sermon: Abraham's Sacrifice (Part Four): Providence Manifested
God Does Indeed Provide Our Needs
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 24-Apr-21; Sermon #1594; 65 minutes
The theme of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac is much more than faith, love, obedience or sacrifice, but about God's providence, His going-forward forethought regarding His creation, doing what is needed when it is needed on its behalf. Over the years, Abraham learned that, when God says He will do something, He will do it. The most persistent motif in Genesis 22 is that God will provide. The story encourages God's people that they need never doubt God commitment and ability to give them everything they need. Jesus, on the eve of His last Passover as a human being, assured the disciples that they could ask the Father in His name and they would receive what they asked. The events on Mount Moriah, as narrated in Genesis 22, foreshadows the ultimate sacrifice where Christ rescued mankind from death. As types of God the Father and Jesus Christ, Abraham and Isaac respectively always work as one. Abraham evinced no truculence or argumentativeness; rather, reflecting on the events of decades of his life-experiences, the patriarch was confident God would keep His promises as He had always done. When Abraham proved that he would not make an idol of his son, he made Isaac's future—and that of God's people—possible. Through His indwelling Spirit, God has given His people the ability to display this same unflappable faith, which makes a productive relationship with the Father possible.
Some theologians say that the main theme of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 is not faith, it is not love, it is not obedience or testing or sacrifice, but it is God's providence. Providence is one of those theological terms that require some kind of definition, because it does not always mean what we think it means.
Our word "providence" comes from the Latin providere and it means "to foresee," to see ahead. And the corresponding Greek term that is used in the New Testament is pronoia, which means "forethought," thinking ahead. We talked about metanoia in previous sermons and that had to do with changing of the mind. In this way, divine providence is concerned with God's timely preparation, care, and supervision, or government or control of His creation and His purposes.
So a concise, but in no way comprehensive definition of providence is this: God's on-time provisions for the needs of His creatures. It is God's foreknowledge, but it does not end there. It is also His subsequent supplying of what we need when we need it. So it is both the knowing that something needs provided and also the supplying of what is supplied. It also has a time element in it so that it is given to us when we need it.
God's providence then is intricately entwined with His sovereignty, His foreknowledge, His will, and His purposes. Some of these theologians say that His providence is His plan from the original idea, the idea's conception to its ultimate fulfillment in the New Heavens and the New Earth. I would like to give you a quote. This is from English Methodist minister and theologian W. B. Pope from about 150 years ago. He wrote in his Compendium of Christian Theology, Volume 1, page 556:
Providence is the most comprehensive term in the language of theology. It is the background of all the several departments of religious truth, a background mysterious in its commingled brightness and darkness. It penetrates and fills the whole compass of the relations of man with his Maker. It connects the unseen God with the visible creation, and the visible creation with the work of redemption, and redemption with personal salvation, and personal salvation with the end of all things. It carries our thoughts back to the supreme purpose which was in the beginning with God, and forward to the foreseen end and consummation of all things, while it includes between these the whole infinite variety of the dealings of God with man.
So, God's providence obviously is a huge subject. And unlike theologians, we usually do not think of God's providence in these wide sweeping terms, that it covers all of whatever God is doing with His creation. Most of the time, we think of God's providence in its simplest, most physical form, which we pray about every day when we sit down to have something to eat—we thank God for His providing of food. We often thank Him for providing us life, all the things that we need—food, water, clothing, a spouse, children, a house to live in, employment, and the various things that we think we need. God is the supplier of all.
Less often perhaps, we recognize that He provides for all our spiritual needs too: knowledge of Him and His way, understanding, faith, repentance, forgiveness, redemption, justification, a relationship with Him and His Son, sanctification, salvation, eternal life, and on and on it goes. He provides all those things too. As Moses says in Deuteronomy 30:20, "He is our life and the length of our days." If you can understand His providence and all the things that He provides us throughout our life, you can understand what Moses was saying. Without God and His providence we are nothing and we are not going to last very long. But God is our life and the length of our days and so we have an opportunity the live eternally with Him because He started a relationship with us.
But we can say, due to His providence, in that grand, sweeping theological language, He is everything to us.
