God Will Provide: Abraham & Isaac

God Will Provide: Abraham & Isaac July 2, 2011

I don’t know about you but if God told me to kill my oldest son and offer him as a sacrifice, I’d tell God to go kick rocks. Of course, God would probably make me eat the rocks. But seriously what’s going on with Abraham in this story? What happened to the crafty Abraham in Genesis 12 who went to Egypt and pretended like his wife was his sister so the Pharaoh wouldn’t kill him and he’d get lots of cattle and cash? What happened to the sassy Abraham in Genesis 19 who argued with God for twenty minutes over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah?

We’re used to thinking Abraham did whatever God told him but that really only happens twice. Last week, we talked about how God told Abram to finish the journey that his father started. Well, that wasn’t too hard. The place he was staying, Haran, was like the boring Midwest of the ancient Near East. If God tells you to leave the cornfields and go to California, that’s not a tough decision. But demanding your son as a sacrifice: that’s when the honeymoon is over.

It’s important to explain that it wouldn’t have been a surprise at all to Abraham for God to expect a first-born sacrifice. All the ancient gods asked for it. So as Abraham was wandering around with God, he was probably waiting for God to pop the question. He had Ishmael as his backup son, so if something happened to Isaac, the estate would be intact. So what did God do? He waited until right after Abraham’s wife Sarah ran Ishmael off to show up and collect payment. If Abraham had been like most ancient Near Eastern fathers, he would have had 7 or 8 children and he could have said, “Sure, God, the first one’s a brat anyhow. You want him, he’s yours. My second son is so much more of a man.”

But Abraham wasn’t like most ancient Near Eastern fathers. His wife Sarah had been barren until God promised to give them a son at an age when it was biologically ridiculous. Isaac’s name in Hebrew is Yitzhak, which means “laughter,” because Sarah laughed when she heard she was going to have a son. God had performed a ridiculous miracle, so for Him to take it back would have been unspeakably cruel.

Now we know because the Bible tells us that this whole thing was just a test of Abraham’s faith. But Abraham didn’t know that. What did Abraham know and when did he know it? Abraham says two things which give us a hint. First, when he gets to the mountain of sacrifice, he tells his servants to wait with their donkeys while he and Isaac go to worship, saying specifically that “we will return,” meaning both he and Isaac, which he didn’t have to say. Then, when Abraham is walking up the mountain with Isaac, his son asks him where the sacrificial animal is, and Abraham says to his son, “God will provide a lamb for us.”

Now you might think that Abraham was lying to both his servants and his son. This cynical reading would be the only possible explanation if God had never promised to make a nation out of his offspring. Without that promise, the best Abraham could have done would have been to keep things pleasant until they had to get ugly. But Abraham had asked God directly in Genesis 15 if his servant Eliezer was going to inherit his estate and God said, no, your own flesh and blood will be your heir and your offspring shall be like the stars in the sky. And the Bible says, “Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

We don’t know how Abraham felt inside when he answered his son’s question. We don’t know if he believed all the way in God’s promise or if he was like the man many centuries later who said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe! Help me with my unbelief!” Whatever was in Abraham’s head, what he said was God will provide. Say that with me one time: God will provide. It’s one of the most important phrases in the whole Bible. And the strange thing about this phrase is the people who say it the most are people in impossible circumstances like Abraham was.

Some of y’all know I was a pastor before I came here in a community where people were living on the edge, most of them behind on their rent and on the verge of getting either evicted or deported. And I’ve never heard a group of people say God will provide more than they did. The strange thing about faith is that it’s often hard to come by until you need it because you’ve got nothing else.

I live a pretty comfortable life, so the closest I come to being in a situation where I have to say God will provide is putting up door-hangers all over town, knowing good and well that any door-hangers left on my door go straight to the recycling bin, but hoping that somebody would actually give us a chance. God will provide. I want so badly for Him to provide if there’s somebody out there who’s having a rough time and needs a church family like the one in this room that has blessed me for the past year. God will provide. Saying that phrase is asking God to help me believe it and trying to convince myself that I do believe it at the same time.

Now somebody might ask, “Why say God will provide?” Isn’t this all just the power of positive thinking? Why not say instead “I will provide” and decide that you’re going to be successful until you are? And furthermore, Mr. Preacherman, you’re letting God off the hook too easily for asking Abraham to do something despicable? Test or not, I could never worship a God like that.

