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Sep 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 6, 2020


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.” So Abraham arose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Genesis 22:1-2

Intro: Hebrews chapter 11 can be summed up in two words: By faith

The six verses we dive into today share a sub-theme, which is death
– not in a dark context, but rather in the light of faith and hope
• faith is not short-sighted – it can see a future beyond end of my life
• the big idea in these verses is that faith owns the future
For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 4:21-23)
– this passage takes us to one of the most bizarre stories in the Scriptures

At least we’re warned from the outset, God tested Abraham
– the circumstances under the conditions of a test are unique
• tests are performed to determine strength, quality, integrity, etc.
◦ God begins with a dramatic statement
Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love
(the first time that “love” appears in the Bible)
• from that point, the story gets dicey
◦ “Take what you love, and kill it”
– our first difficult question is Why would God use a test like this?
• our second difficulty is why would Abraham go along with it?
◦ why didn’t he hesitate? why didn’t he negotiate with God
(as in Gen. 18:23-33, where Abraham negotiated for pagan cities)
• the story moves rapidly – this is the nature of life’s tests
◦ they come suddenly, demand action, and give us no time to prepare

Everyone I know who has read this story found it to be upsetting
– later, God himself would say of child sacrifice,
I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind that they should do this abomination (Jer. 32:35)
– so what’s the point? Perhaps God was asking Abraham,
“Am I everything to you? Am I more than all the promises and blessings?”
• maybe it is like when Jesus asked Peter,
Do you love me more than than these? (Jn. 21:15)
◦ we might be tempted to answer glibly, “Of course”
• but perhaps God wants us to wrestle with the question
◦ “What if I ask for what is most precious? The unthinkable?”
◦ the question digs at the roots of what is most important to us
– it’s okay to give God an honest answer
• but still, it would require long and seriously thought

How does the writer of Hebrews interpret Abraham’s story?
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” Hebrews 11:17-18

The writer assumes his readers are familiar with the story
– his synopsis moves as quickly as the Genesis account
• but what he sees in the story is that God was testing Abraham’s faith
(not his loyalty, as I suggested)
◦ James also regards this as a test of faith (Jas. 2:21-22)
• as if God said, “If I do this, will you still trust Me? Still believe My word?”
– Abraham considered that God was able – same word used of Sarah (v. 11)
Sarah counted on God’s faithfulness
Abraham counted on on God’s power
• Abraham trusted God to fulfill his promises,
◦ even if that meant raising Isaac from the dead
• after all, Isaac’s birth and life were already a miracle
◦ parents who regarding having a child were as good as dead (Ro. 4:19)
◦ would it be any more difficult for God to raise the dead?

Then the writer adds a comment that should not surprise us
– Abraham did receive Isaac back from dead figuratively speaking
• there is a different Greek word for figures of speech (cf. Jn. 16:25)
◦ the word used here is parable, which appears only in the Synoptic gospels and Hebrews
• a parable is a story or situation that has two meanings
◦ by analogy, a parable uses one thing is used to explain another
– in Hebrews, the Old Testament sanctuary was a parable (Heb. 9:9)
(remember, in chapters 8-10, the former earthly objects and rituals were copies and shadows of heavenly realities, which were opened to us through Jesus)
• now Isaac’s story is a parable – the heavenly reality is Jesus’ resurrection
• what happens if we go back and read the whole story this way?
◦ as if Isaac were in general a type of Christ
◦ we might find hints of Jesus in other details of Isaac’s story
(this could include details from Genesis chapter 24 as well)
1. technically, Isaac was not an “only” son — Ishmael was thirteen years older than Isaac
• but Isaac was the promise, the one that God would sponsor (Ge. 17:18-19)
◦ in John 1:11, we have become God’s children
◦ but in John 1:14 and 1:18, Jesus is God’s only Son
(the same Greek word here used of Isaac)
2. if the temple was built on Mt Moriah (2 Chr. 3:1), where Isaac was almost sacrificed, then that would be the same mount where Jesus was crucified
3. Isaac was obedient to the will of his father, as was Jesus (Heb. 10:7)
4. Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice, as Jesus carried his cross (Jn. 19:17)
5. Isaac asked about the animal to offer, and was told, Yahweh will provide
. . . as it is said to this day, “on the mount of the LORD it shall be provided” (Ge. 22:14)
– now these (and other) parallels were either:
• inspired by God and meant to be discovered
• or else evidence of our own clever imaginations
◦ but it is interesting to wonder the various ways that the Scriptures may bear witness of Jesus (Jn. 5:39-40)
◦ and we cannot rule out typology

