Friday, November 19, 2010

Hall of Faith Series - Abraham Revisited

Today we are continuing our "Hall of Faith" series.  We spent the last 2 weeks on Sarah and Abraham and today we are revisiting Abraham.  Today we will see an Abraham much more mature in his faith.  We saw his growing pains over the past few weeks in that he did not completely obey God when He told him to go to the land of Canaan, how he lied about his wife to save them, and how he laughed when God told him that he would bear a child with Sarah.  Today we will see Abraham's faith stretched to any limit we can imagine as we will see that Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his own son. 
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.  Hebrews 11:17-19 NKJV
Today's study again takes us back to Genesis.
Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." Then He said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you."  Genesis 22:1-2 NKJV
I need to get some facts out of the way.  First of all, we all know that Abraham also bore Ishmael through Hagar so why is Isaac called his only begotten son?  Ishmael was an illegitimate child and was a work of the flesh.  God did not recognize Ishmael as because he was a work of the flesh and so he was never part of the inheritance and legacy that was to be for Isaac.  No part of Ishmael was promised to Ishmael, only to Isaac.  By this time, Hagar and Ishmael were no longer with Abraham.  Another thing I want to do is to is correct the misconception that almost all have that Isaac was a little boy.  Isaac was probably in his mid to late twenties at this point.  He probably had the strength to rebel and over power his elderly father.  Throughout our study, keep these two facts in mind as it will really paint a picture of just how obedient each of them were.

Getting back to Abraham and Isaac, we see God come to Abraham with a very difficult command.  We see from the start that this was intended as a test for Abraham.  We also see that this test kind of came without warning.  God tests each of us from time to time in life with various trials or steps in faith that He asks us to go through.  These tests are not meant to harm us, but to grow us or reveal to us just how much we have grown.  Abraham was now asked to do the most difficult thing a father can ever be asked to do.  He is being asked to literally kill his one and only son.  Not just kill. but kill then burn him.  I can not begin to imagine what went through Abraham's head as he heard what God was saying to him. 
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. Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off.  Genesis 22:3-4 NKJV
I wonder if Abraham slept that night.  I wonder if he spent his night pleading with God for there to be some other way or some other thing he can do.  There was not and so Abraham woke up early the next day to begin his journey.  It was no short ride as it took them three days to get there.  For three days Abraham had to ride side by side with the son he knew that he had to sacrifice.  For three nights, he had to sleep near the son he was going to sacrifice.  At meals times, he sat and ate with the son he had to sacrifice.  I wonder if he was able to look at Isaac.  I wonder if Isaac knew something was wrong with dad.  For three days, for all Abraham knew his son was a dead man walking.  On the third day, they arrived in the and of Moriah at the place God told him to go and the place where he would sacrifice his own son was in eyesight.  I can not begin to imagine what Abraham felt. 

