(This study is an expansion of the worship section in my book, “A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality,” Fifth Estate Publishing, 2007)
God loves promises! He loves to make them to people – and keep them. Abraham is an excellent example of how God makes and keeps promises to people. God promised Abraham land and He’s keeping that promise to this day – no matter how hard the nations of the world try to remove Israel from their land. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of God’s chosen people – and Christians and Jews are witness to God keeping that promise.
We pick up the History of Worship in Genesis 18. Abraham saw three men standing by him. He rose to greet them. One of the men standing before Abraham was the Lord. Abraham offered to bring them food and water and give them rest from their journey. The Lord asked Abraham about Sarah. Abraham told Him that Sarah was in the tent. Then, the Lord restated the promise He had made to Abraham about a son who would come from Abraham and Sarah – “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:10) Sarah was listening from inside the tent and laughed when the Lord said that she would become pregnant and give birth to a son – “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” (Genesis 18:12) The Lord heard Sarah and asked a penetrating question that is at the heart of faith worship – “Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:14)
Is anything too hard for the LORD? This is the question God asked Abraham and Sarah. It is not a human question that needs human consideration to find an appropriate answer. This is a rhetorical question from God. Is anything too hard for the Lord? Of course it isn’t. God can do anything He wants. God said that Sarah would have a son – and she did!
“And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.’ She also said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.” Genesis 21:1-7
Abraham was 99-years-old when God gave him the Covenant of Circumcision (Genesis 17) and 100-years-old when Isaac was born. That’s a year later – which means Abraham was circumcised in obedience to God’s command prior to conceiving Isaac with Sarah. What happened in the year between circumcision and the birth of Isaac is also very interesting. In that period of one year, Abraham and the Lord had their discussion about finding righteous people in Sodom (Genesis 18:16-33); God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, but saved Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19:1-29); and Abraham and Sarah lied to Abimelech the king of Gerar, but God protected them (Genesis 20:1-18).
The day came and Sarah gave birth to Isaac, the son God had promised Abraham many years before. It was a happy time for the family that led up to a great feast on the day Isaac was weaned from being nursed by Sarah. But Sarah saw Abraham’s son Ishmael scoffing and told Abraham to cast out the boy and his mother, Hagar. Abraham didn’t like that because of his feelings toward Ishmael, but God supported Sarah’s feelings and gave Abraham another insight to how important Isaac would be – “But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called.” (Genesis 21:12) God also told Abraham that Ishmael would become the father of a nation of people because he was Abraham’s son. However, Isaac was the son of God’s Promise.
Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away from him and she and the boy wandered in the wilderness until she thought they would die. God opened Hagar’s eyes to see a nearby well and she had water for herself and her son. God was with Ishmael and he grew up in the wilderness and became an archer. Hagar returned to Egypt, the land of her birth, and found a wife for Ishmael. Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech and lived in the land of the Philistines for many years (Genesis 21:22-34).
Abraham’s journey of faith was not finished. God had much more to teach him about what it meant to be the father of the promised people of God. A major part of God’s Promise was redemption and salvation. Abraham understood that God had given him Isaac to be his heir and part of the larger promise of a great nation that would belong to God. However, faith in God is often tested to see what kind of faith it is.
“Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.’ So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ Then he said, ‘Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ And Abraham said, ‘My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.’ So the two of them went together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.” Genesis 22:1-10
Do you see the confidence Abraham had in God’s Promise? I don’t think it was easy for Abraham to do what God told him to do, but he did it. And look at what Abraham told the young men who had gone with him and Isaac – “the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” Abraham was not misleading his servants. He and Isaac were going to worship God and they both were going to come back. But didn’t God tell Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering? How could Abraham have seen that as worship? How could he have believed that Isaac would return with him after being offered as a burnt offering? Abraham had a faith that went beyond what he could see with his eyes and hear with his ears. He had walked with God long enough to know that God could do anything He wanted to do and would keep His Promise. Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead if necessary – “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” (Hebrews 11:17-18) God blessed Abraham’s faithfulness and saved Isaac by supplying another sacrifice, just as Abraham had said – “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”
God did just that – He provided another sacrifice and blessed Abraham for his faith. And in blessing Abraham, the Lord promised that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed – “because you have obeyed My voice.”
“But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ So he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’ Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’ Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: ‘By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.’ So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.” Genesis 22:11-19
Do you see the process of faith worship in Abraham’s life? God told Abram what was going to happen when He first called him to go to a land He would show him – “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2) Abram heard God, obeyed God and took his first step of faith. Abram moved his wife, nephew, the people who were them and all their possessions to the land God showed him. When Abram arrived in the land of Canaan, God appeared to Abram again – “To your descendants I will give this land.’ And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.” Abram heard, believed, obeyed and took his second step of faith – he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped Him there. God tested Abraham’s faith and he took his third step of faith – he took his only son Isaac to offer him to God as a burnt offering in obedience to God’s command. As we’ve seen from our study so far, Abraham did not have all the answers to how God was going to do what He was going to do to bring about all the promises He had made to Abraham. Abraham heard God, believed God, obeyed God, and worshiped God. That’s what God wants from all His children – faith, obedience and worship.
We see that process repeated throughout the Bible – with all of God’s children of faith. We see it with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Ruth, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, and all those who heard God, believed God, obeyed God and worshiped God.
(You can read more about Abraham’s adventures with God on pages 532 – 562 in “A History of Man’s Quest for Immorality.”)
In Christ’s Love and Grace,Mark McGee
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”