Abraham’s faith enabled him to see beyond Isaac’s death
– he did not let go of hope
• his trust in God reassured him that the promises would be fulfilled

The writer speeds through next three names on list
By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.
By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.
By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. Hebrews 11:20-22

Three brief sentences cover Abraham’s son, grandson, and great-grandson
– all three were near death
(only of Isaac does the writer not mention that he was near death, but in the story of him giving his blessings, he said to Esau, My son . . . . Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death . . . . prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that my soul may bless you before I die (Gen. 27:1-4)
• in my dad’s biography, he talks about the benefit of being a senior citizen
◦ we reach an age when it is possible to see our whole life in perspective
◦ instead of events that seem random or meaningless, you can connect the dots so that a meaningful configuration appears — and it all makes sense
He says, “Everything is preparation for something else”
•all three of these patriarchs were looking beyond their deaths–By faith

The word “blessing” appears all through Genesis
(the only book where bless or blessing appears more times is the Psalms)
– in the first chapter, God blesses all living creatures, and then the humans
• in chapter 2, he blesses the Sabbath
◦ then, at the proper time, God gives his blessing to Abraham
I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you . . . and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12:2-3)
• at some point, fathers began giving blessings to their sons
• and when worship became formalized,
◦ the priests pronounced blessing on worshipers and the nation
– blessings in the Old Testament focus especially on fertility, health, and peace (De. 7:13-15)
Sigmund Mowinckel, “Blessing is the basic power of life itself.”
Claus Westermann, “The act of blessing, berekh, means imparting vital power to another person. The one who blesses gives the other person something of his own soul. The handing on of blessing from father to son is a result of its being a power of the soul.”
• fathers walked their sons through a simple ritual
◦ combining words and actions – the words were poetic
◦ the actions usually included touch
(a formal act, such as placing a hand on the son’s head, or a more intimate touch as with a kiss)
• these were basic elements, but there was room for creativity
– most importantly, the fathers looked to God to guarantee and supply the blessing
• the blessing was like a prayer, but not a request
• it was more like a spiritual “Will and Testament”

Last week I said God enjoys a person with outrageous faith
-Isaac’s faith was not outrageous – he was a quiet man
• he was not an initiator – life happened to him
• the writer’s depiction of Isaac’s blessings looks brighter than they were
– but our writer is not concerned with the details, but just the act itself
• Isaac looked to the future, as if it were as real as the present
• being certain of it, he could pass on his blessings and die in peace

Jacob’s faith was outrageous – almost scandalous
– “If God is with me, then I’m going to grab up all that’s coming to me”
• his blessing takes up an entire chapter in Genesis
• and he gave it, as the writer says, when dying
◦ for our writer, Jacob used this opportunity to worship God
◦ Jacob recalls all the ways God has been with him through life
– he was fully aware that his blessing was prophetic
• he knew that in the future, the younger brother would outshine his older brother

Of the three, Joseph’s faith is the most impressive
– and like the others, he gave this speech at end of his life
– Joseph never forgot his family or his God – talked about him openly
• to his master’s wife, to a prison warden, with prisoners, and to Pharaoh
◦ and God never forgot him – the LORD was with Joseph (Gen. 39:2, 21, 23; 41:38-39)
• Joseph knew Israel would be leaving Egypt
(God had revealed this to Abraham when he entered a covenant with him Ge. 15:13-14)
◦ it mattered to Joseph where his bones would end up
◦ this was his way of participating in God’s promises

Conclusion: If you were a super hero, what would be your power?

Use your imagination
– you do have a super power; you have the power to bless others
• to transmit some of your energy toward others
◦ through words and actions
◦ or perhaps with a smile or gentle touch
• when my friend Pat drives past our street, he throws us a blessing
◦ he does this to the homes of his other friends who live in our community
◦ he prays for others, but as a priest he blesses them too

Am I able to give my blessing to the next generation?
If they have different ideas than mine? Take a different path?
Or will I try to horde what God has given me?
Control what I’ve built or collected?
And will I set things up before I die, so I’m still exercising control from the grave?

You are a wellspring of blessings
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers [and sisters], these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? (Jas. 2:10-11)
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you might obtain a blessing (1 Pe. 3:9)

Throw blessings to others
and trust God to land them where they will do the most good
Let’s do what we can to bring light and joy,
comfort and peace,
the grace of God and the love of Jesus
Let’s be generous with our blessings
and heal our broken world

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