I also want to note the growth of Abraham.  Abraham did exactly as God commanded.  He did not wait years or go half way nor did he try to ask God why Ishmael can't be the one.  He awoke early the next morning and went just as God commanded. 
And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you." So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together.  Genesis 22:5-6 NKJV
Abraham says something very interesting here.  Don't overlook the statement "...and we will come back to you."  It was only Abraham and Isaac going up, and Abraham had faith that Isaac would be returning with them.  We start to see here the faith of Abraham.  We start to see how Abraham was able to get up early the next morning and immediately obey God.  We see how he was able to travel, eat, and sleep with his son the past three days.  We see how a father can bear the thought of sacrificing his own son.  He did not have to claim God's promise to make a nation out of Isaac.  He had faith that God would honor His promises no matter what the circumstances looked like.  He had no idea how, but he knew that God would keep his promise and so he was doing his part, that is following God's will for his life.  And so in that obedience, Abraham and Isaac leave their servants and begin the last leg of their journey alone to the place where the real test will happen. 
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?" And Abraham said, "My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." So the two of them went together.  Genesis 22:7-8 NKJV
Isaac was a smart lad.  He noticed that they had everything they needed for a sacrifice, except for the sacrifice.  So after carefully deducing that they were short one lamb, he asked dad where the lamb was. Abraham was probably a little uncomfortable for as much as he knew, Isaac was the lamb.  He also had faith and we see that in how he answered Isaac.  He did not know how, but he knew God would come through.  We also see in this verse that Abraham did not tell Isaac what his plans were.  Isaac faith's was probably still a little tender to hear dad come to him and say "Hey Isaac, God told me to take a three day journey so I can sacrifice you to the Lord, but don't worry God will come through somehow!"  Isaac was probably not at the point in his faith to not just run and hide at news like that. 
Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood.  Genesis 22:9 NKJV
We are getting near crunch time now.  They have arrived at the place where God told Abraham to sacrifice his son.  I imagine this is a short summary of events.  I am sure that Abraham did not just grab Isaac and start to tie him up.  Remember, Isaac was in his twenties and Abraham was around one hundred and thirty years old.  Isaac could have easily fought Abraham off.  I am sure that Abraham did not lie to Isaac and say something like "Let's play pretend sacrifice until our lamb comes along."  Isaac was, again, in his twenties and probably would have thought that dad was getting a bit funny in his old age.  No, I believe that Abraham must have told Isaac by this point what God had told him.  He must have said that God told him that he must sacrifice him.  Isaac, who could have overpowered Abraham at any point, submitted himself to be tied on the altar by his father to become that sacrifice.  Isaac submitted, even to the point of death, to his father trusting that his father knew what he was doing. 
And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  Genesis 22:10 NKJV
Abraham passed his test.  He obeyed God in faith even to the point of sacrificing his only son.  He had faith that God would provide a way for Isaac to still become that great nation, even if it meant raising his son from the dead.  Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son in obedience to the Lord.  It is one thing to leave on a three day journey to do it.  It was another to leave his servants and go up alone with his son.  It was another to actually tie his son up to sacrifice him.  But real obedience is not until you actually do the act commanded to do by God, no matter how much you do not want to do it.  Abraham loved Isaac.  I am sure he did not want to kill his own son.  No father with any kind of decency would.  But yet here he was, obedient to God, even to the point of giving up his one and only son to God. 
But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" So he said, "Here I am." 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."  Genesis 22:11-12 NKJV
And with that, an angel of the Lord called out to Abraham and stopped his hand.  God came through literally at the last second.  He could have stopped Abraham when he went left for Moriah.  He could have stopped him when they left their servants to go to the place of sacrifice.  He could have stopped Abraham when he tied his son up.  He could even have stopped things when Abraham said yes way back three days earlier.  But He didn't.  He waited until literally the last second to come through.  Abraham had to be obedient to the very end to see God's provision and purpose behind this test.  Now did God need Abraham to do this to know that Abraham feared God?  Of course not, God knew Abraham's heart from before the foundations of the world.  God knew that Abraham would obey.  This test was for Abraham's sake, not God's.  Abraham needed to see just how far he had come in his faith.  Abraham needed to be encouraged that he really did fear God.  Abraham's faith was revealed to himself.  And seeing God's provision, I am sure that his faith was increased all the more.  We may also think that by waiting until the last minute that God was playing things really close.  The fact is that God knew from the start what would happen.  Isaac (though things may have seemed different to him and Abraham) was never in any danger at all.  Abraham was believing that God would maybe need to raise him from the dead, God knew that Isaac would never die. 
Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.  And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, "In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided."  Genesis 22:13-14 NKJV
Interesting, here we see God provided a replacement sacrifice so that Isaac did not have to die. That ram died in place of Isaac.  God provided a sacrifice to save the life of Abraham's son.  The Bible promises that if we seek first His kingdom and righteousness  that all of our needs will be met through Him.  Abraham sought God through his obedience to take his son to be sacrificed at the command of God.  God provided a sacrifice so Isaac did not have to die.  God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow and so the promise Jesus made in the New Testament was merely a recitation of what God was already doing. 
Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: "By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." Genesis 22:15-18 NKJV
To understand this verse, we need to go back to when God first called Abraham. 
Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Genesis 12:1-3 NKJV
And so we have come full circle.  Abraham's first call from God first stated the promise that was affirmed here.  Abraham had many bumps in the road along the way, but God knew all along that in the end Abraham would prove faithful.  God knew Abraham's faith long before Abraham really had it.  The Bible teaches that God knows the beginning from the end and this is a perfect picture of it.  Abraham waited many years and went through many hard times to get to where he was that day.  This also ties very much into what I wrote on yesterday.  Abraham did not need to claim the promise made to him by God.  In fact, he tried to claim it through Ishmael when he exclaimed to God "Oh that Ishmael may live before you." (Genesis 17:18).  But God said "No," God said that He had a better way.  God said that He had something even better in mind.  Faith is not measured in how well we can cry out for promises God made to us, but faith is measured in our obedience to Him.  Promises automatically come from God as we live obediently to Him.  We see that here.  We must live our lives in obedience to God and trust in Him that He will fulfill His promises.  In fact, we do not know how or when God will fulfill His promises.  Praise God for that.  Praise God that we do not have to guess.  Praise God that He knows the beginning from the end.  If God honored Abraham when we tried to claim that promise through Ishmael, there would be no message to write today.  Who knows that may have happened, but I can say with all surety that things would have ended up much worse.  So you can claim a luxury car for yourself today and maybe if you claim it enough God will provide it.  What you did not know though is that God knew someone would smash into your car in a parking lot tomorrow and through that you would be blessed with an even better car if only you had waited.  I would rather just rest in His will knowing that God will provide what I need, when I need it.  I would rather wait and see how God will fulfill His promises.  I would rather rely on His wisdom and His power and not my own imaginations.  It took Abraham decades to figure that out, how long will it take us?

