A TIME OF TESTING
Genesis 22: James 1:2-4 24 July 2022 Princeton Christian Church
Summary: Life will always test us. We cannot escape it. But in all of our tests in life, we have to include the testing of our faith. In order for our faith to be strengthened, it has to be stretched.
A fellow tells how he used to deer hunt in a particular place in Leakey, Texas. He says these are not mountains by any stretch of the imagination. But even in the Hill Country of Texas, it can be challenging to get to a hunting spot on the side of one of those hills. He says he got the idea one time to climb to the top of the hill, which was a physical challenge. It took a lot longer to get to the top than he thought it would. It was quite a test. But once he got there, it was worth the climb. The view of the surrounding area was beautiful.
Today, we are continuing in the letter from James, and the same portion of Genesis we looked briefly at last week. We will be talking about being tested in life. Sometimes we can feel that we are tested to our limits in many different ways. Parenting a child is a test. Does anyone agree with that? Sometimes being able to manage household finances can become a test of life. Starting a new job and trying to learn what is expected of us can be a test of patience and abilities. How about attempting to mend a broken relationship with a friend or a family member. There is sis another test that we may go through.
We can expect that in our lives there will always be tests. We cannot run from it or ignore it. But here is what is important as we face these tests in our lives. We have to be aware that this testing is not just a test of our strength or abilities, but they are also a test of our faith.
We can, if we want to, go along facing the tests and never learn anything or gain anything. But, in order for our faith to be strengthened, it has to be stretched. In order to stretch and strengthen our faith, God will allow our faith to be tested. So, how do we maintain trust and confidence in our faith when times of testing come? How do we stay on track in life when these spiritual tests seem to go beyond what we think we can handle? Now, keep that question in your mind while we go back to Genesis and visit with Abraham again. I think we can learn a bit about keeping our faith in God strong and be able to pass the tests of our faith.
So, let’s go back to Genesis 22 for our passage of scripture today. Abraham was no different than we are, and we are no different than we are. Abraham faced a lot of tests in his life. He didn’t always come out victorious. Sometimes he failed. Just as we do sometimes.
But in our scripture passage this morning, Abraham was going to face his most challenging test of all. In verse 1, it says very clearly that “God tested Abraham.” The Hebrew word for tested means that God was going to prove Abraham's character and show the strength of his faith. Of course, God already knew how Abraham would respond. But, after the test, others, including us, would know of Abraham’s character and faith.
Genesis 22:1-2 – “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he answered. 2 “Take your son,” he said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
God tested Abraham. It is important to notice here that the Scripture does not say that God tempted Abraham. God will test us, but he will never tempt us.
James wrote: 1:13 – “No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God,” since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself does not tempt anyone.”
God wants us to grow spiritually, and He will work in us to help us deepen our faith.
It is Satan who tempts us to sin. It is his intent to break us down and pull us away from God. But God tests us to build us up and pull us toward Himself. So, the next time you feel drawn to something or to engage in something which may be detrimental to you, just wisely ask yourself, is this a test or a temptation? If I do this, will it strengthen my faith and bring me closer to God or will it pull me away from him?
Like Abraham, the longer we walk and fellowship with God, the more we will recognize His voice. And, as we talked about last week, we will become more like our Father God, and our Savior, Jesus Christ. The call for Abraham to sacrifice his son may have seemed extreme, but Abraham knew well the One who was calling him.
I want us to spend a moment in the rest of the story of Abraham’s challenge with God’s instruction to him. Genesis 22:1-14. READ
If we did not know the ending of this story, it would seem to us that God's instructions to Abraham were impossible to obey. Maybe even unimaginable. Might we even question God, saying “Are you sure that’s what you want me to do?” I think we would all agree that if we were given instructions to sacrifice one of our children, there is no way we would be able to do it. It might be one of those “head-scratching” moments.
Here was God asking this 100-plus-year-old man to sacrifice the very son that the Lord had promised him many years ago. This was the long-awaited Isaac, the heir that was promised by God. Now, after all that, God tells Abraham to sacrifice him like a lamb on an altar. Unimaginable!
Although we do not know exactly the age of Isaac, we most often use our imagination to see him as a young boy when this occurred. But in the studies of the Bible scholars, it is believed that Isaac was somewhere around 25-37 years of age when this occurred.
It is in these times of testing that our faith is strengthened. The strongest trees are not the trees in the peaceful valley. The strongest trees are those on top of the mountain that gets whipped around by the intense winds. Our tests in life are allowed by God to help strengthen our faith and our endurance, helping us grow in spiritual maturity. Remember again what James wrote: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials,”
From a human perspective, joy might seem to be the last emotion we would experience in difficulties, but James did not leave us hanging. He told us why we can be joyful.
James 1:3-4 – “because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” Testing strengthens our trusting. No difficult test that God brings our way is intended to break us down, but to produce more trust in us.
For instance, in working with athletes or with clients in a gym, a personal trainer increases the intensity of a workout over time. Those workouts are put in place to help those in training to achieve physical abilities they never imagined possible. They are pushed to go a little farther or faster each time.
