“HERE I AM” Genesis 22:1–25:18
“Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you” (Gen. 22:16–17).Abraham’s faith was demonstrated when he left Ur, and when at an advanced age he believed God’s promise of a son. The depth of Abraham’s faith was demonstrated not only in one final test, but also in the impact Abraham had on those who knew him best.
Abraham’s faith was tested when he was told to sacrifice Isaac (22:1–19). Abraham buried his wife Sarah (23:1–20), and sent his chief servant to obtain a wife for Isaac (24:1–66). After many more years Abraham died, and was buried by his two best-loved sons, Isaac and Ishmael (25:1–18).
Understanding the Text
“Here I am” Gen. 22:1. In the Old Testament, to “hear” God implies that a person not only understands what the Lord says but also will obey. Similarly, for God to “hear” prayers implies that He intends to answer them. This fact underlies Abraham’s response when, some years after Isaac’s birth, God spoke to Abraham again. In saying “Here I am,” Abraham indicated his readiness to respond to what the Lord was about to say. Abraham had no idea how great a test his faith was about to undergo (see DEVOTIONAL). But Abraham’s readiness to respond is a model for us all. Some years ago I led a Bible study group in Phoenix, Arizona. Barbara was a new Christian, excited and eager to grow in her faith. One of our group had become involved in an adulterous relationship with a leader in her church. We had confronted her and tried to help, but rather than break off the relationship, she stopped coming to Bible study. This person kept calling Barbara, offering excuses and attempting to justify her actions. One evening Barbara told how uncomfortable this made her, but shared that she didn’t know what to do. I explained the Bible’s guidelines on church discipline, which we had followed, and what to do when a person would not repent. I remember Barbara’s enthusiastic response. “I can’t wait for her to call again, so I can tell her what I have to do.” Barbara, a young Christian, had discovered a secret Abraham also knew. Our role is to say, “Here I am,” when God speaks to us—and then do just as He says. “She died” Gen. 23:1–20. This chapter is one of the most important in Genesis to students of ancient Middle Eastern culture. It contains a fascinating report of the polite bargaining that went on as Abraham negotiated with a Hittite for property on which to bury Sarah. Everyone in that day understood the Hittite’s offer to “give” Abraham the field was simply politeness. In return, Abraham would have to make him a “gift” of whatever value the two would set on the property. The price was high, partly because selling Abraham land would give him rights in the Hittite community which he would not otherwise have. For us, the significance of the story is not found in its portrayal of customs, but in the grief experienced by Abraham as he laid his companion of so many decades to rest. Coins had not yet been invented in Abraham’s day. The “shekel” in Genesis 23:16 is a unit of weight, determined by stones like these piled on a balance scale. The familiar coin of New Testament times took its name from the unit of weight. “He said to the chief servant in his household” Gen. 24:1–67. The chapter contains one of the true romances recorded in the Old Testament. Rebekah, a young and very beautiful girl, was asked to marry a wealthy suitor, sight unseen. A servant told her about him and brought her rich gifts. She herself was permitted to choose—and decided to go. Those fond of allegory make Rebekah the church, make Isaac Christ, and make the unnamed servant the Holy Spirit, who comes from heaven to woo Jesus’ bride. Perhaps. But there is more value in a careful examination of literal content of the text. The servant is identified as Abraham’s “chief servant.” Earlier a man named Eliezer of Damascus was Abraham’s chief servant who, according to custom in those days, would have inherited Abraham’s wealth if his master remained childless (cf. 15:2–3). If this is Eliezer, all hope of gaining Abraham’s wealth has now been lost. The significance of the “chief servant” has dwindled so much that the writer does not even bother to record his name! Yet as this chief servant went about fulfilling his mission, we see that he had obtained something far more important than Abraham’s wealth. He had “caught” Abraham’s faith! He prayed and experienced God’s answer to prayer (24:12–17). He recognized God’s leading (v. 26). And he praised God for His kindness and faithfulness to Abraham (v. 27). We stand amazed at the faith Abraham displayed in his readiness to offer his only son to God. Yet perhaps even more amazing is the fact that Abraham’s faith in God had won his “chief servant,” who knew him best of all, to a similar deep and selfless trust in God. The truest test of our faith is not in how we behave in crisis. The truest test is whether we are able to influence those who know us best by the quality of our lives. “His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him” Gen. 25:1–18. I appreciate this verse so much. It tells me Ishmael came to understand his father’s earlier rejection, and that the two were reconciled. God truly did bless Abraham, as He had promised. How wonderful that Abraham’s God is our God. How wonderful that God is committed to bless us too.
“God Himself Will Provide”(Gen. 22:1–19)
The story is surely one of the best known in the Old Testament. God told Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham set out to obey. Just as Abraham was about to kill his son, God stopped him, and pointed to a ram whose horns had become tangled in a nearby thicket. God commended Abraham for his obedience, and reconfirmed His earlier promises to His servant. This outline cannot do justice to the story or to its implications for our lives. For that we must carefully observe phrases in the text. “Early the next morning” (v. 3). Think of it. Abraham was not only willing to obey, he seems to have been eager! No dawdling till noon, when it was too hot to travel. No excuse that, after siesta, it was too late to begin. Somehow we sense that to Abraham this seemed like an adventure, and Abraham was eager to discover how God would resolve his dilemma. We often hesitate when we sense that God wants us to undertake something difficult. We need Abraham’s spirit of adventure: his conviction that God will work things out, and consequent eagerness to see just how. “We will worship and then we will come back to you” (v. 5). The New Testament comments on this verse, saying that “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (Heb. 11:19). God had promised Abraham would have offspring through Isaac. Abraham was totally convinced God would keep this promise. Abraham was so certain that he said confidently, “We will return.” Yes, Abraham fully intended to sacrifice Isaac, as he had been commanded. That “we will return” tells us that Abraham also knew that, somehow, his son would survive. Even if God had to raise Isaac from the dead, He would do so to keep His promises. Lord, give us this kind of confidence in Your promises! With this kind of faith, obedience is made easy. “Your only son” (v. 12). Isaac was not Abraham’s only child. Yet Isaac was the only son who counted—the only one who could inherit the covenant and be counted in the covenant line. And, with Ishmael sent away, Isaac was the only son Abraham had left. The phrase is a poignant one, for it suggests the pain God Himself must have felt in contemplating the day that His only Son, Jesus, would complete the sacrifice Abraham only began. “Now I know” (v. 12). The old saying is accurate. Talk is cheap. Many who claim to be Christians talk a good faith. But the test of a real faith is obedience to God. Abraham had proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he did trust God. “Because you have done this . . . I will surely bless you” (vv. 16–17). Let’s not misunderstand. The ultimate cause of blessing was God’s covenant promise. But the proximate cause—the means God used to bring Abraham to the place where he could be blessed—was Abraham’s obedience. God intends to bless you and me. He is committed to do so. Yet only an obedient walk enables us to appropriate that blessing. It’s as if rain is falling just over the hill. We smell its freshness, are eager to feel the renewing drops. And there’s a path marked “Obedience” leading directly to it. God’s blessings do fall in refreshing showers. But only those who take the path marked “Obedience” experience them.
If there is anything God wants you to do that you have hesitated to do, let Abraham’s experience encourage you to set out now.
“Do little things as if they were great, because of the majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ, who dwells in thee; and do great things as if they were little, because of His omnipotence.”—Blaise Pascal