Abraham and the God Who Provides
Passage: Genesis 22:1–19
How can God tell if he is most important to you?
As we go through life, different things are important to us at different stages. Growing up, having fun was probably most important to me. I spent a lot of time playing video games and flipping through paintball catalogs. When I started working at the grocery store, earning money became important. Then it became even more important when I went to college and was out on my own. Now, the things that are important to me are much different than they were before. When I was 16 or 20, loving my wife and my son and leading a church were not even on my radar. But now those are important to me.
How does something become important to us? What determines whether something is important to you? Think about your priority list. How does something make it to the top of your priority list?
This evening we are continuing our series called Beginning the Journey Home in the book of Genesis. We are nearing the end of the life of Abraham. Things are winding down for him.
When God first spoke to Abraham in this story, he asked him to do something very costly. In chapter 12 verse 1 he said: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Basically, leave everything you know, everything that defines you, everything that gives you security and comfort, and head out for an unknown location that I will make clear to you later. But with that costly invitation there was also a great promise. God goes on in verse 2 to say: “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
With great faith, Abraham obeyed God. At the age of 75, he left his home and his family. The past eleven chapters of Genesis have covered 25 years of Abraham’s life. There were ups and downs - times when he trusted God fully and times when he doubted and took things into his own hands. The most difficult part of it all was how long Abraham had to wait to have a son. God promised to make him into a great nation but Abraham had no kids - zero. His wife was unable to get pregnant and they were both getting old. But God said he would make him into a great nation and in times when Abraham was struggling to believe it, God reassured him. Month after month, year after year, and decade after decade went by with the pregnancy test still reading negative. Finally, after 25 years of waiting, when he was 100 years old and his wife was 90 years old, God gave them the child they had longed and hoped for. God kept his word! Abraham and Sarah finally had a son to call their own and it could only be explained by the mercy and power of God - nothing short of a miracle.
This is what makes the story we are going to cover today all the more shocking and challenging. We didn’t read it beforehand like we usually do because I want us to walk through it with Abraham and experience it with him.
The big question this passage answers is: How can God tell if he is most important to you? How can God tell if he is most important to you?
Let’s walk through the story starting in verse 1 then we will return to that question.
The Story (Genesis 22:1-19)
Verses 1 and 2 say:
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take 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)
What does it mean for God to test Abraham? It would be easy to think that it is cruel for God to test someone. But we test people all the time. When you hire a babysitter, you don’t just grab someone off the street. You want someone you can trust. So are going to hire someone who has been tested - you know them personally or someone else can vouch for them. Their first night is going to be a test of whether you hire them again.
Teachers don’t test to see their students fail. They desire their students to succeed. They test to see what they have learned. When God tests us, he wants to see what is in us. Specifically, he wants to see what is in our heart.
God’s test for Abraham is extremely personal on multiple levels. Just like when God called Abraham to leave his home and family, this request is costly. And just like then, God acknowledges the cost: take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love. And do what? Offer him as a burnt offering. Sacrifice him. Lay him on an altar, take his life, and burn him up.
Now, when we read that, we wonder, “How could God ask Abraham to do something so terrible? How could he ask him to kill and burn up his own son as a sacrifice?” From there we might wonder, “Could God ask me to do that? Could he ask me to get rid of something I love dearly?” We need to get clear on what exactly God is asking Abraham to do.
For Abraham, Isaac represents the promises of God. When Abraham left his homeland and family to follow God, God promised he would give him children who would bless the world and now Abraham has gotten what he was waiting for. His hopes and dreams for a son have come true. Isaac is the gift God promised to give him. Not only this, but God told Abraham that he would make his name great, make him into a great nation, and give him a land to call his own. Abraham left his family and homeland with this promise from God in his heart. Isaac is the start of the great nation, through him Abraham’s name will become great, and Isaac’s kids will get the land God promised Abraham. When Abraham dies, Isaac is the heir of all God’s promises.
The test is this: “even if you can’t have all these great things, will you still follow me? Will you still obey me?” Now that Abraham has Isaac, will he say, “See you later God. Nice knowin ya”? Now that he has what he always wanted, will he cut ties with God? That’s the test. “Abraham, are you willing to continue trusting, loving and obeying me even if it means giving up all the other gifts I’ve promised you?”
As Abraham considers obeying God’s request, which 4Gs would help him?
Let’s see what Abraham does in verse 3.
3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. (Genesis 22:3-4)
I’d imagine a pit formed in his stomach at seeing it, like the day finally arriving for a surgery that’s been on the calendar for a month. Verse 5 says:
5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (Genesis 22:5)
All of these verbs are plural. Fully written out, they would say, “We will go over there and we will worship and we will come again to you.” Why does Abraham think they both will return? Does he think God will call it off? Does he think a miracle will happen? The book of Hebrews in the New Testament says so. It says that Abraham believed God could bring Isaac back from the dead. We’ll see.