The story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac revolves around this idea, the idea that He supplies us everything and He knows beforehand what we need and He knows exactly when we need it and He will supply it, in spades normally, when the time is right. But He is most of all concerned about getting us into the Kingdom of God, of adding things to our lives to prepare us for the Kingdom of God, as well as to save us. I mean He is not just in the business of saving us. It is not like He wants to save everybody as they are. He wants to save everybody as He is. So He gives us what we need so that we can grow into the stature of Jesus Christ and that means we need a lot and He promises to supply it all.
What we have here in the story of Abraham and Isaac and their journey up to Mount Moriah is a small snapshot, if you will, of a certain time, in a certain place, certain people doing something God told them to do and God supplying what they needed to do what He asked them to do. I mean, it is not just the ram that He supplied—that is the main focus of His providence during this particular vignette in the Bible—but He supplied everything all along the way to bring Abraham to that position.
And we see Abraham in this test passing with glorious, flying colors because he used what had been supplied to him and in faith went forward with what most people would think would be a command unworthy of God. But he did it because he loved and trusted God so much that he knew that God would provide that everything would work out in the best way—in the right way. Of course these same things, but in a smaller measure, were supplied to Isaac so that he could go through his part in it. And of course God supplied the lamb that saved his life. Let us think of that in all of its further ramifications as well. It not only saved his physical life at the moment, but it was the basis for his spiritual salvation as well, and to all of us.
As I mentioned last time, the narrator never lets us forget that this is the main theme—that God provides. He hints at it as early as verse 2 in naming the land of Moriah where they were to go. Moriah there means "God sees" and it is assumed that once God sees, He provides. If you are going to write this in terms of a definition and it is "God sees," and then in parentheses (and provides). Because the word itself has to do with just the seeing part. So God sees and provides.
In the story's middle in verse 8, it says after Isaac asked, "Where is the lamb?", Abraham says, "My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." So we are assured in the middle of the narrative here that God is going to provide and that Abraham was sure that He was going to provide. Then of course at the end of the story, we get down to verse 14, "Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, "In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided." So we are told beginning, middle, and end that this story is about God providing, not just our physical needs, not just our physical deliverance, but He also gives us all the spiritual things we need in order to obey His commands and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
It is a major theme, if not the theme of this story that we are given here in Genesis 22. And it seems to have been a lesson that Abraham had already learned. He had already figured it out. It had already become part of his character to trust God to provide what he needed at the time he needed it. Had not God provided Isaac, the son of promise, exactly at the time that God said that he would come? This time next year you will have a son, and look, there he is. There is Isaac, just on time, exactly at the appointed time. This was all in the face of the fact that Sarah was barren and Abraham was an old man. And they both laughed! "How can we have a kid? We're old people." But God provided miraculously.
Had not God preserved Abraham and Sarah in a foreign land full of potential enemies? Hittites, Philistines, Amalekites, and who knows what else were there. They survived and not only that, God had prospered them while living in a strange and foreign land. He had given him peace. They made treaties with Abimelech and he had gotten out of every scrape. He had learned that when God says He will do something, that He does it. It is automatic. God does not tell us something and then not follow through. He can even do the impossible—Is anything too hard for God? Abraham had learned that nothing is too hard for God.
So a main purpose of this story is to teach us this fact. To give us faith in this fact. We can have faith in God just as Abraham did. If we know that God sees our needs, if we trust that He knows what needs to be done and He always provides what is necessary at the time we need it and then some, why falter? Why not trust Him? This is His character. It never varies. Of course His will may not be the same as ours and we may think we need something when we actually do not need it. And so we fault Him where the problem is actually in us. But we can use this story to bolster our faith to know that God is going to give us everything we need exactly on time to solve our problems or what have you.
So just as He provides our physical needs—food, water, shelter, what have you—He sees our spiritual needs and provides for them too. He gives us even more than probably we can assimilate because it takes us a long time to allow all that godliness and goodness to get through your thick skulls and our hard hearts. But He does not stop, He does not get weary, He just keeps giving us what we need. So we have no rational reason to doubt Him because He is willing to give us whatever we need to be in His Kingdom.
We are going to go to John 14 to start because I want to pick up several passages in Jesus' final sermon, or His Passover message to His disciples, where He says this very thing.
John 14:12-14 [Jesus tells His disciples] "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me [we need to have that faith first], the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it."
John 15:7 "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you."
So, there is the abiding factor, that we continue in Him, we maintain the relationship and we are able then to do those things. Whatever we ask then for help for us do those things, He will give us.
