The Sacrificial Climb (Genesis 22:1-19)
In between God’s initial promise to Abraham of offspring and Isaac’s actual birth were years of waiting as well as numerous trials. But the greatest test to Abraham’s faith in God’s promise wouldn’t come until after Isaac came on the scene.
True faith loves God more than his gifts.
As Genesis 22 begins, God gives a startling command to Abraham: “Take 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.” (v. 2) Seriously? After emotional decades of waiting for a son, he’s now supposed to sacrifice this beloved son and – by extension - abandon all hope in God’s promise that has defined his life for the past twenty-five years?
That may have been what was going through Abraham’s mind when he first heard this command. But verse 1 lets us readers know that this command is a test. At no point is Isaac’s life ever in danger here. When God tests his people, it’s meant to reveal the quality of their faith and strengthen it. The real danger in Genesis 22 then has to do with Abraham’s relationship with God. The test, according to verse 12, is to see whether he fears God.
But hasn’t Abraham already demonstrated his fear of God on numerous occasions? Yes, but there’s something unique about this test. Up until now, Abraham’s been called to give up something so that he might gain something. He was asked to leave his homeland so that he might gain a new homeland. He was asked to leave his family to begin a new family that would bless all families. “Here, however, there is nothing to gain. No promise balances the loss.” The test is this: is Abraham motivated by his relationship with God or by what he gets out of it? Does he love God for God or for what God gives him? If he had nothing except God, would that be enough for him?
Shocked as he may have been, Abraham obeys. Don’t skip past the details of verses 3-4. The time for preparation (v. 3) and the three-day journey he embarks on (v. 4) tell us that Abraham’s obedience isn’t rash or impulsive. He’s had time to reflect on the pain of this command and make a conscious decision. Only by great determination to obey God is he able to proceed.
Faced with the greatest test to his faith yet, Abraham succeeds, proving by his actions that nothing is more precious to him than God. After being stopped by the angel of the Lord from actually killing Isaac, Abraham sees a ram whose horns are caught, a sacrifice provided by God to be offered in the place of Isaac (vv. 9-14).
Abraham’s reward for his actions is given in verses 15-19. At first glance, it may appear that this is just a recap of what God has already promised him. But certain features are new. God now swears by himself to fulfill his promises to Abraham. God can’t lie, so the fulfillment of these promises was never in doubt. The oath then isn’t meant to remove doubt so much as its meant to strengthen its certainty even more (see Hebrews 6:13-18). Second, Abraham’s offspring will in a sense “conquer” the nations (v. 17; ultimately a reference to Jesus). Third, Abraham’s faith is now cited as a reason on top of God’s grace for the fulfillment of the promises (v. 18).
To fully appreciate Genesis 22, we should also notice how often the word “son” is mentioned (verses 2, 3, ,7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 16). This is meant to stress the intimacy between Abraham and Isaac. This father is being asked to give up the son he loves. And this points us to the New Testament. Like Abraham, God is a Father. Like Abraham, his son is precious to him (Matthew 3:17). Like Abraham, God the Father was willing to sacrifice his Son. But unlike Abraham, he actually did (Romans 8:32). And rather than being rescued at the last second by a substitute, Jesus himself was the substitute for sinners like us.
- Read Hebrews 11:17-19. How did Abraham reconcile God’s command to sacrifice Isaac with the promise that “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named”?
- What gifts of God are you tempted to love more than God himself?
- When are you tempted to distrust God or believe that he doesn’t have your best interests at heart? How does the fact that God gave up what is most precious to him for you address those moments?
Romans 8:32 – “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
 John Walton
 God tested Israel in a similar way in the wilderness (see Deuteronomy 8).