David Jeremiah - Abraham
In the book of Hebrews chapter 11, we meet a man by the name of Abraham, and Abraham is a bold choice to be included in the hall of faith. He was a source of Jewish pride and more central to Jewish thought than any of the prophets, or even then Moses, the great lawgiver. Abraham's grave, to this day, in Hebron is considered a holy place by the Jews, and Abraham comes to us in this hall-of-faith appearance with a distinction that belongs to no other of the residents in the hall of faith. The Bible says that Abraham was a friend of God.
In this message, we're going to go from Hebrews 11 and two very central passages in Hebrews 11, back and forth to Genesis chapter 22, and our goal is for us to answer this question: why is Abraham given such press in Hebrews chapter 11? Why is he considered to be the primary example of a life lived by faith? Hopefully, before we're finished we will see the answer to that question. We begin with what we've called the training of Abraham's faith, and the first passage in Hebrews that refers to Abraham has to do with his early walk with God. Hebrews 11:8 says this: "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance".
Now, watch carefully. "And Abram went out, not knowing where he was going". And Genesis chapter 12 tells us that "the Lord said to Abram: 'Get out of your country, from your family, from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation". "He went out, not knowing where he was going. And by faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God".
God called him to go out, not telling him where he was going, and to sojourn in the land of promise as a stranger, and Abraham obeyed. Throughout the early part of his journey with the Lord, it seems as if all God was doing was little by little, one at a time taking from Abraham everything that was important to him. First of all, he told him to leave his country, and then God told him to leave his father. And as he went along in his journey, it wasn't long before he separated from his nephew, and he gave the good land to Lot.
And then, there came a time when he had the opportunity to become instantly wealthy, and he walked away from the spoils of war that were in the hands of the kings of Sodom. And it isn't long before he's being asked to say goodbye to Ishmael, his son by Hagar, and then to Hagar, and little by little everything that was dear and near to Abram's heart is taken away from him. And God is working on him. God is preparing him. God is building into him this concept of faith, because he's about to test him. And if Abraham had not had these early experiences, if Abraham had been a stranger to the tent and the altar, he never would have been able to stand for God as he did when God gave him an incredible instruction.
As you see the life of Abraham, you see God taking away from him everything he was prone to depend on. Sometimes, I wonder if maybe God isn't doing that to some of us now. It's easy for us, as we grow up in this land of plenty, to have everything sorted out, everything prepared. We've got our future all laid out, and it's perfect, and we know where the portfolios are, and our trust in the future is in what we have accomplished with our lives. And then, all of a sudden something happens and that begins to dissipate, and we're back to this whole deal where we have to look up and say, "God, it's you and me. We don't know where to go from now, but we know you are faithful".
God was teaching Abraham to trust in God and not in the things that God had given him. That's the training of Abraham's faith. That was his early experience with God, and I point it out simply because if we're not careful, we see Abraham on the mountain of Moriah, and we think, "What a giant". And we forget that before you get to the mountain you have to roam around in the lowlands and trust God for your daily provision. We come now to the testing of Abraham's faith and the story of this is in Hebrews chapter 11, verses 17 through 19 and in Genesis chapter 22. "Now it came to pass after these things". After what things? After all the things we've been talking about, all the things that God was using to prepare Abram.
It says, "It came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And Abraham said, 'Here I am.'" When you turn in your Bibles to Genesis chapter 22, you discover Abram's defining moment. Did you know all of us have a defining moment? And this moment is a defining moment for a number of reasons. First of all, you need to understand, as you look at your Bible in the book of Genesis, that between chapter 21 of Genesis and chapter 22 of Genesis 20 years go by. Chapter 21 is the beginning of our understanding of Isaac, God's gift to Abraham and Sarah. Twenty years later, we discover that God is going to ask Abraham to give up his son.
Someone has suggested that these 20 years of Isaac's living in the home of Abraham and Sarah were 20 years of laughter. Did you know that the name "Isaac" means laughter? For 20 years, Abraham and Sarah rejoiced every day with this young man that God had given to them, who brought laughter to their hearts. The Bible says that God is going to test Abraham. He's going to test him, according to the second verse, by asking him to take his beloved son, Isaac, his laughter, his joy, and to take that son to a mountain in Moriah, and there to sacrifice him to God.
