One lesson from the well-known story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac (found in Genesis 22:1-18) is that God was making a point: child (or human) sacrifice is not His way. To suggest it, and then forbid it, is a dramatic way of illustrating that this never would be considered acceptable worship.
Another lesson from this story is the parallel between Abraham’s son, Isaac, and Jesus. God did what Abraham didn’t have to do: He gave His only Son as a sacrifice.
A third lesson has to do with the rewards of obedience. I want to take a closer look at this aspect of the story. This familiar story answers the question, “Why should I obey?”
The first answer to that question is to prove yourself. Obedience proves that you mean business. In verse 12 of Genesis 22, God says to Abraham, “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” You might be thinking, “Does God need proof? Doesn’t He already know what it’s in our heart, without the test?” The answer is yes, but we’re still required to live out what we claim to believe; furthermore, the test is often for our benefit. The test reveals our heart to us. It proves to us how we’re doing. I remember one of my first Greek tests. I thought, during that first semester, that I was already approaching the status of scholar since I could conjugate several verbs. I took my first test, and it came back with a score of 82. I was crushed. But I also learned where I needed to improve.
The second answer to the question of Why I should obey? is that, in obeying, I discover and experience God’s provision. In verse 13, “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.” God provided the lamb. He wanted Abraham to make a sacrifice, and He gave Abraham what he needed to obey.
Do you want to hear a cliché that became a cliché because it’s so completely true? “Where God guides, He always provides.” When you take a step in the direction God has called to you to go (i.e. obey), He’ll take care of you.
The third answer to our question regarding obedience is found in verse 16: “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.” In other words, when we obey God, we experience His blessings.
On the surface, when Abraham came down from the mountain, the “after” picture looked much like the “before” picture. He walked up the mountain with Isaac; he came back with Isaac. But something had changed. On that mountain, Abraham had proven himself and had positioned himself for a lifetime of blessings. Abraham didn’t lose anything at all in the process, but he gained God’s blessing on his life. The truth is that when we obey, often the surface-level before and after pictures look the same. We don’t actually lose anything in the process, God doesn’t take anything away from us, but obedience only adds to the inventory of our lives. The results of obedience aren’t measured by what we lose, but by what we gain.
We also come to recognize at the story’s end that God’s blessing for obedience extends to others. God tells Abraham in verse 17 that “your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me." Apparently, there’s a way in which our obedience blesses others around us. “...all the nations of the earth will be blessed!” On a more personal level, think about a father and mother who desire God’s blessing and determine, by God’s grace, to walk in obedience — their obedience results in a tremendous blessing for their children.
Obedience pays off. It works. It pleases God; it benefits you; it blesses others. These are just some of the rewards of obedience. Let me end with an encouraging promise and an equally serious reminder of what is at stake, from the pen of Ellen White. “Satan is well aware that the weakest soul who abides in Christ is more than a match for the hosts of darkness... Only in humble reliance upon God, and obedience to all His commandments, can we be secure.” 1
1 White, Ellen G. Our Father Cares. Silver Spring, MD: 2013: Review and Herald Publishing Association, p. 86.