Earlier this month, I posted a four-part series on the controversial story in Genesis 22 of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Part 4 was supposed to be the final installment, but I have one more brief meditation to add.
One of the most troubling aspects of the story is its very first line: “Some time later God tested Abraham” (22:1, NIV). “Tested.” The Greek can be translated as either “tested” or “tempted,” depending on the context. And when we read that story, we can’t help but think, “Yikes! Is God going to test me in that way?”
Here’s a thought.
Recently, I was listening to a lecture by Scottish theologian Sinclair Ferguson on the Holy Spirit. He posed an interesting question. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted (indeed, Mark 1:12 suggests that the Spirit threw him out).
Why, then, does Jesus himself teach his disciples to pray “lead us not into temptation” (Matt 6:13)?
Ferguson insists that we shouldn’t come to the temptation narrative with only the self-centered concern about whether the Holy Spirit would do the same to us. Instead, we should begin by asking what it tells us uniquely about Jesus. The short answer is this: Jesus Christ, in his representative role as Son of Man, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, withstood the Satanic assault. And the profound practical consequence is that the Spirit that indwells us is thus the very Spirit of Christ who defeated temptation and lived a life of righteousness on our behalf (e.g., Rom 8:9-10).
So what does that have to do with Abraham and Isaac?
Just this: instead of starting with our anxiety about how God may test us, shouldn’t we ask instead what Abraham’s ordeal means against the background of his unique and representative role as the father of a holy nation?
It is his faith that would become the legacy of the generations that would come after him. And though I doubt he foresaw it at the time, he is now the father of all who have faith (Rom 4:14).