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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Abraham tested to the limit (Genesis 22)

The first thought that arises from this incident is that sometimes God asks his people to make great and costly sacrifices. We are familiar with stories of missionaries and others who have left the comfort of their home surroundings to serve God in a harsh and inhospitable terrain, often without receiving much evidence of success. 

Others have been called to a life of pain in which they have to endure prolonged periods of distress, without being able to see the point of it all. Such sacrifices are long-term and perhaps the person eventually gets used to them and may discover some spiritual benefits of them such as intercessory prayer and patient submission to the will of God. 

On the other hand, some people experience sudden tragedy or catastrophe, with no explanation apart from the reality that they are liable to all the miseries of this life. Christians will have lost their employment in the current financial crisis and Christian businessmen will have seen their companies go bankrupt. Other Christians are hurt in a sudden outburst of war or in an earthquake.

Yet I think that there is a difference between them and what was demanded of Abraham here. Why so? Because Abraham was not only asked to perform a difficult task in offering his son as a sacrifice, he was also asked to destroy what seemed to be the future of God’s kingdom. The patriarch had been told many times by God that the line of the future Messiah was through Isaac. Now he was asked to carry out an action that would result in that line being aborted almost at its beginning. Such a command would have seemed worse than unrealistic to most thinking people. Yet Abraham determined to proceed along the path of obedience.

Nevertheless it is worth noting that God’s action here is actually a comforting one because it indicates that he is concerned about the spiritual state of each of his people. We are not to imagine that he only tests us occasionally. Instead he tests us often in order to reveal how we are growing in grace. Sometimes he tests us by allowing the devil to tempt us. At other times, God tests us with prosperity; on occasions, as with Job, he tests us by adversity. The point to note is that divine testing is a sign of his commitment to his people, a reminder that he is watching over us, concerned about our spiritual development and holiness.

It is also worth noting that what God expects of his people is worship. Abraham was commanded to perform this unusual task as an expression of worship. God told him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering, which is a picture of total dedication in that all of the sacrifice was consumed on the altar. It may be the case that Abraham had become too fond of Isaac, as some authors suggest, and his dedication to God was not so apparent. I’m not sure about that suggestion. But it is the case that each action of a disciple of Christ should be an act of worship in which our devotion to him is clearly seen.

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