is one of rhHis Word as it plays itself out in the lives of creatures who are willing to be dependent upon Him. It is a concept that ties directly into our role in the angelic conflict to be witnesses both to man and to angels. So when we are passing those tests, passing those crisis situations where we have the opportunity to take the promises of God and put them into application and grow, it is, as it were, creating a banner over our life that is read by other people. It is amazing how many times unbelievers are watching us. Furthermore, what the test does is advance us in our spiritual growth. It is an evaluation of what we have earned from doctrine. There is a tremendous advance in Abraham's spiritual growth by chapter twenty-two.
Genesis 22:1, "And it came to pass after these things, that God did test Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am." I am here; I am ready.
Genesis 22:2, "And he said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and get you into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of." The words "Take now your son" is a little bit of an interpretation into the English. The word that is translated "now" in the English is the Hebrew word which indicates almost an entreaty. It is a polite request, so it is not the sense of Take now which implies a harsher mandate. It suggests that God recognizes the difficulty of this request to Abraham. Then, "your only son, the son whom you love." Ishmael has gone, has been disinherited when Hagar was told to leave. Isaac is the son, the unique son born through the sexually dead father and mother. It literally means one of a kind. "Whom" you love" emphasizes the fact that Abraham loves Isaac. This immediately puts Abraham between the horns of a dilemma. To love God means one has to obey God, it doesn't mean to have warm fuzzies about God, to have a little emotional uplift. What the Bible talks about as love for God is always connected to obedience, and obedience implies knowledge of mandates. Knowledge of mandates comes from studying the Word. You can't love God if you don't know the Word of God. You can't know the Word of God if you don't take the time to study and concentrate and be taught the Word so that it fills your thinking and shapes your thinking. Abraham is between the horns of a dilemma here because to love God he has to obey God's command on the one hand, but on the other hand he loves his son. This is the son he has been looking forward to for many years, and since Isaac was born he has built a relationship with his son and he loves his son, and the last thing he wants is to see anything harmful come to his son. But on the other hand he has to obey God, so he has to decide what comes first.
Job said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him." This is the ultimate statement of the faith-rest drill. No matter what is costs me personally I am going to trust God and do what His Word says, even if it is painful, even if it threatens my life, even if it is the last thing in the world I want to do. This is where we see most Christians fail in spiritual growth: at some point the reality of what the Word of God is teaching in terms of your cherished life, how you try to handle the problems in your life, deal with people around you and relationships, is going to come head to head in confrontation with what the Word of God says. It often happens in the context of relationships.
The command "go to the land of Moriah" in the Hebrew is the same verb as in 12:1, "you go yourself," and the implication is there that he goes alone, just he and Isaac. In chapter 12 he took Lot and his father; here he is fully following the command. The burnt offering is the word olah, which derives from alah, which means to go up, to ascend. It speaks of the ascending smoke which comes from the offering. The description of a burn offering is given in Leviticus chapter one where there were three different kinds of burn offerings. Everything went up in the sacrifice and it is a picture that the offering was giving everything to God. This word is never used of anything else in the Scripture, it always means a burnt offering, and six times in this passage this word is repeated to emphasize for us that this is what God expected Abraham to do. The thrust of a burn offering was that the offering functioned as an atoning sacrifice, a substitute for the individual who was presenting the sacrifice.
When we come to this passage another thing we should note is that liberals always come along and try to use this to show that the Bible has an evolutionary view of God. E.g. this early view of God in Genesis is a cruel God. He is a God who wants human sacrifice, a God who is not the kind and loving God of the New Testament. They see this evolutionary idea in the theology of Israel. That is because presuppositionally they have refused to pay attention to the context of the whole event. They don't look at it in its context of Abraham's life, they ignore the first verse which says this is a test, and they ignore what God is doing between Genesis 12 and Genesis 24. The answer to the liberal is that this is a test. God never was going to allow Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The point was whether he was willing to trust God with the promised seed and do whatever God asked him to do. There are a number of places in the Scripture where human sacrifice is prohibited: Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5. But there were examples of human sacrifice in Israel in the Old Testament when they were influenced by paganism.
Another element to this is that in the Old Testament in the Mosaic law the firstborn son was dedicated to God. In paganism the firstborn son in some of the pagan religions would be offered to their god as a sacrifice. In the Mosaic law the firstborn son was dedicated to God but was redeemed with an animal offering. E.g. Exodus 34:20.
Genesis 22:3, "And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and split the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him." We would think that there would be some indication of Abraham's mental attitude. What is his emotional state? Here God is telling him to kill his son! Hebrews tells us what is going on in his thinking; he is thinking doctrine. This shows the remendous maturity, the advance that has taken place in Abraham's life. Hebrews 11:17 clues us, "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: concluding [faith-rest drill] that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure." He received him in a figurative sense because he was sexually dead when all of this began. But he reaches a conclusion. The process: He knows a promise or a principle. The promise is the Abrahamic covenant, he knows that God has promised him a seed and he knows that he is going to have descendants as innumerable as the stars in the sky and the sands of the sea. He knows they are only going to come through Isaac, so he has finally learned that God has promised this and God is not going to go back on it. That is a principle related to the character of God. He knows now that God is faithful. He has been observing God for the last forty or fifty years of his life and he now understands the omnipotence of God. He has seen enough evidence now that to where through the promise of the Abrahamic covenant and the principles he has learned related to the character and essence of God he reaches a conclusion that it is not impossible for God to raise somebody from the dead. So if He can raise somebody from the dead and He can't break His promise, that means that if I kill Isaac God is going to bring him back to life. He reaches this conclusion and it is so certain in his thinking because the promise of God and the character of God is now more real to him than what he is experiences that he relaxes in terms of his own emotion—emotion is always the consequence of what you believe in your soul.