God loves us so much that He tests us to bring the best out of us. He does this so that we can reach spiritual depths and spiritual heights that are only made possible through Him.
Genesis 22:3-6 – “So Abraham got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took with him two of his young men and his son Isaac. He split wood for a burnt offering and set out to go to the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.
5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there to worship; then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac. In his hand, he took the fire and the knife, and the two of them walked on together.”
It didn't matter if Abraham had any questions. He still responded right away in obedience. We can see that Abraham trusted God completely as he told the other young men traveling with them to stay there and that he and Isaac would go to the mountain to worship, and they would come back.
Keep in mind that at any given time, Abraham could have quit. Whether it was while he was cutting the wood, saddling his donkey, journeying to Mount Moriah, or building the altar. Abraham could have stopped anytime. But mentally he kept focused on the task at hand and kept moving forward in his actions.
Let’s step to the side for a minute. Does this make you wonder how strong the voice of Satan was on Abraham during this test? Surely Satan was hard at work planting seeds of doubt in Abraham. Can’t you just hear Satan whispering in Abraham’s ear, saying, “This is crazy! You can't do this. If God is on your side, he wouldn't ask you to do this."
Abraham is a good example for all of us when we go through the tests of life. When we undergo seasons of testing, we have to cancel out the noise of negativity. We need to recognize and understand that we will experience real spiritual attacks along the way to tempt us into disobedience.
We can gain some understanding from the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the church at Ephesus.:
Ephesians 6:12 – “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.”
So, what do we do? We keep pressing forward in obedience to Christ. So, remember, God will never tempt us. It is always Satan who does the tempting. And he will do his best to try to get us to rationalize our way out of the test. And, in his pleading, he will blame God for our trials and difficulties in life. Satan will always provide an easier path to take.
Let’s go back to Genesis 22:7-10 – “Then Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, “My father.”
And he replied, “Here I am, my son.” Isaac said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Then the two of them walked on together.
9 When they arrived at the place that God had told him about, Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood. He bound his son Isaac and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.”
Imagine what was going through Isaac's mind at this point. Remember, Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the lamb. But Isaac might be saying, “But Dad, it looks like I am the sacrifice.”
But we see Abraham's faith demonstrated when he told Isaac that God would provide the lamb for the burnt offering. Abraham knew that he could trust God. Up to this point in his old age, he had been on the front row many times watching God's greatness unfold. The lesson that we can learn from this is that in times of testing, it is important for us to respond in faith, even when we don't have all the answers; even when we don't completely understand what God is doing. Faith and trust in God is all that God asks of us. Abraham definitely had that.
I think that it would be safe to say that Isaac was undergoing his own testing during this time. Remember, he was more than likely in his twenties when this occurred. He assisted his elderly father on every part of this journey. He carried the firewood up the side of the mountain himself. He even asked about the sacrificial lamb, but all he received from his father was a vague answer.
Even though Isaac assisted his father in building the altar, there came a point when Isaac realized that he was going to be the sacrifice.
Isaac could have resisted. As a young adult, he could have easily fought against his elderly father's attempt to tie him up. Isaac was not some small, helpless child being bound. He was a strong young man who willingly allowed his father to bind him and place him on the altar. Isaac laid aside his own strength.
As he trusted his father Abraham, he surely also trusted God. This sacrifice of Isaac is often compared to the picture of God's sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ, as we mentioned last week. It is a beautiful picture of sacrificial love. But it is not just a picture of the Father's Love for us. It is also a picture of Jesus's love, who willingly laid down his life for us.
In all of this, I am reminded that our actions demonstrate our level of trust in God. And now we come to the rest of the story.
Genesis 22:11-14 – “But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” He replied, “Here I am.” 12 Then he said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now, I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your only son from me.”
13 Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. So, Abraham went and took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 And Abraham named that place The Lord Will Provide, so today it is said, “It will be provided on the Lord’s mountain.”
At this point, we cannot question Abraham's faith. With his knife raised over Isaac, he was prepared to do what no parent would dream of doing. But right at the last moment, God intervened. The angel revealed that this was a test. Abraham's fear of God was not a fear of terror. Abraham lived with worshipful respect and a love of God that played out in absolute obedience and trust. So, Abraham named the place Jehovah-Jireh which means “the Lord will provide.”
As soon as the angel of the Lord told Abraham to stop, he surely must have dropped the knife immediately. I picture Abraham being so overwhelmed with emotion that he fell to the ground and worship. This had to be a worshipful moment for Isaac as well. This probably strengthened and solidified Isaac's faith in God as well. But both Abraham and Isaac experienced that day the truth that God will provide. And at that moment, Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket. He knew immediately this ram was the Lord's provision of a sacrifice in the place of his son.
One of our lessons in all of this is that God will always provide. You have heard it said over and over again. He may not always provide exactly what we want or provide on our timetable, but He will provide, and He provides what we truly need when we need it. It is in those moments when God doesn't provide what we think we need that we simply need to trust in Him and His plan for us. Trust that He has something even better planned down the road for us.
And the greatest gift that God has provided for us is salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.