Abraham, Abraham
Based on Series of Sermons on the Repetition of Name and Titles
preached in PCC Worship Services, Apr 2013 to Feb 2014
Part 3 of 3


In the previous two articles, we considered the first and second part of the story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22, namely, preparation for sacrifice (vv. 1-9) and the sacrifice itself (vv. 10-14).

 We come now to the third section of the text, namely, the blessing of obedience from verses 15-19.

The Blessing of Obedience
(vv. 15-19)

Verse 18 says, “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” Clearly, the Lord was well pleased with Abraham’s obedience and He intends for all of us to learn from him.

Let me just briefly point out three features or characteristics of Abraham’s obedience from this chapter.

First, Abraham obeyed God swiftly or quickly. Verse 3 says that Abraham rose up early in the morning and immediately went about making preparations for the journey to the place where he was to sacrifice Isaac.

His actions exemplify what the Psalmist would later say in Psalm 119:60, “I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.”

Abraham could possibly have delayed or postponed his obedience to God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. After all, God had given him no specific timeframe. But he didn’t. Abraham must have known that the longer he delayed, the more difficult it would have been to do it. Or as one commentator puts it, “there is no substitute for instant obedience and a postponed obedience is usually no obedience.”

The second feature of Abraham’s obedience is that it was sustained and settled. It was sustained in the sense of being carried out over a period of time.

And it was settled in the sense that Abraham was fixed and determined to carry out God’s command. He was not easily sidetracked or derailed. We know from verse 4 that the journey from Beersheba, where Abraham lived, to Moriah, where the place of sacrifice was, took almost 3 days. It would have been so much easier if the Lord told Abraham to kill Isaac right there and then, and get it over and done with in a moment, rather than having to travel three days before doing it. Indeed Abraham’s obedience was sustained and carried out over a relatively long period of time.

But Abraham’s obedience was also settled and fixed. He was determined to obey God’s command to the very end. He calmly told his two servants to stay with the donkey while they go further on to worship and then return. There was nothing in his voice to cause them any alarm or to doubt that he knew exactly what he was doing. And likewise when Isaac asked him, “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham didn’t break down in tears but calmly replied, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering…”

But the third characteristic of his obedience is that it was a confident and trusting kind of obedience. Abraham was confident as he approached the place of sacrifice. His words and actions were steady and settled.  Abraham believed in God. He was confident that God was good and true and faithful, and that all that God had promised him, He would surely fulfil, even though, at that point in time, he did not understand exactly how that would happen.

Well, how did the LORD respond to such obedience on Abraham’s part? Verses 15-16 read, “And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:”

After the ram had been offered up as a burnt offering, Abraham receives yet another divine word. Moses tells us that this is the second time that the angel of the LORD called out to Abraham from heaven.

The first time He called out, it was to stop him from killing Isaac. The second time, it was to give him a most blessed announcement and reassurance of His covenant. The phrase “By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD” is a remarkable statement of God’s oath and pledge to Abraham. This is the first time and indeed the only time that it appears in the book of Genesis.

When men swear or take an oath, they do so in the name of One who is greater than them, who can hold them accountable for what they’ve said or promised, and to whom they can appeal. Now strictly speaking, God does not need to swear or take an oath. He is infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably true and faithful. He never lies and He is never insincere or untruthful. Nevertheless, here in our text, the LORD condescends to Abraham. He reaches down to Abraham’s level by going on oath to assure him of His promises.

When the LORD swears, He does so by Himself or in His own name, because He can swear by no one greater than Himself for there is none greater than God and none whom God is accountable to. The author of Hebrews says, “For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.” (Heb. 6:13-14) He was referring of course to this incident in Genesis 22. There is no way that God could have made His promise to Abraham more sure and secure than by swearing by Himself.

Now notice the reason that God gives for His revelation to Abraham. Verse 16, “By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing…” The Lord is saying that there is a close connection between Abraham’s obedience and His promises, and the connection is this – that the Lord was pleased to give Abraham a remarkable assurance of His promises in response to Abraham’s remarkable obedience.

Abraham’s great obedience and submission to the Lord is highlighted and commended by the Lord in the last part of verse 16, “for because thou hast done this thing (what thing?)…(thou) hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:”

If Abraham would not withhold his only son from the Lord, then we can be sure that there is nothing more important to Abraham than the Lord Himself. And the Lord in turn made sure that Abraham knew that His promises to him will never fail. “By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD…”

Here we are reminded of an important truth – that obedience to God’s will leads to an assurance of God’s favour and promise. Indeed, one of the rewards or blessings of obedience is assurance. When God’s people are obedient to His word, they enjoy a greater measure of assurance from the Lord. But the converse is also true. When God’s people fall into sin and disobedience, they have a diminished sense of God’s favour and blessing and assurance.

Let’s move on to what the Lord swore to Abraham that day. Verses 17-18, “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”

What we find in these verses are both an intensifying of the earlier promises which God had given as well as some new elements or features to the promises. There are four parts to this statement.

