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Hebrews 11:17-19 - The Faith of Abraham and Isaac...

Our text is found in Hebrews 11:17-19. It says,

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

The end of the school year is fast approaching. I am sure that many of your children are not looking forward to finals week. Soon students everywhere will be handing in their papers, their final projects, and taking their final exams. Very few students enjoys final’s week.

This morning we are looking at a time when Abraham faced his biggest test ever! Every other test, and every other trial, that Abraham has gone through had helped to prepare his faith for this test.

The texts that we will be looking at today are found in Hebrews 11:17-19 and Genesis 22. However, I would first like to first turnto Jeremiah 20 and consider a passage where we see Jeremiah the prophet being tested.

In this passage we will see Jeremiah experience a difficult test of his faith in his calling and even a testing of his faith in the LORD who has called him. For example he says in Jeremiah 20:7, “O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived...”.

One of the reasons that I wanted to beginin this passage isto point out some graces that we will see in Jeremiah’s testing. Once we see these graces at work in Jeremiah’s testing I believe that we can assume that these same graces will be present in Abraham’s time of testing as well. As a result of these things we can also be encouraged that these graces will be at work in us when we are tested by the LORD.

As we look at this passage I would like for you to notice three things. First, I would like you to see that times of testing can be at an individual or corporate level. Jeremiah and Abraham are both being tested individually. Because of this isolation these types of testing can be very intense, very difficult and very challenging (2 Timothy 4:16-18).

In Jeremiah 20 the prophet seems to go of by himself to lament before God. In Genesis 22 we will see that Abraham walked through this testing alone. He does not tell Sarah, his hired hands, or his son what is going on.

Secondly, we will see that Jeremiah will try to avoid the call upon his life but the LORD makes this impossible to do (20:9). Similarly, although we are not told that Abraham hesitated or struggled in Genesis 22during his time of testing it almost unlikely that he did not have the desire to flee from this test like Jonah fled from his calling (Jonah 1:3). I cannot imagine that Abraham did not instinctively pray like Jesus did on Mount Gethsemane as He struggled to submit His will to the calling set before him (Luke 22:39-46). If Jesus struggled on that occasion, how much more would Abraham struggle in this time of testing.

Thirdly, we will see that the LORD tests the righteous (20:12). No person, no family, no community, and no nation is immune from times of testing. Even the righteous, perhaps we could say that especially the righteous will be tested. When the righteous are tested, they will act according to the grace that God has given to them. Those who have been made righteous will be able to act out of that righteous nature that faith has produced in them. The elect have been given access to every grace available from the LORD that is needed in moments like these. The righteous access these graces by faith as they remember the promises of God. When a believer goes through the test by depending upon the grace of God they will come out worshiping as we see Abraham do in Genesis 22:13-14.

In Jeremiah 20 the prophet is imprisoned and beaten by Pashhur the priest (1-2). When the prophet is released the next day and he does not leave quietly. No, he boldly prophesies in the name of the LORD against all the godlessness and wickedness of the LORD’s people and he speaks of the judgment that is coming upon them.

However, in verses 7-18 the prophet appears to go off into a place of privacy and he cries out and laments before the LORD about the distress that his calling has brought upon him. The prophet is bold before his captors, but he is broken before his LORD.

As you read these verses you can picture Jeremiah going in his home where he shuts his door, he closes the windows, and there hecries out to the LORD his lament in private. It is there that he has the freedom to call out to the LORD from his heart which is under distress. The prophet says in Jeremiah20:8 that the he has faithfully spoken, he has cried out, he has shouted the Word of the LORD to the people (8).

His message, however, has become a reproach and derision all day long. When he speaks the people laugh at him and they mock him (7). Yet, despite their faithless reaction to the message there is no immediate vindication from God on behalf of the prophet and his message. God had done this for Elisha but not here for Jeremiah (2 Kings 2:23-25).

Because of these things Jeremiah faces the temptation (the test) not to speak the Word of the LORD. Yet, the prophet cannot remain silent. He says, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (9) {May the LORD give to each of us this grace in our calling}

Jeremiah cries out to the LORD saying, “O LORD of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind…” (12). This testing that Jeremiah is experiencing is so intense that he curses the day he was born and laments that he has ever seen life for four long verses saying,

Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, ‘A son is born to you,’ making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the LORD overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame.” (Jeremiah 20:14-18)

One of the things that makes Jeremiah’s words of lament here so profound is what was said in Jeremiah 1:5. There the LORD had said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” So before anyone ever came to Jeremiah’s father and declared the birth of his son, the LORD had been at work forming, fashioning, calling, consecrating, and appointing Jeremiah to be a prophet of the LORD.

When Jeremiah experiences this trial he questions everything. He even laments the day of his birth and the man who announced it. He laments that since the day of his birth he has known nothing but toil, sorrow, and shame.