I would say that qualifies as a great test for Abraham, and the question is why did God do that? Was God trying to get Abraham to disobey him? No, God does not tempt us to do evil. Satan does that. God tests us to reveal the reality of who we are, and God is about to test Abraham so that Abraham can prove to himself and to God and to all of us that it is possible to believe God when it seems almost impossible to believe God. And Abraham does that. Let's talk for a moment about the legitimacy of this test, for this test touched Abraham in the three parts of his personality, which are intellect, sensibility, and will.
First of all, this test that God is about to give to Abraham is going to make a difference in his will. Abraham's will was tested. Genesis 22, verses 2 and 3. Listen to these words. Listen carefully. "Then God said, 'Abraham, take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.' So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him".
This was an act of his will. He knew what God had said. He may not have processed it, and we're pretty sure he didn't. Emotionally, he was not prepared for this. Intellectually, he had not dealt with this yet, but what he knew was simply that God had spoken, and in an act of faith, in obedience Abraham began to do what God told him to do. The psalmist puts it this way, "I made haste, and did not delay to keep your commandments". His will was tested, but here is where I think the test really took place: in his intellect. "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.'"
And I want you to just see if you can get into the intellectual dilemma that faced Abraham at this moment. He heard the promises of God that this was the son of God's blessing. He knew that this was a miraculous thing that God had done. On the other hand, Isaac is now 20 years old, and God comes to Abraham, and he says, "Abraham, I want you to take this son". Notice it says, "the son you love". "And I want you to take him to the mountain that I will tell you about, and there on that mountain I want you to sacrifice him to me".
And Abraham is caught in this dilemma. "What do I do? If I believe this is true, I can't do that. And if I do that, then this can't be true. And, God, I've heard you both times, and I believe in the promise because it was fulfilled in the birth of Isaac, and I hear you now, and I know that's what you're telling me to do, and I don't know what to do. So, I'm just leaving it with you. You take care of it. I'll do what you tell me to do. I'll follow every step that you tell me to take, but I don't get this. I don't know how you're gonna make this work".
His will was tested, his intellect was tested, and then, finally, the other part of the personality of man is his emotion was tested. His heart was tested. I mean, how could he imagine taking a knife and plunging it into the heart of his handsome, virile son? How could he ever face Sarah coming home without Isaac? I have two sons in my family. I couldn't help but think about this as I thought about David and Daniel and wondered what would you do if God should give you such a command? It is so incomprehensible. And you may think that this story of Abraham and Isaac exists in some kind of biblical bubble, but it is a human story given to us as a picture of something we'll see in a moment.
The Bible says Abraham, not knowing how this was all going to turn out, believed God. Against all of the evidence that would tell him not to believe God, he believed God. God wanted Abraham to know in his heart that God was more important to him even than his own son Isaac. The legitimacy of the test - it was a test of his intellect, his emotion, and his will. Let me just speak for a moment about the length of the test, because this is really the way it is for many tests that we face. The Bible says that, "on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off".
Now, the Bible says that as soon as God told Abraham to do this, he did it the next day, but that he didn't get to the place where this was supposed to take place for three whole days. Can you imagine Abraham making the three-day journey, knowing what ultimately awaited him at the end of the journey? I see Abraham walking, and I see him walking as slowly as he can. His shoulders bent over. This is not a victorious march he is taking. How many of you know that when God tells you to do something and it's hard, it's not the doing of it that's the hardest?
It's the waiting to do it. It's the preparing to do it. It's getting to the place where you do it that is anguishing, and the anguish for Abraham in that three-day march, perhaps even in the conversations that we know about when Isaac said, "Dad, here's the wood, and here's the fire. But where's the sacrifice"? You wonder. Isaac's tromping along with his father toward this moment where they're gonna worship God on the mountain, but he doesn't see a sacrifice. Notice the loneliness of it in 22:5 and 6.
We're told that when they got to the place where the sacrifice was gonna take place, that Abraham took the wood, and he took his son, and they went up by themselves, just Abraham and Isaac. And, in essence, Abraham was all alone. Even though Isaac was with him, there was no way he could explain to Isaac what was going on in his heart, but let me speak to a fourth thing. The legitimacy of it and the length of it and the loneliness of it. Look at the loftiness of it. This is just an interesting little aside. The Bible says that this event that is about to happen, where Abraham offers his son to God, is three things. First of all, the Bible says it is worship. I'm astounded at this.
