The Pentateuch: Faith and Sacrifice, Genesis 22-24
Abraham finally had the son God had promised to him. He had been tested and there had been moments of great faith and moments he lacked faith. Abraham’s lack of faith in God’s plan and timing led to him having a son, Ishmael, by a woman other than his wife, Sarah, who was now sent away with Hagar, the boy’s mother. God had made it clear that Isaac, Abraham’s son by Sarah, was the son God had promised, and Ishmael was sent away with the promise of an inheritance outside the land of Canaan promised to Isaac.
With this, though, there came the curse that Ishmael and Isaac would forever be in conflict with one another. To this day, many Arabs claim to be descendants of Ishmael. Eventually, the Muslim religion was formed on the claim that Ishmael was the promised son rather than Isaac, and even today there is much conflict between those who claim to be descendants of Ishmael and the Jewish and Christian nations.
But now, in Genesis 22, Abraham has his son whom God had promised. Isaac, who Abraham waited so many years for, was a growing boy, and God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him. This is such a turn in the story. The son God told Abraham would become a great nation is now to be killed in the name of the Lord. This is unthinkable. Yet, here was Abraham. Abraham responded by gathering the needed supplies, men, and his son the very next morning and heading off to the place the Lord had told him to go.
Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!”
And he said, “Here I am.”
2 Then He said, “Take now 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.”Genesis 22:1-2 NKJV
God tests Abraham
One question that begs to be asked is – why did God “test” Abraham? As Abraham takes his son to the mountain, we start to see what is really happening here. Isaac asks his father where the sacrificial lamb was. A completely reasonable question. Why had his father not brought one with him? Abraham’s response is key here.
7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!”
And he said, “Here I am, my son.”
Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the [a]lamb for a burnt offering?”
8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.Genesis 22:7-8 NKJV
Abraham, full of faith, tells this son whom God has promised will become a great nation, that God will provide the lamb. Abraham trusted that God would either provide an alternative sacrifice or He would raise this boy from the dead. God would provide the lamb because God made a promise, and Abraham believed it even to the point of raising his dagger, ready to sacrifice his son as the Lord commanded. At the very last moment, the Lord stopped Abraham from the deadly plunge and provided a ram stuck in a thicket nearby to take his son’s place on the altar. God provided a scapegoat to be sacrificed in place of Isaac; a ram whose blood would be spilled in Isaac’s place. Abraham’s son was spared.
Because of Abraham’s faith, God reaffirmed the covenant with him yet again. God didn’t test Abraham to see what Abraham would do. God knew exactly what Abraham would do. God showed Abraham that his immense faith would bring him blessings. It was because of Abraham’s incredible faith that God would continue to bless him, and why God made the covenant with him.
15 Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16 and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— 17 blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”Genesis 22:15-18 NKJV
Sometimes God needs to show us what our faith will result in. Sometimes we need to be reminded that faith in the Lord is always worth keeping. Abraham was willing to kill his son at the command of the Lord, knowing that God had His reason and would keep His promises even though this command seemed at the time to contradict the promise. By his faith, God spared his son and continued to bless him, and Isaac’s son would eventually become the father of the 12 tribes of Israel.
The Ram in the Thicket
Don’t miss the part of this ram in the thicket. This ram was provided to Abraham to take the place of his son on the altar. In these times, blood sacrifice was made to atone for sin. Blood payment was required in order for sins to be forgiven. Sacrifice is necessary for redemption. So when God provided this ram, the ram took the place of Isaac, spilling its blood instead of Isaac’s.
This is a foreshadowing of what Christ would later do for all mankind. Blood is still the penalty for our sins, yet God provided a scapegoat for us in sending Jesus to earth to live a sinless life and die a horrible death on the cross. Death is what we deserve for our sins, yet Christ took the penalty of all mankind upon Himself. He became our sacrificial lamb so that any who believe in Him and accept His blood as a sacrifice for their own sins would be forgiven and redeemed to God. Faith in the blood of Jesus is the only way to salvation. He is our ram in the thicket, taking our place so that our Father in Heaven need not send those who believe in the Lamb of God to the altar themselves because Christ has already spilled His own blood in their place for their sake.
9 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!John 1:29 NKJV
- Read more: Names of Jesus: Lamb of God
Faith and sacrifice are blessed
After sparing him from death by sending a ram to die in his place, God reaffirms that Abraham’s descendants will be as numerous as the stars and the sand and that they will be given the land that has been promised. God also makes it clear that this blessing is because of Abraham’s faith. Blessings follow obedience to the Lord, and Abraham is a prime example of this. Because of Abraham’s great faith, God blesses Isaac. Abraham would not live to see all the fruits of this promise, but he knew God was faithful and remained obedient to Him. Sometimes we don’t see the fruits of our own faith, but we can have faith that even when we don’t see it, God is working, and God is always faithful.
Later, Sarah passed away and Abraham purchased land from the Hethites to become a burial property, adamantly refusing to take the land as a gift. He buried his wife, Sarah, who is the mother to his promised son, Isaac, and then Abraham turned his attention to finding a suitable wife for his son. He was very selective about the choice. She needed to be from their own people, so he sent a servant to his brother’s land.
Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. 2 So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, “Please, put your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will make you swear[a] by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; 4 but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”Genesis 24:1-4 NKJV
A wife for Isaac
Abraham sent the servant with a blessing, full of faith and confidence that the Lord would go with him and lead the servant to the right woman to become his son’s wife. This future bride would be the mother of the promised descendants promised to Abraham by the Lord. God certainly had His choice picked out, and would make sure she was the one brought back to be Isaac’s wife and mother to his children.
The servant also had great faith that God was with him in his mission. Abraham was such a great leader to his people that he not only had great faith himself but instilled great faith in the Lord in those who served him. He led by example, and others followed his example and trusted the Lord. This servant prayed to the Lord very specifically. He asked for a particular sign so he would know who the right woman was without doubt.
12 Then he said, “O Lord God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, here I stand by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’—let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.”
15 And it happened, before he had finished speaking, that behold, Rebekah,[a] who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her pitcher on her shoulder. 16 Now the young woman was very beautiful to behold, a virgin; no man had known her. And she went down to the well, filled her pitcher, and came up. 17 And the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your pitcher.”
18 So she said, “Drink, my lord.” Then she quickly let her pitcher down to her hand, and gave him a drink. 19 And when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.”Genesis 24:12-19 NKJV
These kinds of examples are precious to me. The servant prayed for something very distinct to happen so he would know it was God’s choice, and God answered by the exact means the servant had prayed for. Whenever we see an example of prayer in scripture, it is a beautiful opportunity to grow in our own faith and prayer life. God heard the servant’s prayer and gave him what he had asked for as a sign.
When he arrived in Nahor’s town of Aram-naharaim a girl showed up and offered him a drink from the well and also to give water to his camels. This was exactly what the servant had just prayed to happen as a sign, and that the woman who made this offer would be the one to marry his master’s son. The servant did not hesitate to jump on the answered prayer. Throughout the journey, the servant prayed, worshipped, and trusted the Lord and eventually brought Rebekah back home to marry Isaac.
26 Then the man bowed down his head and worshiped the Lord. 27 And he said, “Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master. As for me, being on the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren.”Genesis 24:26-27 NKJV
Who was Rebekah?
Rebekah was essentially Abraham’s great-great niece, making her a distant cousin to Isaac. This kind of infer-family marriage was incredibly common.
- Abraham, Nahor, and Haran were brothers
- Milkah was the daughter of Haran
- Nahor married Milkah
- Nahor and Milkah bore Kemuel
- Kemuel fathered Bethuel
- Bethuel fathered Rebekah
When the servant returned with Rebekah, Isaac married her and he loved her. She took her place in the tent Sarah had so recently vacated with her passing and was a comfort to her husband.
67 Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.Genesis 24:67 NKJV
Faithful obedience leads to blessing
God is always faithful, even when we are not. Through Abraham’s life, we see this played out. There were times Abraham lacked faith, yet God still stayed true. Then we see when Abraham was faithful, God blessed him greatly. This is true for all of us. When we are faithful to the Lord, with our hearts and minds focused on Him, God blesses our faith. We don’t always see it, and sometimes (often) the blessing is extended to others. Here, Abraham’s son was the one to benefit greater from the blessing, and there was still the promise God had made of 400 years of slavery ahead before the promised land would truly belong to Abraham’s descendants. A lot would happen between the making of the promise and its fulfillment.
Regardless of how long it takes to see the fruit, or if we ever do see it, we can trust that the Lord is always faithful and that our obedience is always rewarded. God provides all that we have and can take it away just the same. These are tactics parents use to teach our kiddos the differences between right and wrong, good behavior and bad behavior, and so on – and we get it from God. God teaches us that obedience brings blessing, and disobedience brings consequences.
There is a price for sin and a reward for faith. We should not choose faith for the sake of the reward, otherwise, that is not faith – that is a transaction. We have faith because of who God is, and that is enough. Believing and trusting in who God is allows us to have such faith as Abraham had, and also because of the loving Heavenly Father God is, He loves to reward His children for their faith.
Faith is not faith because of the blessing, but because of the God whom we serve. Abraham knew this and is a reminder and important example for all of us that those who walk with the Lord can always trust in His faithfulness, yet those living outside the will of God will reap the consequences of their sin. Yet, all are welcome, and the Ram in the Thicket was sent to be a sacrifice for all who would believe and have faith in Him and the blood He spilled for them.
With great faith comes great responsibility, just as Abraham was given. He was now the father of nations, the receiver of such a great promise that came with a great burden to lead his people in the ways of the Lord and instill a deep faith in them as well. His faith impacted generations upon generations. Only God knows the entire depth and width of this impact made by such faithfulness.
Now faith is the [a]substance of things hoped for, the [b]evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.
3 By faith we understand that the [c]worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.
5 By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
11 By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she[d] bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off [e]were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 [f]of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.Hebrews 11:1-19 NKJV