When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; – James 1:13
The testing of God is something that is difficult to understand and discern. In the story of Abraham’s testing we are told up front that it is a test of God. When things happen in our life we don’t always know the source of our troubles.
There are things in life that just happen. A car breaks down, a baseball breaks a window, these types of things. God doesn’t cause them to happen, they just do from time to time. They don’t escape God’s notice however. He’s watching and may have prevented the car from breaking down at a dangerous place or anyone from being hurt by the broken glass and baseball.
There are other times that we face consequences for our sin. After David committed adultery with Bathsheba and she became pregnant, David was told that the baby would not survive. This was a punishment for sin. Good can still come out of even sinful situations however as Solomon would eventually be born to Bathsheba and not another of David’s wives. The kingly line came through Bathsheba and Jesus is a descendant of her.
We shouldn’t be too quick to declare that what is happening is the punishment of God however. The book of Job is all about bad advice. Job’s friends were convinced that he had done something horrible to deserve all of the calamity that had fallen on him and his family. Job maintained his innocence but did wonder why he had so many bad things happen to him.
One thing that we can clearly say is that when temptation is involved, God is not the source of the difficulty. God does not cause struggles with lust, gossip, anger, profanity, or any other sin. God does not put us in places of temptation, this is the devil’s work. God does just the opposite as we pray in the Lord’s pray “lead us not into temptation.”
Even though we don’t know when God is testing us and when things just happen, or even when our struggles are the result of sin, we should face them all the same. We should take our struggles as an opportunity to learn and ask ourselves if God is trying to teach us something. Sometimes the lesson will be clear such as “that was sinful, don’t do it again.” Other times the lesson will just be that we need to trust God more. And sometimes our struggles just reinforce what we already know but may need a reminder of.
Before we more into our passage, allow me to tell a personal story of struggle. Like I’ve just shared, I can’t tell you to this day whether it was a test of God or just a matter of circumstances. I can’t even tell you for certain that it wasn’t a result of sin and my need for an attitude adjustment. For a few months I definitely failed the test if in fact it was a test but God in His grace got me through it.
A few years ago I found myself in a not uncommon position for me to be in – unemployed and not having a clue what to do with my life. This wouldn’t have been too bad right out of college (although being in the same position right out of college wasn’t all that fun either) but by this point I had gone through several jobs, mainly temp jobs, and had run into multiple dead ends. What made this situation worse than all of the other ones was that I was convinced that where I was at and what I was doing was God’s will.
In this time I had a few options. I could trust that God was in control and that He knew whatever was best for me. I could stubbornly try to put myself back into the situation that had been closed to me because I had determined it was God’s will. Or I could begin to question whether anyone could really determine God’s will and therefore I’d never know if I was in the right situation or not.
I chose a combination of options two and three. In the life of Abraham it would be the equivalent of marrying Hagar and fathering Ishmael instead of waiting on God and fathering Isaac. There were worse ways to respond but it certainly wasn’t ideal.
In the short term for me it was anything but ideal. For several months I found myself depressed and absolutely directionless. I remember filling the pulpit at a church on Mother’s Day and delivering the worst sermon I have ever given. I didn’t want to be there. I had been hurt by people in the church and was tired of liars who called themselves Christians. But I was also not in the position to turn down $75 to pay my bills either.
In the end I basically broke down. I had tried my way and it wasn’t working. I had trusted people who I thought were on my side and they had their own interests that weren’t necessarily mine. The only thing I had was God. As frustrated as I was, I knew that He was still in control. So finally I decided that I would just wait for Him to open the right doors and I would go wherever He sent me. I’d offer no excuses and ask no questions if He opened the way.
What did I learn from all of this? Ultimately that I can only trust God. My own abilities can only get me so far. God may have given me my abilities but I still can’t do much with those abilities without Him. People are going to let me down, even good, well meaning Christians. Looking back on my life, my greatest times of frustration have been when people I thought I could trust have seriously failed me. Christians aren’t perfect, even the best of us. I may let you down and you may let me down. But God won’t let us down.
I’ve also learned that God’s plans won’t be thwarted. To this day I believe that it was God’s will for me to be in the situation that was closed to me and that it was other people’s sin that closed it and not God’s doing. We see all throughout the Bible that people sin and sidestep God’s plan. Abraham father Ishmael but it didn’t derail God’s plan for Him to have Isaac. David fell into adultery and murder and it still didn’t ruin God’s plan for Him or the nation of Israel. Sin causes a sidestep away from God’s ideal plan but it doesn’t ruin it. What was a devastating step away from God’s will at the time has turned out pretty well for me I think. In spite of the sin of other’s God done great things in my life and brought me here and gave me a beautiful wife.
I didn’t respond to everything perfectly but in the end I believe I passed the test. And I really pray that I don’t need any further tests like it in the future. Even though tests cause us to grow – or at least they should – that doesn’t make them enjoyable to go through.
Finally, on to our passage this morning.
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
We’ve talked about it for a few weeks but we actually skipped over the birth of Isaac. Genesis 21 details the birth of Isaac. It also tells the story of Hagar and Ishmael leaving because Isaac was the favored son and also the child that God had promised. Abraham only has Isaac as an heir at this point so he is essentially his only son.
This story is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ, God’s only Son.
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
We don’t know precisely how old Isaac is at this time but he’s old enough to know what is going on. He notices that there is no lamb to be sacrificed. Abraham’s response can be looked at as a little white lie, as faith that God would provide a lamb instead of Isaac, or as recognition that God had provided Isaac already.
I believe that it is the last of the three that Abraham believes. Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham was not counting on God providing a substitute but in fact was prepared to sacrifice his son.
17By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
Abraham wasn’t expecting a last second bailout. He was ready to sacrifice his own son but he also trusted God so completely that he believed God would raise Isaac from the dead.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”
Earlier Abraham had an opportunity to trust God to provide and he took things into his own hands. He married Hagar and had a child with her. This was not God’s plan however and he later was given Isaac. This time when Abraham has an opportunity to trust God completely, he passes the test with flying colors, going so far as to reason that he could sacrifice his only son and because God had promised to bless him through Isaac that God had to raise him from the dead. That is complete faith and a complete passing of the test.
Abraham didn’t learn his lesson to trust God the first time so he was given a second opportunity to show his faith. It is said that those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it. There is truth to this. If we are faced with a test and don’t learn from it, we can expect to face similar tests in the future. Once God knows our faith and more importantly we have learned the lesson, God doesn’t need to test us anymore. This doesn’t mean that life will be easy. It only means that God won’t be testing us in the same area.