First there was Knowing God by J. I. Packer (1993). Then there was Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King (1990). In this series of lessons we will emphasize Acknowledging God. To acknowledge means “to recognize authority or status; to take notice; or to express gratitude.”
In acknowledging God we express gratitude for his provision to meet our greatest need, salvation. To meet that need God acted in sacred space, specifically Mount Moriah (in this lesson) and the temple in Jerusalem (in the three lessons that follow). God did not act in a vacuum. He accomplished his great salvific act for the world to see (Acts 26:26). It took place in time and space, and there was more than one prophetic glimpse of it in the Old Testament.
Genesis 22:1-3, 6-8
Our text begins with the generic temporal connector, “Some time later.” Abraham settled in the land of Canaan. Some years after Isaac was born, after Hagar ran away with Ishmael, and after Abraham came to a covenant concerning wells with Abimelech, “God tested Abraham.” The narrator tells us up front that this was a “test” (put to the proof). God never did intend for Abraham to go forward in sacrificing Isaac. The test was to determine the level of Abraham’s faith.
Abraham put himself at God’s disposal. The text contains a great phrase of availability, “Here I am” (see Isaiah 6:8). Then, in words that must have shot arrows into Abraham’s heart, God told Abraham to take his only son (see John 3:16) and sacrifice him. This was a most unusual command because God commanded only animal sacrifices (Jeremiah 19:5). But, it was a test after all. The sacred space was a mountain called Moriah. The burnt offering was the boy whose name meant laughter, but this was no laughing matter.
There is something beautiful about the phrase, “Early in the morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey.” It’s called obedience (Hebrews 11:8). He took servants, a donkey, wood, fire, knife, and Isaac. In the non-printed part of our text we read that “on the third day” they saw Moriah (vv. 4, 5). Then Abraham said something that indicated that he would pass the test. “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Come back to you? What was Abraham expecting, a resurrection (Hebrews 11:19)?
Isaac carried his own wood to Moriah (see John 19:17). His dialogue with his father en route must have made the test even harder. “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham replied, “God will provide.” We are told that we will not have to endure tests behind what we can endure (1 Corinthians 10:13), but this seemed pretty overwhelming.
Passing the Test
Perhaps not many words were shared between father and son when Abraham went about the business of preparing the wood, the altar, and the knife. There is some debate about how old Isaac would have been by this point. If he was a young strapping teenager could he not have thrown dear old dad off? But he was compliant to God’s will too. At the very least Isaac learned that day on Moriah that his dad was totally sold out to God. There is a scene in the movie, The Bible, where the boy playing Isaac looks into the eyes of George C. Scott, playing Abraham, and says, “Is there nothing of which he will not require of thee?” The answer is, “No.”
Abraham was just about to slay his son when he passed the test. An angel called Abraham’s name twice, and Abraham answered as he did before, “Here I am.” It is hard to imagine that tears did not flow when the angel gave the instructions for Abraham to put down the knife. Abraham was not perfect, but that day he received an “A.”
Providentially there was a ram caught by its horns in a nearby thicket. The ram was substituted for Isaac. The seed of promise for a savior for the world was preserved. God’s plan to redeem humankind would not be derailed. Abraham passed the test. Or, was it that God passed the test? God is the hero of this story. He is the great provider. As Tom Ewald from Lincoln Christian University said in a sermon long ago, “But there would come another day, on another hill, with another father, and another son. But that day there would be no ram caught in the thicket. That day the son would die.” We have a word for that. It is the word provision.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on International Sunday School Lesson, ©2013, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.