Abraham's Test

This lesson leads to the climax of Abraham's journey of faith and describes the events surrounding Sarah's death.
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In chapter 21 of Genesis we focused on the origin of two great cultures and how their beginnings provided a key to understanding future generations.

  1. Hagar, Sarah's slave, first had a child with Abraham in order to try and fulfill God's promise through natural means. Her son was Ishmael and from him came the twelve tribes that eventually formed the Arab nation. From this nation also came the Muslim religion that is widespread today and continues to honor Hagar and Ishmael in their pilgrimages and rituals. Ishmael, however, was not God's choice for the promised seed and was not used to fulfill God's promise to bring a savior into the world.
  2. Sarah was Abraham's wife and when she was 90, through God's grace, she gave birth to Isaac. Isaac and his descendants formed the twelve tribes from which the Jewish nation was founded. It was through this people that God's promised Messiah would come.

Ishmael and Isaac were in conflict because of this from the beginning and their descendants in the Middle East continue to be divided until this day.

We also saw how Hagar and Sarah were types that represented the relationship between those who seek to justify themselves by the Law and those who are justified by faith.

  1. Hagar, a slave, was not chosen to be the one to carry the promise. Similarly, those who try to justify themselves by the Law remain slaves, do not profit from the promise, and can only call the earthly city of Jerusalem their home.
  2. Sarah was free and promised a blessing. Those who are justified by faith in Jesus are free from sin, receive the blessings of the promise and can aspire to be in the New Jerusalem in heaven when Jesus comes.

These next chapters will bring us to the climax of Abraham's life and recount the death of Sarah as well as the final days of Abraham's amazing journey of faith.

Test of faith

1Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2He 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."
- Genesis 22:1-2

In the scheme of things there is a long period of silence between chapters 21 and 22. Perhaps twenty years or so go by as Isaac grows into young manhood. The silence is broken, however, with a chilling request. God tells Abraham to take his son and offer him as a sacrifice.

Interesting words:

1. Tempted (tested) can mean different things depending on context.

  • To seduce or draw into evil. What Satan does to draw us into sin and consequently cause our deaths.
  • To test or try, in order to determine the worth of something. What engineers do to demonstrate the efficiency or quality of a product or construction. What God does to demonstrate to us or to the world the quality or strength of our faith and character.

Jesus was tested by God (His faith was examined through trials and sufferings) to demonstrate to others the quality of His character and faith. For example, the "test" in the desert with Satan.

Abraham is now being tested in order to show the quality of his faith developed during a lifelong relationship with God: To show the quality to himself (confirmation); to the nations around him (witness); and to future generations (type).

2. Love - This is the first time this word is used in the Bible.

It is significant that the first time the word love is used it refers not to the love between a man and woman, friend love, the love of God, but the love that a father has for his son. It is interesting to note that the first time the word love is mentioned in the New Testament, it is in regards to the love that God has for His Son (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). The first time it is mentioned in the fourth gospel it refers to the love that God has for us as our Father and we as His children. This primary mention and teaching on love in the Bible demonstrates the essence of love, God's love existing in the Godhead, and God's love extended to man. Man's love for God is first and his love for other humans comes only after this.

3So 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 wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you." 6Abraham 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 the two of them walked on together. 7Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" 8Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.

We see Abraham, Isaac and two servants leaving to go to Mount Moriah. Again, we see a passage that contains a wealth of "type" imagery for Christ and His sacrifice.

Abraham is promised that through his seed the savior will come, and in this scene God makes him act out, as it were, the very thing that the promise offered: salvation through the death burial and resurrection of Jesus.

  1. Note that Abraham is willing to obey God's will and does not hesitate, even leaving early the next day.
  2. Isaac and two slaves go along.
  3. They arrive at the place on the third day. This represents the three days Jesus spent in the tomb. Isaac was already dead the moment God asked Abraham to sacrifice him and Abraham agreed. He was as good as dead for three days before they arrived at the place of sacrifice.
  4. The servants are left behind and Isaac willingly goes with his father, there is no hesitation here as well. He, unknowingly, is a willing sacrifice.

Note also that Abraham says to the servants that they both will return. Here we see his great faith. He is fully intending to sacrifice his son. He is fully intending to return with him alive.

17By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18it was he to whom it was said, "In Isaac your descendants shall be called." 19He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. - Hebrews 11:17-19

This passage describes Abraham's faith as reaching the point where his only conclusion was that God could and would resurrect his son from the dead if need be. He believed that through Isaac many generations would come, he was prepared to offer him as sacrifice, so his only conclusion was that somehow God would give him back his son from death.

Abraham crossed an important frontier of faith and that was to understand that God gave life not just through his descendants but could literally raise a person back from the dead.