Verse 6 says:
6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:6-7)
I’d imagine this was one of the most gut-wrenching conversations in the Bible. The son realizes they are going to do an animal sacrifice but they don’t have an animal. So he inquires. With a somber tone and perhaps a tear in his eye, Abraham expressed faith in God with his reply in verse 8:
8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. (Genesis 22:8)
Verse 9 completes their journey up the mountain. When they arrive, Abraham makes all the necessary preparations for the burnt offering. The story slows to a crawl as we watch each action almost in slow motion.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” (Genesis 22:9-14)
The test was designed to see whether Abraham feared God. What is fear of God? God doesn’t desire that we relate to him with a cowering, crippling fear of terror. Although, when people come face to face with God’s power, holiness, and glory, they tend to fall flat on their faces in terror.
When Moses leads the people of Israel out of Egypt to Mount Sinai, God appears to the on top of the mountain with a thick cloud and thunder and lightning and he peaks to them. The people don’t go, “Whoa, how cool!” They are terrified and trembling and ask Moses to speak with God and relay his words so that they do not die. If you have ever been in close to a lightning strike and the thunder, you know how it can shake you to the core.
Jesus was God in the flesh and there are a few times when his disciples had a “I just wet my pants” moment. One time they were on a boat in a huge storm and thought they were going to die. Then Jesus got up and told the storm to be calm. He must have looked like a crazy person commanded a storm to be still. But the crazier part was that it actually listened. It immediately went calm. The men in the boat were filled with a great fear. It’s one of those moments where you are suddenly more afraid of the guy in the boat than the storm.
In these moments, people experienced the powerful, majestic, and glorious presence of God firsthand. In those moments, God felt very big and they felt very small. “Fear of God” means we are properly responding to who God is and who we are in relation to him. And we will not properly relate to God unless we come to know his power and glory.
I grew up in Wisconsin out in the country. My dad is an avid hunter, so we had tons of guns in our house. But I never once played around with a gun and my sister never once played around with a gun in a way that was threatening to another person’s life. Why? Because my dad taught us a proper fear of guns. He taught us to respect them because they are powerful.
When I was 12 years old, I went through what’s called “hunter safety” where you learn even more about the proper handling of guns. Someone who doesn’t understand and respect the power of a gun isn’t going to pass hunter safety. You can tell when someone isn’t relating to a gun properly because they don’t pay attention to where they are pointing it, they goof around when they are holding it, they don’t make sure the safety is one, and so forth. They don’t relate to it properly because they don’t understand its power.
I grew up in the presence of dangerous, life-threatening weapons my whole life. But that doesn’t mean I was terrified to be in their presence. That doesn’t mean I was terrified to hold one or use one. In fact, by the time I had gone through hunter safety, I knew where the key to the gun cabinet was and could take a gun out any time. Why did my dad give me this access? He would have never let me touch a gun if I hadn’t shown a proper respect for their power and concern for the safety of others. I was allowed to handle them because my dad tested whether I had a proper fear of their power.
The test for Abraham is whether he has come to a proper understanding of God. Does he know how to relate to God rightly? Does he recognize God’s power and authority as his Creator? Does Abraham understand that he answers to God and not the other way around? You will not properly relate to a gun unless you come to know its power. We will not properly relate to God unless we come to know his power, authority, and majesty. Unless we see him as our King and Creator, we will not relate to him rightly.
How does God bring Abraham to this place where he fears him? How does God bring Abraham to this place where he so trusts God and is so surrendered to God that he is willing to do even the most costly of actions - where he is willing to put all the good things God has promised him on the altar and burn them up?
God didn’t bark orders at him and beat him into submission. He didn’t intimidate him. What did he do? He blessed Abraham. He showed Abraham amazing grace. God showed him kindness, patience, and faithfulness even when Abraham didn’t deserve it. God made promises and kept his word.
All this leads to Abraham’s trust. He tells Isaac, “the LORD will provide.” Abraham has learned that God can 100% be trusted. I’d imagine this command to sacrifice the child that God promised to him doesn’t make sense to Abraham. But God makes sense to him. He trusts God’s character. He knows God will come through. He knows God is good. He knows God loves him. Through the past 40 years, Abraham has come to trust God with anything.
God speaks to Abraham again in verse 15.
15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba. (Genesis 22:15-19)
These promises are not new. They are what God has been telling Abraham the whole time. Only this time, he confirms them for Abraham’s children because Abraham obeyed his voice. Abraham heard the word of God and did it. This is what he is commended for in our second Scripture reading from James 2. James tells us that Abraham’s faith was shown to be real by his works. Faith is proven genuine when we hear God’s voice and obey him.
Why is this so important? Why can God use Abraham for his plans and purposes because of this? Abraham can be a blessing to the world because he’s returned to the type of relationship we were supposed to have with God in the first place. In Genesis 1 and 2, God created Adam and Eve to obey his voice. This is how we are to relate to God. Now Abraham understands that. He fears God. Because of this, God can bless the world through him. In Abraham, we see an example of what our relationship with God should look like. Abraham has learned to live a life of total surrender to God. When we wave the white flag of surrender, we are saying, “I’m not fighting you anymore, I’m not doing it my way anymore, what you say goes. When you speak, I listen and obey. If you say go, I go. If you say do something, I do it.”
