Date: 18 Jun 2017
Text: Genesis 22:1-18
Today being Fathers’ Day I want to explore the relationship between a father and his son. It is always an interesting relationship and is different to that between a father and his daughter or daughters and a mother and her children. Generally speaking it is a relationship based on mutual love, mutual respect and - most of all – mutual trust. Our relationship with God our Heavenly Father is also based on many factors but most certainly includes a huge helping of trust; we trust that God will never let us down; unlike politicians and other people; and that He will always be there for us. This is very similar to the relationship between a human father and his son and is very special.
Before we actually look at the relationship between Abraham and his son Isaac, I want to give a précis of what had been happening to Abram, Abraham’s original name, and his wife Sarai, Sarah’s original name. Abram and Sarai had been married for quite a long time but had had no children, and so consequently Sarai allowed Abram to have an affair with Hagar, her maidservant. This relationship resulted in a pregnancy that led to a son being born; a son who was given the name Ishmael. There was obviously some relationship between Abram and Ishmael which we can read about in Genesis 16 & 17,
although it isn’t that relationship that concerns me at the moment, fascinating though it is. I want to concentrate on the relationship between the newly named Abraham and his second son, Isaac.
Abraham’s relationship between God and himself was also very special; Abraham trusted God every step of the way and knew that God would never let him down no matter what the circumstances. Having had no children with his wife Sarah, Abraham suddenly found himself, at age of 99, as an expectant father when Sarah announced that she was pregnant.
This pregnancy came about in a rather strange way. Abraham was sat outside his tent one day when he saw three visitors approaching. Being the sort of man he was, Abraham offered them hospitality and told Sarah to prepare some food for them which included a freshly slaughtered and cooked calf. After enquiring where Abraham’s wife was, one of these visitors said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year and Sarah your wife will have a son” (Genesis 18:10). I would love to have seen Abraham’s face at that moment; I’m sure that it would have been a picture of utter bewilderment. Having been inside the tent, Sarah overheard this conversation and laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” (Genesis 18: 12). God of course misses nothing and He had heard Sarah laugh although we don’t read of any further response from God.
As you can no doubt imagine, it is difficult for any couple who long for a child to ever contemplate giving up on the idea of it ever happening. I may also be possible to imagine the absolute joy then when God kept His promise, as He always does, and Sarah did become pregnant and did give birth to a son. We read in Genesis 21:2-3, “Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.” Isaac truly was a special gift from God to His faithful servant Abraham.
Abraham and Isaac
The birth of any child is a wonderful gift from God and generally speaking all children are loved and cherished by their parents. Isaac was even more special given the ages of Abraham and Sarah and the way in which his birth came about. Although his parents may have given up the thought of ever having a child, God can always be relied upon to do something unexpected; and it is true to say that the birth of Isaac was very unexpected. That obviously led to the relationship between the child Isaac and his parents being very special indeed. There can be little doubt that Isaac was very much loved by his parents, especially by his father.
On the other hand, the relationship between Abraham and his first son Ishmael seems to have disintegrated. At the time that Isaac had been weaned, Abraham threw a huge party to celebrate and it is at that moment that we see “the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking” (Genesis 21:9). How sad that at the time Abraham was celebrating over his son Isaac, his first son felt he had to mock his brother. On seeing that, Sarah more or less ordered Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away, an order that Abraham reluctantly complied with. I may explore this relationship between Abraham and Ishmael on a future occasion.
The real gist of our story, and the one I want to explore, comes in Genesis 22 and concerns the occasion when God tested Abraham’s faith. It is important to understand that this was intended to test Abraham’s faith and not to produce faith in him. God will frequently test us both to check that we are faithful to Him and to build up our strength and reliance on Him. This testing of Abraham though was far more extreme than anything that we ourselves may ever have to experience.
I wonder what Abraham thought when he heard God say to him, “Take your son – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will show you” (Genesis 22:2). This was the son whom Abraham had longed for; he was the son whom God had given him; and yet, here was God telling him to offer the boy as a sacrifice. Would Abraham have felt revulsion and horror at what God had asked him to do, or would he have decided to obey knowing that God must have had a plan? Think carefully about that and consider how you would have reacted in Abraham’s place.
Whatever Abraham may have thought he seemed to have quietly obeyed his Heavenly Father and made preparations to go to Moriah. It was obviously a fair distance away since we learn from 22:4 that it was on the third day of the journey that Abraham saw his destination in the distance. When he arrived he left the donkey and his servants and proceeded to walk the final part of his journey accompanied by Isaac. Isaac was left carrying the wood for the fire whilst his father carried the fire itself and the knife. I wonder how Abraham felt at that moment as he drew ever nearer to the place where he was to build the altar on which he was to sacrifice his beloved son? Would his heart have been thumping or would he have been cool, calm and collected? Whatever he may have felt, Abraham was certainly demonstrating his faith by doing exactly what God had told him to do.
