Abraham’s Greatest Act of Faith

At two significant times in his life, Abraham was tested.  His faith in the promises of God was ultimately proven, but only through years of not even seeing what was promised.  Yet his faith endured and the fulfillment was seen in his later generations, and it even resulted in the full appearance and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself, our Savior.

First God tested Abraham when He called him at the age of seventy-five to leave his home in Haran in Ur of the Chaldeans to the land promised him.  The Lord said to Abram,

“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

God made a number of promises, including a land in which he and his descendants would dwell. Abram would also be the father of a great nation in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed.

These were magnificent promises, but Abram had to wait a significant amount of time before they were fulfilled.  As it was, for example, he was called to leave his home with his wife Sarai without knowing where he was heading, as it says in Hebrews: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

Second, Abram, whose name was changed to Abraham by God, also demonstrated his great faith when he believed God for a son, even though he was nearly one hundred years old and his barren wife was ninety years old.  (We studied this story in the last article titled “Speaking or Praying in the Name of…”  http://biblicalmysteriescom.ipage.com/2015/01/31/speaking-or-praying-in-the-name-of/

Both Abraham and Sarah were amused at the thought that they would have a child at their age, yet God demonstrated the surety of the promise.  These promises was sealed by God in the cutting of a covenant, a mystery we studied in another article titled  “A Great Mystery”:  http://biblicalmysteriescom.ipage.com/2014/12/22/a-great-mystery/

In an even greater test of Abraham’s faith in God’s promises, however, the following story is told in Genesis 22: 
Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 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 22:1-2)
The Lord God’s directions came a number of years later after Isaac’s birth because Abraham had his son carry the wood for the burnt offering, and while preparing for the sacrifice, Isaac also realized that they had no lamb for the sacrifice:
Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  (Genesis 22:6-7)

Did Abram Lie to Isaac?

In response to Isaac’s question, it appears that Abraham has lied to Isaac, saying, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (v. 7).   Yet we find another interpretation based on the summary found in the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament. 

According to this version, Abraham had such faith that Isaac was indeed the child of promise, through whom the nations of the world would be blessed, that Abraham believed that even if he did sacrifice his son, the Lord God would raise him from the dead:

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 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)
God does not specifically promise Abraham such a miracle, and it had never been known that a person had been raised from the dead, particularly one sacrificed like a lamb and burned on an altar.  Yet Abraham believed God’s promises for Isaac so strongly that he believed God would work a miracle and raise his son from the dead to fulfill those promises.

What Was Isaac Thinking?

I’m sure Isaac must have been horrified when Abraham bound him and told him to lie down on the pile of wood he himself had carried to the place of sacrifice.  

As I visualize the story, I can see the terror in Isaac’s eyes as Abraham lifted the knife to plunge it into him.  And I can see the knife actually beginning its descent after Abraham had stretched out his hand and taken the knife to slay his son.  At that moment, however,when the voice of the “angel of the Lord” is heard:  

Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” (Genesis 22:10-12)

Notice, however, that the “angel” in this passage speaks in the first person (I/me), as though he were God Himself:  “. . .for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”  

As seen in the last article in this Biblical Mysteries Revealed blog, the message the messenger delivers is in the same voice as the original speaker; in this case, God is speaking through the angel, and it’s as if the speaker is God Himself.  This is what it means to pray or preach or witness in Christ’s name.  And this is why we were instructed not to think about what we would say if called before the authorities because the Holy Spirit would give us the words to speak.   

 

Abraham’s Faith

A number of evidences of Abraham’s faith are significant in this story.  

  • Abraham told his two servants who came with him and Isaac that both father and son would return:  “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you” (Genesis 22:5).
  • When Isaac asks Abraham about the missing lamb for their sacrifice, Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8).
 In fact, when the Lord told Abraham not to stretch out his hand with the knife to harm Isaac, Abraham lifted his eyes and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket.  So Abraham caught the ram and used it for the sacrifice, freeing his son Isaac.  The Lord God then spoke again to Abraham, commending his faith and renewing his promises concerning the seed of Abraham:
By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice. (Genesis 22:16-18)

Why Was Abraham Tested In This Way?

Those skeptics and critics of the Scriptures who do not understand God’s plans and promises may be greatly critical of this story, particularly the seeming cruelty of the tests which God uses.  For example, why would God tell Abraham to sacrifice the very son of promise given to him after many years and countless severe tests and temptations?  In light of Abraham’s age and the fact that he had finally succeeded in having Isaac, in spite of all the obstacles he had faced and the numerous times he had failed or was misled, this final test of God seems especially cruel indeed.

A fuller understanding of God’s purposes in testing Abraham’s faith is necessary, however, for God was using Abraham’s faith to bring into existence His magnificent plan for redeeming a fallen world back from the hands of Satan.

It must be remembered that when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they had essentially handed the glorious world God had given them over to Satan, who wanted himself to “be like the most High”

“How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
“But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’    (Isaiah 14:12-14).  

Once this transfer of authority occurred, God could no longer simply intervene in human affairs without permission, any more than a landlord can just enter a tenant’s home at any time without permission.  The sending forth of God’s Word and the need for the Word to be received, believed, and acted upon was the permission God needed.  

In fact, the entire system of sacrifices brought about under the Old Covenant laid the foundation for allowing God to bring forth the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus Christ, Who became the Lamb of God that took away the sin of the world.  Jesus could not have become that Lamb unless a chosen nation of people had been set apart who did not follow the false religions of the pagans.  The Jews were a people who believed that the shedding of blood would atone for sin.

God’s plan for redeeming the world was instrumentally allowed by Abraham when he showed he was willing to sacrifice his only son in obedience to God, even though Isaac was the son he had been promised.   Indeed, Isaac carried the wood to the place of sacrifice in the same way Jesus carried His cross.  Plus, the faith Abraham exercised to believe that God would raise Isaac from the dead was the same faith that allowed God to raise Christ Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, from the dead as well.

Mount Moriah, the place of Abraham’s testing and near sacrifice of Isaac, was the site of the Temple in Jerusalem many years later, and it was also near Mount Calvary, where Christ was crucified.  Thus, God did indeed provide the lamb for the ultimate sacrifice, in response to Abraham’s statement to Isaac:  “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Hebrews 22:7).

Because of Abraham’s obedience on Mount Moriah, God told Abraham that his faith and obedience would bring about the coming of the Savior through whom the entire world would be blessed.

    

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