John 15:16 "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit [That is the goal.], and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give you."
He is very willing in our attempts to bear fruit to give us what we need in order to make that come to fruition, to make it be fulfilled.
John 16:23-24 [He has talked about His crucifixion and that they will rejoice when they see Him again.] "And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. [We can go directly to the Father and ask these things.] Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full."
He is very willing to give us everything. We can go straight to God the Father and ask Him for whatever we need and He will give it. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. He will help us to have great joy because that is part of His providence—giving us all those good spiritual things that make us like His Son.
John 16:26-27 "In that day, you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God."
So being covered by the blood of Christ, we can go through the veil and directly to the Father and ask for things that we need. By asking them in Jesus' name, He means there that we ask them under His authority and that we ask the things that He Himself would ask. He is the perfect Son. He completed His course perfectly. And so if we follow His example and do those things that He has commanded us, we can go straight to the Father and get all the help we need for that journey.
We have got to reflect this back to Genesis 22 and what we see in the story there, that God was very willing to give Abraham what he needed and what he needed was the lamb. Well, He gave him the lamb, He gave him what was needed to buttress his faith. But Abraham's faith was already great at that point. He knew that God would give him that. So there was to him no question that God would provide what was needed.
What the story tells us most of all though is that His greatest provision of all is His own Son. I am talking about Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. That is what this story points to. The greatest provision is that Lamb that He provided and in fact, God providing a Messiah, a Savior, a Deliverer is a major theme of Genesis. Chapter 3 talks about there is going to be a Seed of a woman who would come and bruise the head of the snake and Abel's sacrifice foretells the coming of a sacrifice that would take away sin. There is salvation on the ark that is the type of that. There is a blessing that comes through Abraham's seed. He is talking about in future generations, Jesus would be born from that line.
There is the image there of the promised seed in Isaac, another type of Jesus Christ. Joseph was a type of Jesus Christ and saving the people from famine and it goes on and on. We have Jacob telling Judah that from his line would come Shiloh, the one who would be king. So we see a lot of these types that shows us that God's providence in a Messiah was a major theme of the book of Genesis.
Here God provides the lamb for the sacrifice. When nothing else would pay for sin and make eternal life possible for His potential children, He gave His Son, the Lamb, to be the propitiatory sacrifice to redeem His children from sin and therefore pave the way for a relationship, for justification, for sanctification, for salvation, for eternal fellowship with God. And that is what John 3:16 is all about. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." Through this story in Genesis 22, we are supposed to realize that God's ability to give what we need is boundless. He gives anything and everything that is necessary. And He is even willing in the person of Jesus Christ to give His life for us—the very God of creation is willing to give everything for our salvation, among other things.
This sermon is the fourth in my series on Abraham's sacrifice. And after that very long introduction explained, the passage we will delve into today focuses on God providing a substitute sacrifice to spare Isaac's life. I do not believe that God ever intended to have Abraham kill his son. It was never part of the test. But He tested Abraham as far as He could to prove that the patriarch really, truly fears Him above all else and would do whatever He asked of him. So what He was looking for was to see how devoted Abraham was to Him and the patriarch passed with flying colors.
Now, I just want to give you a minor correction for something I said in my last sermon. One of the young people pulled me aside last time and told me that I had said that Isaac was 60 years old when he got married. That was wrong. He was 40. You can find that in Genesis 25:20. It is just a few years after Sarah died that he got married to Rebecca. So Sarah died when Isaac was 37 and then got married at 40.
Let us go back to Genesis 22 and we will get a running start by rereading verses 4-8.
Genesis 22:4-8 Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you." So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" And Abraham said, "My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." And the two of them went together.
I want to go through this just to get a running start into the newer material, but I also want to point out the phrase in verse 4 that he "saw the place afar off." The Hebrew that is underneath the phrase "afar off" is min rāhôq and it means "from a distance." So he saw the place from a distance. The kicker here is that while its primary meaning implies a long way off in terms of distance, they also would use this phrase to indicate a long way off in terms of time, meaning foresees. See how the providence comes in here, this idea of forethought or foreseeing something?
Well, if we apply this latter idea of seeing things from a long way off in terms of time, the text seems to tell us here in verse 4 that Abraham had a vision of what would happen at that place in a distant future. Some suggest that what he saw afar off was the true Lamb of God, slain as a sacrifice for our sins in AD 31. That he was given a vision of what would happen there on that mount or near that place. The vision then gave Abraham the proof that he needed to confidently say that God would provide the lamb for the offering.
