Looking at Abraham’s obedience in sacrificing his son, Isaac, can be discouraging. We doubt that we could be like him if given a a test of such magnitude. But God prepared Abraham for the test in Genesis 22, and it should be an encouragement that He also prepares us for the trials and tests we face, such as the Coronavirus.
God Prepared Abraham through Their Relationship
By the time Genesis 22 takes place, Abraham had a deep history with God. Abraham had been through many experiences with God, and as a result, he knew Him. When Abraham interceded for Sodom, he talked God down from fifty righteous people to ten righteous people (Genesis 18:32).
The exchange looked like a conversation between friends, which is fitting since three times in Scripture Abraham is called God’s friend (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). At points, Abraham worried about pushing God too far, but the longer they talked, the more Abraham learned about God’s patience and graciousness. Experiences in relationships can allow trust to build. Abraham had been through so much with God that he trusted Him, even when He asked him to sacrifice his son.
When Abraham first met God back in Genesis 12, could he have passed the same test he passed in Genesis 22? Did Abraham have the faith in Genesis 12 to do what he did in Genesis 22? I doubt it. God prepared Abraham for Genesis 22 in the previous ten chapters.
Abraham needed great faith to sacrifice Isaac, and God built that faith in Abraham through their relationship. For example, Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead, and God convinced Abraham He could raise Isaac from the dead by bringing two other bodies back to life—his and Sarah’s. Abraham knew he and Sarah could no longer have children. Their bodies were “dead,” but:
And not being weak in faith, (Abraham) did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.Romans 4:19-21
Abraham believed God could raise Isaac from the dead. Why? He experienced God supernaturally raise his and Sarah’s “dead” bodies in their old age so they could have Isaac.
God Prepared Abraham through Previous Tests
God also prepared Abraham for the test of Genesis 22 through the tests He gave him in the previous chapters:
Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.”Genesis 12:1
This is the “Family Test” that involved leaving his relatives behind. Abraham failed by bringing his nephew, Lot. At the same time, Abraham faced the “Walk by Faith Test” since God told him to go to a land he had never seen. Abraham passed this test, and then he faced the “Famine Test”:
Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land.Genesis 12:10
Abraham failed this test when he left the land and went to Egypt. Then he also failed the “Fear of Man Test” when he told Sarah to say she was his sister to protect himself:
“Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”Genesis 12:13
In Genesis 13, Abraham passed the “Generosity Test.” His herdsmen began fighting with Lot’s herdsmen, and Abraham gave Lot the best choice of land for his animals:
So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.”Genesis 13:8-9
In Genesis 14, Abraham passed the “Compassion Test” when he risked his life to rescue his nephew Lot from the five kings who captured him:
Now when Abram heard that (Lot) was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan… So he brought back all the goods, and (Lot) and his goods.Genesis 14;14, 16
Then Abraham passed the “Giving Test” when he would not keep the wealth he acquired from the battle against Sodom:
Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”Genesis 14:21-23
But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’”
Abraham failed the “Spiritual Leader Test” when he submitted to Sarah and had a child with Hagar:
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.Genesis 16:1-2
Abraham passed the “Circumcision Test” when God gave him the sign of the covenant, and he had the males with him obey:
So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him.Genesis 17:23
Abraham failed the “Integrity Test” when he lied about Sarah being his sister. Genesis 20:2 says, “Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister.’ And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.” He put his wife in danger, and she ended up in a pagan king’s harem.
Finally, Abraham passed the “Ishmael Test” that most clearly prepared him for Genesis 22. God commanded him to give up a different son. This test is overshadowed by the account with Isaac, but it was still very difficult for Abraham:
Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing. Therefore she said to Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.” And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son.Genesis 21:9–14
But God said to Abraham, “Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.”
So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba.
Twice Abraham’s “displeasure” is mentioned, but he still passed the test. Before God ever asked Abraham to offer up Isaac, He first asked him to “offer up” Ishmael. Did Abraham have any idea God would soon after say, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and offer him as a burnt offering”? No, but God prepared him for that difficult test through the previous tests.