Left to himself Jeremiah would forsake his calling, but he does not. Left to himself he would fail this test but the LORD is with him. During this test the LORD makes his heart burn within him so that he is compelled to continue in faithfulness. Jeremiah says, “...there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot.” (9).

When we come to our texts today in Genesis 22 and see the test that Abraham is experiencing I think that we can picture him speaking like Jeremiah. Abraham may want to ignore this command, but he cannot. He wants to avoid this test, but he cannot.

Abraham may have said to himself, “Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, ‘A son is born to you,’ making him very glad.

Similar to Jeremiah we know that there has been something special going on with Abraham and Isaac. God has been at work long before the day that Issac was born. During this test Abraham may have wanted to curse the day when the news of Isaac’s birth had been declared but he would have known that God was behind it all. God had promised, God had fulfilled, God had called, God had set apart Abraham and Isaac to be the ones through whom the heirs would come. These things are at the foundation of the test that we see going on in our text.

Let’s look more closely at this test in Genesis 22. The test that Abraham faces is the command to take his son, his only son, the son that he loves, and to sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham and Sarah had waited for this promised child for so long! When Isaac was born Abraham and Sarah were very glad. Indeed, they were exceedingly glad.

The birth of a child always brings great joy to the hearts of a mom and a dad, but this joy must have been disproportional for Abraham and Sarah who had waited so long. When Isaac was born Sarah says, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me...Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” (Genesis 21:7).

We see another celebration concerning Isaac when he is weened from his mother. We also see that it was also the occasion of another test for Abraham. We are told that Abraham held a great feast for Isaac (21:8). For Abraham and Sarah, every moment of Isaac’s life was to be celebrated, treasured, and appreciated. The heir was not to be celebrated just by them but by everyone else too.

That did not happen on the day of this celebration. When Isaac was weened and a feast was given Sarah saw Ishmael, the son of Hagar, laughing in mockery of Isaac much like the people laughed at the prophet Jeremiah (21:9). Sarah became angry and told Abraham to throw out the child and his mother because he was to have no part in the inheritance with Isaac (21:10).

As you can imagine, this displeased Abraham because he loved Ishmael (21:12). However, we read, “But God said to Abraham, ‘Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for (because) through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” (21:12). {This is the important promise that is mentioned in Hebrews 11:17-19 that Abraham will respond to in faith during this test.}

In obedience to what the LORD said we are told that Abraham rose early in the morning and gave Hagar and Ishmael provisions and then sent them on their way (Genesis 21:14). On that day Hagar and Ishmael became wanderers in the wilderness of Beersheba.

What was just described for us in Genesis 21 must have been a very difficult day for Abraham. We are told that this moment was displeasing to him. This was a celebration for Isaac that was tainted by the mocking laugh of a step-brother. Less than twenty-four hours later he and his mother are sent off by his father into the wilderness. Can anything more difficult than this happen to Abraham?

We only have to keep reading to discover that the answer to this question is an emphatic ‘Yes’!

As we come to Genesis 22:1 we read these words, “After these things God tested Abraham…”. As we continueto read God says, “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.” (1-2)

As we consider this test I think that we will ask two questions. First, how could God have tested Abraham with a test like this? Secondly, how could Abraham have ever passed such a test as this?

Genesis 22:2 is full of things to discuss.

  • Abraham is to take his son, his only son Isaac, whom he loves. Abraham had two sons, but only one son of promise through whom Abraham’s offspring would be named (21:12). God is clear that it is Isaac who is the son that is at the center of this text. It is Isaac whom Abraham loved. This foreshadows the Father and Jesus Christ. In the future God would send His beloved Son, His only begotten son.

  • Abraham was to go to the land of Moriah to one of the mountains that the LORD would show to Abraham. Many believe that this is Mount Zion itself that Abraham would be going. He would offer his son up on the very mountain where the Temple would stand and where Jesus would be sacrificed for the sins of many.

  • Abraham was to offer Isaac up as a burnt offering on Mount Mariah. A burnt offering is a sin offering that is made to the LORD on behalf of others. Similarly, one day in the future the Father would offer up His Son for the sins of many. His death would propitiate the wrath of God and reconcile the elect to God.

Abraham could not look into the future and realize that the things that were being done here would foreshadow the things that God the Father would be willing to do with His own Son. When Abraham obeys the word of the LORD it will be by faith. He will obey on the basis of faith in the promise that God had made that through Isaac will his offspring be named (21:12).

[Observation: We must strive to remember every promise that the LORD has made. Some seem easier than others to remember. However, don’t we often forget the big promises, the weighty promises, the magnificent promises. How often do we question our salvation, justification, sanctification and the eternal hope that we have in Christ when times of trial, temptation, and testing comes. Abraham was given a promise by the LORD in the midst of a great trial between Sarah and Hagar; yet he listens carefully to the LORD, not forgetting the promise the LORD had made to him. And later he remembers it according to Hebrews 11:17-19.]

