“THE FINAL TEST”
AUGUST 24, 2008
“Pruebas, pruebas, pruebas! Porque tenemos tantas pruebas?”
I find it interesting that this is the only portion of memorized dialogue that I recall from my two years of high school Spanish. Each week in Spanish class we were required to memorize a portion of Spanish dialogue and then, with another person, act it out, in Spanish, in front of the class. Every week brought a new dialogue. Every week brought another performance in front of the class, and “Pruebas, pruebas, pruebas! Porque tenemos tantas pruebas?” is the only thing I remember from all that memorization. For those of you less fluent in Spanish than I, and that’s all I know, the translation of those words are, “Tests, tests, tests! Why do we have so many tests?”
And I think that dialogue stuck because those were my very sentiments in high school. Even though I did well on tests, I never cared for them. In fact, I still have nightmares about taking them even though I am no longer in school. The nightmares usually involve me entering a class in college and discovering there is an exam that day, but I forgot about it, and I am unprepared, and yet I still have to take the test. I usually wake up from those nightmares with my heart beating a mile a minute. None of this comes close, however, to the test Abraham faced in our text for this morning. Let’s take a look at it.
Everything was going great for Abraham and Sarah. It seemed in their golden years they had all they ever wanted – a nice home in the country. Land that stretched for miles. And a son named Isaac.
Isaac would have been a young adolescent at this point, about twelve or thirteen years old. Now most of us with adolescent children do not always see them as a blessing. I know foot soldiers are often called grunts, but so could adolescent boys. When our son reached adolescence I had to learn a whole new language – gruntalian! I discovered that grunts like - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - all mean a different thing. As a parent, I had to learn a different language to have a meaningful conversation with my son, and times during his adolescence I longed for the days of the terrible twos, but Abraham and Sarah loved every minute of it. They had waited their entire lives for a child of their own, and in their old age God provided them with a son.
And I cannot help but think that Isaac may have been spoiled just a bit by these two who were old enough to be his great grandparents, let alone his parents. And I also cannot help but think that old Sarah and Abraham spent a lot of their waning years reflecting upon God’s faithfulness every time they saw the boy. Yes, life was pretty good in Beersheba, and God was even better.
Suddenly, though, a bolt came from the blue. It shook the tranquil scene. God called one more time.
And he said, “Here I am.”
He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
Quite a test! Identify the most precious person in your life, and put that name in the place of Isaac’s. That was what God was asking of Abraham. And to tell you the truth, this incident baffles me. By that I mean, why did God put Abraham through this? To be honest, I have never quite understood this incident. I still don’t. I have only been mystified by it. Take verse 12 for example. The angel of the Lord says,
Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.
But is this an accurate reflection of God? By that I mean, was there something God did not know? Is God in the dark about things as we are in the dark about things? Or is God all-knowing? And if God is omniscient, why go through with this?
Well, one might say it has to do with the nature of tests. You see, God tests in order to strengthen one’s faith. We read in the first chapter of James that “the testing of our faith produces endurance and endurance leads to maturity.” In that regard testing is different from temptation. God tests. Satan tempts, and the purpose of testing is to strengthen whereas the purpose of temptation is to weaken.
Maybe that was the reason for the testing here – to strengthen Abraham’s faith. However, as we read this story, we get the sense that the test reveals Abraham’s faith, it does not strengthen it. Abraham already had an incredible faith, and we don’t see him growing in his faith in this chapter. Right from the get-go, from the very first moment in this story, Abraham never quavers, he never questions, he just obeys – immediately.
Verse three is a case in point.
So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac;
Early the next morning, Abraham gets up and goes. He does not wait around. He doesn’t even think about it for a day or two. He simply goes. Then he travels the fifty miles from his home in Beersheba to Mount Moriah, a journey of three days and during the journey we do not hear one complaint or one question.
Bruce Larson suggests that during those three days of traveling Abraham must of had many second thoughts. Thoughts like, “Almighty God, did you really mean for me to kill the boy? That was a couple of days ago and I may not have heard it right. Tell me again. Tell me one more time. Maybe this whole conversation was the result of something I ate.”
But there is no evidence of that from the text. Instead, the text implies just the opposite. It is one of the great examples of faith and obedience in the Bible.
Why the test then? I do not know. Maybe the reason for the story is simply to let Abraham know how much he had grown, how much progress he had made over the years. Or maybe it was to show to us what a completely surrendered life looks like, but who can say for sure? If fact, we may never know the why of this test, however, we can learn quite a bit from Abraham’s response to it, and that is what I want us to do. Some have called this response the summit of Abraham’s lifelong walk with God, the pinnacle of his life. I agree. Through all the ups and downs of his life, we see a man who finally has learned to trust God completely.
