(1)“God tested Abraham”. The big question is; does Abraham believe God’s promises? Will he have faith in God’s word and live in the light of it? It is not when everything is easy that we see the reality of faith and trust in God but in hardship and difficulty. In hardship we see what is really in Abraham’s heart. That is so often the way for us as well as Abraham, it is when we are threatened with something loss that we see our true attachment to it.
There is a tension in this chapter that we are meant to feel as we read it, it is there at the end of verse 2 as we ask will Abraham do it? Will he entrust himself and his son to God’s word? It is there in verse 3 as he saddles up the donkey and sets off – will he do it? In verse 5 as they leave the servants with the words “We will worship and then we will come back.” Will they? As Abraham and Isaac head up the mountain alone and Isaac speaks “Father… The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Will Abraham turn back? Will he trust God, will he worship by following his word? “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” It builds to a crescendo as he ties Isaac's hands lays him on top of the wood and lifts the knife in his hands.
Abraham will worship God, he will listen to and obey his word, as the angel of the LORD calls out urgently “Abraham! Abraham!...Do not lay a hand on the boy… Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” There is nothing that rivals God in Abraham’s heart, and he trusts God’s promises totally. Hebrews 11:17-19 highlights this, telling us Abraham believed that God could even raise Isaac from the dead. His faith resulted in action, in obedience to God’s word and that is worship.
Listening to God’s word and responding by faith is the mark of the true worshipper. Worship draws on the revealed character and word of God and rubs it into every day circumstances. Abraham believes the promises of chapter 12, the covenant ceremony of chapter 15 and the circumcision sign of chapter 17. Our worship must be like Abraham’s it is faith in action seen by living in the light of God’s promises. Am I being obedient to God even when it will be costly, even when it will cost me?
But there is also here a Picture of the cost of redeeming worshippers God’s people worship him in response to grace and by obeying his word, that worship is faith in action. But this story is also a signpost pointing forward to how God will fulfil his plan.
Places matter in the Bible. Moriah becomes the site of the temple, it is as Abraham calls it The LORD will provide. It becomes the site on which offerings for sin are made again and again. How is Isaac’s sacrifice described? A burnt sacrifice, in Hebrew an ‘Olah’. It’s the same word used to describe the burnt offering of atonement that became a central feature of the substitutionary sacrifice that was foundational to Israel’s worship. The Jews looked back on this incident as the foundation of the sacrifice, God provided the lamb as a substitute for Isaac, as happened again and again in the temple.
In John 1:29 John the Baptist sees Jesus and says “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” John 3:16 tells us that God gave his one and only son – echoing the words God says to Abraham. And at the end of the gospels God’s only son whom he loved climbs a hill near Moriah with wood on his back to be the substitute, to be the lamb who would die for the sins of others, to be the one the LORD would provide. Who died, the perfect worshipper, in place of the imperfect to enable us to worship God by grace. And whom God received back from the dead.
It’s only when we understand this – that we know God held nothing back for us at Calvary that we will be able to live by faith. That we will be able to trust that whatever God calls us to do is for our good, though it may not be comfortable or easy.
Do you notice how this chapter ends? God renews his covenant with Abraham, all the promises are Abraham's by grace.
We can trust the promises of God. We can worship God as we live by faith, acting on the word of God. We can do so because we look again at the cross – God sent his son and raised him to life again so that we live by faith – so that we worship him who gave everything for us.
It is no wonder Stephen can stand and trace his faith back to Abraham and through to Jesus.