The man was asked to kill his son. Read Genesis 22. The man was asked to sacrifice his son as a burnt offering to test whether he loved God or that boy more. And what's astounding is what verse 3 tells us. Abraham got up "early in the morning" to do it.
What's wrong with this picture? How could Abraham possibly be willing to do this for God? And it wasn't even just killing his son, the one he had waited for for so long, the one he loved. It was also killing his only hope of salvation. You see, God had already promised that it was through Isaac that Abraham would be rescued from his sins - not through Ishmael, not through some other miracle baby God would give to Abraham and Sarah. Through Isaac. Period.
Looking at this account in Genesis 22, we naturally make some comparisons between Abraham's faith and ours. We compare the test he faced and the tests we face - tests which, by the way, don't reveal anything to God (he knows it all already), but they are for our good. So through this test, notice why Abraham did what he did. Notice how he did what he did. He got up early to obey God's command with no question because of one thing. God had promised. God had promised, and Abraham had learned what happens when you listen to God, and when you don't. He knew this God of his and what his promise was. That's how he got up early to face the greatest test of his life. And that is the only thing that will strengthen you to do the same every day of your life in all of your tests: Remember who god is when he tests you.
The text doesn't comment on what is going on in Abraham's mind, so you're left to imagine what you'd be going through. Seventy-two hours journeying together with that son he loves, and only he knows why. Then Isaac speaks. You can almost hear Abraham's heart break with that question: "Father...the fire and wood are here...but where is the lamb for the burnt offering." Then there's the father-son building project of that altar. Is there anything that brings more joy to a father? Then, there had to be that conversation: "Isaac, trust me. I'm going to tie you up now." Then, placing him on the wood, drawing back the knife.
It is exceedingly safe to say that the Lord is not going to tell you to sacrifice to him a dear family member as a burnt offering. But it's also exceedingly safe to say that you have tests, don't you? It may be hard sometimes to tell if they're tests from God or temptations from the devil. Maybe they're both. Abraham wasn't told it was a test. You aren't always given warning either. A medical test can be serving double duty as a test from God, can't it? "Do you trust that I'll care for you in sickness and in health?" Facing the gravestone that bears the name of the one you loved can be a test. Interacting again with a person who does not bring out the best in you but who triggers your sinful nature to go in directions you know it shouldn't go. The loss of work, the loss of a friendship, the loss of money, the loss of anything or anyone you might love - it is always a test to love God more than what or whom you've lost or might lose.
Ask Abraham. An appropriately strong love for his son Isaac would be inappropriate, would be sin, if it surpassed his love for God. We're not told all of his thoughts as he walked to Moriah and trudged up the mountain alongside the son he loved, but what are yours as you face your tests to truly put God first? "Why? Why is God testing me like this? Is it something I've done? Something I've not done? Is God mad at me?"
Tests are not strengthening us as God intends when we're complaining about them, when we disobey to get out of them, when we blame someone else, when we label God as unfair. And when that happens, our failure isn't merely ugly. That sin is damning.
So God gives us this text to see something about him. You can't help but notice that beating in Abraham's heart was faith God gave him, faith that said: "God has this covered." It's in his statement to the servants in verse 5: "We will worship and then we will come back to you." It's in his words to Isaac, "God will provide a lamb." It's in what he named the mountain, "The Lord will provide."
The New Testament sheds some light on what Abraham was thinking. Look up Hebrews 11:17-19. God's word gives us Abraham's line of thought as a lesson for us: "If God has promised me and all people the forgiveness of sins and unending life with him in heaven, and if he has promised that the Savior who will gain this forgiveness (Jesus) will be born through Isaac, that can only mean one thing. After I kill my son and reduce his body to ashes in the sacrificial fire, God is going to raise him from the dead so that he can still be the one through whom the Savior is born, because God cannot, does not and will not break his promise."
How does that affect you? Two things, right? First of all, through that descendant of Isaac, you have God's forgiveness for every test you've failed in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for all your sins, which, by the way, happened on that very same mountain - Moriah. But here's what you also have for every test you face. Here's your line of thought: "The Lord has to have a good reason for this test if he's promised that he is my Savior and I am his child. Since he's promised me heaven, God has this covered. However taxing this test I'm going through may be, my God already has it covered in ways I can't even see, so I'll go on, trusting him." Remember who God is when he tests you. He is the God who sees to it. He doesn't only have it covered, he has you covered.
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington.