Biblical Story Lesson Plans - Abraham's Testing

Abraham’s testing, in which God commands him to offer his son as a sacrifice, is an important narrative in the Biblical story because it 1. Visually describes Jesus' death and resurrection, 2. Includes a clear messianic prophecy, and 3. Gives us a vivid example of what it means to live by faith.


If you remember from our previous lesson, God called Abraham out of his home country and gave him a promise of 1. Numerous descendants, 2. A promised land, and 3. That all people groups in the world would receive blessing through him. Since his first calling, Abraham’s relationship with God has been a mix of strong and weak faith; moments of trust and moments of failure. But through it all, God was faithful to his promise, and in due time, Abraham’s wife Sarah gives birth to Isaac.

We pick up Abraham’s story again in Genesis 22. At this point, Isaac has grown and is old enough to journey with his dad. One day, God speaks to Abraham again and commands him to kill his son as a sacrifice to him. Now we know that there is something more to this command. There are multiple other instances in the Old Testament where God expressly forbids the pagan practice of child sacrifice. We know from the end of the passage that God is testing Abraham’s faith and will not allow him to follow through with the sacrifice.

Think about the inner wrestle that Abraham must have felt at this point. He had left everything to follow God’s command, and his son Isaac was his only son and a direct fulfillment of God’s promise to him. Though I’m sure there was an ocean of doubts and questions swirling around his head, Abraham obeys. How would God give him numerous descendants and bless the whole world if Isaac were dead? Though he doesn’t know what’s going to happen, or even why God would ask this of him, he trusts that God has a purpose; that God is still good.

Genesis 22 says that Abraham and Isaac make the journey to a mountain to offer a sacrifice to God. While on the way, Isaac notices that they have all the preparations for a sacrifice minus the actual animal. Abraham reassures him that “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8). Once they reach the top of the mountain, Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son, but before he does, an angel stops him.

“Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen. 22:12), God says. Then Abraham notices a ram caught in a bush nearby and offers that as a sacrifice instead. Just as Abraham had told Isaac, God had provided a sacrifice.

When God tested Abraham’s faith, it proved genuine. God knew that Abraham was willing to trust him in the hardest of circumstances. After seeing his faith, God blesses him saying:

By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice (Gen. 22:16-18).

Theological Significance

One of the primary focuses of this chapter is Abraham’s faith, which is a model for us. From this passage, we can define faith as dependence on God and trust in his character and promises. Even though Abraham couldn’t see how God would be faithful, he trusted that God would find a way. His ways are higher than our own. We only see a sliver, but he sees the full picture.

God requires faith. It is the only way that we can receive his grace and approach him. Yet, the good news is that God does not require perfect faith. Abraham, the model of faith for the Israelites back then and for the church today, was far from perfect. Genesis records his moments of weakness, failure, and doubt. Despite all that, in Genesis 12, God declares him righteous, not because he had strong faith, but because he had faith at all. Matthew Henry describes this distinction saying “… Abraham was not justified by his readiness to obey, but by the infinitely more noble obedience of Jesus Christ; his faith receiving this, relying on this, rejoicing in this."\autocite[Genesis 22:15-19]{MatthewHenry} Abraham was declared righteous in Genesis 12 because God gave him the righteousness of Christ.

Though Abraham’s faith starts small, it is through periods of testing, like this, that God strengthens it. In the same way, God fills the Christian’s life with trials and tests, designed to push us to rely on him more. “He puts us into His gymnasium to improve our physique. If we stand the trial, our faith is increased; if we fall, we learn self-distrust and closer clinging to Him."\autocite[Genesis 22:1-14]{MacLaren}

This scene is not just a test of Abraham’s faith, it is also a clear picture of the Gospel. When Abraham told Isaac that God would provide a sacrifice, he had no idea that one day God would sacrifice his one and only Son for the sins of the world. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Finally, in God’s blessing of Abraham, we see again the promise of a Messiah. The Messiah, the promised offspring of Abraham would be victorious over his enemies and through him, all people groups would be blessed.

Links to this article