Theme: Faith (Part 15 – the important role of temptations / trials / tests to grow and increase our faith)
(Key verses: Gen 22:1-19)
On one occation Jesus’ apostles asked Him this…
Luk 17:5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
This request is what we all shoud ask the Lord and His Father, but we should also accept the way God will answer this prayer. In this study on our theme of faith, we will see how God answers this beautiful prayer through the life of Abraham, and others in Scripture.
Rom 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
The foundational theme of “faith toward God” is beautifully revealed through the faith of Abraham as one of the types given in the scriptures to show us how the faith of Christ in us works and takes us to spiritual maturity through the chastening grace of God (Heb 6:1-2; Rom 4:16; Php 3:9; Eph 2:8-10; 1Co 13:13):
Tit 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
Tit 2:12 Teaching [Greek: “paideuō” = discipline by punishment] us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
Heb 12:6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth [Greek: “paideuō”], and scourgeth [Greek: “mastigoō” = flogging/plague] every son whom he receiveth.
Heb 12:7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth [Greek: “paideuō”] not?
The natural mind in us cannot see or accept this “strange work” of God through His scourging judgment on everyone in the first Adam, at the appointed time, to make them His children in Christ (Isa 28:17-29; Isa 26:9; 1Co 15:14; 1Pe 4:17). But this is the way true love works, and every spiritual son the Father receives will go through this experience. This disciplining and sending of plagues will also increase in intensity according to the measure of faith we receive, but everyone will be enabled also to bear this through Christ (Joh 16:12; 1Co 10:11):
Rom 12:3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to every one who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. But set your mind to be right-minded, even as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith.
We examine ourselves during our time of judgment, and we also learn to discern the Lord’s body as we wait on each other by serving one another in humility (Joh 13:3-15; 1Co 11:28-34; 1Pe 4:17). God will reveal to us His true witnesses and helpers of our joy who will compass us about with great comfort within this time of judgment:
Heb 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
Heb 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Heb 12:3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
Heb 12:4 Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
The accusers and “contradiction of sinners” against the elect will not ease off in their accusations and derisions, but Jesus is our biggest example in all of this as He also supplies the inward strength to be content with whatever situation we are placed in:
Php 4:11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
Php 4:12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
Php 4:13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
Abraham was taken through many trials during his time of sojourning in the land of Canaan, but in Genesis 22 Abraham was taken to a new threshold of enduring God’s testing:
Gen 22:1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt [Hebrew: “nâsâh”; Greek: “peirazō”] Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
The Greek equivalent verb for “nâsâh” is “peirazō” (according to the Septuagint translation). The Hebrew word “nâsâh” was translated as “tempt” here, but to get the true meaning of this expression “God did tempt Abraham” we must also note that “nâsâh” is also translated as “prove” or “try” in these verses, among others:
Exo 16:4 Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove [Hebrew: “nâsâh”; Greek: “peirazō”] them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.
2Ch 32:31 Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try [Hebrew: “nâsâh”; Greek: “peirazō”] him, that he might know all that was in his heart.
The New Testament also confirms what this temptation of Abraham was about:
Heb 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried [Greek: “peirazō”], offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son.
Temptation has to do with all the trials which the Father works and sends to us via His appointed agencies, whether spiritual or physical (Heb 12:9; Eph 1:11). God Himself never tests, tries and tempts anyone Himself because He knows what is in our hearts, but we do not know – He is truly omniscient (1Sa 2:3; Job 28:24; Psa 139:4; Psa 147:5; Heb 4:13). Testing or trials are all for our learning about who we are and His works in us (Deu 8:2). Naturally we do not know our own ignorance, and it is a humbling process to go through these trials. But trials are common to all in Adam, even Jesus had to endure them personally while being in an earthly body of death, and even now through His church (Rom 6:6; Col 1:24-27):
Mat 4:1 Then was Jesus led up [this verb is in the Greek aorist tense] of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted [Greek: “peirazō”] of the devil.
1Co 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape [Jesus is, was and will be the only way to overcome temptation], that ye may be able to bear it [cast your cares on Him – Psa 55:22; 1Pe 5:7].
But we are taught to see temptation as God’s instruments to bring joy, and even though it is common to all, it still is experienced as strange and something horrible by our flesh every time. The mind of Christ sees trials differently:
Jas 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations [Greek: “peirasmos” – noun form of the verb “peirazō”];
Jas 1:3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
1Pe 4:12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try [Greek: “peirasmos”] you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.
