Abraham’s Ultimate Test

  • Genesis 22:12“… now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

Intro: What has been your greatest test of faith? Maybe you are involved in it at this very moment.  But most Christians can relate to some difficult choice, or spiritual struggle from the past that could qualify as their greatest test. Some have failed; others survived and grew stronger.

  • What was Abraham’s ultimate test? Read Gen. 22:1-14 – I am convinced that Abraham would easily identify this as the most difficult choice he ever made. This event may well be the greatest trial of faith that God ever placed before any individual; certainly there is none greater, other than Jesus’ own test of faith.
  • One thing is sure. God knows all about our faith; more than we know ourselves. There are some trials of faith that are greater – where more is at stake. These choices, when we make them, become accurate barometers of the level of our faith.  In our theme text of Hebrews 11, the writer specifically refers to this event as a test. Hebrews 11:1717 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son…”

I.  The Perplexing Command of God:  Gen 22:2 – 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.”

A.   Command vs. Promise?  God’s words here seem to contradict everything Abraham anticipated from God. This command placed the previous words in juxtaposition.

  • Gen 17:17-19 –   Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” 19 Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. … vs. 21 – But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.” How could God fulfill His previous promise through Isaac if he was dead?

1.  Notice that God was clear about His expectations. “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac. Abraham could not misunderstand what God was asking him to do.  It was simply a choice to be made. So it is with most of our tests. God’s words are not ambiguous. It is just a matter of making the right, difficult choice.

B.  The spiritual expectation of the command. What was God asking of Abraham?  This man of faith had already displayed enormous faith, evidenced in his obedience.  The text indicates that his faith was accounted to him as righteousness.  Have you ever wondered why God asked Abraham for more?

1. God was not just asking if Abraham was willing to sacrifice – he had offered many sacrifices, (probably more than most).  But would he give up what he treasured most. Was he really willing to put God first – before his own son’s life?  God has always asked us to put Him first. In fact, that expectation is behind every command, because it is the full demand of faith. (the rich young ruler – “sell all you have”; Luke 14:33 – “so likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

2.  God is always interested in testing our faith to a higher level – even when we have more faith than those around us.

  • Matthew 14:31 – 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peter had just demonstrated a remarkable level of trust in Jesus’ power by walking on the water.  But Jesus was testing the depth of his faith in the presence of the storm.
  • We often expect Jesus to reward our faith, not test it further. So, as in Jesus’ parable in Luke , the seed often springs up, but withers at the first sign of trouble.
  • Do you have doubts that God’s word is true because He has asked you to live by that faith through self-sacrifice?
    • I believe that people need to pray more.
    • I believe that someone should teach the lost.
    • I believe that Christians should put their children before themselves, and treat their mates with respect.
    • I believe that we should all put Jesus first – But then God puts me to the test and calls on me to make a personal sacrifice. What do we “believe” now?

a.  We think that God is unjust because he allows us to suffer trials of faith after we have already trusted in Him. How can God ask me to give more?

II.  The Decisive Response of Abraham: How did Abraham bring himself to obey God?  How long did he have to mull it over?  The text indicates that he made the choice quickly and decisively. Genesis 22:33 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

A.   The textual description of Abraham’s actions here (Gen 22) are as succinct as the command itself –  He saddled his donkey, cut the wood and put in on animal, and set off.

1.  Was this an emotional morning?  How could it not be?  But He marshaled his emotions to submit to his deep faith – not the other way around. Often folks allow their emotions to decide their actions and then attempt to interpret God’s words accordingly.  “I don’t feel that God would want me to….” Again we see the unwavering faith of Abraham. How easily is it for you to decide to do the right thing?  Is your faith decisive?

2.  The only insight we are given into the mind of Abraham as he contemplated this command is given in Heb 11:17-19 – By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. Abraham drew some powerful conclusions based upon his faith.  He was fully convinced that God was able… His promise could not fail. Therefore God would bring Isaac back to life. Therefore Abraham’s act of faith was not a leap in the dark. It was based upon reasonable conclusions derived through Abraham’s experience with God and the veracity of God’s words.

