17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. – Hebrews 11:17-19 ESV
There will be times when the life of faith seems illogical. By definition, it involves “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith has a future orientation. It looks ahead and maintains an eternal perspective. Because of those things, it will be tested on this earth.
God had promised Abraham a son. There would be no plan B, no adoption of an heir, no acceptance of another son born through a slave girl. The son God had in mind would be born through Sarah, in spite of Abraham’s old age and her barrenness. Not only that, God had also promised a multitude of descendants and a land in which they would live. And God kept His word.
The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” – Genesis 21:1-7 ESV
God came through. When Abraham had celebrated his 100th birthday, God provided him with a son. He and Sarah must have been beside themselves with joy and a deep sense of relief. They had waited so long. They had hoped for a son and now God had delivered on His promise. And they would enjoy every moment of every day with their young son, Isaac. Every time they looked at him, they would remember the faithfulness of God and realize that this young boy was the hope they had been waiting for for so long. But was he?
The day came when God gave Abraham the hardest choice he would ever make.
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” – Genesis 22:1-2 ESV
Can you imagine the shock? Can you begin to feel the sense of incredulity Abraham must have felt? As God acknowledged in His statement to Abraham, this was his only son, the son he loved. And now God was asking; no He was commanding Abraham to offer up that long-awaited son as a sacrifice. He was telling Abraham to take the life of his own son, his only son, the one who was the key to Abraham becoming the father of a multitude of nations.
Or was he? You see, as much as we may be appalled at the idea of God commanding Abraham to make a human sacrifice, we must keep in mind that, as the Scriptures say, this was a test. It was God’s way of determining if Abraham had mistakenly transferred his hope in God to his son. Had the gift he had been given become more important than the Giver of the gift?
It’s interesting to note the response of Abraham to this shocking news from God. The Scriptures somewhat matter-of-factly record: “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3 ESV).
He didn’t argue or remind God of His earlier promise. He didn’t accuse God of unfairness or injustice. He simply obeyed. While he probably didn’t understand all that was going on, he kept trusting God. When his young son asked him, “My father, behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7 ESV), Abraham calmly replied, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8 ESV).
Whether Abraham was simply hiding the grim reality from his son in order to protect him or he truly believed that God would provide a substitute lamb, the passage doesn’t say. The very fact that Abraham ended up binding his son, placing him on the altar, and raising the knife to take his life, gives us ample evidence that he was willing to go through with God’s command. In his heart of hearts, Abraham trusted God and believed that He could still keep all His promises even if Isaac had to die. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Hebrews 11:19 ESV).
Abraham passed the test. God sent an angel to stay his hand and prevent the death of Isaac. The angel of the Lord said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Genesis 22:12 ESV). Then God miraculously provided a ram caught by its horns in a thicket to act as a substitute sacrifice. Isaac was spared. Abraham had shown that his faith was in God, not his son. He had proven that he trusted the Giver more than he did the gift. His hope was in God and he had full assurance and a strong conviction that God was going to do all that He had promised, and nothing, even the death of his own son was going to prevent it from happening. He had faith in God.
God had asked Abraham to do the unthinkable. He had commanded Abraham to take the life of his only son, his most precious possession. Not only was Isaac the fulfillment of a long-awaited dream, but he was also the hope of God’s promise of a multitude of descendants taking place.
Or was he? You see, the problem we all face is the tendency to take our eyes off of God and place them on things other than Him. Isaac was not to be Abraham’s hope. He was just a boy who would grow up to be a man. But Isaac would not bring about the fulfillment of God’s promises. Only God could do that. No man or woman will ever be able to bring to fruition the promises of God. For the divine will of God to happen, it must be accomplished by God Himself. We must never take our hope off of God and place it on anyone or anything else.
Abraham’s test was one of allegiance. It was a test of his hope and, ultimately, a test of his faith. Now that he had a son, was he going to transfer his hope from God to Isaac? He passed the test. His faith was in God. His assurance of things hoped for was in God. His conviction of things not seen was in God. He had an eternal perspective that would not allow the illogical and seemingly unthinkable to deter his faith in his faithful God.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.