Now, this seems to be validated by something that Jesus says and those who believe that this is what it was would go to this scripture in John 8. Jesus is in a quite heated debate here with the Jews, when was He not, it seems. But He is getting to the end of His argument here. He says,
John 8:56 "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad."
This seems to fit what we have there in Genesis 22, but "My day" is very general. It could mean that Abraham understood ("to see" meaning to grasp or to understand), that God would send His Son as the Messiah. Or it could mean that he saw His life kind of played out, or it could mean he saw a literal day, in a vision, perhaps a time of Jesus working or even the most critical day in Christ's life—the day of His crucifixion. That is when He finished His work as the Lamb of God. But "My day" is not specified.
Now, this possibility is very intriguing that we can connect these two statements here, that he saw this afar off and Jesus confirming it in John 8:56, but I feel that it is better to give more weight to the literal meaning. That the afar off refers to distance. Just a few miles. He saw the mountain in front of them, not time, not that he saw in the future. I think this because I respect Abraham and his faith and that he did not need a vision to bolster his faith. That he saw Jesus' day through his relationship with Jesus, with the Word. He had met Him many times and God had spoken with him. I think we have a lot that we could read between the lines in the times that they did converse with each other. We do not get all of their dialogue. I think there was probably a lot more that God told Abraham when they were eating or meeting with one another.
I think the revelation had been from another time and this is actually just talking about a physical seeing of the mountain top and where they were to go. I think he understood that by faith that this would happen in a time in the future and that he then acted on that using his own limited foresight. But he knew that man's sins required, demanded an ultimate sacrifice and he knew that animal sacrifices were not enough, they are not a high enough value to pay for human sin. So there had to be some greater sacrifice that was to be made. I mean, he knew that prophecy in Genesis 3:15 said the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. So as a man of deep faith, he did not need the vision to know that God would provide the lamb.
Also, before we go on to verse 9, I want to emphasize the phrase said in verse 6 and verse 8, that "the two of them went together." That is, Abraham and Isaac. They left the two servants and they went together up the mount and after Isaac asked the question, "Where is the lamb?" and he said that He would provide, they went together. It mentioned both of these times that they were as one in this journey, Abraham and Isaac walked the same path. By extension, we could say they were of the same mind. They were united in their faith in God and their worship of Him. And what this does is it shows that their relationship is a clear type of the relationship with the Father and the Son. We have always got to take what is going on here in the narrative and raise it up a level because this is a particularly poignant and vivid father/son situation that points to the Father and the Son in heaven.
So this is showing that the Father and the Son, as also Abraham and Isaac, are one with each other. They wanted both to do the same thing and this is something Jesus constantly reiterated in His own life. He talked about it a lot—about how much He and His Father were alike and how much They were one and how They have the same goals and that He did what His Father told Him. And so there was always this loving relationship that was working on the same goal.
Let us go back to John again. This is the particular gospel where He talks about this a lot. We will read just a few verses from three different chapters here.
John 10:29-30 "My Father, who has given them to Me [He is talking about the called, the chosen.], is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one."
He says They walked together.
John 14:8-10 Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father and it is sufficient for us." And Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works."
They were side by side and doing this great work of Jesus that He did throughout His life.
John 17:11 "Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are."
They want us to join the party, as it were, and be one with Him in just the same way.
John 17:20-21 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me."
So this idea of walking the same path, of going together, is another one of those great principles that pops up in this story to remind us that that is the way we were supposed to be going. We are supposed to walk that same path with Them.
Let us now get back to Genesis 22 and we will read verses 9 and 10.
Genesis 22:9-10 Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar upon the wood. Then Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
Here we have the climax of the story as Abraham and Isaac reach Mount Moriah's peak and commence to build a stone altar of unhewn stones. I am sure it was. They laid the wood that Isaac had carried on his back and they put all that on the altar. Then Abraham binds Isaac and lays him down on the wood and finally grips the knife to slay his son.