It is with this promise in his mind and heart that Abraham immediately sets out to obey the LORD. We are not told that Abraham argued with God, debated with God, or pretended that he had misunderstood the LORD. We are not told that the LORD had to repeat Himself even one time.

As we have seen previously from Abraham, he quickly obeys the LORD by faith (12:4, 17:22-27, 21:4). Abraham was not always this quick to do what others had said. For example, he was not quick to do what Sarah had commanded him to do in Genesis21:8-12 when she told Him to cast Ishmael out. But when the LORD gave Abraham a command he faithfully sought to obey it very quickly.

He could respond in faith quickly because He knew that it was the LORD who spoke to him. Genesis 22:1-2 emphasizes that it is the LORD spoke to Abraham and that He would continue to speak to Him, “God tested...and He said to him...He said, ‘Take your son…and offer him up on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you”.

As we have considered Abraham I see a trait in him that I admire. Since the beginning we have seen Abraham take responsibility to do the hard and difficult things that the LORD commanded him to do. For example, Abraham did not have a servant send off Ishmael and Hagar (21:14). Abraham did the hard thing himself.

Here we see that Abraham does this again when he gets up early and saddles his donkey. We are told that he cut the wood for the burnt offering (3). When he arrives at the mountain that the LORD showed him he put the wood on his son. Then leaving the two servants behind he alone took Isaac up the mountain (5). This is an obvious point, but because Abraham did these things himself he was there to answer Isaac’s question, “My father! Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burn offering?” (7)

Can you imagine having to answer this question under these circumstances? How would you answer?

  • I’m just doing what I was told to do!

  • Don’t ask me any questions!

  • Just follow me and don’t say another word!

  • Abraham could have grumbled and said, ‘I have no idea what is going on!’

  • Abraham could have laughed and said, ‘Nothing God does ever makes sense!’

Perhaps there are many things that Abraham could have said but there is only only one good, wise, and faith building answer that Abraham could give in this moment. That is exactly the answer that he gives to his son.Abraham says, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burn offering, my son.” (8)

Because Abraham’s answer was so faithful and wisein this critical moment we then read, “So they went off together.”

They walked up the mountain trusting. They walked up the mountain determined. They walked up the mountain in faith. We see the picture of a father and a son walking up the mountain together. Isaac was not kicking and screaming. He was not walking up the mountain in dread. Abraham and Isaac went up the mountain with one heart in faith.

Abraham’s answer is the type of answer that God can use to bring peace to Isaac even as he experiences the things that are about to happen. (Application: we are to mutually encourage one another’s faith: Romans 1:12)

  • Even while Isaac watches his father build the altar without a sacrifice; yet, even in this moment he can be at peace.

  • Even while Isaac sees his father lay the wood upon the altar and there is still no ram to offer; yet, Isaac can remain trustful in the LORD.

  • Even while Isaac’s father begins to bind his son and to place him there on the altar with no sight or sound of a ram; yet,he can say to himself in faith, “God will provide for Himself the burnt offering.”.

  • Finally, only an answer like, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burn offering, my son”, would create faith when Isaac sees his father raise the knife to ‘slaughter’ his son (10).

As Abraham obeys the LORD in all of these things the LORD says, “Abraham, Abraham, Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, see that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (11-12)

It was in that very moment, that ‘Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns.’ (13)

Oh, what a sight! The LORD provided an offering for himself. Isaac was now free and the ram would be the burnt offering in his son’s place. This ram would suffice on that day but there would have to be a day in the future when the Son of God would be sacrificed for the sins of the world. When that day comes the Father would not stop it from happening. Rather, everything that would happen on that day would be His plan, His design, everything would be done according to His will (Acts 2:23).

After Abraham saw the ram we are told, “And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.” (13)

I have heard sermons where some have spoken about how this event would have traumatized Isaac. Some have even said that when Sarah heard of these things that it brought death upon her since this is what is spoken of next in Genesis 23. I simply bring this up because I think such thinking is wrong and it reads too much into this text and diminishes the faith that all three of these faithful saints had.

After all of these things happen we see two things happen. First, Abraham names this place, ‘The LORD will provide’. We are then told that to the very day this place was still called, ‘On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’ In the footnote of the ESV you can also translate those words as, ‘On the mount of the LORD he will be seen’. That name prophetically looked forward to when God would deal with sin once and for all. That ram was a magnificent sight for Abraham to see; yet, that ram could not take away any ones sins. A Savior was promised to come and salvation would happen on that very mountain. Abraham, Sarah and Isaac all died not having received this promise but we have! Jesus was clearly portrayed as crucified before our eyes.

Secondly, we see in verses 15-18 that because Abraham had passed this test by faith he reaffirmed His covenant of grace with him. Saying, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.

This morning we are celebrating Communion and we are remember that God has fulfilled His promise to Abraham to provide a sacrifice for Himself that would save His people from all of their sins. As we do this we come with thankful hearts of faith and worship God for what He has done.


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