“After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he answered. “Take your son,” he said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”” Genesis 22:1-2 CSB
Through the Bible: Genesis 22-24
About the Image: I couldn’t find any information about the artist of this painting, but the image wrecked me. It’s the only painting I could find of Abraham and Isaac that emphasizes the deep love of the father for the son, instead of a raised knife at the point of the sacrifice. It’s also one of the few that shows Isaac as an adult and not as a young boy.
The story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac is at turns inspiring, horrifying, and terrifying. We are inspired by Abraham’s faith. We are horrified at the idea that God would ask anyone to sacrifice their own child. And we are terrified that God might ask one of us to make a similar sacrifice.
First, let me clear one thing up: God told Isaiah to offer Isaac; not to sacrifice Isaac. Child sacrifice always has been and always will be abhorrent to God (see Jeremiah 19:5 ). When you do a quick survey of the way the major English translations treat the chapter headings (and remember that the chapter headings are not part of the original text), you see a difference in what they emphasize:
- ESV and CSB: “The Sacrifice of Isaac”
- NASB: “The Offering of Isaac”
- NIV: “Abraham Tested”
- NKJV: “Abraham’s Faith Confirmed”
- NLT: “Abraham’s Faith Tested”
In my opinion, the last three get it right. The first two get it wrong, and the New American Standard is in the middle.
So let’s look at the terrifying part of this story: would God ever put me to the test like this, and if so, how would I do? Just like we talked about with Job, (see Day 004: Have You Considered my Servant?), it’s hard for me to imagine God staking His reputation on my feeble faith. I don’t think I would obey if I thought God was asking me to make as great a sacrifice as He asked of Abraham.
But this morning, a note in the Spurgeon Study Bible changed everything for me. Spurgeon noticed the first three words of Genesis 22: “After these things.” What things?
- Abraham obediently leading his family from Ur to Canaan (Genesis 12:4)
- Abraham humbly offering his nephew the first pick of the land (Genesis 13:9)
- Abraham bravely rescuing Lot when he was taken captive (Genesis 14:16)
- Abraham confidently believing the promises of God (Genesis 15:6)
- Abraham faithfully submitting to circumcision for himself and his household (Genesis 17:23)
- Abraham persistently interceding for the people of Sodom (Genesis 18:16-32)
Do you see it? Abraham had already demonstrated decades of trust in God before this ultimate test. Spurgeon wrote this about those three words, “After these things:”
God did not try Abraham like this at the beginning… There was a course of education to prepare him for this great testing time, and the Lord knows how to educate us up to such a point that we can endure, in years to come, what we could not endure today.Spurgeon Study Bible, p. 28
Beloved, have you noticed in our reading so far that God gives the toughest tests to the oldest saints? Abraham was between 100 and 140 at this point (based on Sarah’s age in 23:1). Noah was six hundred when the flood came (Genesis 7:6). We don’t know how old Job was when God tested him, but he was old enough to have seven adult sons and daughters (Job 1:2), and to have Elihu call him old (Job 32:6). These men had demonstrated a lifetime of trust and obedience before they faced these tests. All three of them exhibited what author Eugene Peterson called “a long obedience in the same direction.”
Friends, if you look at Abraham and think, “I could never pass that kind of test,” don’t be discouraged about it. Don’t discount what God is doing in your life right now, and be confident that God doesn’t set us up for failure. He is never going to give you a test that He doesn’t believe you are capable of passing. You may not be ready for it today, but take courage:
School’s not out yet.