There is a lot of drama in all of that. There is drama in these very simple active clauses that are in the Hebrew. But, you know, it is all delivered very matter of factly. They came to the place, Abraham built the altar, placed the wood in order, bound Isaac his son, laid him on the altar, stretched out his hand, and took the knife. It is all said without emotion. This is what he did: First step, 2nd step, 3rd step, fourth step, fifth step. Everything was all in order. That is what the matter of fact delivery suggests: order, deliberation, purpose. And actually it a lack of emotions, like they were going through these motions and nothing comes through these phrases to tell us anything of what they were feeling. Sounds very workmanlike, like they were sent up there to build an altar and that is what they did.
The narrative gives us no conversation during this time, almost like they built it in silence. I mean, this was a fair amount of time it took to build the altar, stack the wood, bind Isaac, put him on there, it took a fair amount of time. But the narrative here says nothing of tears, no crying, no crying out, no asking God anything. Each does his job.
Abraham expresses no sorrow, no type of contrition, he makes no excuses, no rationalizations. Isaac himself does not argue or fight. He submits to being tied and put on the altar. There is no suggestion here that he fought his father on that. He must have cooperated with his dad to allow him to be bound and to lay him on the wood at the altar, because no man of Abraham's age, however old he was then, well over 100, can pick up a strapping young man, dead weight, and lay him at a height on these stones and wood. It is impossible unless he was some sort of Samson, had Samson-like strength, and it does not seem like he did.
And Isaac does not plead for his life. Isaac certainly could have given him a roundhouse punch and beat a path down the mountain. But he did not, he laid himself down, which is very typical because Christ did the same. Peter tells us He did not even open up His mouth, as a lamb led to the slaughter. So we have Isaac doing the same thing in a type.
At the very worst, what we see in verses 9 and 10 here, is resignation. I do not think it was resignation, but at worst it depicts resignation. That is, that Abraham and Isaac figured that they had to go through with God's command and so they would. And whether they liked it or not, they did it. This could be seen as reluctant submission or just simply acquiescence. God is more powerful than we are. We better do what He says, even though we do not like it. That sort of thing.
But, at best, this shows confident obedience for God's command, certainty of rightness about what they were doing. A certainty about God's promise, certainty about God's power to resurrect. Or we can say a certainty of God's providence, that God would provide what was necessary even though they had not brought an animal with them.
So what it does, if we look at it at its best, is we see total faith, total love, total hope, total obedience. And this would be the attitude, the walk of the righteous, blameless man that God had told Abraham in Genesis 17:1 to be. Remember that was part of the covenant that they made. He said, "Walk before Me and be blameless" and I am going to give you all these things. I will be your God.
Now if you go and look at what Hollywood presents when they do this (they have done it in a few movies), Hollywood cynically depicts Abraham as argumentative, as resentful, grieved, definitely reluctant, even questioning about whether his God was really God. It is actually in one of the movies, they say that by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham says something to the effect of "that seems more like the command of one of the gods of the Canaanites." And it shows him telling God "No, I will not do it." This was the night before when he had been given the command. But it totally ignores his confident assertion to Isaac that God would provide the lamb because he was confident, he was faithful. And it similarly depicts Isaac as a child. I think most of them have him as 9 or 10 or something, a really young kid who knows very little about God, as if Abraham had taught him nothing. Like he had ignored him until this came about and now he had to kill him. It is really from screwy thinking because the biblical narrative where we get the story, disagrees with all of these depictions of both Isaac and Jacob.
So we have the Bible's account and we have the author of Hebrews commenting on this back in Hebrews 11.
Hebrews 11:17-19 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
Again, very straightforward. He offered up his son and he received him back again.
James 2:21-23 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that his faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God.
There is no indication here of, let us say, some of those harsher emotions that probably 99 percent of us would have had in a situation like this. Both of these passages in the New Testament, like Genesis 22, use matter of fact language in describing what Abraham did. We read nothing about histrionics. No over the top drama. No hysteria. No maudlin wailing and gnashing of teeth but consideration and belief and obedience and righteousness. Look, I am 100 percent sure he was emotional. Who would not be?! You would have to be a robot, an automaton, not to be emotional. He undoubtedly wept. He would have been, again, inhuman not to have wept.
But they were not tears of loss, I do not think. But tears of the thought of having to hurt his son, having to cause him trauma, having to cause him to bleed, if it came to that, and die and all that emotional trauma that he would cause by the experience. I mean, that is something that would would scar you for life, not just physically, but emotionally, to have the one that you trusted slay you like that. That is just plain human emotion, human reaction.
