Confidence in Times of Testing
Our faith will often be tested. (1–2)
In chapters 18–21, Abraham’s family endured several difficult circumstances: the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, another deceptive experience with Sarah and a foreign ruler, continued conflict between Sarah and Hagar, fights over water rights. One might think Abraham deserved a respite.
But Isaac is finally on the scene. After years of doubts and false starts, Abraham now has proof God is faithful.
Like a well-written novel, the biblical account takes a startling turn as God chooses this time to test Abraham with an ordeal that seems horrifying to Christians today. God asks him to surrender his long-promised son as a burnt offering. All the modern reader can do is ask, “Why?”
At first glance, God seems to be capricious, even cruel, but it is not uncommon for Him to test His people to strengthen their faith or reveal their weakness. In Judges 2:21–22 God tells the Israelites He will no longer drive out the nations from the Promised Land, but will let those nations remain to show whether they will remain faithful to Him.
The prophet Jeremiah quotes God as saying He will “refine and test … [His] dear people” (9:7). Zechariah prophesied God would refine His people “as silver is refined and test them as gold is tested” (13:9).
Trust God in the midst of the test. (3–10)
Abraham’s response is one of complete trust. He is no callous, disconnected father — God even refers to Isaac as “your only son, whom you love.”
Abraham starts his painful journey to the place of sacrifice the next morning. What sorrow must have pierced his heart as every ax blow pierced the wood on which his son would die? How would he face Sarah on his return? What explanation could he have offered as he departed with her only son? What words could he share with his son on the three-day journey? As Abraham left his attendants to walk with Isaac, did he envision the process?
The Bible does not provide answers, but it also reveals no doubt or hesitancy in Abraham. His every step demonstrates complete trust in God. There is no evidence his trust is based on the belief God would rescue Isaac — only that Abraham trusted God would guide and provide as He had in the past.
God’s provision is always on time. (11–14)
Biblical scholars debate the purpose of this story. Some believe it was God’s repudiation of child sacrifice, but it is inconsistent with God’s nature to put Abraham through this kind of testing just to make a point He establishes in scripture by fiat (Lev. 18:21; 20:1–3).
For Abraham and the first readers of Genesis, the story is a reminder God is trustworthy and will provide at the right time.
Christians can see in this passage the foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus. While Abraham suffered the prospect of losing his son, God, the Father, knew from before the foundation of the world He would one day offer His “only Son whom He loves” as a sacrifice for all. For Jesus, no substitute ram or lamb existed because He was the substitute for us.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time (1 Tim. 2:5–6).
By Daryl Watts
Watts is a church consultant in Fresno, California.