And some would say the pinnacle of his faith is registered in verses nine through eleven when Abraham begins to sacrifice Isaac. I, however, beg to differ. I think the pinnacle of his faith is captured in the fifth verse.
Remember now, the context of the verse. Abraham and Isaac have arrived at Mount Moriah. Mt. Moriah is the site where Solomon would later build the Temple, and it is within eyeshot of another mount, Mount Cavalry, where another Father would sacrifice a son. Someone said, “God never asks us to do what God, himself, is unwilling to do,” and here God asks Abraham to consider doing what God would later carry through to its completion, the sacrifice of his son for the sins of the world.
Now, note verse five. At the base of Mount Moriah Abraham says to his servants,
Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.
Don’t you find it interesting that as Abraham approached Mount Moriah and commanded his servants to wait for him, he says, “We will come back to you,” and the question that immediately pops into mind is what is behind the “we?” After all, he doesn’t say, “I will come back,” he says, “We will come back to you.”
Was he engaging in small talk? Was he trying to prop up his own courage? Or was he trying to lead Isaac and the men off track to keep them from learning his true intentions? Or did he actually believe the two of them would return, that God would spare the child?
Thankfully, the New Testament book of Hebrews sheds some light on this. Open your pew Bible to page 1096, to the “Heroes of Faith” chapter. You might remember this chapter from a month ago in the defrocking of Sarah. Now let’s look at it again, this time to find an answer as to why Abraham said, “we.” I’ll begin reading in verse 17. Follow along as I do. It is an incredible reason and I want you to see it for yourself. Verse 17,
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendents shall be named for you.” He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead.
Did you catch that? Here is a guy who has never seen a resurrection in his life. This is two thousand years before Christ, but he believed, if needed God could perform one. Over the years Abraham and God had become good friends. Abraham knew God, Abraham knew God’s promises, and Abraham knew God would bring Isaac back with him even if it involved a resurrection. What a remarkable faith!
And return they did. Of course, it didn’t happen exactly as Abraham had anticipated. Instead of a resurrection there came a reprieve, and a new promise, and Abraham and Isaac returned home and Abraham and Sarah lived out their remaining years delighting in the child God had given them in their old age. Of course, we wonder if Abraham ever told Sarah about all this. My hunch is he did not – I think Abraham told Isaac to keep this between the two of them, no need to upset mom, for if they had told Sarah, I don’t imagine Sarah would have ever let the two of them out of her sight again.
Well, there are a number of lessons to be extracted from this story, but there is only one I want to highlight today, and that is the importance of seeing people and things as gifts from God to be enjoyed and not as possessions to be clutched tightly.
That’s what we see Abraham modeling for us. All of Abraham’s hopes and dreams were contained in Isaac, yet Abraham released Isaac to God. Abraham saw Isaac as a gift and not a possession.
Let me ask us a question. Is there anything in life or anyone in life, if lost, would adversely affect our relationship with God? Anything? If so, we are holding it too tightly, relating to it as a possession rather than as a gift.
I like the story John Claypool tells. Claypool tells of growing up during the Second World War and how, when the war started, his family began driving to the laundry, they did not have a washing machine. But when gasoline was rationed Claypool’s father announced that they could no longer use what little fuel they had been allotted to go the several miles to the laundry, and so they faced a domestic crisis.
But then a great thing happened to the Claypool family. A young business associate of Claypool’s father was unexpectedly drafted, and John’s dad offered to store his associate’s furniture in the basement. And, you guessed it, the associate owned a Bendix washing machine, and John’s father worked out an arrangement whereby the cost of storage was the use of the washing machine. Which they used for three years.
At the end of the three years, John was shocked to come home from school to an empty basement, and he particularly missed that washing machine, for you see he had become quite attached to it. He said the used to help his mother with the wash and from time to time he would enjoy sticking his fingers between the rubber rollers of the wringer to see how much pressure he could stand. It had become one of his favorite things in his home and so, when he saw that it was gone, he ran upstairs and angrily said to his mother, “Somebody has robbed us – the washing machine is gone.”
His mother sat him down and taught him a lesson he never forgot. She said to him and I quote,
John, you have forgotten how the washing machine ever came to be in our basement. It never did belong to us. It always was a gracious gift. That we ever got to use it at all was great, good fortune. You relate to gifts differently than you relate to possessions. With gifts you receive them gratefully and hold them lightly. And when you they are taken away, you use that occasion to give thanks that they were ever given at all.
I love the way Corrie Ten Boom put it. She use to say, “Vell, I learned to hold every ting loosely, because it hurts ven God pries my fingers apart and take tem from me.”
Anything in your life that if you lost it, it would adversely affect your relationship with God? If so, watch your fingers. Everything in life is a gift, not a possession.