The big question this passage answers is: How can God tell if he is most important to you? How can God tell if he is most important to you? The answer is: Instead of losing him, you’d rather lose anything else. Instead of losing him, you’d rather lose anything else.
Abraham is willing to lose anything - even the best gifts God had given him and would give him - if it meant he was still walking with God. The test for Abraham is to see if Abraham loves God or if he loves what God gives him. Does Abraham love the gifts or the Giver of the gifts?
That’s the question for us too. Do we love God? Or do we love what God gives us? It’s like a dad coming home from a business trip. Do the kids run to see him or do they immediately ask, “What did you bring us?” Is our hope in God? Or is our hope in what we hope God will give us?
This is why suffering tests our faith because even when God isn’t giving us what we want in life or even when God is taking away good things in our life, will we still trust him, love him, and fear him? What is most important to us? That we have God? Or that we have what God gives us? Would we love God even if he wasn’t saving us from hell? Would we love God even if we didn’t get heaven?
Know that God is the best gift you could ever receive. That’s the gospel - that’s the good news. The good news is that we get God. Jesus died on the cross to remove all the barriers between us and God. We could never have him but Jesus smashed every wall in the way.
God’s desire is that he would be the more important thing in the world to us - more important than anything. So important that we’d be willing to lose anything rather than lose him. How does God lead us to see him as most important? Like Abraham, he shows us amazing love. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. God’s amazing love for us is what leads us to live with amazing love for him.
Another question related to our big question is: who are you most willing to sacrifice for? Usually we are most willing to sacrifice for ourselves. We will sacrifice time, money, and other people for the sake of our own comfort, security, and reputation. Or we might be willing to sacrifice for our jobs. We will sacrifice our time, our family, our health for our jobs. Or we are willing to sacrifice for our families at the expense of God’s purposes and other relationships. But as 1 John 4 says, we love because God first loved us. We love God sacrificially because God first loved us sacrificially.
Some of us need a better understanding of God’s holiness, power, and authority. God has every right to demand anything from you and he has every right to send you to your death because of your willful rebellion against his Lordship over your life. If we don’t understand God’s power and authority, we will take his grace, love, and kindness for granted.
Some of us need a better understanding of his grace, love, and kindness. Without this, we will be afraid of God in the wrong way and want to hide from him.
Imagine you are caught in a huge storm. If you are outside and exposed to its power - the lightning, the thunder, the wind blowing against you - it can be quite terrifying. It’s so powerful and you are so small and you aren’t at all in control of it and are in danger. But then imagine you get to a place of shelter where you are totally safe. Looking out from your shelter, the storm is no less powerful or dangerous but now instead of running in fear of it, you have a different kind of fear. Now that you are safe, you can stand in fearful awe of it. Instead of looking for safety from its power, you can be amazed by it and appreciate it.
If we were caught in God’s presence with all our sin, all our selfishness, all our lack of love for him and others, we would be terrified because we’d be in grave danger. God does not tolerate sin in his presence so we would be consumed by the storm of his just judgment against it. But when we trust in Jesus and the payment the made for our sin, we find ourselves in Christ, safe and secure in him as our refuge from the storm. From that place of safety, we can look upon the power, holiness, and justice of our God with fearful awe and reverence.
If we don’t have an understanding of God’s holiness, power, and authority, we will take the shelter that Christ gives us for granted. We won’t appreciate the safety, security, and refuge of it. We won’t live with thankfulness and gratitude. If we don’t understand his grace, love, and kindness, we will feel like we are always caught in the dangerous storm of God’s holiness, power, and authority. We will constantly be afraid of God. If we don’t have both, God won’t be most important to us.
The good news is that God is the most powerful AND the most loving, gracious, and kind. The one with the most power and authority is also the one with the most gentleness and mercy. That’s why God himself is the best gift he could give us.
As we live as God’s family, learning to surrender all of life to him, we should be looking more and more like people who have been given the greatest gift in the world. What’s the fruit of receiving such a gift? What are people like who have the best gift? The are full of love for the giver, full of joy, full of peace.
How much confidence and excitement would this give us in sharing the gospel with others? We are surrendering all of life to Jesus, but we are also inviting others to do the same. We aren’t asking people to give up all their fun to come follow a bunch of stuffy old rules. We are inviting people to receive the greatest gift they could ever be given!
When you have the perfect gift for someone, how do you feel about giving it to them?
We put such a focus on the gospel - the good news - because we need to constantly be reminded that God has given us the greatest gift already. But it can easily be like the awesome toy we got last Christmas that got lost in the closet. One pastor says it this way, “Some preachers and counselors seem to think that the main part of a pastor's job is telling people to behave. I think it is telling Christians how rich they are.” We need to be constantly reminded how rich we are in Christ. Once Abraham is aware of how blessed he is by having God, he can be a blessing to others. The same is true of us. We need to be constantly reminded how blessed we are so that we can be a blessing.