God tested Abraham.
“The Lord will provide.”
And Abraham looked up, and saw a ram caught in a thicket by its horns.
So Abraham called that place “The Lord will Provide.”
We see in this popular yet deeply layered passage that God both tests us and provides for us. As odd as it may sound to our modern ears, God is the tester at the beginning of this story, and the provider at the end, with an enigmatic statement uttered by Abraham in the middle (v.8) that is a kind of hinge or connector for the two sides of this paradoxical mystery.
This story definitely highlights the faith of Abraham, and is even referenced in the NT in Hebrews 11:17, yet could it be that the even stronger emphasis is on the rock solid truth that ultimately God can be trusted? In the face of anything?
I mean, at the beginning, we have this most incomprehensible command from Yahweh to Abraham. (Keep in mind it may not have been wrong-sounding to Abraham at this time in history, as it is quite likely that he did not know God’s stance on child sacrifice. There was some child sacrifice going on in Canaan at this time, and at least dedicating your first-born to God was of course quite the norm in Judaism.)
But it is almost impossible to imagine being asked to do this in any era, am I right? Abraham’s faith and obedience is indeed radical here. Now his faith wasn’t always so strong before (impregnating Hagar and all), but it sure is hall of fame worthy here!
And we see this quite vividly in that crucial hinge verse 8: “God himself will provide a lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
Abraham’s incredible and abandoning faith is brought out to be represented by his strikingly simple utterance of “God will provide.” Oh if we could always live in such faith! I am inspired and humbled down to the ground all at the same time.
Abraham believed in his soul that God will ultimately take care of everything, confidently trusting in Yahweh’s omni-wisdom, care, sovereignty, and power. And this without knowing how God would provide, but being aware that the sacrificial death of his beloved son at his own hand was a real option! He finds God to be inscrutable, yet reliable. Wow.
Abraham finds his only refuge in the Divine Provider, and that is what Yahweh desires of us. God insists on being trusted only and totally. He prohibits any alternative.
God tests Abraham’s faith in the most brutal fashion, yet also divinely provides in the truest-to-His-character fashion.
As we know, the Angel of the Lord (many scholars believe this to be Jesus) stops Abraham before he can slay his son, and provides that ram caught in a thicket within sight.
Can you think of a time where your circumstances seemed impossible, yet you pushed through only to find a ram caught in a thicket just for you?
This seems to be the way God works, as William Cowper wrote in his hymn which begins with “God moves in a mysterious way,” and later, “Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.”
And some helpful lines from the old Interpreter’s Bible:
the ways of God are sometimes hidden and at first not understood; but ultimately his will is found to be not contradictory to the purest emotions implanted in human souls.
The Bible read in its great sweep and progress is the story of a revelation of God as love–a love vaster and more profoundly wise than human souls can always immediately recognize, but in the end such as will satisfy all that is highest in those souls.
You know, perhaps one of the reasons Ruach (aka the Holy Spirit) wrote this passage was to show us just how much God detests the irrationality and arbitrariness of pagan superstitions, and express clearly what God really wants–our total trust, confidence, faith, and….heart.
ALL of it.
And this Abba can have because of His love, wisdom, and provision that is beyond our comprehension, and which is all that we’ll ever truly need for our life, which is His generous gift. Perhaps God wants to actually help us get beyond how things simply appear to us on the surface, and to increasingly operate out of a deeply confident trust in His infinite goodness and abilities.
I want our daughters, Gabriela and Zayra, to trust me and Ana insanely more than any other human being, because I know in the depths of my soul that no one on earth loves them, knows them, or cares about them anywhere even remotely near the magnitude that we do!
I wonder if that’s how God feels about us.
Times seventeen centillion, of course.
The faith of the Bible is that God at last can prevent the necessity for that sacrifice; or if he permits it, as with Jesus in Gethsemene and his sacrifice on the cross, will so enter into and identify himself with human suffering that it will become redeeming.
God said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.”
But the angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
Another aspect of this story that I love is Abraham’s posture of listening and openness.
Three times he is addressed, and three times he answers, “Here I am.” He answers immediately and faithfully. You may recall that his answer which is translated as “Here I am” is the Hebrew word “Hinneni” which has the fuller meaning of “Here I am, your servant. I am at your disposal. Tell me what you want me to do!”
He is a man ready to be addressed, and is open to whatever is being said in it, for he knows his place in the world as God’s humble created being.
Verse 8 is central to this story, and I would like to quote Walter Brueggemann at a little length because it’s so darn good:
“God will provide.” It is a statement of utter trust and confidence, but one that is quite open-ended. Abraham does not tell Isaac all he wants to know because Abraham himself does not know. He does not know at this moment if Isaac is God’s act of provision. He does not know that God will provide a rescue for Isaac. It could be either way: Isaac or an alternative to Isaac. Abraham does not know, but he trusts unreservedly. He is the man ready to commit his way:
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act (Ps. 37:5)
Abraham finds his only refuge in the divine provider whom he finds inscrutable but reliable. Abraham has turned from his own way to the way of God which lies beyond his understanding but upon which he is prepared to act in concrete ways.
