As we study the biography of Abraham we discover three principal products of his faith: his leaving the land of his birth upon the call of God; the manner of his life in Canaan, sojourning in tents; and his offering up of Isaac. The first pictures conversion, the second the Christian’s life in the world, the third the triumphant consummation of faith.
Among all the expressions of Abraham’s faith nothing was more remarkable and noteworthy than the offering of his son Isaac. Not only was it the most dramatic demonstration of faith ever wrought by man, but it also supplies us with the most blessed foreshadowing of the love of God the Father in the gift of His dear Son.
Genesis 22 has always been a favorite with God’s people. It supplies the only type in the Old Testament which distinctly intimated that God required a human sacrifice. Here it was that God first revealed the necessity for a human victim to atone for sin: man had sinned, and it must be by man, not by sacrifice of beasts, that divine justice would be satisfied.
In this article we shall highlight several points: the severity of the trial; unwavering faith; the power of faith; the reward of faith.
The Severity Of The Trial
In Genesis 22 Abraham’s faith was subjected to a most fiery ordeal. He was ordered to slay not all his bulls and herds but a human being – not one of his servants but his own son, the son of the divine promise, of old age, of his love, his “only begotten son” (Gen. 22:1). Isaac was guilty of no crime, but was an unusually dutiful, loving, and obedient child. Abraham was not asked to banish Isaac from home or from Canaan, but from the land of the living! The test was opposed to divine law, carnal reason, and human affection. Abraham must not only consent to the death of his dear son, but also be the executioner. Has there ever been such a demand upon a man before or since!
Another factor adding to the severity of the trial was the contradiction between the divine promises and the divine command. When God called Abraham He gave him several wonderful promises, all centering on Isaac. Isaac was the seed by whose posterity Canaan should be possessed (Gen. 12:7). It was through him that all nations should be blessed, and therefore it must be through him that Christ, according to the flesh, would come (Gen. 17:7). God had declared to Abraham that He would establish an everlasting covenant with Isaac and with his seed after him (Gen. 17:9). Abraham had received all these promises, firmly believed them, and expected their fulfillment. But then came the divine command to sacrifice Isaac, making them all null and void, and their fulfillment impossible.
Despite these severe difficulties, and the many hindrances to obeying the divine command, Abraham succeeded with flying colors. Nothing but a mind fixed on the Lord could have performed such a difficult and painful task. Had his faith been weak, he would have doubted that two apparently inconsistent revelations could come from the same God. Or if they did, whether such a God ought to be trusted and obeyed. But being strong in faith, he reasoned in this way: “I am sure God made those promises and that He will keep them. It is my duty to believe them. To offer up Isaac is plainly God’s command, and it is my duty to obey. I know these two things are contradictory. I cannot reconcile them, but I will leave that to God. I know my God is perfectly wise and righteous. What He promises must be fulfilled, and what He commands must be right, and, therefore, must be immediately obeyed.
Faith solves all riddles and removes all doubts in a dilemma. What a problem confronted Abraham! To sacrifice Isaac was to negate all God’s promises; on the other hand not to kill Isaac was to disobey God. After wrestling all night, he reached the following conclusion. In obedience to God’s command he will kill Isaac. In order for God’s promises to be fulfilled, God would have to raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham believed “that God was able to raise him up even from the dead” (Gen. 11:19). Faith believes the accomplishment of the promise, whatever reason and sense may say to the contrary. Faith cuts the knot by a resolute dependence upon the faithfulness and power of God.
Hebrews 11:17 does not say, “In submission to God’s holy will, Abraham offered up Isaac,” though that was true. Nor did it say, “Out of supreme love for God he sacrificed his son,” though that was also the case. Instead the Holy Spirit declares that Abraham acted “by faith.” Take “by faith” out of the text, and Abraham would be a madman and a murderer.
The Power Of Faith
Abraham’s test in Genesis 22 reveals the great efficacy of a God-given and God-sustained faith and its power to sustain a very great trial, to perform a very difficult duty and to trust God to do that which is contrary to the law of God, the law of nature, and human reason.
Abraham’s prompt obedience to the divine command is noteworthy; there was no doubt, delay, reluctance or hesitation. Instead he ‘rose up early in the morning” (Gen. 22:3). There was no opposition either from natural affection or unbelief. Rather, he bowed in absolute submission to God’s will. Faith triumphed over natural affection, carnal reason, and self-will. Here was a most striking demonstration of the power of divine grace to subdue every passion of the human heart and every imagination of the carnal mind, bringing all to submission to God.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac.” He acted by faith in the divine justice and wisdom behind the command. He acted by faith in the faithfulness of God to make good His own promises. Fully assured that God was able to fulfill His word, faith gave him power to close his eyes to all difficulties, and obey. This is the very nature of triumphant faith which can move mountains. It persuades the soul of God’s absolute sovereignty, unerring wisdom, unchanging faithfulness, and infinite righteousness. In other words, it rests upon the character of the living God, and trusts Him in the face of every obstacle.
Another aspect of the power of faith is seen in Abraham’s willingness to commit future events to God. Carnal reason is unable to rest until a solution is in sight, until a way out of its difficulties is found. But faith presents the need to God, gives the burden to Him, and calmly leaves the solution with Him. Faith gives the soul the power to believe the injunction, “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass” (Ps. 37:5). Abraham did this! He committed the event to God, believing in His power to raise Isaac though he be killed. This is the character of true faith: to refer our case to Him, and wait calmly for the promised deliverance, though we can neither perceive nor imagine the manner in which it shall be brought about.
The Reward Of Faith
God always rewards true faith in Him. Abraham experienced this. First, the trial was withdrawn and Isaac was spared. Second, he had the Lord’s approval: “Now I know that thou fearest God” (Gen. 22:12). Third, he obtained a fuller revelation of God’s name and discovered something about God he never knew before – that He was Jehovah-Jireh, which means “the Lord will provide.” It is only by passing through trials with a right response that we learn God’s grace, faithfulness, and sufficiency. Fourth, the Lord confirmed His covenant to Abraham: “Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son … in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed” (Gen. 22:16-17). Fifth, he had a clearer view of Christ than ever before. Jesus affirmed this fact when He told the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it, and was glad” (Jn. 8:56). Sixth, it was on Mount Moriah that “God … preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, ‘In thee shall all nations be blessed’” (Gal. 3:8). And indeed we are!
By Maurice Bassali
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.