B.  Notice the reference to Abraham’s faith in God’s ability to “raise the dead” in both tests of faith (Gen. 17 & Gen. 22) – Romans 4:19 “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.”  He believed that God could bring his body back to life again, and cause a son to be born. He had already seen God’s ability to “resurrect”.

C.  What about Isaac’s part in this event?  Did he know what his father was called upon to do?  Did he resist?  Genesis 22:7-8 – 7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.

1.   According to Josephus, Isaac was then 27 years of age. It is the consensus of most that he was a full grown man, and not a child.  Considering that Abraham was an old man, voluntary consent was certainly necessary and implied. In his submissiveness to his father’s expectations, Isaac again foreshadows the sacrifice of Christ.   Adam Clarke comments:  “In this case we cannot say that the superior strength of the father prevailed, but the piety, filial affection, and obedience of the son yielded. All this was most illustriously typical of Christ. In both cases the father himself offers up his only-begotten son, and the father himself binds him on the wood or to the cross, in neither case is the son forced to yield, but yields of his own accord; in neither case is the life taken away by the hand of violence; Isaac yields himself to the knife, Jesus lays down his life for the sheep. (from Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1996, 2003, 2005, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

2.   Abraham was acting through faith.  When he was questioned about his actions, Abraham’s explanation to his son was… “God will provide…” Is that a sufficient answer?  Abraham expected Isaac to understand what he was doing. How do you explain the exercise of your faith to your children? If you instill your faith in your children, you can go together to serve God, because your children will willingly follow, even if it means that they will need to sacrifice. (We don’t expect much of our children – haven’t prepared them to sacrifice, because we have compromised.)

3.  Abraham’s statement was more than just an answer to Isaac’s probing question. It was a profound prophecy of God’s work in our salvation. Those who respond in faith to God’s commands can have full confidence that God will (has) “provided the Lamb for Himself”.

  • John 1:29 – The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
  • 1 Peter 1:18-21knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
  • In the book of Revelation, Jesus is the Lamb sacrificed (slain) b whose blood the saints are made clean.

III.  The Merciful Response of God –  Gen 22:11-12 – But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” 12 And He said,”Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

A. The Angel of God stilled the hand of Abraham, and Isaac was spared. Although Isaac did not die, the scriptures speak of the sacrifice as being complete.  Heb. 11:17 says that Abraham “offered up Isaac”.

1.   His display of faith was so complete that God says…  “for now I know that you fear God…” God was not in need of information concerning Abraham’s faith. I believe that God’s statement in vs. 12, was more of a statement about the intensity of the trial than about God’s personal knowledge of Abraham’s faith. Abraham was given the ultimate test.

2.  The final scene of this event is the consummation of Abraham’s sacrifice. He was permitted to worship God, just as he had anticipated. The ram that was caught in the thicket became the victim. The text says… Gen 22:13 –  So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. Abraham did not have to give up his son. There was provided another way. In this sense, the sacrifice of Isaac is unlike the event of Calvary.

a.  Isaac’s sacrifice would have been no more efficacious than the ram. One was as good as another. The ram(and every animal sacrifice)  was only representative of the true sacrifice that God would provide.

b.  But when it came time for God to make the sacrifice of His Son, there was not another to take His place. He was not spared. Romans 8:31-32 – What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?  32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

Conclusion: Abraham’s faith becomes the touchstone for faith for all time. Who can measure up to this ultimate expression of faith?  I recognize my inadequacy.  Lord, strengthen my faith.

I also see in this event, a depiction of God’s sacrifice for me.  His willingness to do what was necessary to save me is the heart of the gospel story. God gave the ultimate sacrifice.

How can you refuse to obey Him?  Faith demands that you put Him first.

Scroll to Top