Genesis 22:4, "Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off." But he is remembering that the implication of the command to "go yourself" means just him and Isaac, so he is going to tell the servants to stay behind. Verse 5, "And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and [we will] worship, and come again to you." This is one of the first instances in the Scripture where we have the word "worship" and it is from the Hebrew verb shachah, which means to bow down. That is the essence of worship. The concept of worship means to prostrate one's self; to worship means to demonstrate your obedience and allegiance to the authority of the one you are obeying. This is a first person plural here, "we will worship." Then he says, "we will return." What does that tell us about Abraham's confidence? He is convinced in his mind that they are going to go up and worship and come back. He may end up killing Isaac in the process but God will bring him back to life. So he is completely obedient to God and that is the essence of worship. Worship can exhibit itself in different ways. One way is through singing praises to God, a legitimate form of worship established in the Old Testament, and carried through into the New Testament. In fact, in Ephesians 5:19ff and Colossians 3:16ff singing hymns is part of the filling of the Holy Spirit and is a consequence of letting the Word of Christ richly dwell within us. Singing is a part of worship. That is why God gave us a hymn book in the middle of the Scriptures called the Psalms.
Genesis 22:6, "And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together." Not only does Isaac get to be the sacrifice but he also gets to take the place of the donkey to carry the wood up there.
Genesis 22:7, "And Isaac spoke unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" This is one of those passages where there is a certain amount of ambiguity. Is Isaac being very naïve here? Or is he a little more knowledgeable here, catching the implication that he is going to be the sacrifice but willing to trust his father in the process? Commentators are split and the reality is that the verbiage here can imply both. What lies behind either of those interpretations is the idea that you have an obedient son, that like any burnt offering he is without spot or blemish. He is presented as a valued sacrifice. It all fits the imagery here of the burnt offering.
Genesis 22:8, "And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together." Notice the confidence from the conclusion he draws from the operation of the faith-rest drill.
Genesis 22:9, "And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood." What is Isaac thinking at this point? Does Abraham communicate to Isaac what is happening? How mature is Isaac? Isaac is never one in the Scriptures who is presented as one with a lot of problems. As we get to Isaac in Genesis he seems to be just a transition to Jacob, and Jacob has all kinds of problems. So it could very well be that Isaac is saying he trusts Abraham and he trusts God, and to get on with it. "And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son."
Genesis 22:11, 12, "And the angel of the LORD [pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ] called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do anything unto him: for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me." Abraham is stopped just in the act so that it is clear that Abraham has complete trust in performing God's command. The psalmist says, that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. It is this recognition that God is right no matter what, that God has the right to tell me what to think, how to think, how to act, because He alone is completely trustworthy; and no matter what it might cost me in my day to day life, in my day to day thinking, no matter how personally challenging or threatening or vulnerable it may make me, the issue is to trust Him. That is the starting point for maturity, for wisdom.
Genesis 22:13, "And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son." When we get into the Mosaic law later on a burnt offering is either going to be a bull or a ram or for the impoverished a couple of birds. This is the perfect picture of substitutionary atonement. The burnt offering in the Levitical offerings is the offering that pictures atonement. The substitution here of a ram for Isaac is the picture of what Jesus Christ does for us. He died in our place so that we don't have to die. Jesus Christ died as an atoning sacrifice that is a pleasing sacrifice to God, and a sufficient sacrifice as pictured in the fact that in a burnt offering everything goes up to God, it is a complete sacrifice.
Genesis 22:14, "And Abraham called the name of that place Yahweh-yireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be provided." He names the place that is Moriah—The Lord will provide—because this is the picture of the sufficiency of God's grace. He provides everything that we need. This is the place that God provides the substitutionary sacrifice for mankind.
Genesis 22:15-17, "And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son: that in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies." What is this? The Abrahamic covenant reiterated again. It is not being given now, it is just a reaffirmation that God is going to fulfill that which He has promised. Verse 18, "And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice."
Genesis 22:19, "So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba." So Abraham passes his final exam, and because he does he isn't tested any more. That is, as far as is revealed in Scripture. It doesn't mean that he didn't have problems living in a fallen world. But what we see in conclusion is that as Abraham passes the test he realizes, first of all, that the promise of God is more real than his circumstances. Secondly, he learned that the character of God was more real than his circumstances. Third, he learned to trust the faithfulness of God to fulfill His promise; he didn't step into this. Fourth, Abraham learned to trust the character and the power of God. So he had moved beyond the promises to understand God's character and His power. Fifth, he was able to put together the promise of God, the covenant, with the character of God and the power of God, and knew that God would not allow him to sacrifice Isaac. That is when we are really moving and cranking on the faith-rest drill: when God's Word and power is more real to us than anything we are experiencing.