October 6, 2020

How Not to Apply Genesis 22 Pastorally (Part Two)

This is part two of a three-part series on Genesis 22. You can read part one here.

1. Don’t teach the principle of ‘blind faith’.

Muslim extremists blowing everybody up. That is blind and dangerous faith. That is religious extremism. Genesis 22 is not that. Just because Abraham did not know exactly how it would end does not make what he did here ‘blind faith’. Abraham acts in a rational and logical fashion. How do I know this? From the preceding 10 chapters. Abraham’s actions were based on a historic relationship with God that had been proven through trial and testing.

So, whatever else Abraham expects, he fully expects to come back down the mountain with his son. Hebrews 11:17–19 gives us an insight into Abraham’s thoughts.

“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”

Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

Abraham knew that this was a test. He knew that Isaac would not be killed. How could he know? He had a lifetime of proof. Look at verse 7. Isaac wanted to know where the burnt offering was. “Where is the lamb, dad? We’ve got the fire and the wood but no lamb.” So, he’s old enough to understand the sacrificial system. Does he know that it’s him? Verse 8 tells us what we need to know. “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

This is Abraham’s statement of faith. God will provide. Is he lying, trying to convince himself, or does he truly believe this? Look closely at the text. What does he say? He says God will himself provide. So, we have a situation where God demands a sacrifice from Abraham but Abraham knows that God will ultimately provide the sacrifice himself. Anybody else sniffing the gospel here as well?

Look at verse 9. Abraham binds Isaac and lays him on top of the wood. Then he brings out the knife to slaughter his son (verse 10). Clearly, he was prepared to kill him. We can’t get around that. And we shouldn’t get around that. The same fella who promised he would be back with his son and who promised his son that God would provide, now stands with his knife drawn ready to draw blood. His own son’s blood. He intends to obey God. There is no doubt about that.

But then the scene is interrupted—“Abraham, Abraham!” (verse 11). When your name is used twice, it is significant. The Lord uses his messenger to stop Abraham from following through (verse 12). Now he knows that Abraham fears Him, for he would not withhold even his beloved son. Then comes glorious verse 13, “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.”

There is the sacrifice provided by the Lord to please himself (verse 14). Then we have the blessings of verses 15–19. The term only son here is surely repeated for a reason. How was Abraham so confident through all this? Verse 19 tells us. He knew that God could do whatever he wanted. He knew that if even his own knife slaughtered his son, then God would raise him from the dead. That is trust. That is obedience. God had called him. God had saved him. God had commanded him, and God would provide for him. God is faithful to His word. He never breaks a promise. Abraham had no clue how God would do these things, but he knew that God would not let him down. More importantly, he knew that God would not let Himself down.

Abraham demonstrates rational, reasoned faith by following God to the letter, regardless of the personal cost to himself. Is this child abuse and bullying? How can we believe in a God like this? A God who would tolerate child sacrifice? How is this not immoral? How is this a loving God? Obviously, this a horror show if the Lord actually meant for Abraham to kill his only son. But, again, the real point of the story is shown in the hints we are given all the way through it.

God demanded a blood sacrifice and God provided a blood sacrifice. We cannot help but be pointed to a Holy God who sent his only beloved Son to be a sacrifice on behalf of guilty sinners. Philosophers, feminists, and atheists hate this text. Because they refuse to see the meaning behind the text. They cannot see the Lord Jesus to whom it points.

2. Don’t over-spiritualise this story.

Abraham is literally told to offer Isaac as a holocaust. That’s a word to fire up the imagination, isn’t it? The application is not that we are to hand over our figurative Isaacs on the altar of sacrifice. That’s a dumb application. Nor should we take away that we should be willing to sacrifice our own children for the sake of the gospel. That’s not the point either.

You might think the world of your little poppets. You might think the sun shines out of their backsides. But none of them stand in the kingly line of Jesus. This is a once-only historical event, unique to Abraham and his son Isaac.