But Abraham, after thinking it through, I think he came to that mountain top supremely confident that God would intervene—either by stopping him short of the fatal slash or as the scripture says, he knew that He would resurrect him. That He had the power to do it and He had to do it because of the promises that He had made. Because all these blessings were to come through Isaac. He was his heir. All the people that he said would become kings and great nations in the future would come through Isaac and you cannot do that through a dead kid. So he would have to live again.
But I think the narrative in Genesis 22 describes the actions, the works, the attitude of a man of astounding faith. I do not think we get the depth of Abraham's faith. That is why he is the father of the faithful because as a human, he embodies this attribute. He was ready to obey God in everything! He truly believed God, not like some of us who God says something in plain black and white and we find all kinds of rationalizations and justifications not to believe what He says. But Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
Now this brings to mind, at least to my mind, Matthew 17. It is the lesson that the disciples needed to learn. That means you and me.
Matthew 17:14-21 And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him." Then Jesus answered and said, "Oh faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me." And Jesus rebuked the demon, and he came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. [Now here comes the lesson] Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not cast him out?" So Jesus said to them, "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."
So I think what we see in the life of Abraham is a man who had that faith as a mustard seed and that means we really have a really little bit of faith. But he had the faith that made the impossible possible because he trusted God. Here his son was dead to him for three days, but he knew he would receive him back again. When before this time had anybody been raised back to life? But Abraham knew that that impossible thing was not impossible to God. That kind of an idea is very foreign to men. People really believe that you live and you die and that is that. They do not know what happens after and they do not think you can come back. But Abraham believed that if Isaac died, God could bring him back. So he had that faith that can move mountains.
Genesis 22:11-12 But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." And He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."
As we start here on these two verses, we have to note that the Angel of the Lord is not an angel as we normally understand, but none other than the One we call the Word or the God of the Old Testament. The One who became Jesus Christ. This was the Lord. We know this from what is in the context here because of His famous response. It says, "Now I know that you fear God and have not withheld your only son from Me." It was not some angel acting for the Lord. It was the Lord Himself acting as the Angel for this spokesman, the messenger of God.
We have to also add to our proof here that this was the One we call the Word because in verse 16 He swears by Himself. An angel could not swear by himself. He would swear by the Lord, if anything. But who does the Lord swear by? Well, there is nothing higher than Him, so He swears on Himself. This is a big point that is made in Hebrews that God swore by Himself and made this promise inviolable that He gives Abraham later on in the chapter. It was sure, it was a sure promise because He swore it on Himself. He is the same Being who had appeared to Abraham at other times, He appeared to Hagar, Jacob, Moses, Balaam, Joshua, Gideon, Sampson's parents, and others besides, where He is called the Angel of the Lord.
So in this guise, if you will, He is the messenger of God, the messenger of the Father and Son. He is the spokesman of the Two. He is the one that is always sent as God's emissary to interact with and lead His people. And He especially shows Himself at such critical junctures as this.
Now notice that God's call to Abraham here is very much more urgent than in verse 1. In verse one, he says, "Abraham!" and Abraham says, "Here I am." But here He says, "Abraham, Abraham!" like maybe Abraham was getting a little bit hard of hearing or something. But it just shows the urgency that He did not want him to harm his son. He did not want him to slash down or slash up or however it was that he was going to kill Isaac. He wanted to make sure He stopped him. And Abraham's response to both times, in verse 1 and here in verse 11, is the same. He says, "Here I am." Notice they do not put an exclamation point after it. It is just a statement of fact.
The three incidences of "Here I am" in this chapter (it is also in verse 7 when he responded to Isaac), indicate the patriarch's steadfastness. He was calm, he was steady. I mean, obviously he did not want to do what he was going to do. But he responded immediately to God and said, "Here I am, me, I hear you." I am sure that he was undoubtedly thrilled and relieved to hear God's voice stop him, to intervene in what they were going through. But his response, in both cases, when he got the original command and now and even to Isaac when he asked him about the lamb, he is calm, he is collected, he was an unflappable man, even though I am sure inside he was very emotional. But he deals patiently and willingly with God just as he does with his son.
It is the same way. It is the same love that is flowing out to others. He has this reservoir of love. His love for God, his love for fellow man, which he shows. So he says, "Here I am." It seems to be code for "How may I serve you? What can I do for you? I am ready and willing and able to do what you need to do."
