Abraham’s spiritual development included an important step that no one else in the Old Testament was asked to take on an individual basis. It says in Genesis 22:1 that God tested Abraham. Temptation is when a person’s faith or belief in God is put to the test to see if it will hold up under the pressure of moral conviction. We know that Abraham had reached spiritual maturity before God tested him because it says in Genesis 21:11 that when Sarah told Abraham to divorce Hagar and drive her and her son Ishmael out of their camp, “the thing was very displeasing to Abraham.” The Hebrew word that is translated very displeasing, ra’a (raw-ah’) means bad in a moral sense (H7489). A word that is derived from ra’a, ra (rah) “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up what is good and desirable in man and society” (H7451).
Abraham didn’t want to send Hagar and Ishmael away, “But God said to Abraham, ‘Be not displeased because of the boy and because of the slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.'” God dealt with the situation according to his original plan for Abraham and Sarah, which was to bless them and all the families of the earth through their only child Isaac (Genesis 12:2-3, 17:16). But, even though Hagar was divorced from Abraham, God took care of Ishmael and treated him as if he was still under the covenant that God established with his father (Genesis 15:18-21).
The conversation that took place between God and Abraham after he made a covenant with Abimelech king of Gerar at Beersheba (Genesis 21:23-24) is recorded in Genesis 22:1-2. It states:
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take 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.”
God’s reference to Isaac as Abraham’s only son was intended to point out that Abraham had a unique, special relationship with his son Isaac. The Hebrew word translated only in Genesis 22:2, yachiyd (yaw-kheed’) is properly translated as united and can be used as meaning “self, my soul” (H3173). You could say that Abraham and Isaac’s hearts were knit together or united in such a way that they were like one person. Their thoughts and feelings were in unison with each others’.
God acknowledged Abraham’s love for his son Isaac before he told him to sacrifice him as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2). This suggests that Abraham’s spiritual test had to do with his affection for the child that God had promised him. The Hebrew word that is translated love in this verse, aheb (aw-habe’) “is equivalent to the English ‘to love’ in the sense of having a strong emotional attachment to and desire either to possess or to be in the presence of the object” (H157). You might say that Abraham was in love with his son Isaac or even that he was obsessed with him in that he spent all of his time with Isaac and couldn’t think of anything else. In a way, you could say that God was asking Abraham to give up the one thing that really mattered to him, his relationship with his son.
When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, it says in Matthew 3:16-17, “immediately he went up from the water, and behold the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'” The Greek word translated beloved, agapetos (ag-ap-ay-tos’) is an expression of God’s divine will in choosing to love his son and to give him as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. John 1:29 states that as Jesus approached John to be baptized by him, John said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” The title Lamb of God could also be translated as God’s Lamb or God’s sacrifice, the one who is able to take away the sins of the world.
As Abraham and Isaac hiked up Mount Moriah, Isaac asked his father, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7). Abraham’s response, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8) indicated that Abraham believed God would substitute a lamb for his son when it came time for him to make the sacrifice, and yet, “When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son” (Genesis 22:9-10).
Abraham’s actions demonstrated that he intended to do what God instructed him to, offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2). The burnt offering or owlah (o-law’) in Hebrew symbolized the transferring of one’s guilt to the sacrificial victim in order to make atonement, a covering for sin or expiation of sin for purification. “The central significance of owlah as the ‘whole burnt offering’ was the total surrender of the heart and life of the offerer to God” (H5930). As Abraham raised the knife to slaughter his son, “The angel of God called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 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'” (Genesis 22:11-12).
The initial basis for Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross was Abraham’s need for atonement. God spared Abraham from having to give up his son, but a sacrifice still had to be made because the ram that Abraham offered in place of his son Isaac (Genesis 22:13) was insufficient to permanently remove the effects of Abraham’s sins. “The only human sacrifice approved by God was that of his Son, the sinless Lamb of God (John 1:29)” (note on Genesis 22:12). God said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The Greek word translated well pleased, eudokeo (yoo-dok-eh’-o) has to do with a person’s subjective mental estimate or opinion about something (G2106). Another way of expressing what God said would be my beloved Son, with whom I am satisfied.
After he was baptized, it says in Matthew 4:1, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus’ experience in the desert was different from Abraham’s testing in that his faith was not the issue that God was concerned with. The Greek word translated tempted, peirazo (pi-rad’-zo) means to test, but this kind of “testing will cause its recipients to appear as what they always have been” (G3985). In other words, Jesus’ test was designed to show what he was capable of, to prove his abilities as the Son of God. The fact that Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness showed that he was doing what God wanted him to. It was not something that he wanted to do, but Jesus was willing to subject himself to the devil’s test in order to prove his devotion to God.
