Abraham's Great Test

Life is full of tests, but tests are easier to pass when you already know the answers. Abraham knew the answers before he took the test.

Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio (c. 1603). (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Vayera

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Vayera (וירא | He appeared)
  • Torah: Genesis 18:1-22:24
  • Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1-37
  • Gospel: Luke 17:28-37

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Genesis 18:1 | A Son Promised to Abraham and Sarah
    • Genesis 18:16 | Judgment Pronounced on Sodom
    • Genesis 19:1 | The Depravity of Sodom
    • Genesis 19:12 | Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed
    • Genesis 19:30 | The Shameful Origin of Moab and Ammon
    • Genesis 20:1 | Abraham and Sarah at Gerar
    • Genesis 21:1 | The Birth of Isaac
    • Genesis 21:8 | Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away
    • Genesis 21:22 | Abraham and Abimelech Make a Covenant
    • Genesis 22:1 | The Command to Sacrifice Isaac
    • Genesis 22:20 | The Children of Nahor
  • Prophets
    • 2Ki 4:1 | Elisha and the Widow's Oil
    • 2Ki 4:8 | Elisha Raises the Shunammite's Son

Portion Summary

The fourth reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayera (וירא). It means "And he appeared" because the first story describes how the LORD appeared to Abraham one day as he sat outside his tent. Section Vayera continues with the series of tests of faith for Abraham, concluding in one great and final trial.


Abraham's life was a life of faith, and the life of faith is a life of testing. At every juncture we are tested. Passing each test requires stubborn optimism, resolute confidence in God and steadfast obedience. Life's problems are opportunities to prove our faith and to improve our faithfulness. We fail life's tests when we give in to despair, lose confidence in God or turn away from obedience. Every difficulty and trial is a test of faith. Will we assess the problem through the eyes of faith or not? Will we respond in faith or faithlessness?

He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you." (Genesis 22:2)

When God first called Abraham he said, "Go forth from your country." The Hebrew for "go forth" is lech-lecha (לך לך). That was the first test of Abraham's faith. Near the end of Abraham's life, the LORD again tells Abraham, "Lech-lecha." He commands him to bring his son Isaac to the land of Moriah. The land of Moriah is the area of Jerusalem. God tells Abraham to bring Isaac to "one of the mountains of which I will tell you." Mount Moriah is the mount on which King Solomon built the holy Temple. Abraham built his altar on the very spot where the Holy Temple would one day be built.

Abraham did not object to God's commandment. Instead he rose early in the morning to carry out the terrible duty. Remember that he also rose early in the morning to send off Hagar and Ishmael. When we have a commandment from God, even if it seems disagreeable, we should not procrastinate.

Abraham passed the test. He demonstrated his confidence in God.

When Isaac asked about the lamb for the sacrifice, Abraham confidently replied, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (Genesis 22:8).

He demonstrated he was willing to sacrifice Isaac, even binding him, placing him on the altar and taking the knife to slaughter him. How could a loving father do this? The writer of the book of Hebrews explains:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said [in Genesis 21:12], "In Isaac your descendants shall be called." He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Hebrews 11:17-19)

Abraham believed God with such absolute faith that he did not hesitate to obey. He knew God had made promises to bless and multiply his seed through Isaac, and He knew God would keep those promises, even if He had to raise Isaac from the dead.

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