God's response in verse 12 reveals to Abraham that this exercise has been a test of his faith. We have known it all along, reading the story that God was going to test him. That is the first thing that is said in this chapter. But Abraham—maybe he does not know. Maybe he figured out that it was a test. But this is the first time it is confirmed that this was a test of Abraham's faith, of his godly fear, and of his loyalty and character. I am sure that God undoubtedly knew that Abraham was extremely faithful and could pass this test that he had given him. But I think that He did not know absolutely that Abraham would remain faithful. He knew that Abraham had it in him. But would Abraham come through and truly obey the command that He had given him when pushed to the ultimate limit of giving his dear and only son, the one that he was fully invested in as his son and heir? And not only the heir of him, but the one through whom all the promises would come.
So maybe God asked the question, "Would Abraham make an idol of his son?" Would he put his son before God? Would he love Isaac more than he loved God? That was the test. Is he going to choose God or is he going to choose his son and heir? And no, obviously it turns out that he did not put Isaac before God. He feared God most of all. He showed that he loved God more than he loved Isaac. That he kept that first great commandment to love God. And he also, in doing so, kept the second one. Because by doing his loving act of obeying God's command, he made Isaac's future possible—and all of our futures possible.
So he kept the first commandment found there in Exodus 20:2. He placed nothing before God. No one, nobody is to be before God to us. And he did not even do that with his own son that he loved. His faithfulness confirmed God's knowledge of Abraham's character. And He said, "Now I know. This is the hardest thing that anybody is going to have to face. And I know now that whatever I ask you to do, you can do it, you'll be faithful in everything now."
He says He knows now that he feared God. We understand the fear of the Lord, the fear of God, as deep reverence for God. Obviously it can be simple respect for God and obedience to Him, or it can be all the way at the other end of the spectrum, a terror of disappointing Him and coming under His wrath. They are all included in the fear of God. And Abraham had a proper fear of God we see here. Call it a healthy relationship with God where he knew his place. He knew that he was the friend of God. He had a close relationship with Him, yes, but he was really a humble servant of whom obedience and loyalty were absolutely required.
So though he had, let us say, a "chummy" relationship with God as anyone on earth could have, he knew that first of all, though, he was the lesser of the two and that God required him to be obedient and even subservient when the need came. He understood covenant. He understood that under a covenant with God he was absolutely and definitely the junior partner. He could not make demands of God under that covenant. He could not change God's mind in that way. And he also knew that his loyalty, if he kept the terms of the covenant, would be fantastically rewarded. But he also knew the flip side of that and he knew that if he was disloyal to the covenant and disloyal to God's command, he could be severely punished under God's justice, under the terms of the contract.
And so Abraham was a truly humble man who knew his place and especially knew his place before God. That he was to say "yes sir," "yes captain" to everything that He asked of him.
Genesis 22:13 Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.
So, we see here the fulfillment of his faith. That because of Abraham's loyalty, God provided. God provided the lamb in the form of this ram. This is all acting out the covenant that they had made together in chapter 17. Abraham is doing his part and God is doing His part. Abraham's part was to walk before God and be blameless. That is, he was to have a relationship with God and he was to obey His voice—which God says that is what he did. He said, "Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son." He obeyed His voice. He later says in verse 18 "because you have obeyed My voice," He would give him all of these things, all the promises in the covenant.
God's part, on the other hand, was to bless him, was to give him the things that he needed to multiply his descendants and to make from him many nations and many kings, among a lot of other things that He blessed his descendants with.
Now, just as we finish here, I want to turn it toward us and some of the things we need to learn from what we have gone over today. Paul speaks of this relationship in terms of our calling and our covenant with God in I Corinthians 1. We are going to end here. Just listen to how he is addressing the church in the same terms of being in a covenant relationship with God, what God gives us, what will come to us because we are in this relationship.
I Corinthians 1:2-9 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [So there is two great gifts right there on top of the calling that we have—great peace.] I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. [So remember this] God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The same supply of help that was there when Isaac was sacrificed on the mount is available to us. We have already received the Lamb supplied by God and all of the benefits that come from the work of the Lamb of God. So if God can do that, He will provide whatever we need to finish the course all the way to the day of Jesus Christ and eternal life in His Kingdom.