A. W. Tozer has written, “It is doubtful that God can use any [person] greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”
Search through the Scriptures and history, and you will discover that the men and women God has used in the most significant ways have experienced the greatest trials and the severest tests.
Do you desire to be powerfully used by God? Do you want God’s stamp of approval on your life? Before you answer too quickly, you might want to consider the experience of Abraham in Genesis 22 as we look at Abraham’s greatest test.
1. The Preparation for the Test (Genesis 22:1)
Remember what has happened in Abraham’s life up to this point? When Abraham was 60 years old, God spoke to him and told him to leave his home in Ur and his relatives for a land that God would show him. Included in that message to Abraham was the promise that he would be the father of a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3).
Abraham was dumbfounded. “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old?” And will Sarah, who is 90 years old, bear a child?” When Sarah got the news, she laughed, probably picturing how funny she and Abraham would look going to the children’s parent-teacher conferences. Yet, God was faithful in fulfilling his promise: Genesis 21:2-3, at last, was the “child of promise.” The one through whom God would fulfill the pledge he had made with Abraham 25 years earlier.
2. The Test (Genesis 22:1-2)
What differentiates a test from temptation is not the situation but the motivation behind it. God tests us to strengthen our faith. Satan tempts us to destroy our faith. James 1 is clear that God never tempts anyone—that is, He never tries to destroy a believer’s faith. In the same way, Satan never tests anyone—that is, he never tries to strengthen someone’s faith.
Some of you are going through a tremendous test of your faith, and you are wondering why? Tests are God’s vote of confidence in you. He tests you not because He hates you but because he loves you. He desires to strengthen your faith, not destroy it. That was God’s purpose here.
Genesis 22:2 says, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”
Even though Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, this son was whom God had promised would be the beginning of the great nation God had pledged to Abraham decades earlier. He was the son who represented God’s faithfulness despite tremendous obstacles. This son brought laughter and joy to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. Why would God want to take the life of this boy?
3. The Response to the Test (Genesis 22:3-12)
After receiving such a command, most of us would probably question whether it was really the voice of God we had heard. Or we might be outraged that God would ask such a thing. But not Abraham. He had heard the voice of God too often during the long years of his life to mistake it for anything else.
Just as Abraham obeyed God immediately when God instructed him to circumcise himself and all the males of his household, Abraham complied with God’s command without hesitation. The text says that he arose early in the morning to set out on his journey to the place of sacrifice.
The journey to Moriah was about 50 miles and took three days. I imagine that as they walked together, Isaac, now a strong and vigorous teenager, made many attempts to converse with his father. Yet, Abraham remained silent as he reflected on God’s command and its devastating effect on his life. I think he had to ask God for the strength to take every next step on the journey to the mountain of sacrifice.
At this point, we see Abraham’s deep, abiding faith in God. Notice he says to his men, “And we will worship and [we] will return to you. Whatever doubts Abraham might have had during the journey to Moriah, he had resolved them now and was convinced that God would be faithful in fulfilling his promises to him.
Then came the moment of revelation when Abraham was to reveal the full truth to Isaac. It is at this point that one becomes aware of the great foreshadowing this event is of the submission of God’s only son to a sacrificial death, as He too carried the wood on His back to the mount of sacrifice—very likely in the same location as this—and laid himself on the altar of sacrifice.
4. Results of the Test (Genesis 22:13-19)
- God Himself Provides the Sacrifice (Genesis 22:13-14)
God was teaching not only Abraham but all mankind the most basic spiritual lesson a person could learn—man is incapable of providing an adequate sacrifice for his sin.
- God Renews His Covenant with Abraham (Genesis 22:15-19)
But this time, God swore His blessing to Abraham instead of just promising. And since there was none greater, God swore by His own name.
- God Calls Abraham His Friend (James 2:21-23)
Although he had been justified, or made right with God, because of his faith more than 50 years earlier, Abraham was now called “the friend of God.”
Can you imagine any greater compliment than to be called “the friend of God?” It was a phrase that God would use for all eternity to describe His servant who had truly demonstrated his love for God (Isaiah 41:8; 2 Chronicles 20:7).
5. Three Timeless Truths About God’s Testing In Our Lives
- God’s Tests May Contradict Reason
- God’s Tests Affect the Tender Part of Our Lives
- God’s Tests Are Designed for Our Strengthening
God had an eternal purpose that He was working out through Abraham. And, as in the case of any man or woman whom God will use in a significant way, many tests had to mold Abraham into the kind of instrument God would use.
“It is doubtful that God can use any man greatly, until He has hurt him deeply.” Are you ready to be used by God? Before you answer too quickly, picture in your mind what is most important to you. Then ask yourself the question Abraham had to answer, “Am I willing to sacrifice that possession, that relationship, or that dream out of love for God?” God’s tests are never easy, yet they are necessary if He will use us.
Full Passage: Genesis 22