Chapter 22 of Genesis is one of the most extraordinary chapters in the entire Book of Genesis, and also one of the most misunderstood. The skeptic as well as the sincere student of the Word of God has seldom found a field so fertile with seeming contradiction and perplexity. Yet when the spiritual truths of this astounding chapter are firmly grasped, there are fewer places in all of Scripture where more insight into the character of God Almighty can be more clearly seen.
In the first two verses, we come across two “sticking points” that initially seem to make no sense whatsoever. First of all, we are told that God tempted Abraham. Many critics of the Bible have used this very statement as a springboard from which to hurl the most audacious of blasphemies toward a Holy God. Before we move any farther into the remarkable events of this chapter, it is prudent that we make sure that we understand exactly what God is doing here and what His intentions really are.
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:” (James 1:13)
When we think of the word tempted, we think of an enticement to do that which is evil. James categorically states that God never does such to any man. What God is doing here is more accurately conveyed in most of the other Bible translations of Genesis 22:1 which render the word “tested.” Personally, I prefer the way that the American Standard Version of 1901 reads:
“And it came to pass after these things, that God did PROVE Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham. And he said, Here am I.” (emphasis added)
So often we think of tests as nothing but opportunities to fail. We seldom see that they are also opportunities to succeed. The school-child who has shirked her responsibilities and has neglected to study will fear the teacher’s test, knowing that they have not sufficiently learned the necessary material in order to pass the test. The student who has mastered the material will find the examination a blissful occasion as they are being afforded the chance to prove that they have learned what was presented to them. We can scarcely accuse the teacher of wrong-doing for even presenting the children with the test; it is their intention that all the students pass (although I had some teachers in school that I was not so sure of….but that’s another story :) ) No, the tests are designed to prove what the students have learned, to give them the opportunity to demonstrate, for the teacher and for themselves, their mastery of the skills which they have been learning.
Now, I recognize that, in light of what God is asking Abraham to do here, my analogy is very poor and trivial indeed. Abraham is being asked far more than to recite a memorized portion of a textbook, or rehearse his “multiplication tables.” His test is indisputably and quite literally a matter of life and death. But it is important for us to see the underlying motive of God in even presenting Abraham with this test, which he of course did not know was actually a test at the time. There can be no misunderstanding that, to Abraham, this was something that God was actually requiring of him. Little did he know at the time that this was to be a great turning point in his life, a mighty landmark which would be visible across the expanse of human history as a beacon of the kind of faith in which God is well pleased. Heretofore, we have seen that Abraham’s faith has been inconsistent and we have witnessed several occasions of failure in his trust of God. But here atop lonely Mt. Moriah, Abraham and Isaac both will pass “with flying colors” and demonstrate without a doubt how a life totally yielded to God should look. We will look more closely at these events in the coming days.