And so what can we learn from Abraham and Isaac?  I do not even know where to begin.  First we see that God rewards faithfulness.  Abraham was faithful to God and God made him a great nation through Isaac.  God gave Abraham not some limited earthly reward, but an eternal one through Jesus Christ.  God will reward us the same as we lay up treasures in Heaven through our obedience here on earth.  We learn that God will fulfill His promises in ways we can not even imagine.  We also learn that we will be tested in this life and that those tests are meant to encourage and grow us in our faith.  We also learn that sometimes God will come through at the last possible second. We can never lose faith.  We can never give up our belief that God will come through.  Abraham was about to bring his knife down on Isaac when God finally stopped his hand.  Never lose faith no matter how bad things seem, no matter how close to the abyss you think you are, that no matter how your obedience seems like it will end in disaster, God will come through.  God knows the beginning from the end.  What seems like eminent danger to us, is no danger at all from God's vantage point.  Always rest in that faith. Always know that God will come through with His promises as we wait on Him. 

What is most amazing though is the picture of Jesus in this story.  Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son.  Abraham's son was walking dead for three days as they traveled to where the sacrifice would happen.  Although figuratively, at Moriah Isaac was raised from the dead in that Abraham's hand was stayed.  Isaac was obedient even to death.  God provided a sacrifice so Isaac did not have to die.  I can write a whole message on how Christ can be seen so very clearly in this account of Abraham and Isaac. 

In the end, this is a story of sacrifice. We are all asked to make sacrifices in life for the sake of God.  Actually, I don't like the word "sacrifice" as that implies we are losing something.  When we give up something for God, God gives us something so much better.  Sometimes that something does not come right away and sometimes it will not be given until we are present with Him in eternity. The fact is, though, when we give up things in our life out of obedience to God, God will reward that sacrifice.  Let's look at Abraham.  He was asked to give up his family, and God made him the forefather of His people, the nation Israel.  He was asked to give up his home in Ur, and God gave him the land of Canaan to him and his descendants forever as an inheritance.  God asked him to give up his work of the flesh that being Ishmael (whose offspring would be the cause of much death and destruction in the world even to this day) and gave him a Isaac (whose offspring would bless the whole world), a miraculous child born by the faith and obedience of Abraham and Sarah.  God asked him to give up his son, but through his obedience, he multiplied his son as the stars of the heaven.  The irony is that if we fail to give up what God asks, we will lose even what we have.  Jesus one time told a rich man that he needed to give up all that he had to follow Jesus.  That rich man went away sad because he had so much and did not want to lose it.  I daresay that when he stood before God, he had nothing.  For us, God only asks us to give up one thing in order to follow Him.  He asks us to give Him our lives.  But in return, He gives us eternal life.  If we do not give our lives to God, when we stand before Him, we will be dead already.  Give your life to God, give Him everything you have and everything you are and He will give you a new eternal life, a new heart, and eternal blessings unimaginable.  The more we hold back, the more we lose.  The more we give up, the more we gain.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. " Matthew 16:24-25 NKJV

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