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In OT, two righteous people went through severe testings - Abraham and Job - though in different contexts.

But the testing of Abraham was - unlike of Job - killing and burning Issac on the altar with his own hands. God commanded him something extraordinary, beyond our comprehension, but not for YHWH, the Sovereign, Almighty, and all-knowing God.

  • Was it because God tests His righteous people, or did He have to test Abraham for his sake?

  • If it was for his sake, can we compile reasons from the narrative in Chapter 22 : 3 -19 in conjunction with Jesus' words in Mt 10: 37?

Text: (ESV).

"And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen 15:6).

"After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am” (22:1).

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    When one finishes forming a pitcher one puts it in the fire to fortify it and then one fills it with water to verify it. Mar 22 at 11:23
  • @MikeBorden Indeed. That's what a vessel is for, after all. A containment.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 22 at 15:53
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    Users are voting to close this. I suggest re-writing it so it is a little more open-ended about conclusions and a little more concise about the passage. Your reasons seem to be multiple choices. And, you need to quote the verse where God tells Abraham to do this, where Abraham says God will provide, and when the angel tells Abraham to stop. You should also quote Heb 11:19 that Abraham believed God could bring Isaac back to life as an interpretation of Abraham's mindset, also showing that you did your homework. That is one way to make this a Question worthy to keep open. Cheers! Mar 23 at 4:18
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    @Mike Borden – Testing of a new product by the inventor is a normal thing, but not for the Almighty God. God does not have to test any of His creations, including us, as we, human, has to do.
    – Sam
    Jun 7 at 14:58
  • But we are not mindless pottery, we are living vessels. Can we know the capacity for faith we are given without testing? Jun 7 at 23:59

3 Answers 3

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It is significant that Abram showed solid faith in God before he had any offspring, and before his offspring were later told to love the Lord their God with their whole heart, soul and mind (Deuteronomy 6:5). He left his homeland to sojourn in a strange land in obedience to God's command. Although Jesus' words in Matthew 10:37 could be seen to have had Abraham as one example of supreme love for God, greater than that for his child, it was because Abraham had such faith in the promise of God regarding that miracle child that he was enabled to be prepared to carry the instruction out.

His faith was such that he believed God would instantly resurrect the boy, after the sacrifice was made. He knew God never lies, and that through Isaac his seed would become as numerous as the stars in the sky. He knew it was not Ishmael who was to provide the promised seed, although Ismael would be blessed by being the father of nations too.

That is why the Bible tells us in Genesis 22:5 that Abram instructed the young men in the group, "Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you." Abraham believed Isaac would live to return to the group, that same day.

That is why, in verse 8, that when Isaac and he walked to the mount, and the lad asked where the animal for sacrifice was, Abraham replied, "My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering". Abraham had that immense faith before they even reached the place of sacrifice.

Yet, when he said that, Abraham had no idea that God would provide a ram, caught in the thicket by its horns, as God would never allow Abraham to kill the miracle child. That is why Hebrews 11:8-18 expands on this matter of Abraham's faith:

"By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Issac: and he that had received the promises offered up the only begotten, of whom it was said that 'In Isaac shall thy seed be called': accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure."

Although Abraham never did actually offer up Isaac, he would have done, had his hand with the knife not been audibly stayed, and his attention drawn to the ram. That is why the verse above says Abraham "offered up Isaac". It was as good as done, as far as Abraham was concerned. And then, with hindsight, we can see that this foreshadowed God giving up his only begotten son at Calvary.

This answers your main question, "How should we understand God testing righteous Abraham?" As for your two subsidiary questions, I dealt with Mat.10:37 in my first paragraph. And yes, God purifies the faith of his people, to get rid of the dross (putting that faith through the refiner's fire). We can assume that not only Abraham's faith would be all the stronger after the event, but that it would have been a testing time for Isaac; the lad's experiences that day would have imprinted on his own tender faith a never-to-be-forgotten lesson. But, supremely, this all serves to show how God was, over the centuries, working out his own promise in Genesis 3:15, about the seed of promise. With hindsight, we can see how that line led through Abraham and Isaac, all the way to Jesus Christ, the supreme sacrifice - "The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

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    (Edited only to correct a typo that I know you would wish corrected.) Up-voted +1. The Hebrew of Genesis 22:8 is even more evocative than the common English word order God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering my son. If one sees Abraham speaking prophetically and speaking, in a sense, as God, then the wording 'my son' at the end (not beginning) of the sentence takes on a different meaning.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 22 at 16:01
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It is true that God does test and try people as per the following:

