Faith in God is not always easy, even in the best of life’s circumstances. Sometimes we face trials or hardships that challenge us to the point of requiring more than just basic faith to get by. Other times, God may ask us to do something uncomfortable or difficult that we do not understand the reason for at all.
For example, in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus told his followers, “I am the bread of life.” This was easy enough, as he had miraculously fed over 5,000 people from five loaves and two fish the day before. However, Jesus went on to say that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, or we will have not life in us. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that he was talking about Holy Communion, believing in his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, and how we remember His loving sacrifice for our sins every time we partake. But those around Jesus at the time did not have the benefit of this context. When they could not understand what he was saying, many simply chose to leave.
Another example of difficult faith is found in Exodus 14, when God freed the Israelites from Egypt but then led them to the edge of the Red Sea, where they were trapped by Pharaoh’s army of chariots. As the Israelites now faced “certain” death, they could not know the reason God led them here – to prove to them His glory and faithfulness firsthand by parting the Red Sea and delivering them safely through it. They would later be able to look back on His deliverance and remember to turn to God whenever they faced a challenge or a threat.
Perhaps the most difficult example of faith is found in Genesis 22. Abraham had no context in which to understand why God was asking him to do a nearly impossible thing, nor did he have any idea how important his obedience would be to God. Abraham was to face an extremely difficult decision – to either move forward in faith and obedience to God, or to turn away from Him.
22 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 (ESV)
This request was impossible! Unthinkable! That is the reaction these words bring to me, or would to anyone. What could God possibly be asking here? Isn’t God loving? Isn’t God reasonable? After waiting twenty-five years for their promised, cherished son Isaac, born to Sarah and Abraham beyond her childbearing years, foretold to be the father of so many they could not be counted, now the Lord wants him to be sacrificed as a burnt offering? Absolutely unthinkable!
What possible reason could the Lord have for ordering this? Is this some mad idea? (Spoiler alert: God stops him before Abraham goes through with it).
Before we totally give up on God’s sanity, there are two clues in these verses. The first is “mountain I will show you in the land of Moriah.” The second is “burnt offering.”
Mt Moriah is where the Lord will direct the temple of God to be built many centuries after Abraham. It is also where God’s only begotten, cherished son, Jesus, will be crucified as an offering for the sins of the world. It is a very holy place, set apart for God. It is also, in our future, where the New Jerusalem will serve as the eternal earthly throne of Jesus Christ, future ruler of the entire world, as described in chapter 21 of the book of Revelation.
The second clue in God’s command to Abraham is the phrase “burnt offering.” A burnt offering in the Old Testament is where one life (an innocent animal) was sacrificed and burned to bear the judgment and punishment for the sins of a person. In God’s holy creation, there must be a penalty paid for all sin or disobedience to God and his law. And the penalty for sin is death. Without the shedding of blood, there is no remedy or removal of sin (Hebrews 9:22). The wages of sin is death, and the wages must be paid for one to be made holy, set apart from sin before God (Romans 6:23).
Initially, innocent animals were sacrificed to temporarily cover the sins of people, but ultimately, God Himself will provide the sacrifice to suffer, die and to pay the penalty for all our sins. In effect, God is not asking Abraham to do anything that God will not do for us in the future. The big difference is, God stopped Abraham, whereas Jesus went through with it for us.
God is a loving God, and he is asking Abraham to be willing to share in the pain that God will experience Himself when Jesus is beaten and crucified for our sake. And without knowing the reason or result, Abraham will exhibit an extraordinary willingness to obey God even under this most extreme and mysterious of circumstances. It was a magnificent demonstration of faith and faithfulness, second only to that exhibited by Jesus Christ when he surrendered Himself for us on the cross.
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 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 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?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So, they went both together. Genesis 22:3-8 (ESV)
It has been noted that for the three days of the journey, Isaac was as good as dead in Abraham’s grieving mind. This parallels with Jesus being in the tomb until he was raised on the third day. This span of time also presented Abraham many opportunities to change his mind, waking up each morning anew to the horrible reality he faced. Yet each day, he marched on in obedience to the Lord. How challenging an existence, yet what faith he demonstrated!
During these three days, Isaac is apparently unaware of what is about to happen, and his innocence must have added to the burden Abraham felt in his heart. In like manner, how God the Father must have been deeply troubled as the totally innocent Jesus voluntarily went to his suffering and crucifixion for our eternal well-being and salvation. The love of God for us exceeded His suffering and grief. The obedience of Abraham might even have served as an emotional support as Jesus faced the cross because of his love for us.
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. Genesis 22:9-13 (ESV)
The ram was substituted as an offering for Isaac just as Jesus was substituted as an offering for us.
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 22:14 ESV
Jesus provided his sacrifice by being crucified for us on Mount Moriah, the mount of the Lord, on the north side of the temple.
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.” Genesis 22:15-18 (ESV)
God’s testing of Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, is perhaps the most challenging chapter in the Bible. The Lord was testing Abraham’s willingness to obey under the most extreme of circumstances. And God himself would later provide the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, on the very same mountain.
This “blessing of all nations” because Abraham obeyed God’s voice would happen in the context of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Abraham, the first person named in the genealogy, was asked to offer up his precious son, exactly as God the Father willingly did with Jesus Christ over two thousand years later.
“Because you have done this…in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” Genesis 22:16, 18 ESV
Abraham’s demonstration of faith was clearly very important to God. Because Abraham obeyed, all the nations indeed will be blessed with healing from sin and enjoy eternal salvation through the fruit of his lineage, Jesus Christ.
We experience complete forgiveness when we come to the cross. Instead of punishment or rejection, we come under the eternal care of a God who loves us. May we all enjoy His gift today.
What is one of the hardest things God has ever asked you to do? How did you bear up under it?
Do you currently have a loved one in a difficult situation, one that you would willingly take their place in?
Despite many failings in his own life, Abraham is known as a man of faith. His greatest moment of coming to Mount Moriah despite the most difficult of circumstances was, in a sense, his coming to the cross moment.
Let us pray:
Father God, we come to the cross of Christ for complete forgiveness and eternal life with You. May we walk with Jesus today with peace and joy in faith, grateful for each blessing You give. Help us to obey Your voice, We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.