The last of Abraham’s altars that we will examine is the altar of ultimate sacrifice. At this point, years had passed and much had happened since the first altar at Sichem, and Abraham’s faith had grown much stronger. We should remember that God will not ask for a great sacrifice when our faith is weak, only when our faith is strong.
Genesis 22 records the story of how God asked Abraham to sacrifice his promised son Issac. Abraham moved forward in absolute obedience. Undoubtedly his mind and heart were racked by questions, but his faith moved him forward. As the writer of Hebrews explains, he concluded "God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense” (Hebrews 11:19).
In Genesis 22:5 Abraham made a definitive declaration of his faith when he told his servants, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you." Abraham called this supreme test an act of “worship.” Then he said, "we" (the lad and I) "will come back to you." These statements confirm his profound faith in God. On seeing Abraham’s faith and obedience, God stayed his hand from offering Issac and provided a ram for the sacrifice. Abraham called that altar “Jehovah-Jireh,” which means God sees and God will provide.
Know this: life may bring us to places of supreme sacrifice, but in such times, God is with us, God sees our need, and God will provide.
For the last two weeks we have been exploring four important altars in Abraham's life. Abraham built his first altar in a place of strength and his second altar between the house of God and ruin. It was at this altar where he could return for repentance and renewal after making mistakes. Abraham's third altar was built in a place called Mamre, a place of blessing.
First, the word Mamre has to do with fatness or abundance. Mamre was a place of blessing, and God had indeed blessed Abraham in some incredible ways. This altar reflected those blessings of God. There are moments in our lives when we spend time at the altar simply because we want to worship God and thank Him for what He has done for us. Altars are wonderful places for praise and worship. It is vital that we create altars in our lives where we can acknowledge the great things God has done for us and give Him thanks.
It was in Mamre, the site of Abraham's third altar, that he received a visit from the strangers and where God confirmed that at long last he would receive his son. But before the visitors ever brought him the news, Abraham had already built a place of praise. Sometimes in life we have to praise God not only for what He has done, but for what He is about to do. Abraham's praise preceded his promise. There is something powerful that happens when we praise God in advance.
Last week, we began to explore the first of four important altars in Abraham's life. Abraham built his first altar in a place of strength. As he continued to follow God across the wide lands ahead, Abraham arrived at a new place of rest: a spot between Bethel (the house of God) and Hai (ruin). It was here that he built his second altar.
Around this time, a famine ravaged the land, and Abraham gave in to fear. Instead of trusting God to provide, he rushed to Egypt, lied to the pharaoh, and brought dishonor upon himself and his family. Still, God provided for him and even blessed him beyond measure. After his sojourn in Egypt, Abraham returned to the place of that second altar, the one he had built between the house of God and ruin. Before he ventured any further or attempted anything else in his life, we read that he took a moment at the altar to call on the name of the Lord (Genesis 13:4).
Like Abraham, we will all come to a place between the house of the Lord and a place of ruin. In fact, we spend most of our lives in this space in between. We are faced with a few options. We can give in to ruin, or we can pitch our tents toward Bethel, the house of God, and build an altar there. Even though we may fall sometimes, giving in to the fear and temptation that surround us, we can follow the example of Abraham and make our way back to that altar that we once knelt at, gaining renewed strength in the presence of God.
Abraham is often referred to as the Father of the Faithful. The first patriarch, he is a model of faith and steadfast trust in God. God called Abraham to leave everything he knew and to lead a nomadic life, all the while believing that God would fulfill the promises He had made to him. In Abraham's life, we read about four important altars.
Abraham built his first altar to God after God had made the first part of His covenant with Abraham. He built this altar in a place called Sichem, a name that means shoulder (strength). The name of the place reflected the situation Abraham found himself in. He had a journey ahead, the journey of a lifetime, in fact, and he needed strength from God to continue on the pathway.
There is something so powerful about an altar. While we often think of the altar as a place to repent (and indeed it is a wonderful place for repentance), the biblical altar is so much more. In Abraham's case, the altar he built to worship was not built out of shame for a sin he had committed, but rather it became a place for him to gain strength. In living for God, it is vital that we have altars in our lives. It is at the altar where we receive strength -- for the day, the week, the year, and beyond. It is where we gain courage to face the struggles of life. It is where our weakness meets God's might, and we gain all that we need to continue on the path He has set before us.
In the articles to come, we will explore the remaining altars of Abraham and how they continue to impact our lives today.