Thought for the month | Word on the Wash 2020
Feb 2020 Graham Maddison
Genesis 22 – This is surely one of the most astonishing chapters in the whole of Scripture!
Over the course of more than 20 years, Abraham had been told repeatedly by God that he would have ‘offspring’ (Gen. 12:7, 13:15, 15:18), ‘a son who is your own flesh and blood (15:4), ‘descendants’ (15:13, 17:7). Eventually, when Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah was 90 (Gen. 21:5), Isaac was born to them. Finally, after a 25-year wait, God’s promise is at last on its way, but then comes chapter 22 – which seems to make no sense at all!
God speaks to Abraham, and tells him (v2) ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love … and sacrifice him as a burnt offering’. What!? Imagine the range of emotions (anger, pain, confusion etc.) which surely ran through Abraham’s mind; there would have been so much within him which wanted to say ‘no’ to God’s command.
But he did it; he carried out the Lord’s instructions. He tied up his son, his only son, whom he loved, laid him on the altar, and then (v10) ‘took the knife to slay his son’. At that point, the Lord spoke, and told Abraham to sacrifice a ram instead of his son. What a relief!
But why? Why did God put Abraham through this excruciating experience? v1 tells us that God was testing Abraham. v12 explains the purpose of the test: ‘Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’ To fear God is to have a deep respect & reverence towards him, a sincere desire to please and honour him, a concern not to offend or disappoint him, no matter what the cost. God needed to know whether, and to what extent, Abraham truly feared him. See Hebrews 11:17-19.
Because he loves us, and because his loving purpose is to refine and purify into the likeness of Christ, we, too, sometimes go through times of testing: times of intense difficulty and anguish, when we feel we are pushed to our limits. Like Abraham, we need to demonstrate by our trust and obedience that we respect and revere God above our own comfort and convenience, no matter what the cost. Read James 1:2-4, 12.
But there is so much more here, that points way beyond Abraham and Isaac. Many of the New Testament writers quote or allude to this chapter. Matthew 3:17 and 17:5 echo God’s words about Abraham’s love for Isaac (see also John 3:16, Romans 8:32). This remarkable chapter lays a foundation and sets a pattern for the greatest sacrifice of all, in which a loving Father actually sacrificed his Son, resulting in great blessing for all nations on earth. Hallelujah!
Amazing love! O what sacrifice!
The Son of God given for me!
My debt he pays, and my death he dies,
That I might live!