First, there is an intensifying of the blessing. In chapter 12:2, the LORD said, “I will bless thee.” Now the LORD says, “That in blessing I will bless thee.” The phrase translated “in blessing” is a Hebrew way of emphasizing the verb and we could translate it simply as “I will surely bless thee.” So from “I will bless thee” to “I will surely bless thee.”

Second, there is an intensifying of the analogy. In chapter 13, the LORD likened the seed of Abraham to the dust of the earth and then in chapter 15, the LORD likened Abraham’s seed to the stars of the heaven. Now in chapter 22, He says, “I will surely multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven.” And then He adds the words, “and as the sand which is upon the sea shore.” This second part is new. Although at this time, Abraham still only had one child, yet He could be absolutely certain that someday, his seed would be as numerous as the dust of the earth and the stars of the heaven and the sand upon the seashore. Abraham could be absolutely certain because the LORD had gone on oath to say, “I will surely bless and multiply thee…” 

Third, there is a new statement and promise about the victory and dominion of the seed of Abraham. The Lord says, “and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.” Not only will Abraham’s seed be numerous, but they will possess the gate of the enemies.

The gate of an ancient city was really the heart and soul of the life of the city. Not only did it protect its inhabitants against invaders but it was also the place where all important public activities took place. Merchants and businessmen would carry out their trade and business transactions there. The court was convened at the gate and public announcements were made there as well. And finally, the gate of the city was associated with religious worship. For example in Psalm 87:2, the Psalmist speaks of the public worship of God’s people in terms of the gates of Zion.

The gate of a city is thus very important to the entire life and well-being of the city. To possess or control the city gate meant controlling the life, the religion, the commerce, the trade, and the legal system of that city. In short, the whole social structure of the city would be dominated by the one who possessed or controlled the gate.

So the Lord was promising Abraham that His seed, which is Christ and all united to Him, would utterly defeat and rule over their enemies and control every aspect of their life. Christ essentially repeats this promise in Matthew 16:18 when He said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Through the faithful preaching and application of the word to all areas of life, the gates and strongholds of Satan will be increasingly pulled down and the kingdom of Christ will be increasingly established. The seed of the woman, even the seed of Abraham will crush and continue crushing the head of the serpent until they utterly defeat the enemy and possess his gate.

Fourth, the Lord says, “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” This is a repetition of the earlier promise in chapter 12 verse 3 and chapter 18 verse 18. The blessings of the Abrahamic covenant will by no means be restricted to the land of Canaan or the Jewish people. Rather, it will go out far and wide into the utter most parts of the earth. All families and nations of the earth will be blessed in him and in his seed.

In Acts chapter 3, Peter quotes Genesis 22:18 in showing the Jewish leaders that Christ is the fulfilment of this promised blessing to all the people or families of the earth. The blessing begins first with the Jews before going out to the rest of the world.

And how will all the families and nations of the earth be blessed in the seed of Abraham? Only as the sons and daughters of Abraham faithfully proclaim and bear witness to the gospel of Christ by their words and actions. Always remember that the world will never find any blessing outside or apart from Christ. He alone is the source of all blessing.

Verse 18 ends with the words, “because thou hast obeyed my voice.” Isn’t it remarkable how this section on God’s oath to Abraham begins and ends with a reference to Abraham’s obedience? Verse 16 says, “because thou hast done this thing…” and verse 18 says, “because thou hast obeyed my voice.”

Again, we are reminded that God’s wonderful renewal and confirmation and even expansion of His earlier promises came about in response to Abraham’s obedience. God is pleased to bless the sincere obedience of His people with rewards of grace, particularly with the reward of assurance.

Finally, in verse 19 we read, “So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.”  Abraham returned to them just as he said he would. And together, the four of them travelled back home to Beersheba.

Conclusion

So we’ve looked at the Lord’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham’s obedience and submission to the Lord’s will, the Lord’s grace in sparing Isaac and providing a ram as a substitute, and finally the Lord’s wonderful revelation and assurance of His covenant.

If you are an unbeliever, may I urge you to come to the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only acceptable sacrifice for sin in this entire universe. Besides Him, there is no one and there is nothing else that can take away your guilt and sin. To reject Him is to reject THE sacrifice that God Himself has provided, and that is a tremendous insult to God.

Oh do not continue in your unbelief and rejection of Christ. Seek Him this day. Find in Him the full and free forgiveness of all your sins, and the perfect righteousness that you need to approach God and serve Him acceptably and live in His presence for all eternity.

But finally to believers in Christ, may this passage remind and encourage us again of the infinite love and grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. He who spared not His only Son but freely gave Him up for us all – how will he not also, with Him, graciously give us all things?   

What a tremendous demonstration of His love on Mount Moriah, not just to Abraham or Isaac, but to all of us too who belong to Him.

How then should we respond to such love? With love in our hearts for Him, and with loving and grateful obedience to all His Word – the kind that is swift, settled, sustained, and confident.

Linus Chua