5. Note that Isaac carries the wood for sacrifice on his back like Jesus carried His own cross and that Abraham carries the knife (symbol of life and death) just like the Father had the power of life and death. (Jesus could not have died without His permission.)

Isaac questions Abraham about the nature of the sacrifice and Abraham assures him that God will provide, which is what he will ultimately name the place where this will take place, "The Lord will Provide."

This will ultimately be the place where the temple will be built and all the sacrifices foreshadowing Christ will be offered. It is where the "Dome on the rock" is now. The Jews rejected Christ and were destroyed along with their city in 70AD. Ishmael's descendants now control that location.

9Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 12He said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." 13Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. 14Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the Lord it will be provided."

In this passage we have several types that project ahead several important ideas.

1. Sacrifice of Christ

The willingness of both father and son to do the will of God foreshadows the willingness of the heavenly Father and Son to offer the sacrifice of Christ.

2. Vicarious atonement

At the last moment a ram is substituted for Isaac. He was as good as dead but God put a ram in his place (something had to die because God commanded it) so the ram took the place of Isaac. The idea of substitution, one dying for another, is introduced here. Of course, a ram and not a lamb is offered because the lamb of God has yet to make an appearance.

3. Relationship between faith and works

If a person is considered right with God because he believes and trusts in Him, what place does "works" have in the equation?

20But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God. 24You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
- James 2:20-24

James explains it quite clearly. A person does not produce "saving faith" through works. A person's faith naturally produces works that demonstrate or justify his faith. I do not work to be saved, I believe to be saved and this faith produces all kinds of good works in me.

Abraham's offering of Isaac is a "type" to demonstrate the degree of work a person could do if they really believed. Which is harder to do, tell a mountain to move or to offer up your only beloved son? With true faith a person could do either and Abraham is a type to show what faith can do, not what faith must do. We do not have to do what Abraham did to be saved but if our faith grows to be as great as his we could do it if God asked.

After this experience God once again confirms His promise to bless Abraham with descendants too great to number (vs. 15-24). He had been prepared to offer his only son, in return God swears that his descendants will be like the stars or the sand on the seashore.

The end has some family history of Abraham's clan back in the land of Ur.

Death of Sarah – 23:1-20

Chapter 23 describes the death of Sarah at the age of 127 which means that Isaac was 37 when she died and Abraham 137. There is also a description of Abraham buying the land where she would be buried (God promised the land would be his but as of yet he did not legally own any of it). Abraham took another wife, Keturah, and had six more sons in his remaining 38 years of life.


If you enter a faith relationship with God:

1. Expect testing

Abraham entered a faith relationship with God and was immediately considered righteous and thus saved. His faith, however, was continually tested. It was tested because it is through testing that faith grows, it is through maturing faith that we see God more clearly, it is through a clear vision of God that we can experience hope, joy and peace.

God tests our faith not to destroy it or us; not to prove us hypocrites or unworthy (by testing I mean allowing us to experience trials, suffering, and even doubt).

He tests faith in order to make it grow and through growing faith He enables us to arrive at peace and joy. If you enter a faith relationship, expect testing. Do not be angry, afraid, or discouraged. Realize God is working with you.

2. Expect quality

Do not consider it good luck or a fluke that you are growing in your ability to serve the Lord, resist sin and love others. The whole purpose of salvation is to change us from sinners to saints.

Rejoice when you see yourself drawn upwards in what you think and do. This is supposed to happen because of your faith. If it is not happening, it may mean that your faith is dead and if so, cannot save you. Expect quality works from a living faith.

3. Expect God to provide

Abraham's faith was summed up in his answer to Isaac when he asked where the sacrifice was coming from. He said, "The Lord will provide." That is what "Moriah" means in Hebrew. That is what they named the place where Isaac was offered.

At one time or another, every Christian goes to their own Mount Moriah in the form of various tests: family, emotion, sin, money, illness, relationships, etc. God will provide at your Mount Moriah, wherever and whenever you come to it.

God provides for the flowers, animals, even unbelievers have what they need. For His own children God will surely provide. Sometimes the greatest test of our faith is to trust that when the time comes, God will provide what we need.

Discussion Questions

  1. Summarize the events of Abraham's test from Genesis 22 and answer the following questions:
    1. How does God refer to Isaac when He addresses Abraham in Genesis 22:2, and what is significant about this?
    2. How was Abraham's love for Isaac like God's love for us?
    3. How does the testing of Abraham and the testing of Job compare?
  2. Explain how the faith Abraham shows by obeying God is the type of faith that God seeks from us.
  3. What are some reasons for testing as seen in scripture?
  4. List the various symbolic events in this test of Abraham and explain how they help us understand God's will.
  5. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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