God Prepared David through Previous Tests
Abraham was far from the only person in the Old Testament God tested. David faced a great test when he went before Goliath. Although it would be terrifying, David did not seem the least bit afraid:
Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.”1 Samuel 17:45–47
Why was David so confident he could defeat Goliath? He provided the answer before he stepped on the battlefield. When Saul discouraged David from fighting Goliath, David responded with such a convincing argument that Saul permitted him:
David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord, Who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”1 Samuel 17:34–37
David experienced earlier tests with lions and bears that prepared him for the test with Goliath. David was confident God would deliver him from Goliath because of God’s previous deliverances. God spent years delivering David, and that convinced him He would similarly deliver him from Goliath. God’s past faithfulness gave David confidence in God’s future faithfulness.
God Prepares Us through Previous Tests
Sometimes people read the Old Testament and think, “What does this have to do with me? How can I learn from people whose lives are so different from mine?” These are unfortunate questions because the New Testament states the Old Testament provides us with examples:
- Romans 15:4—“For whatever things were written (in the Old Testament) were written for our learning.”
- 1 Corinthians 10:11—“Now all these things happened to (the Israelites) as examples, and they were written for our admonition.”
Church age believers can learn from Old Testament accounts which often provide a backdrop for New Testament instruction. Abraham and David’s lives are instructive because God tests us like He tested them. When Abraham and David passed the tests they faced, it proved the genuineness of their faith. First Peter 1:7 says “the genuineness of (our) faith (is shown when) it is tested.”
Also, just as God did with Abraham and David, He uses the previous chapters of our lives to write our future chapters. God prepares us for future tests through earlier tests. As Abraham and David looked to God’s past faithfulness to be confident in His future faithfulness, we must look to God’s past faithfulness to be confident in His continued faithfulness to us.
The Danger of Forgetting God’s Past Faithfulness
Israel faced a difficult test when entering the Promised Land. They had many enemies to defeat, and God prepared them by dramatically defeating their previous enemy—Egypt. Israel focused on God’s victory over Egypt, and so—with only a few exceptions—the Book of Joshua is a record of their victories over the Canaanites. Surprisingly though, Israel then moved to a record of failures in the book of Judges. Why the dramatic change? They forgot God’s past faithfulness, and failed terribly as a result:
So the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord which He had done for Israel… When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel. Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals; and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, Who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger.Judges 2:7, 10–12
The Israelites in Judges failed because they “did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done.” The old generation from Joshua’s day knew God and what He had done, but the new generation did not know God any better than they knew the gods of the Canaanites. Thus, it was easy for them to “(serve) the Baals (and forsake) the Lord God of their fathers…and follow other gods from among the (Canaanites).” We must do two things to avoid the same failure in our lives!
- We know God through the Bible. It is His record of Himself. People who do not know the God of the Bible will be about as successful against the tests they face as the Israelites were in Judges. To have confidence in God’s past faithfulness, we must know His past faithfulness, and it is recorded for us in Scripture. God wants us to know Him so we can trust Him, but people who do not know God cannot trust Him. If you want to be able to trust God when tested, then learn from the Word that He is a God Who can be trusted.
- Abraham and David passed tests they faced, because of their relationships with God. But the Israelites in Judges had no relationships with God. We must seek the Lord when we face tests, so we can build relationships with Him. Some people do not expect God to deliver in the future because they never sought His deliverance in the past. People can only trust God’s future faithfulness if they know His past faithfulness, and people can only know God’s past faithfulness if He has been part of their pasts. If we expect to be able to trust God in the future, we must seek Him in the present to build a history with Him.
- Why was Abraham able to obey God despite the great difficulty involved?
- What steps can you take to strengthen your relationship with God?
- In what ways did God prepare Abraham for the test in Genesis 22?
- Provide three other scriptural examples of God preparing people for tests.
- In what ways has God prepared you for tests in your life?
- What are three common reasons in Scripture that people disobey God?
- What are three common reasons in your life that you disobey God?
This post is taken from A Father Offers His Son: The True and Greater Sacrifice Revealed Through Abraham and Isaac. Get your copy today!