Whilst Abraham was faithful to his Father so Isaac was faithful to his. The young boy did as his father asked him to and dutifully carried the wood for the fire probably without realising exactly what was about to happen. It was only when they got to the right place that Isaac asked his father, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (22:7). Abraham replied as truthfully as he could when he told his son that God would provide the sacrifice at the right time. Abraham knew exactly what his Heavenly Father had asked him to do and yet I have a feeling that he may have been hoping that God had something special planned and that he wouldn’t have to go through with sacrificing Isaac. Whether or not Abraham thought that makes no difference, since he obediently did what God had asked him to do.
Abraham and Isaac reached the appointed place and built the altar, laid the wood on it and Abraham bound his son Isaac ready to lay him on top of the wood. He then went so far as to pull out his knife to get ready to kill his much loved son as the sacrifice that God required. Remember that Abraham had waited until he was very old before his wife Sarah gave birth to Isaac, and now God wanted Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. How would you feel about that? Imagine that you had a much wanted and much loved child late in life and were then told to kill them as an offering to God. Would you be able to do that? I don’t think I could! Regardless of what his feelings may have been, Abraham’s faith in God led him to do exactly what God had asked him to do. As he stood poised ready to kill his son Abraham heard a voice from heaven saying to him, "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him." (22:12a). That could almost be a scene from a TV drama or major Hollywood film. Just as the boy was about to be killed, the hero, in this case God Himself; came to the rescue!
In a very dramatic and potentially painful way, God had been testing Abraham’s faith, and Abraham had come through that test with flying colours. The angel who had spoken to Abraham went on to say to him, “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (22:12b). That was quite some test of Abraham’s faith and without doubt looks to be an extreme way for God to test His faithful follower. God, however, has His reasons for doing what He does and it is not up to us to question Him when He does test us. Abraham was faithful and obedient to his Heavenly Father and trusted Him to provide the love and care that he needed. Isaac also loved and trusted his father although I can’t imagine he knew what was about to happen. Thankfully God was with them every step of the way just as He is with us every step of the way. If we remain faithful to Him He will always be there with us and will always provide for our every need.
No sooner had the angel spoken to him than Abraham turned round and saw “in a thicket ... a ram caught by its horns” (22:13). God had provided the needed sacrifice at just the right time. Abraham was able to take the ram from the thicket and offer it as the sacrifice that God was looking for. It was certainly a tortuous way to get to the stage where the sacrifice could be made but it did prove that Abraham trusted his Father in Heaven and it did prove that Isaac also trusted his father to do the right thing by him. Neither father let their son down.
The parallel to this story concerns Jesus and His relationship with His Heavenly Father. When Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist a voice from heaven came saying, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." (Luke 3:22). This was the voice of God talking about His beloved Son, Jesus.
Isaac had been born as a gift to Abraham who God regarded as being righteous and who was to become the father of the nations. Jesus was born as a gift to the world to be the sacrifice to pay for our sins and so become our Saviour. Jesus knew that He was to be a sacrifice but remained faithful to His Father knowing that He could trust God because God loved Him.
Through all that happened to Him Jesus remained faithful to God and trusted that He would always be there for Him. Jesus was also obedient to His Father’s will. Do you remember His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane? On that occasion Jesus prayed to His Father, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42). Jesus knew what was to come but was still prepared and willing to follow His Father’s will and do what He asked. God was prepared to let His own Son be killed so that we might live. Whilst Abraham was prevented at the last minute from killing his son Isaac, there was no last minute reprieve for Jesus - His crucifixion as a sacrifice went ahead just as God planned. Jesus was faithful and true to His Father just as Isaac had been faithful and true to his father.
The story of Abraham and his son Isaac is a story that shows the very special and loving relationship that existed between a father and his son. Isaac willingly obeyed his father and did exactly as his father told him. Jesus also had a very special and loving relationship with His Father and He too willingly obeyed His Father and did exactly as He was told. Whilst God pulled Abraham back from the brink of killing his son, there was no such stay of execution for Jesus. However, in Jesus’ case God raised Him from the grave to live among us even today. Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice and willingly obeyed His Father in order to pay the price for our sins.
That truly was a special relationship between Father and Son and it is a relationship that still exists today and can never be broken. We too can enjoy a special relationship with God as our Heavenly Father if we accept and acknowledge that Jesus died for us on the cross of Calvary. Jesus died for us because God loves us and we can love Him in return by placing our faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and becoming God’s children and members of His family.