It is in obedience to this truth which highlights the faith of Abraham and all his dealings with God:
Gen 22:2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
The mountain in the land of Moriah is very significant as it is also relates to the vicinity where the first physical temple was built by Solomon. Moriah means “chosen by God” as it also links to what the mountain of the Lord spiritually represents as the house of God or His household of faith (Zec 8:3; 1Co 3:16; Eph 2:19):
2Ch 3:1 Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where the LORD appeared unto David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.
Isa 2:2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
Isa 2:3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
The mountain of the Lord relates to threshing and teaching, and this also confirms that trials are brought to us through which God separates the chaff (lies) from the wheat (truth) in our lives. This separation He performs with His “threshing instruments of iron” which destroys the mountains of flesh in us (Psa 1:4-6; Pro 20:8; Pro 20:26; Isa 28:27; Isa 41:15; Amo 1:3):
Luk 3:17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
This is what Abraham faced as he and Isaac, with two young men, rose up early in the morning and travelled for three days – and still the place was afar off:
Gen 22:3 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.
Gen 22:4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.
This number three spiritually indicates the process of threshing or chastening we have to go as “no man [is] able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels [are] fulfilled” (Act 14:22; Rev 15:8):
Gen 22:5 And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.
We will be brought to the point in our growth in faith to understand the purpose of the outward physical application and the “putting forth of the finger” (Isa 58:9). Concentrating on other’s evil is our carnal mind’s way to divert attention from itself and “comparing… among [our]selves” (2Co 10:12; 1Co 1:19-20). But within God’s time of judgement on our carnality, we will indeed see that we ourselves are the worst of sinners in every aspect, and we have to carry our own load or burdens in that sense (1Ti 1:15; Gal 6:4-5).
Gen 22:6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.
In this verse we are also given a picture of the task the Father has laid on Christ to take on Him the load of the iniquity of us all while we are led astray to follow our own carnal ways (Psa 51:5; 2Co 5:21):
Isa 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
In the words “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” we see an expression of Abraham’s expectation to return with Isaac. Abraham’s faith was at such a level that he could see beyond the death of Isaac, even God being able to raise Isaac from the dead. Isaac died “in a figure”, and this expresses the heart of Abraham concerning Isaac. This also reveals the Father’s heart concerning Christ in the flesh and all in the first Adam, who will be brought through the resurrection from the dead to receive spirit life:
Heb 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
Heb 11:18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
Heb 11:19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
Abraham never witnessed a resurrection from the dead at that stage, but faith made this possible for him to see and accept that truth (Psa 119:130; 1Co 13:12; 2Co 4:6; Eph 1:17-18). Abraham believed that Isaac will be brought back to life because of God’s Word to him – faith comes only through the Word of God (Rom 10:17). God promised that through Isaac shall all Abraham’s offspring be brought forward (Gen 12:1-3; Gen 21:10-12):
Gen 17:19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.
Christ, the Word of God, is the incorruptible seed of God through whom the “everlasting covenant” of life in spirit will come (Luk 8:11; 1Pe 1:23). There is no way God will ever go back on His word – His word will accomplish everything He sets out to achieve, even the salvation of all who were made after the corruptible seed of the first Adam (Isa 55:10-13; 1Co 15:22-28; 1Co 15:42). In our time of spiritual immaturity we cannot accept that we are to sacrifice our own lives or that a grain of wheat can fall into the ground and die, yet will produce a huge harvest after that (Joh 12:24). As faith grows, however, there comes a peace as we learn how God’s glory is revealed through these trials. Trials bring the death of our old man, and progressively we can see His face in glory (Exo 33:17-23; Mat 16:28; 2Co 3:18; Rev 1:17). This quiet Godly confidence in us comes with maturity, and this is seen in us when we are not easily swayed by the trials and the accusers (Eph 4:11-14; Heb 12:1). This confidence in God’s works in us is not cast away or squandered for temporary earthly glory and pleasures as we can see the rewards trials bring (Heb 10:35-39).
Gen 22:7 And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
Gen 22:8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering [Hebrew: “ôlâh” = ascend]: so they went both of them together.
God indeed has supplied a Lamb as a burnt offering for the sins of the whole world, even as Jesus Himself experienced the fiery wrath and judgment of God on His flesh (Isa 54:8; Mat 27:46).