And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:2-4)
Jesus ability to abstain from food for forty days and forty nights was not a sign of his divine character, but his hunger afterward was a sign of his humanity. The Greek word translated was hungry, peinao (pi-nah’-o) has to do with starvation and indicated that Jesus was probably close to death when the tempter approached him. The first thing the devil tried to do was to get Jesus to perform a miracle to save his own life. The devil wanted him to focus on his physical needs, but instead, Jesus referred to a passage in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 8:3) that pointed out man’s need for spiritual sustenance.
The Greek word that is translated live in Matthew 4:4 which states, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” is zao (dzah’-o). Zao refers to spiritual life and more specifically to the resurrection of believers, but also to the way of access to God through the Lord Jesus Christ and the manifestation of divine power in support of divine authority (G2198). Jesus had the divine authority to turn the stones into bread, but he didn’t do it because he knew that as a man, his life was in God’s hand and his physical life would be sustained as long as it was God’s will for him to continue living.
Abraham knew that it wasn’t God’s will for his son Isaac to die on Mount Moriah because he had already told him “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him” (Genesis 17:19). Essentially, it was this word that came from the mouth of God that gave Abraham the confidence to obey the LORD’s command to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. When Abraham saw the place that he was to sacrifice his son, “Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you'” (Genesis 22:5) indicating that he believed God could bring Isaac back to life if need be (Hebrews 11:17-19)” (note on Genesis 22:12).
The devil’s temptation of Jesus was built on the assumption that he needed to stay alive in order for him to fulfill his destiny of saving the world. After Jesus refused to make bread to keep himself from starving, the devil tempted him to kill himself. Matthew’s gospel states:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘On the their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Matthew 4:5-7)
Jesus was free to throw himself off the pinnacle if he wanted to, but he knew that God wasn’t obligated to keep him from dying.
One of the unique aspects of Jesus’ humanity was that he was able to keep himself from sinning. No matter how much he may have wanted to do one thing or another, Jesus always chose to do his Father’s will rather than his own. Jesus understood that in order for him to die for the sins of the world he had to be killed in a prescribed manner, at an appointed time, and in a particular place. Therefore, Jesus refrained from doing anything that might cause him to die another way. The devil’s instruction to throw himself down, implied that Jesus would be putting his trust in God, but in reality, Jesus could have and probably would have had to rely on his own supernatural ability to defy gravity (Matthew 14:25) in order to keep himself from hitting the ground if he did what the devil told him to.
Abraham’s obedience to God’s instruction to sacrifice his son Isaac was an act of faith in that what he was being told to do made absolutely no sense to him and contradicted what God had already revealed to him about his son’s future. Abraham could have easily justified his disobedience, but didn’t seem to waiver at all in his commitment to do what he was being asked to do. When he heard the voice of the angel calling to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” (Genesis 22:11), Abraham could have ignored the voice and went on with what he was doing. It was only because Abraham was completely committed to his relationship with the LORD that he was able to immediately stop what he was doing and change his course midstream (Genesis 22:13).
The final test that Jesus was presented with had to do with his future reign over the kingdoms of Earth. It says in Matthew 4:8-10:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”
Jesus recognized that his adversary Satan was the ruler of all the kingdoms of the world and didn’t try to argue with him about whether or not he had the ability to turn them over to him. Jesus’ response merely pointed out that God who was the creator of the world was entitled to the worship and service of his creatures.
Jesus’ command “Be gone, Satan!” was a sign of his authority over the being that was trying to tempt him. The Greek word that is translated be gone, hupago (hoop-ag’-o) could also be translated as go away or get out of here. Jesus seemed to be expressing his frustration with the situation and was in essence saying, I’m done, I’ve had enough of this. Jesus appeared to be in complete control of himself and the situation and was not bothered by the fact that Satan was trying to keep him from doing God’s will.
After Abraham discovered a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, he sacrificed it instead of his son and called the name of the place where he was “The LORD will provide” (Genesis 22:13-14). The Hebrew name Yehovah Yireh speaks to Gods ability to provide that which he requires of us (H3070). Abraham understood that he didn’t need to atone for his own sins, that God would take care of it. Abraham may or may not have understood that God was going to sacrifice his own son at some point in the future. To a certain extent, it was a joint effort because Jesus was not only God’s son, but also a descendant of Abraham.
If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.
If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know about your decision.
God bless you!