Always a Test
You shall remember the Lord your God,for it is he who gives you power to get wealth. Deuteronomy 8:18
Those who know their own hearts recognize how easily each of us may fall into the sin of pride and self sufficiency when God intends us to be humble and learn that our sufficiently depends upon Him.
Have affluence and prosperity proved to be a snare in your life? Jesus spoke of this danger in his parable of the sower and the soil‘s. Some soil failed to produce fruit because of the presence of thorns, which Jesus interpreted it to be “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires of other things;” which enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful”. Mark 4:19.
God provides all we need but we become obsessed just by the gift rather than the giver, and soon we think of His gifts as our rights as though we had earned them or deserved them. More and more we secretly desire to write across our lives, “I did it my way,” And as a consequence we distance ourselves from the Lord, become insensitive to Him and forget His grace.
Prosperity is a gift. It can be a blessing; it is also a test. That was what Moses urged the people to realize. Both adversity and prosperity have that function in our Christian lives. They test whether or not we have a commitment to the Lord that will help us see both those experiences in relation to Him. All Christians encounter one or the other. Most of us have regularly experienced both. Did you pass the test? Did your experience draw you closer to the Lord as you committed your way to Him? Or did you, like the Israelites, forget Him and become wrapped up in yourself – in either your problems or your achievements?
Will you face up to these issues, and make a fresh vow to the Lord that, with His help, through His grace, you will not go on forgetting Him.
It is apparent from the story of Abraham and Isaac as they journey up the mountain that the very gift the God had given to Abraham was becoming his focus rather than keeping his mind on the Giver. Paul says this in Romans:
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
It is easy to substitute things for God. So God brings Abraham to the mountain of testing. It’s easy for us to pass over this story for we read that in the end, God provided a ram in the bush for the sacrifice. We must realize that Abraham did not know the end of the story as he and Isaac make their way up the mountain. We read that they left the servants behind and our lesson from this is that we face the testing of God alone. The purpose of the test is to help us see our relationship with God. It is not for God to come to know what our relationship is for God is omniscient- all knowing. Many times we think of a test as something that tells others where we are. Students, for example perceive tests as something the teacher has created to make them suffer but in fact tests are designed for us to see where we are and what we must do to improve. As Abraham and Isaac travel up the mountain, Isaac asks, “Where’s the sacrifice?” I’m sure he is used to participating with his father in such things. Abraham’s reply is amazing, “Jehovah-Jireh- the Lord will provide.” Can you begin to see that deep in the heart of Abraham, the test was bringing forth that faith which had worked in him to have been given a son. I believe that as they have journeyed there can be no doubt to the questions and the battle in Abraham. He must have wondered why God would give him a son after all those years of waiting only to take him away. He must have wondered about the promises of God that he would be “the father of many nations.” Often in the testing place, we to find ourselves questioning the circumstances around us. We may wonder why we are facing such an adversity and we ought to remember that times of blessing are just as dangerous, perhaps more so, for it is easy to take life for granted. So we have father and son each on a journey with their own test. For Abraham the test will be one of sacrifice. For Isaac it will be a test of obedient submission.
They come now to the top of the mountain and there they build an altar. Together they place the wood on the altar and Abraham turns to Isaac and says, “My son, you’re the sacrifice.” I imagine that this father who loves this son so deeply speaks these words through sobs, brokenness and utter grief. To speak this must have taken every ounce of courage and obedience to God that lay in Abraham. I imagine at that moment he thought of the day of Isaac’s birth. How the joy must have filled his heart to finally hold God’s promise in his hands near his heart and now the heart that had been filled with joy over a son is now filled with grief as he prepares to give him up. It is easy to read this story and somehow get the picture that this was no big thing because we know the end of the story but there is a vast difference between reading the story and living the story.
In the son, I can imagine a myriad of thoughts and emotions, at least I think they would be playing out in me. The question of his father’s love, the question of the character of God, the thinking that he hadn’t really got to live and possibly the question of Abraham’s sanity. Whatever the questions, the things not understood, Isaac must have realized that it was his test too. By this time Abraham is an old man and it was most likely that he did not have the strength to place Isaac on the altar and certainly had Isaac, who was a strong young man, resisted, the act of the sacrifice would not have occurred. What was going on in the hearts of both these can only be left to our imagination. Perhaps the reason the Bible doesn’t tell us is so that we can place ourselves in the story and answer those questions for ourselves. I can see Isaac placing himself on the altar, submitting to the binding of his limbs and waiting and watching as the knife plunges toward his heart. I imagine there was no struggle, father and son with their eyes upon each other, their love shining through the moment and their willingness to be obedient to the will of God even to death.
I wonder if heaven held its breath waiting for the outcome, wondering if Abraham would really give up his prized possession for his love to God. The hosts of heaven watch as the knife is raised over the sacrifice and starts its downward plunge and then God speaks.
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son. ” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided. ” The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Listen to what God says: “…because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the San on the seashore.”
We are not to assume that we have in some way earned our position or possessions for it is God who gives both favor and opportunity for us to have both. The place of great trust and dependence upon God is found when we understand that even our next breath is a gift from God and our next heartbeat comes through His favor. The power of trust is that nothing moves you whether life is going well or life is challenging. When we choose to place our hope in God, neither adversity nor prosperity captures our attention. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to be “looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.”
Paul sums up this idea that we worship and focus on God in every situation.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
May God give us grace to pass the tests!
Dr. John Thompson