3. Do not forget to teach obedience as a key element of the Christian life.

James 1:21–24—“Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

Did what Abraham do in Genesis 22 make him right with God? Is this what made God save him? Well, he’s prepared to offer his kid to please me, so I’ll let him into heaven. Is that what God was doing here? No. Abraham was already saved when this happened. His future was already secure. All this story did was demonstrate his obedience. We are saved by faith, but we are not saved by fruitless faith.

4. Don’t commend Abraham as a spiritual giant solely on the basis of this chapter.

Well hang on a minute, he’s commended as a hero of the faith in Hebrews 11. Yes, he is. But let’s not forget his life before Genesis 22. For the first 25 years of God’s call on his life, Abraham was a bit of a bottle merchant. We find him mentioned first in Genesis 11:29 when he took Sarai as a wife. We see God call him from Ur in Gen. 12:1. Only 9 verses after his call in at the beginning of chapter 12, he begins to plot his way out of trouble in a bid to escape a worldwide famine.

Sarai, as we know, was a bit of a looker and Abraham was scared that the Egyptians might kill him so they could have her. So, as a solution, Abraham convinced Sarai to pretend to be his sister. She ends up going into Pharaoh’s house and Abraham even gets paid in cattle and slaves for her. He’s literally prostituting her out.

In the end, God sends a plague on Pharaoh for sinning like this, causing Pharaoh to send them away. Now, in chapter 17, God appears to Abraham aged 99. And God tells Abraham that He is going to bless him and a great nation will come from him.

By this point, he has a son, Ishmael, by his maidservant. God gives this long speech in the first 15 verses and then says this in Gen. 17:16. “I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Look at Abraham’s response in verse 17. Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”

He’s not having it. What’s very interesting here is that the name Isaac literally means in the Hebrew: “he will laugh at us”. In chapter 18, when the three mysterious messengers of God appear to Abraham in Mamre, they ask him this in Gen. 18:9–11 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” Sarah’s reaction is exactly the same as Abraham’s. She laughs at the thought.

Look at verses 13–14. “Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Verse 14 is one of the great statements of the OT. Is anything too hard for God?

But, in verse 20, the old fox is at it again. “Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.”

Do you get the picture? In the run up to Genesis 22, Abraham is anything but a ‘giant of the faith’ that he is about to become. His story is one of doubt, fear, and disbelief in God. Yet time and again God comes through for him. He learns to trust in the Lord. He learns to walk with the Lord. He even talks with the Lord. But up until chapter 22, he is never fully ‘in’. He is never 100% committed to believing what God says and acting in faith accordingly.

Living by Faith

I raise a lot of money for 20schemes. I am busy flying all over as a professional beggar. And one of the key principles of fundraising is not to put all your eggs in one basket. In other words, don’t build your ministry around the finances of one major donor because, if they fall through for you, then so goes your entire ministry. Instead, make sure you diversify and spread out the support so that it comes in smaller chunks from a wide range of sources. That way you are not so exposed.

But living by faith is not like that. When we come to Jesus, we put all our eggs in one basket. We throw everything in with God. It’s Jesus or bust. It’s God or nothing. We are betting our whole lives on the fact that the Bible is true. That Jesus really was the God-Man who came to earth to die for sinners on the cross, rise again on the third day, appear to many witnesses and then ascend to heaven where He now sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for His people until the day He comes again. On that day, we will all be with him for all eternity.

As Christians, we are all in. There is no Plan B. Or C. Or D. No hedging our bets. It’s Jesus or bust. This is what was going on here in Genesis 22. All in or all out, Abraham. And the application isn’t: “Follow this great man of faith and be like him”. We are like him. Faithless, scared, doubtful, even in the face of all of God’s faithfulness through the years. Abraham reminds us that we are fallible and weak, but that God, in a different way, can use us for the kingdom if we are all in with Him.

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