1Pe 1:19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
1Pe 1:20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.
Abraham was known for his sojourning in his tent and his altars, and here we have the fourth time that Abraham built an altar to God. (We already dealt with the altars in Abraham’s life in more detail in a previous discussion – Study #56):
Gen 22:9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
It seemed that Isaac gave no resistance to what his father was requesting him to do and is about to do to him. This gives us also a beautiful picture of the way Jesus was led as a lamb to the slaughter at His time of being sacrificed on the altar of the cross as also prophesized by Isaiah:
Isa 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
This is how we are shown how Christ’s true followers will respond when this level of faith is given to them. This type of submission is not given when we are not yet ready and prepared by God as to how to respond and behave when we are falsely accused and led to the slaughter by our enemies as appointed by God. In this instance with Isaac, God intervened:
Gen 22:11 And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
Gen 22:12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
God knows everything in advance, and He never intended for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt human sacrifice. Burning humans as sacrifices on an altar is not part of God’s mind as a way to please Him because “if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (Jer 7:30-31; Jdg 11:30-40; 1Co 13:3). We only please God by the faith of Christ in us which will cause us to do His commandments (Heb 11:6; Heb 13:9-10). Nowhere in the scriptures did God want anyone to sacrifice humans, even Jephthah did not sacrifice his daughter as a burned sacrifice, but she fulfilled the vow her father foolishly made on her behalf to remain a virgin all her life (Jdg 11:30-40). Our flesh shall not have an offspring in spirit – true spiritual sacrifices are made from dying daily, even as we are also filling up in our body the afflictions of the Christ to fulfil his work in us and in His body (Col 1:24; 1Co 15:31):
Gen 22:13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.
Gen 22:14 And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.
Isaac died “in a figure”, and this ram which Abraham sacrificed was “in the stead of” Isaac. Abraham received Isaac back “from the dead” as the scriptures declare (Heb 11:19). If we cannot see that through our own dying we will be brought to life, we will follow the false doctrine of a substitutionary atonement of Christ. This false teaching comes from a lascivious spirit in those who want spiritual life without giving up on their life of sin and even despise the dwelling and abiding in the fire of God (Jud 1:3-4; Isa 33:14-15; Joh 8:31-32; Rom 8:17; 1Jn 4:17). Christ’s sacrifice was indeed an empowering and atoning death through which we will receive His inward strength to be a sweet smelling saviour of Christ to the Father while He enable us to die for our own sins (2Co 2:15; Php 4:18; 1Co 15:31).
2Co 1:5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.
Gal 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
That the Lamb of God is actually also a ram is also counterintuitive to the natural mind (1Co 2:13-14). Like the tent of the tabernacle was covered with rams’ skins dyed red, so is Christ the covering Head of the church, even as a physical ram is the leader of the flock (Rom 1:20; Exo 25:5). The ram here shows the positive application of this symbol pointing to Christ as the highly exalted One who is the “firstborn of every creature” of God’s creation, and He is also the “firstborn from the dead” (Exo 29:15-16; Lev 5:15; Joh 1:1-4; Rom 1:20; Col 1:15-19; Rev 3:14). As a ram without blemish, Jesus never sinned while in a body of sin, and that is why His sacrifice is above all sacrifices (Rom 6:6; 2Co 5:21). His complete and perfect ransom ascends above all others and God accepted it as the only true “sweetsmelling savour” which was prepared “from the foundation of the world” (Joh 1:29; Eph 5:2; 1Jn 2:1-2; Rev 13:8):
Heb 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for [Greek: “huper” = above] every man.
We are to work out our own salvation as God works or supplies His spiritual abilities in us, meaning we die to self by taking up our own cross and do His commandments (Php 2:12-13; Mat 10:38-39; Mat 7:24-25; Jas 2:21-23; Rev 1:3). The faith of Christ in us brings the life of Christ in us, even as typified in the life of Abraham. Receiving Isaac back from the dead (“in a figure”) opened the heavens for Abraham, and this is typifying our own multiplying and increase in the fruits of righteousness if we endure the trials of our faith (2Co 9:10; 1Pe 1:7-9):
Gen 22:15 And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,
Gen 22:16 And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:
Gen 22:17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
Gen 22:18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
Gen 22:19 So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.