Lessons from Abraham's Example

Five Lessons from Abraham’s Example

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Abraham sets a tremendous example in Genesis 22 when God commanded him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. We can be encouraged by his great faith and challenged by his tremendous obedience. Here are five lessons we can learn from him.

First, Abraham was Ready to Obey God

Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!”
And he said, “Here I am.”

Genesis 22:1

If we asked why God would want Abraham to sacrifice his son, the other comparable question we would ask is: why was Abraham willing to sacrifice his son? The simple answer is he heard from God. Abraham’s willingness to present Isaac as a burnt offering required he be fully convinced God had spoken to him. Otherwise, Abraham was insane at best, and evil at worst.

When God first spoke to Abraham, he responded with three words, which mean much more than, “I am here.” They mean, “I am ready to serve You and do Your will!” Other godly men said these same words when they were willing to obey God. In each instance, God revealed His desire only after the person responded this way. For example:

  • Jacob said these words in Genesis 46:2, and then God told him to head to Egypt.
  • Moses said these words in Exodus 3:4, and then God sent him to deliver the Israelites.
  • Samuel said these words in 1 Samuel 3:4, 5, 6, and 8, and then God revealed he would remove Eli’s house.
  • Isaiah said these words in Isaiah 6:8, and then God sent him as a prophet.

Abraham heard from God and responded appropriately. We should have the same responsive hearts toward God. Often, that is when God reveals His will for us. The Word of God is what we “hear.” When we become convinced that God is speaking to us through Scripture, we are to respond as quickly and obediently as Abraham did.

Second, Abraham Obeyed God When It Did Not Make Sense

Then He said, “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.”

Genesis 22:2

There are two reasons this was a difficult test for Abraham. First, and most obviously, it meant sacrificing his “only son whom he loved.” Second, it seemed irrational. When God repeated His covenant to Abraham, He said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them… So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5; see also Genesis 12:2 and 17:6). Later, in Genesis 21:12, God said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” letting him know the descendants would come from Isaac, as opposed to Ishmael.

When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Isaac had no children. The dilemma for Abraham was, “God promised me lots of descendants, and they are supposed to come through Isaac, but I have to sacrifice him before he has had any children?” Despite any confusion Abraham experienced, he obeyed.

God’s Word might not always make sense, but we must still obey. God says:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways…
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

We will not always understand why God does what He does, and we will not always understand why God wants us to do what He wants us to do. Even at those times, we must trust Him and obey.

Third, Abraham Did Not Delay Obeying

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.

Genesis 22:3

After receiving one of the most difficult commands given in Scripture, Abraham “rose early.” He did not delay in doing what God wanted even though the thought of it must have been excruciating. He saddled his donkey and split the wood for the offering. Abraham had a large number of servants, and these are the tasks they would normally perform, but he did everything himself. More than likely he saw this as a command God gave to him alone.

The application is, delayed obedience is disobedience. When we know what God wants us to do, putting it off is the same as not doing it. James 4:17 says, “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

Fourth, Abraham Would Not Let Anyone Interfere with Him Obeying

Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey.”

Genesis 22:5a

There is no indication the servants knew what God told Abraham. More than likely they would try to restrain him from going through with the sacrifice when they learned what he had planned. We are not told whether it crossed his mind to allow them to go so they might stop him. When he arrived at the mount, he told his servants to stay behind, so they would not interfere.

We must not let anyone or anything interfere with us obeying God. While the servants would have thought they were preventing Abraham from making a terrible mistake, they would have been preventing him from obeying God. Sometimes it is well-meaning people who provide the greatest threat to us obeying. Consider this example in Jesus’ life:

From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Matthew 16:21-23

Peter meant well, but Jesus would not let him interfere with obeying His Father. Think of friends who say:

  • “You shouldn’t forgive your spouse because they’ll just do it again!”
  • “You might not have the money to buy that, but you deserve it after all you have been through!”
  • “You will be in danger if you go to that part of the world as a missionary.”

Sometimes obeying God means ensuring these people do not interfere with us doing what God has called us to do.

Fifth, He Understood Obedience Is Worship

The lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.

Genesis 22:5b

The sacrifice God wants is obedience. King Saul did not understand this, so Samuel rebuked him:

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.

1 Samuel 15:22

God wants obedience more than He wants physical sacrifices. Proverbs 21:3 says, “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” The Jews in Jeremiah’s day were religious, but they were also disobedient. God rebuked them:

I did not… command them in the day that I brought them out of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, “Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.”

Jeremiah 7:22-23

God said it was obedience, and not physical sacrifices, that would allow them to prosper. The greater the sacrifice involved in obeying God, the greater the worship; therefore, the greatest act of worship in the Old Testament might have taken place when Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac. We previously discussed The Principle of First Mention, and it is fitting the first use of the word “worship” occurs in Genesis 22:5.

Unfortunately, when some people hear “worship,” they think of little more than singing in church. Abraham said sacrificing his son was worship because he understood worship takes place when we obey God.

And Abraham was not the only one “worshiping” on the mountain that day. He said Isaac would worship too because he saw Isaac’s submission—something requiring immense obedience—as an act of worship too:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1

Second only to Christ, is there a better picture in Scripture of these words than Isaac?

We should live so obediently to God that our very lives are sacrifices. Complete surrender and submission is the greatest worship we can provide, and it does not take place on one day per week—it is a daily activity.

Discussion Questions

  1. What most encouraged you about Abraham’s example?
  2. How can you apply Abraham’s example of obedience to your life?
  3. Who else in Scripture obeyed God in such a way their lives communicated, “I am ready to serve You and do Your will”?
  4. Discuss a time you responded obediently to God’s call on your life. What about a time you responded disobediently?
  5. When obeying God does not make sense, how can you encourage yourself? What verses can you lean on?
  6. How do you think God views delayed obedience?
  7. Are there any ways people around you discourage your obedience to God? How can you respond to them?
  8. How has your view of worship changed since reading about Abraham’s worship in Genesis 22?

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