Let me answer both of the objections at once. The reason why it makes sense to say God will provide is that He has provided a lamb for us. Abraham surely didn’t realize it, but his answer to Isaiah’s question was one of the first prophetic declarations of the coming of Christ. The test God gave to Abraham was the beginning of a new religion that would be defined by the lack of child-sacrifice. Abraham and his descendants had an elaborate sacrificial system, but it never again would involve children like it did in other ancient cultures.

Now one thing we don’t understand in our modern world is that there’s a basic spiritual need that sacrifice addresses. Through the daily process of stepping on each other’s toes and getting in each other’s way, we build up a kind of rage that needs to let itself out. If the pressure builds and there’s no outlet, then it gets released chaotically in emotional volcanoes which cause people to get hurt. In our modern world, we deal with this pressure by medicating ourselves whether it’s prescribed by a doctor or not. But in ancient Israel, the way people got rid of their bad blood was through sacrifice. By offering sacrifices to God, the Israelites could let go of their sins and their grudges against others’ sins so they could live together in peace.

This worked for a time, but then God saw that the Israelite sacrificial system had been corrupted and turned into a power game for the religious hierarchy, so He pulled the most ultimate role reversal He could have. God came to Earth in the form of His Son Jesus and made the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. God provided a lamb. That’s why it’s appropriate not only to say He will provide, but that He has provided. He not only stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son; God sacrificed Himself in the form of His Son Jesus. And because God has provided a lamb for us, we can take to His cross all of our baggage; all the anger, pain, and guilt from a lifetime of misunderstandings and betrayals can be washed clean in the only solvent that breaks down every sin – the blood of Jesus. God didn’t need His Son’s blood to prove anything to Himself; Jesus gave Himself up for us, the people who need a cross where we can put our rage, our doubt, and our fear, the people who cannot clean their own hearts in the way that only Jesus can.

God is always providing for us in all kinds of ways, whether it’s helping us find a spouse or a job or community to take care of us. But the most important thing God provides is freedom from the sins we have committed and the sins committed against us; we have a cross to put them on because God has given us a lamb for our salvation just like He did for Abraham.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I……will need to read this a hundred times. Remarkable. <3 Beautiful. I'm stunned.

  • I think you touched briefly on something that has come to define my own personal view of scripture and my walk with God.

    I truly believe (and you may or may not agree) that Genesis 15-17 gives us the story of the very first recorded salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ!

    Gen 15:5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
    6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

    I believe that God didn’t count Abraham’s faith as righteousness because he believed just any old thing – I believe God preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Abraham and when Abraham believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he was saved (made righteous), just as we are today:

    7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
    8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.”

    See verse 8? God preached the gospel to Abraham. But was it the gospel of Jesus Christ? Paul says, “yes.” He confirms God was talking to Abraham about Jesus and when Abraham believed the good news about Jesus, he was made righteous.

    Gal 3:16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

    Now the implications of this are huge. In Romans 4 Paul asks a question:

    Rom 4:9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
    10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised;

    If Abraham was the first salvation…
    (Gal 3:7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
    Gal 3:9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.)

    …then salvation by faith in Jesus Christ is apart from The Law – for The Law didn’t come until 430 years later! What part of the law is necessary for salvation? Well, none was necessary when Abraham was made righteous!

    Gal 3:17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.

    We get so confused by the order and time – Old Testament, New Testament, Old Covenant, New Covenant that we fail to realize that “salvation by grace through faith” came 430 years before The Law. But Paul makes the point in Gal 3:17b that The Law does not invalidate a previously ratified covenant of faith (see Genesis 15:17 for God ratifying this covenant). We tend to think of it the other way around… that The Law was first, and faith can’t invalidate the law. But Paul says in Galatians correctly that in fact it was faith that existed apart from and outside of the law. The law has never existed outside of and apart from salvation by faith!

    Of course, Abraham remained in hell (Luke 16:23) looking forward to Christ (John 8:56) until Jesus came, died, and accomplished all that God had promised.

    So what was the purpose of The Law? To show that all were sinners in need of salvation.

    Gal 3:21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.
    22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
    23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.
    24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.

