Our text highlights a passage of Scripture that has troubled many a reader. Many stumble at the notion that God would tempt His “Friend” (James 2:23); by asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The logic follows that God gave Isaac to Abraham as promised, and then demands that he kill the boy as a display of obedience. Would a God of love have actually expected such an appalling act? What would have been God’s response had Abraham loved his son too much to kill him? And does this passge show Abraham’s love being sacrificed for his faith?
“And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.” (Genesis 22:1-3)
Compounding the many ethical objections of Abraham’s temptation, the reader may also object on theological grounds. Doesn’t James 1:13 tell us definitively that God does not tempt any man? Disastrously, almost blasphemously, many would completely disregard the omniscience of God (which includes His foreknowledge and His foreordination) and claim that God wanted to ‘find out’ if Abraham had faith. Accordingly, many have seen an irreconcilable contradiction in these verses, and so have dismissed the tempting of Abraham as a myth which should be read with extreme caution, if not utterly rejected.
I believe the main problem stems from a misunderstanding of the word “tempt” as it is rendered in the King James Version. It is a benefit to our understanding to know that the Hebrew word used here for “tempt” is actually translated as “prove” more times than it is “tempt.” The meaning of the word is in the sense of a test; and so it has been translated thus in many Bible versions. But what is to be made of God’s testing of Abraham?
Consider the testing of school children. In school, a teacher will regularly and routinely administer tests to his or her class. The teacher is not trying to fail the students, but wants to make a determination of their weaknesses and their strengths. The testing comes after a period of instruction, and serves to make a demonstration that the particular lessons covered by the test have been learned satisfactorily. Note that the test does not determine satisfactory knowledge, but does demonstrate such after the instruction is given. The test shows the student where he or she is weak. More importantly, the teacher expects the student to pass their test.
Another example of ‘testing’ is of value to our understanding. The various manufacturers of fishing line will grade their product according to its ‘test.’ A 10-pound test line has the tensile strength to support 10 pounds. The line is not tested in order to discover how much weight it can support; rather it is tested in order to prove that it can support a certain weight. The test comes only after the manufacture of the line and demonstrates that the manufactured product is of a satisfactory quality. The consumer has the assurance that what they purchase is adequate for its intended purpose by the manufacturer’s ‘test’ of their product.
In much the same way, God tested Abraham’s faith – not because He wanted to discover how much faith Abraham had, but because He wanted to prove how much faith Abraham had. The Lord had been dealing with Abraham for quite some time and knew the full measure of His friend’s faith. There was no question of Abraham’s faith in the mind of God. Yet the tempting (testing) of Abraham was necessary as a demonstration of faith. This demonstration testified to the work of grace that had been wrought in Abraham’s life. Abraham shows us an active faith as he came to trust God to perform His promise.
Child of God, do you have the faith of Abraham? What we have learned from the “Tempting” of Abraham is that God works in us to produce Faith before the trial thereof. The testing serves to establish the testimony to the fact of Faith’s presence.
May we have peace in the midst of our testing, knowing that God is not experimenting with our faith: He gives us Faith and then proves it to us!
The Lord our God will not allow us to be tempted, or tested, beyond what we are able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), but will prove to us that His Grace is sufficient for our every need.