Lent 1 • Genesis 22:1–18 • February 26, 2012

by Victor Raj

A Test Case

Preliminary Considerations
Historically, the theme for the first Sunday in Lent is the “Temptation of the Lord.” The appointed Gospel lesson for the day, Mark 1:9–15, unlike the other Synoptic parallels, encapsulates Jesus’s temptation in one participial clause, “being tempted by Satan,” in the desert among wild animals and with angels attending him.

On the other hand, the Epistle reading, James 1:12–18, alerts us to the truth that the tempter is actually the devil. Temptations have their bearing on the evil desires that result in sin. Sin does not appeal to God. God by his very nature is holy and shows no interest in tempting anyone. Nevertheless, satanic forces come from the outside and drag us away from the Lord’s desire for us, causing to birth in us sin. No human being is exempt from such ongoing tests in their lives. Thus James wrote, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life.”

The verse of the day is the exhortation to outfit ourselves with the whole armor of God with a view to taking our stand against the devil’s schemes. In the introit, the Most High promises those who have found shelter in his shadow security and protection from the tempter. The Gradual is an encouragement to fix our eyes on Jesus who has himself overcome satanic and vile schemes, as he is the author of our faith as well as the one who perfects it.

Reflections on Genesis 22:1–18

Abraham’s entire life had been a journey of faith. Trials were his constant companion on the voyage. This patriarch of faith was counting on God’s promises to sustain him throughout his pilgrimage. At God’s call, Abraham left behind his life in Mesopotamia and set out toward an unknown land. Throughout that expedition, he had nothing but the word of God to anchor his life. More than once his faith was tested through the refiner’s fire.

The biblical accounts list many blessings that God promised Abraham, matched perhaps by no other person on earth. It included, for him and his future generations, ownership of a land as far as the eye could see. God promised to make his name great. A word from Abraham’s mouth would become a word of blessing to numerous others. In Abraham, God would bless all peoples on earth. Such a blessing would flow from him to all the families of the earth through his son that God would give him through his wife Sarah.

God’s promises notwithstanding, his own old age and Sarah’s prolonged barrenness, cast strong shadows of doubt in Abraham’s mind. In their weak moments, Sarah would convince Abraham that not she, but Hagar their Egyptian slave woman would bear the child God pledged to them. Nevertheless, God would have no ancillary scheme for what he announced. One hundred-year-old Abraham was to become the father of many nations through his son born of Sarah’s womb. God had no plan B for saving the world from sin and its consequence, death.

To be sure, God would make Hagar’s son into a great nation (Gn 21:13, 18) and let them possess lands of their own. Before Abraham’s only son would be born, in Sarah’s eyes Hagar and her son appear to be potential threats to Abraham’s inheritance. The unique blessing God pronounced in Abraham for the whole world would come through Isaac. Doubtless, the very birth of Isaac, Abraham’s and Sarah’s son of great expectation was a great miracle. Isaac prefigured God’s inimitable promise that in his Son, God would pour out his unique blessing on all nations (Gal 3:16). God vindicated Abraham as he persevered in faith in God through the various times of testing.

Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. Through this out-of-the-ordinary testing, God had for Abraham and for the whole world a precise purpose which, as in the birth of Isaac, necessitated an unswerving faith. In the Lord’s presence, Abraham’s response “Here I am, Lord!” was a demonstration of the obedience that comes from faith. The author of Hebrews lauds Abraham’s faith as having substance. He was in the very act of offering up his son (τὸν ἀγαπητόν ὅν ἠγάπησας Genesis 22:1, 12, LXX; μονογενῆς Hebrews 11:17) on whom rested the formation of a whole nation. According to Hebrews, Abraham ‘reasoned’ that God could raise the dead. In fact, God did give Abraham his only son back as he was shown a scapegoat to take Isaac’s place on the sacrificial altar. John the Baptist confessed that God’s υἱὸς μονογενῆς (one-of-a-kind Son[1]) is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).

Momentous is Abraham’s walk with Isaac to the sacrificial altar, he himself having in hand the fire and the knife and his only son carrying the wood for the burnt offering. The son’s query to his father, “But where is the lamb?” receives the reliable response, “God himself will provide the lamb” (22:14). As well as the father’s cautiously optimistic response to the son in verse 8, read in the original MT and the LXX as “The Lord will see (to it).” This reading is purposeful here especially during the season of Lent when the eyes of faith focus more on God’s most faithful Son. Just as it was for Abraham and Isaac, no eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard, no mind has ever conceived what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2: 9). This is significant particularly because it is here, for the first time in the biblical account that a narrative is given in the substitutionary sense of one life becoming the ransom for another. Great Abraham’s Greater Son, God’s one-of a-kind Son, has become for all a one-of-a- kind sacrifice.

Verse 8 is a graphic portrayal of Abraham’s obedient submission to God’s testing. A noticeable silence follows the narrator’s comment, “And the two of them walked on together.” Neither Isaac nor Abraham speaks as they walk or after they reach their destination. [God speaks!] While Wenham calls this vulnerable moment one of ‘oppressive silence,’[2] Speiser has identified it as ‘perhaps the most poignant and eloquent silence in all literature.’[3] Here lay hidden the mystery of God’s provision for mankind, and the miraculous way of God leading his people from doubt to confidence, from unfaith to faith. God has the final word, hidden though it may be from us even as we walk with him. His words endure through our testing, into the future, as they were first spoken to our fathers in the faith (Gn 12:1–3 cf. 22:15–18).

The tempter spoke to Jesus and tempted him, supporting his arguments even from Scripture. Jesus’s words silenced the devil in each instance and caused him to leave, but Jesus went on serving, preaching and teaching. The Word of God is the weapon in our warfare of faith: A word of defense as well as a word of assurance.

Endnotes

[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2004).
[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1: Genesis 1-15 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1987), 163.
[3] E.A. Speiser, Genesis: Introduction, Translation, and Notes (The Anchor Bible, Vol. 1) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), 165.

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