Verse 5 says, "The lad and I will go yonder, and we will worship". Did you know that this is the first time the word "worship" appears in the Bible? And if it sets the tone for every other time that it's to appear in the Bible after that, it surely does have something to say about what we call worship these days. What does the Bible say worship was? It was Abraham offering to God the very best that he had, his own son. It wasn't the willy-nilly things that so often suffice for worship in our churches, sometimes the frivolous things that happen. This was an act of a man of God who gave back to God everything God required of him, even though it was the best that he had.
The Bible also says it was an offering, and it says it was a sacrifice. This was a moment that God said was a high and holy moment, this testing of Abraham, this sacrifice, this worship, this offering that was offered to God. Notice the lesson of this test in verses 6 and 8 of 22 Genesis. "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. And Abram said, 'My son, God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering.' So the two of them went together".
And so, we find Abraham and Isaac now on the mountain, and we're about to see the triumph of Abram's faith. First of all, verse 10 of Genesis 22 tells us that the heavenly silence was broken. Up until this point in time, since the instruction to do what Abraham was called to do, God has not spoken. But now he speaks and verse 10 says, "And Abraham stretched out his hand, and he took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.'"
Abram had his son already bound on the altar. The wood was underneath. He was ready to light the fire. In his hand was the dagger. He was about ready to take his own son's life, and I would imagine that he did this all very slowly. And as he drew back his arm to plunge the dagger into Isaac, it's almost as if God reached out and took hold of his arm and stopped him, and he said, "Abraham"! The heavenly silence was broken, and the heavenly solution was given. "'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.' And Abraham lifted his eyes and looked," and the heavenly silence and the heavenly solution was concluded by the heavenly substitute.
And Abraham went and took the ram that was caught in the thicket, and he offered it up in place of Isaac. Do you see what's happened? Here is Abraham in the center of God's will, doing an unthinkable thing, and God, in that moment, shows himself to be faithful to Abraham. And that brings us to the testimony of Abraham's faith. Abraham proved God to be faithful. Did you know that in the 14th verse of Genesis 22 we have an interesting little name for the place where this happened? "And 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.'"
This is where the word "Jehovah-Jireh" comes from. Jehovah-Jireh means the Lord will provide. And when this was all over and Abraham was able to step back from it for a moment and realize how God had instantly provided what he needed, he named that mountain Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord will provide. He not only proved the faithfulness of God, he proved his own faith, for the Scripture says as they came down the mountain, when this event was over, "Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me".
God did not need to be enlightened about Abraham. God knew that he was first in Abraham's life, but he wanted Abraham to know that. He wanted Abraham to be tested, to prove that God was first in his life. As we look at this, we see not only Abraham's faithfulness to God and his faith in his own heart. We see his fellowship with God, as well. Can you imagine now Abraham, who is the friend of God, and they've gone through this test together? Whatever their relationship was before, it's even greater now.
Isn't it true that when you go through something in life that's really testing you and your faith, when you're in the midst of the test you are closer to God than you ever are at any other time? In fact, I have reason to believe that with every serious test that you face, your relationship with God takes a step in a more intimate direction than it could ever have known without it. How do we know if God is faithful until we find him to be faithful to us, even in the midst of crisis and difficulty?
Every story in the Old Testament is somehow related to the story of the New Testament, and this is the greatest picture of the love of the Father that you'll ever find in the Bible. Almighty God allowed Abraham to spare his son from death, but there was a day when Almighty God had the dagger in his hand, and it was headed toward the heart of his son, Jesus Christ. And that dagger was not stopped. It was plunged into his heart at the Crucifixion, and Jesus, God's only beloved son, was allowed to die. He did not spare.
He loved us so much that he would not spare his own son, but delivered him up so that we might be forgiven of our sin, because, you see, the Bible says, "The wages of sin is death," and the wages had to be paid. If we paid those wages, we could never be with God, and so God sent his son, Jesus Christ, into this world. And the story of Isaac is very much like it until you get to the very end, and the Bible says that God did not spare his own son, but delivered him up for us all. That's how much God loves you. That's how much he loves me. That even his own beloved son was not a price too high for him to pay that you and I might be saved from our sin and forgiven and go to heaven.