Abraham, as recorded in many New Testament passages (Rom 4, Gal 3, Heb 7, 11, Jms 2), was a man who walked with God and demonstrated great faith. Just as he left his home and wandered to a land “he did not know,” the one who wears the name of Christ is called to wander through this “foreign land” to a promised rest. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Gal 3:6)
There are many events from his life that we can learn from, but possibly the greatest and certainly the most well known is the offering of his son Isaac. In this story we see demonstrated the monumental level of faith to which Abraham had evolved in his lifetime.
As is typical with Old Testament stories, the account in Gen 22 reads straightforwardly and matter-of-factly. God calls Abraham, Abraham responds, God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham proceeds to do it. In eleven brief verses, we read about the facts of a story that transpired over at least three days. But what of the emotions?
We must not forget that these are real events that happened to real people. Even when factoring in that Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead (Heb 11:19), we should give real consideration to the emotions that must have, quite literally, consumed this family.
How must Abraham have felt? We have no record of him wavering for one moment – from God’s call, to His request, to Abraham and Isaac’s 3-day journey, to Abraham’s raising his arm to slaughter his son of promise. But just because it is not recorded does not mean that he may not have questioned somewhere along the way, and it certainly does not mean he was not emotionally distraught and conflicted during these actions.
Beyond the single question from Isaac that we have recorded, what other conversation might have taken place over their 3-day journey? How must he have felt binding his son?
What about Sarah? We have no record that Abraham told Sarah about his mission, but that does not mean he didn’t. In fact, since he and Isaac were leaving for a few days it would seem likely he told her at least something about it. What would her reaction have been? If she knew and if she accepted God’s will completely, what would that farewell have been like? How would she have said goodbye to Isaac?
What about Isaac? At what point did Isaac realize HE was the one to be sacrificed? His age at the time would have a bearing on this…We are not told exactly, but he was obviously old enough to journey for three days and carry wood. Was he old enough to understand the task at hand? If he did understand, did he accept it?
And what if he was not old enough to understand? Think of what he would have been doing as Abraham bound him, placed him on the alter, and raised his blade. What affect would that have on Abraham?
Any way you look at it, this had to be a time of intense emotions for all involved. The greatest triumph of Abraham’s obedient response is not in any intellectual rationalization of God’s command (e.g. “God had come through before” or “God will raise him up”) but in his ability to control his emotions and still act on his intellectual belief.
In addition to his great act of faith, there are three other things to note about this story. First, that God used this to “test” Abraham. The KJV says that God “tempted” Abraham. If you are familiar with the passage that says God “does not tempt anyone” (Jms 1:13) then this might set off some alarm bells…”Contradiction! Contradiction!”
Actually, both “test” and “tempt” can be derived from the same Hebrew (O.T.) and Greek (N.T.) words. The distinction should be made instead on the motive for the test or temptation – is it to prove or build your faith? Or, is it to induce you to sin? God does the former (Gen 22:1-14, Jms 1:12, 1 Pet 1:6-7) while Satan is committed to the latter (Mt 4:3, 1 Cor 7:5, 1 Thess 3:5).
The second noteworthy point in this story is the type/anti-type relationship between Isaac’s sacrifice and the greatest sacrifice – that of Jesus Christ. There are several “anti-types” from these events that would take place some 2,000 years later. “Types” for the eventual “anti-types” include:
- Isaac bearing the wood as Christ bore the cross,
- Isaac offered by his father as Christ was offered by His,
- The “only begotten” of the father/Father,
- Isaac being innocent as Christ was (which might be an argument for a younger Isaac),
- Reference to “the lamb,”
- The role that resurrection would play (Abraham’s belief and Jesus’ actual).
Finally, this story teaches us that God not only expects but demands action on our part. “Faith” does not stop with belief but is demonstrated and proven by obedience. And just as it was for Abraham, that obedience will often seem illogical to us or our worldly friends. It will likely be difficult and even contrary to our natural emotions – but, Godly obedience will prepare us, make us stronger and ultimately reward us with a home in heaven.