Introduction: With Easter recently celebrated, how appropriate to celebrate Abraham’s ‘Resurrection Faith’ by focusing on the events leading up to the binding of Isaac, his only son, on the altar. Abraham was enabled by grace to place his only son on the altar because he believed he would receive Isaac back from the dead. God Himself highlights Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22:16: 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 as the sand on the seashore.
Mon/Tues: read Genesis 18:20-28. In highlighting this man’s faith, God cannot be giving approval to any concept of “works-righteousness” by which men like Abraham could earn Divine favor and blessing. We know this from studying God’s undeserved grace towards Abraham earlier in the book of Genesis – something we will do in days to follow. But for today, let us be content to hear his own words about himself, as proof that Abraham recognized the gracious nature of everything God gave him. In Genesis 18:27, in the midst of pleading to the Lord to spare any godly ones in Sodom and Gomorrah, he confesses that he is simply “dust and ashes.” What did he mean? Well, take the first word, “dust.” It traces back to the humiliation into which the Fall brought all the human race, including Abraham. Because of the Fall God cursed the serpent with these words in Genesis 3:14:
Cursed are you above all the livestock
and all the wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
Likewise, because of the Fall Adam and all his race were brought back down to the dust in death, as the Lord declares in Genesis 3:19:
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.
Meditate and Pray: Let us humble ourselves in these days with this reminder of our lowly misery as rebel sinners – confessing our only hope to be in God’s forgiving grace, using the following words from a paraphrase of Psalm 51, # 486 in our hymnals:
God, be merciful to me,
On Thy grace I rest my plea;
Plenteous in compassion Thou,
Blot out my transgressions now;
Wash me, make me pure within,
Cleanse, O cleanse me from my sin.
My transgressions I confess,
Grief and guilt my soul oppress;
I have sinned against Thy grace
And provoked Thee to Thy face;
I confess Thy judgment just,
Speechless, I Thy mercy trust.
I am evil, born in sin;
Thou desirest truth within.
Thou alone my Savior art,
Teach Thy wisdom to my heart;
Make me pure, Thy grace bestow,
Wash me whiter than the snow.
Broken, humbled to the dust
By Thy wrath and judgment just,
Let my contrite heart rejoice
And in gladness hear Thy voice;
From my sins O hide Thy face,
Blot them out in boundless grace.
Wednesday: read Genesis 18:20-28. Just as Abraham’s confession that he was mere “dust” before the Lord refers back to the Fall, so his use of the word “ashes” to describe his life reminds us of the judgment which Abraham knew he deserved before God. “Ashes,” like the word “dust,” often depicts a sinner’s repentance. Job for example, after God has chastised him for his rash words of complaint in his affliction, responds by declaring that he “repents in dust and ashes” in Job 42:6.
In like manner, ashes are a sign of mourning. As one scholar puts it, speaking of the practice of mourning throughout the ancient world and the use of ashes to depict deep distress: The mourner or penitent threw the ashes towards heaven, so that they fell back on himself, especially on his head.
But on the deepest level, the word “ashes” points to what is left after the burning of Divine judgment. The king of Tyre, for example, is reduced to ashes because of God’s judgment against him in Ezekiel 28:18. Ashes, therefore, point to the miserable, and loathsome plight of a life which has been judged, condemned and rejected. This is the danger of all sin – and Abraham was keenly aware that each of his sins could justly bring down on his head the very judgment which he beheld against Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18! The fire and brimstone which he saw fall could just as easily have fallen on him!
Meditate and Pray: Ask the Lord to make you a compassionate intercessor for those under the wrath and impending judgment of God, just as Abraham pleaded for those in Sodom and Gomorrah. May we see the judgment which Christ endured in our places and be impelled to pray for many others to be spared the fate we deserved.
Thursday: read Genesis 22:15-18 and 15:1-6. Throughout his life God repeatedly pointed Abraham to His promises – especially when Abraham was weak and unsure. Just as the ‘stars’ offer Abraham comforting proof of how numerous his offspring would be in Gen. 22:17, so the weakness of Abraham’s faith in Gen. 15:2-3 was greatly helped by the vision of the stars which God gives in Gen. 15:5. Only after God’s repeated assurances does ‘Abraham believe’ and find God’s justifying righteousness to be his in Gen. 15:6.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the unconditional nature of His grace which saves us from sin. Even the faith which we exercise and by which we receive the gift of salvation is of God’s free grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). For Abraham and for us, justifying grace saves us without our works, as Romans 4:5 says: “To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
Friday: read Genesis 22:15-18 and Genesis 12:1-3. As further proof that God’s blessings, even at the pinnacle of Abraham’s obedience, were entirely dependent on grace, consider how God graciously lays a foundation for Abraham’s faith in His promises of blessing before Abraham takes one step towards the Promised Land. In fact, all the blessings mentioned in Genesis 22:16-18 had already been given back in Genesis 12:2-3 – where God promised that in Abraham all the nations of the earth would be blessed – even before Abraham had believed, obeyed or done anything! Thus long before Abraham’s great work of sacrificing his son in Gen 22, and before any works had been accomplished by Abraham at all: God’s promises were freely and graciously bestowed.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for His power to strengthen our faith by His unconditional promises of gracious blessing. All the way through Genesis God nurtured Abraham’s weak faith on such promises until it was able to withstand the great trial of giving up his own son. Thank Him for His patient work in your life to make your faith one day strong enough to ‘climb the mountain’ of the greatest trials of life.