    Read Genesis 15-17, Galatians 3-4, and Romans 4… these all go together quite nicely.

    • Morgan Guyton

      I narrate these things a little bit differently than you but I wonder if its compatible on a deeper level. I don’t think God had to say to Abraham Jesus died for your sins etc. I would say instead that trusting in God is what delivers us from the eternal isolation of hell into which sin binds us. It is very hard if not impossible to trust God without the assurance of Jesus’ atonement. Our default fallen state is to be defensive and resist God’s constant pursuit of us, insisting whether we acknowledge it or not on being the gods of our own private universes. If we persist in our self-reliance, God doesn’t force us to join Him in heaven. He says thy will be done.

      Jesus’ cross is the normal means by which God wins our trust and saves us. We are not saved by *showing* God that we have faith; if that were the case, then it whatever we did to prove our faith would be a justifying work which is clearly out of bounds. Our salvation *is* the trust that God instills in us as a gift. Some people receive it; some don’t; I refuse to speculate about that mystery but I know that God isn’t saying yea or nay as a response to anything I’ve initiated in myself because that would be works-righteousness. The trust I have been given is why I walk in the kingdom instead of the world and why eternal life is not only a future but also a present reality for me.

      I know that we only get to the Father through Jesus but I believe that Abraham and the prophets and some of the kings and many regular Israelites we don’t read about were won for God by the divine Word before He became flesh as the son of Mary. Jesus’ statements about His exclusivity all occur in the same gospel that names Him the Word from the beginning. I don’t find any Biblical basis for saying that Abraham had to wait in hell for Christ. That sounds to me like extra-Biblical speculation.

      I imagine my way of describing things will sound foreign to you. Hopefully it isn’t too troubling. I just read the Daily Office scripture passages as often as I can and ask God to show me what He wants me to see. And this is where I’ve gotten in my journey so far. I know that God has brought you here for a purpose and I look forward to learning more together. Be blessed!

      • Rom 4:5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,

        I take from this scripture that Paul doesn’t see faith (belief) as a work. In fact, in Galatians 3-4 Paul defines two covenants: works of the law, and faith. These are distinct and separate covenants. So when I see “works” I see that as pertaining to “works of the law”.

        Gal 3:7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
        Gal 3:9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
        Gal 3:18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.
        Gal 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
        Gal 3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

        I agree with you – God and Abraham didn’t need a lot of specific details. The gospel is pretty basic – God made a way to take away the sin of the world and give us life. Having the same faith as Abraham makes you a spiritual descendant of Abraham. The spiritual descendants of Abraham inherit God’s promise of salvation.

        Jhn 8:39 They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
        Jhn 8:44 Ye are of [your] father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
        Jhn 8:45 And because I tell [you] the truth, ye believe me not.

        • Morgan Guyton

          Right he doesn’t see faith as a work because it doesn’t involve work on our part. It’s a gift from God that rescues us from our eternal isolation.

  • Grand Master

    Thanks For Sharing this nice Topic

    Finally, Paul tells us who the true seed of Abraham is and the nature of that promise. We learned earlier that the Seed of Abraham was singular, one person, i.e. Christ.
    Next Paul says, “For you are all the sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus for as many of you as we baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:26-29).
    Those who accept God by faith and are baptized into Him become a part of that one Seed of Abraham who is Christ . We become one Seed with Christ, not many seeds, but one with Him. As the Seed of Abraham through Christ, we then become heirs/inherit the promise. The promise is salvation in Christ, i.e. the kingdom of God. See the post “Flesh and Blood Cannot Inherit the Kingdom of God.” The true seed of Abraham is Christ and the inheritance is the salvation in him to all nations (families of the earth) who are blessed in Him.

  • Andrew Davis

    Isn’t it strange, that God who is Purely Good, would order Abraham to Kill his innocent son, Isaac?
    Would our loving Father, God, play a “Trick” like this on His loyal servant?
    Could it be that God NEVER told Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac?

    All of these questions are answered in this Teaching:

    • The Common Understanding of this record
    • Why is this “Test” Questionable?
    • Did God Tempt Abraham?
    • Burnt Offering vs. Sacrifice
    • Satan’s Deception
    • Not the first time Abraham Miscomprehended
    • How old was Isaac?
    • Other Important things to Note

    -Andrew Davis