A Test Like None Other
|Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 19th century.|
Old Testament Reading for Judica,
The Fifth Sunday in Lent,
March 29, 2020
Genesis 22:1-14 (ESV)
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 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.” 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. 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.” 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 am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. 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 am I.” 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.”
When Abram (later renamed Abraham) was about 75 years old, the LORD called him from Ur of the Chaldees and sent him on a journey to Canaan with the promise, "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" (Gen 12:1-3). Upon arriving in Canaan, the LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." The "offspring" here is the Seed of the woman first promised to Adam and Eve (Gen 3:15). St. Paul makes much of the fact that “offspring” is singular, which is a direct reference to Christ (Gal 3:16), who would give up His life and rise on Easter to justify all nations, Jew and Gentile alike. All who trust in Christ now are “sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:7) children of God’s promises that are all fulfilled in Jesus.
When Abraham was 99, the LORD established the covenant of circumcision (Gen 17) and the next year appeared to Abraham to announce that Isaac would be born in about a year (Gen 18), which came to pass, just as the LORD had promised (Gen 21:1-7).
Considering the twenty-five years that Abraham had to wait for the LORD to fulfill the promise of a son, Genesis 22 comes as a shocker. The book of Genesis devoted ten whole chapters of Abraham’s life and the promises God had made to him over a twenty-five year period, only to have him sacrifice the promised son!
Although the narrative indicates no hesitation on Abraham’s part, as a man with emotions (as well as sin), Abraham must have experienced great sorrow, confusion, and doubt over the LORD’s command. However, by faith he was able to overcome any doubts because he trusted that God never lies (Titus 1:2) and believed that God can even raise the dead: "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back" (Heb 11:17-19).
God's testing of Abraham was like none other, since it was pointing forward to a sacrificial death that would happen many centuries later. Out of love for the world, what God did not finally require of Abraham (the death of his only, beloved son), God requires of Himself in giving His only-begotten, beloved Son up in death. Like the ram caught in the thicket who dies in the place of Isaac, Jesus is the Lamb of God who dies in our place and takes away the sin of the world.
The extent of God’s love for you is that He sent the holy, innocent Son to give up His life as a ransom for the masses and rise on Easter to justify all mankind by His blood. This message is to be received by faith alone, and through God’s gift we are saved from the wrath of God that He has stored up for unbelievers. And this wonderful love of God for us is then to flow through us into love toward our neighbor.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide panic (not to mention all the other trials and tribulations we face on a daily basis!), God is testing our faith in His promises, as He did so long ago with Abraham. What has He promised to you?
On Pentecost, St. Peter preached, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:38-39). In your Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, you have received forgiveness of sins, the promise of eternal life, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. While, like Abraham, we may have to wait a long time to realize the outcome of His promises, we can trust that they will surely come to pass.
In the meantime, God also gives you a very specific promise concerning the testing of your faith in this life. In spite of the popularity of the expression, "God will never give you more than you can handle," His Word never actually says that! What He does promise, however, is much better: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor 10:13).
The Greek words translated as "temptation" and "tempted" could also be translated as "testing" and "tested." In fact, the same verb is used in the Greek translation of Genesis 22 in reference to God testing Abraham. It is axiomatic that "God tests, while the devil tempts," but in experience, testing and temptation often feel the same. Right now, God is testing whether we trust His promises, while Satan is tempting us not to believe them. In the case of both, God has promised to provide "the way of escape" so that we may be enabled to endure whatever testing/temptation comes our way.
Abraham named Mt. Moriah, "The LORD will provide" (Gen 22:14) because God had provided a sacrifice in place of Isaac and prolonged the life of his son, through whom the line of the promised Seed would continue. Likewise, for the sake of Christ Jesus, the LORD will provide for all your needs of body and soul today and the fullness of joy in heaven forever. Amen.