So may we adopt this posture of listening, of readiness to be addressed, and of responding with “Hinneni” and with an open-ended confidence in the goodness and trustworthiness of God our Father.
Are you always ready to be addressed by God?
You know sometimes God’s voice sounds just like our son’s or daughter’s voice. Are we listening and responding?
Sometimes God’s voice sounds just like that friend’s with the complete opposite political views as you. Are you listening and responding to what God is saying to you in it?
Definitely be discerning as to what is truly from God, but also remember that God’s calling out to us is not always what we think it should be, what we might expect, or especially what we may want it to be, at least on the surface. Let God be God and speak through whomever and whatever He pleases. Listen for Him, and not just to your own thoughts, annoyances, and preconceived judgements. God is much bigger than those.
We left off last time seeing that God tested His people’s faith in the OT, and asking if He also tests His people in the NT or even today.
Well, dangit, it appears His people are tested in the NT as well!
Let’s see what Paul, Peter, and James have to say about it.
It’s interesting to note that Paul actually calls on the Corinthian Church to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Cor 13:5). Paul does not want his hearers to be complacent, but rather to look at their lives to see if indeed they are reflecting their professed faith, or if they are counterfeit. So there is a testing that can be done ourselves to see if the life of the new creation does indeed flow through us–a sign that God’s Spirit is within us. A simple yet sobering test is to see if the fruit of the Spirit is manifested in our lives. Are those nine qualities (which are merely natural outgrowth of one who has the Holy Spirit inside them for realz) given in Galatians 5:22-23 evident in my life?
Love, joy, peace, magnanimity*, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-mastery.
In the Corinthian passage, I think Paul may be saying “test yourselves, because tests are coming, and you will be sifted.”
That the Christian life is tested is also indicated by Peter’s admonition to his readers: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come upon you to test you, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet 4:12-13). “Thus, Peter tells us that life’s difficulties, their tragedies, are means of testing the mettle of our faith. Do we respond with faith to life’s hardships or with fear and withdrawal? The answer to that question exposes the strength of our faith.” (Tremper Longman)
We do suffer, yet can actually experience joy in the midst of our suffering. James reminds us that the trials of life are occasions for joy and the building up of our faith: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (Jas 1:2-3).
Masochistic sicko? Or man of God with tremendous insight?
As A.W. Tozer reminded us 60 years ago, that God’s supreme purpose for us is not to be comfortable all the time, but to make us like His Son, Jesus Christ.**
Notice James says “whenever you face trials”, and not “if you are one of the unlucky few who goes through something difficult.”
Look, in our Christ-following life here and now we can just expect to be tested. I don’t love it, but we won’t be at any sort of peace unless we can, to some degree, allow reality to be what it is. I try to teach our daughters to look at every tough situation or circumstance as opportunity and not simply as obstacle. I do understand how terribly difficult this can be, and have failed countless times, but if we can train ourselves to view life through this lens, which ultimately comes through Christ as we have seen in Scripture, how much more effectively could we live?
*This is from David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament. I love this description of magnanimity from Wikipedia: The virtue of being great of mind and heart. It encompasses, usually, a refusal to be petty, a willingness to face danger, and actions for noble purposes.
**From The Crucified Life page 199.
After some time, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called. “Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”
Does God really test us?
At the beginning of this very popular story, God is the tester. At the end, God is the provider.
It may rock our picture of God a little bit to read of Him as Tester, but we don’t get to choose, nor can we fully fathom, just how God operates. As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says in a commentary on this passage, “God is not a logical premise who must perform in rational consistency. God is a free lord who comes as he will.”
We see from Scripture that God does on occasion test His people to expose the quality of their faith. Today, let’s just look at that precedent.
- Probably the best known example is the wilderness wanderings which begin with the manna. God provides manna for Israel in the wilderness, but they are only to collect enough for one day at a time. The temptation will be to hoard for the future. What if God doesn’t send any tomorrow? But God said he would supply manna six days a week (two days’ worth on the day before the Sabbath). Can they trust God to give them enough for that day? Thus God tested His people Israel, as He did throughout the wilderness period (Ex 20:20; Deut 8:2,16). This theme runs all the way through to the NT in Jesus as He teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Do we trust God to provide what we need for today? Whatever it may be? At times of stress, it can be good to stop and ask “Do I have everything I need right now?”
- God also tested later generations of Israelites. At the time of the Judges, God tested Israel using the nations that Joshua did not drive out of the land. Will Israel continue to follow God in spite of their presence? (Judges 2:22;3:1,4)
- Interestingly, the Psalmist on occasion will ask God to test him, like in Psalm 139 when he cries out, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
So it seems clear that God does indeed test His people in the Old Testament. But what about the New Testament? What about today?
We’ll look at that next time.