  • Rev 3:19 - Those I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be earnest and repent.
  • Heb 12:5 - And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not take lightly the discipline of the Lord, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you.
  • James 1:12 - Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

To what extent God test each person and by what means is a matter for the Divine Will. "God is sovereign and man is responsible" as the dictum goes. We remain human and should not question Providence:

  • Isa 45:9 - “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?
  • Isa 64:8 - But now, O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand.
  • Jer 18:6 - “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
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First of all, in the Scripture, YHWH is a good and loving God; He created Adam and Eve in His image and blessed them to be fruitful, multiply, and have dominion over all His creations. God's thoughts for His children are not of evil but peace and hope (Jer 29:11).

God tests/tempts no one with evil (James 1: 13), much less people who please Him, like Enoch and Jabez. God had taken Enoch without testing nor tasting death, for he walked with God (pleased God- LXX, Heb 11:5), and Jabez, prayed for no evil and pain, God granted.

God wants all His people to love God wholeheartedly, as in the "Shema Israel" (Dt 6:4-5), even more than their sons and daughters (Mt 10:37).

God is All-Knowing. God sees our thoughts and hearts, and nothing is hidden from Him (Ps 139:1-4). He does not need to test to find out how we would respond. Instead, God's test is to make us reflect on our state of mind. As we all have weaknesses and stumble in that regard, that is our reality, and Abraham was no exception. So now, for Abraham, God chose to use a drastic measure, such as the command in the text, for God had called him to be the Father of the chosen people, Israel.

Unlike in the case of King David, who asked God to test his heart (Ps 26), for Abraham, God initiated the test. It was not to try his faith in God, much less to reward him.

Abraham's faith in God was that God had already acknowledged (Gen 15: 6). His faith grew and matured through his journey of faith and obedience: He left his tribal land, not knowing the destination to this point of his life. Along the way, Abraham witnessed how God protects Sarah and Abraham from Paraho of Egypt and King Abimelech - God regarded two powerful kings as expendable and about to destroy them. God repeatedly assured him of His promises; moreover, He made the covenant of "cut-split" as in Genesis ch. 15. Then, at last, just as God promised, Isaac's birth from Abraham and Sarah, who were old and was as good as dead.

The faith of Abraham grew and matured to where not spare but offered up Isaac with no hesitation: Abraham rose early in the morning and headed to the mount; Abraham said to his servants, "I and the boy" will go there, and "we" will return to you. Then, in response to the heartbreaking question -"Father, where is the sacrifice," he said, "God will provide for Himself." Then, without hesitation, he tied up and placed Isaac on the altar and raised his knife to slaughter his only son. Abraham believed God is able to raise Isaac even from the ashes on the altar (Heb 11). Therefore, God needed not to test such faith of Abraham.

Having faith in God and loving God does not necessarily always go together. For example, even demons believe in God and fear God but do not love God. The Scripture says it is hypocritical to love God with hearts far away from God. Now, in the eyes of God, Abraham's affection for Isaac grew, and now Isaac has become the love of Abraham, not YHWH.

(Peter had great faith in Jesus, but failed in loving Jesus more than his life. He made the great confession that Jesus was the Messiah and later said, Jesus, you have the words of eternal life, and to whom shall we go? Moreover, Peter, who had sworn that he would die with the Lord, out of fear for his life, swore thrice and denied Jesus. Later,to Peter, Jesus three times asked - Do you love me?)

God's command - "take your son, your only son, the one you love, Isaac" (= your laughter) contrasts with "love the Lord, your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5).

The All-knowing God needs not test Abraham to see if Abraham would give up Isaac for God. Instead, the command was more of a wake-up call to Abraham, giving him an opportunity to find what was wrong with him just as God did with Adam - where are you? Commands and questions such as these have the effect of making listeners aware of their own condition. Abraham's immediate actions prove he took God's wake-up call very well, and he passed by showing his first love is YHWH, not Isaac (Gen 22: 3- 19).The command to Abraham of offering Isaac a burnt offering was a class in itself, a horrific one nonetheless.

  • God did not test Enoch, who walked with God (=please God).
  • The testing was for Abraham himself, not for YHWH, the All-Knowing.
  • The testing was about Abraham's love for God rather than his faith in God.

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