For the week of November 7, 2009 / 20 Heshvan 5770
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 18:1 - 22:24
Haftarah: 2 Melachim / 2 Kings 4:1-37
Assurance of Faith
But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." (Bereshit / Genesis 22:11,12; ESV).
This story, traditionally known as "The Binding of Isaac" serves as the climax of the Torah's account of the life of Abraham. God had called Abraham (then called "Abram") to leave his homeland and to follow God's leading without being given much in the way of specifics. Abraham was already 75 when God promised to make him a great nation even though he and his wife, Sarah, had no children. Eventually God made it clear to Abraham that he would have descendants more than can be counted. Even though there was still no prospect of having his own children, Abraham believed God. His faith was counted to him as righteousness (see Bereshit / Genesis 15:6). After more years went by and still no children, the two of them took the matter into their own hands by having Abraham seek children through Sarah's servant Hagar. It wasn't until Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 89 that God spoke to Abraham again and told him that his promise would be fulfilled through a child born to Sarah herself which occurred a year later.
After all that, God calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the son of the promise. Apart from the obvious difficulty regarding such a directive, what a thing to call him to do! (At this point you may want to ask the important question, "How could God command Abraham to sacrifice his son?" - a question best answered through the death and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah, but that is not the focus of this week's message. If you would like to discuss that aspect of this passage, don't hesitate to contact me. For now, I will continue building to my main point.) Isaac is the key to the fulfillment of all that God called Abraham for. He was to inherit the promises given to Abraham, including blessing for the nations (see Genesis / Bereshit 12:1-3). This was not just about Abraham and Isaac. It was about God's plan for the whole world. God was calling Abraham to risk everything in the name of obedience. But Abraham, being the faithful servant of God he was, did it or at least showed his absolute willingness to do it until God stopped him at the very last moment.
God's response to Abraham's obedience, spoken to him through the angel was, "now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." What a curious response. God said, "Now I know". How can that be? Is the Torah teaching that God didn't know what Abraham would do? Was there a chance that Abraham would not have done it? Apart from this particular task, did Abraham not already demonstrate that he feared God? Was God not aware of that fact? There's got to be something more going on than God finally becoming aware that Abraham truly feared him (by the way, if the concept of "fearing God" is unfamiliar to you, it refers to having great respect, the kind of respect that strongly evokes an obedient response).
Abraham's willingness to obey God's unusual and drastic directive outwardly demonstrated the inner reality that had been at work in his life for years. When God says, "Now I know" he is affirming the reality of Abraham's faithfulness. True faith in God proves itself through our actions. Sadly there had been a tendency to divorce the inner reality of faith from faithful deeds. Some have focused on deeds, claiming that the issues of the heart and of truth don't really matter, as long as we do what is right. Others have insisted that spiritual reality is found solely in the inner reality and have so diminished the importance of faithful deeds to the point where they are insignificant. Neither focus is biblical. Certainly a right relationship with God begins with the heart. We come to know God by trusting in the Messiah. But if that trust is real, then it will be expressed through our actions. If our lives do not reflect the inner reality we claim to have, then we have reason to doubt its genuineness. It is as we live out our faith through obedience to God that we receive the assurance of the reality of our faith as Abraham did that day.
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