In Canada, Old Age Security begins at 65 years of age; in fact, some organizations give senior benefits beginning at age 55. Abraham, if living now, would have exhausted government funds! We first encounter him at the three-quarter century mark. He has Ishmael at 86, Isaac at 100, takes Isaac to Moriah at about 125, loses his wife at 137, marries Isaac off at 140, sees Jacob and Esau born at 160, and dies at 175 years of age, satisfied with his life. He obviously qualifies as a senior and his life is full of lessons for believers at any age or stage.
The faith of Abraham is most significantly noted in Romans, Galatians, James, and Hebrews. Genesis divides his life into three stages, separated by the phrase “after these things” (15:1; 22:1) and summarized as the call, the covenant, and the crucible of faith. Through it all, he made steady spiritual progress. Even though his three occasions of backsliding had serious consequences, he was graciously restored, and finished this journey on a high note.
The word “worship” occurs only once in Abraham’s story in Genesis 22:5, and it is the first occurrence in the English Bible. The Biblical meaning of “worship” is first related to posture, i.e., to bow or prostrate oneself before God, showing reverence and respect for His nature, attributes, and claims. Today, we hear the inaccurate terms “worship meeting” and “worship team.” However, worship is the individual honoring this awesome God, evidenced by outward acts such as serving, speaking, singing, and sacrificing. Generally, worship is about Who God is, while praise is about what He has done.
The first basis for worship is an increasing knowledge of God. Abraham’s early home was in Ur of the Chaldees, surrounded with idolatry, especially the worship of celestial bodies. His own father and grandfather were pagan idolaters (Josh 24:2), and the name Ur likely came from the moon-god Hurki. Although he had accumulated wealth, Abraham knew nothing of the true God and it was to this man, in Ur, at 74 years of age that the God of glory suddenly appeared (Acts 7:2). God “appeared” to Abraham four other times as well, revealing Himself (Gen 12:7; 17:1; 18:1; 22:8). This last time is translated “God will provide” (KJV), but is more accurately rendered “God will appear or show Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.”
Abraham, at first, grasped that God was a truly glorious God in contrast with the cultic idols of his society. He then learned that God was El Elyon and Creator (Gen 14:22), most High, over all, and the originator of everything. Then, a vision from God revealed that He was Abraham’s shield and exceeding great reward (15:1), his protector and provider. Further, he learned that he was advancing in the purposes of El Shaddai (17:1), God Almighty. Later, he told his servant Eliezer to be bound by a promise before “the God of heaven and the God of the earth” (24:2). This sense of the grandeur of Deity left its mark on the servant who referred to “the Lord, the God of my master Abraham.” Dear Christian, Abraham’s God is our God, a God of majesty, might, glory, and grace. Knowing Him will fill our hearts with worship. When we first learned that our Savior God had wrought our salvation, our hearts bowed in worship, but we are to grow in our knowledge of Him from there.
The other stimulus in Abraham’s life for worship was communication from God; he heard the word of the Lord (Gen 12:1, 7; 13:14; 15:1, 13; 17:1-22; 18:1, 17; 22:1, 11, 15; 24:7). Notice the threefold theme of a land to be possessed, a son to be provided, and a seed to be propagated. They were divine promises, and, while only the second was realized during Abraham’s life, he lived as though they all had already been fulfilled. Accordingly, he buried Sarah at Machpelah (23:1-20) and arranged for a bride for Isaac (24:1-67) knowing the seed would be perpetuated.
As noted earlier, worship of the heart produces results in the life. Obedience to God was certainly one indication (Heb 11:8). Service for God was another, as seen in the deliverance of Lot from the five kings (14:1-16), in his hospitality to the messengers (18:1-6), and in his intercession for Sodom (18:1-8). These actions were not about self, but others. Abraham learned in his heart that God was a God of grace and compassion, and he demonstrated that same character to those around him.
Abraham built four altars which stand as icons of his worship. The first he built at Schechem (12:6-7), soon after he began his spiritual journey with God. He may have selected the site because of the meaning of its name, “shoulder,” suggesting strength and support. The land was inhabited by the Canaanites (12:6) with their heathen gods and blasphemous lives, but Abraham displayed his devotion to the true God Whom he had seen. Similarly, the Christian, early in his life, finds within heartfelt praise to the God Whose infinite grace has embraced him and linked him with heavenly purposes.
He built the second altar on a mountain between Bethel and Ai. In this second stage, he left the plains (12:7) for higher elements of the land, the mountains. Here, springs and panoramic vistas refreshed him, and his comprehension of the extent of God’s promises grew. The name of that place, Bethel, “house of God,” became most significant to the patriarchs and the nation. Bethel portrays to us many of the spiritual blessings of the Christian life, particularly the assembly. Notice that Abraham built an altar, and “called on the name of the Lord.” This means that, in his worship, he witnessed to the sovereignty and greatness of Jehovah, which he had not known before. Thus, Abraham was advancing in his knowledge of God just as we should, in order to keep our worship fresh and fragrant before God.
The third altar Abraham built was Hebron, “fellowship” (13:18). Lot disrupted family fellowship by leaving, but fellowship with God was undisturbed. The Lord then confirmed His original promise while adding infinitely more. Lot’s interests could not upset God’s plan. With wonder and appreciation for this further light, Abraham built another altar. No matter the changes and disappointments in life, our heavenly Father is unchangeable and dependable. “All the promises of God in Christ are yea and in Him Amen, to the glory of God.” Remembering this will produce worship and enable us to continue in fellowship with Him and His people.
We come now to the pinnacle of this aging servant’s worship, the altar on a mountain in Moriah (22:9). Leaving aside the typology of Calvary, notice Abraham’s response to God’s directive to offer up Isaac. He was asked to give up his dearest, his hope for the future, the one on whom the promises rested, the reward for his faith, and what gave him his unique identity. But Abraham did not resist or attempt to bargain with God, as he did over Sodom. He did not drag his feet, but “rose early in the morning.”
It was to be an act of worship (22:5) based on what Abraham, the “friend of God” had learned of Him over the previous 50 years. At this point, Abraham grasped another feature of his God; He could raise the dead (22:6; Heb 11:19). He bowed his heart and, blending faith with worship, unreservedly sacrificed his all upon the altar.
There are three observations to be made. First, we are not told the nature of the offering on the first three altars. We assume it was a burnt offering like the fourth, since Isaac was familiar with the term. Later in Levitical law, this term was used to express unreserved devotion to God. Therefore, true worship can only come from a heart that is totally yielded to Him.
Second, when Abraham ventured away from God’s path, first to Egypt and later to Gerar, God did not speak to him, and he did not build an altar. Therefore, we should never pitch our tent where we cannot build an altar to God. Heavenly and worldly interests are not compatible.
Third, God has revealed Himself fully in His Son. A growing knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ is a growing knowledge of God and vice versa. Such will never be complete, but excellence in worship and service depends on enriched estimation of this glorious One.
Dear fellow senior believer, go in for knowing our great God better. Constantly revel in Who He is, what He has done, and what He will do for us. Saturate your mind with His Word. This is life on a higher plain than that of constant activity. Let us seek fresh thoughts even more, so that we can lead God’s people in the weekly remembrance of His dear Son.