|Volume 23 Number 3 March 2021
Abraham’s Faith Is Tested
Although Abraham may have had many trials of his faith, the trial in Genesis 22:1-13 is expressly stated as a trial of his faith. He had exhibited his faith since he first learned of Jehovah and responded to His call to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees.
We know that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). Before faith is perfected or complete, it must be tried or tested, and that takes some kind of action on the part of the individual. Yet, just any kind of action will not do; it must be action ordained by God (James 2:21-24).
Abraham, as the father of the faithful, had to be tested. The purpose was not to weaken or to destroy but to purify and strengthen (Job 23:10). Abraham had to realize that Jehovah is supreme and that man’s highest duty and blessedness lies in obeying Him. He had to be absolutely certain that Jehovah could be depended on to fulfil His promises regarding Isaac, even though he was offered as a sacrifice on the altar.
Hebrews 11:17a provides for us a golden text. “By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac.” The manner in which Abraham met this great test should be a great encouragement to all of us. All men of faith must be tried if their faith is to be made perfect or complete. We are no exception.
Genesis 22:1-2 presents the command to Abraham. Consider first, “And it came to pass after these things, God did prove Abraham.” “These things” refer to Abraham’s dealings with Abimelech (Genesis 20-21). Abraham’s faith had grown to the extent that it had come to the time to put it to the supreme test. Testing time is never pleasant, but if it is successfully met, testing will yield “peaceable fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).
Jehovah proved Abraham when He put him in such circumstances that would reveal and test his faith. No man can know what his faith can endure until he is put to the test. For the Christian, the handling of vexing problems of the world and the strain of trouble and sorrow are often used to show one just what he really is or what he is capable of enduring: (1) if one’s patience endures this provocation, (2) if one’s pride will submit to mortification, (3) if one’s vanity will withstand a slight, (4) if one’s faith can withstand severe disappointment, (5) if one’s love is equal to a heavy sacrifice.
“And he said unto him, Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou Lovest, even Isaac, and get thee unto the land of Moriah and offer there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” Abraham was reminded point by point (thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac) of the dearest possession of his life about which Jehovah was talking. Abraham was commanded to offer it as a burnt offering upon an altar.
Trials that are put upon us with apparently no reason for them at the time are the severest tests of all. When one rises to the occasion and cheerfully responds to the demands that are made upon him, he will surely be blessed. Mt. Moriah was where Jerusalem was built and specifically the place where the Temple was erected (2 Chronicles 3:1).
Genesis 22:3-8 addresses preparation. “And Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he clave the wood for the burnt-offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.” There was no hesitation on the part of Abraham, no doubt in his mind of what he was to do (cf., Psalm 119:60). Abraham loved God and had faith in Him (see 1 John 5:3). Abraham had no doubt about the outcome (i.e., that somehow God would be able to keep His promise regarding Isaac, the son of promise).
There must have been a great strain on Abraham and the thought of slaying his son must have cut him to the heart. All of this is implied, but if it were not the case, there would have been no testing. If Abraham had doubted, there would have been grief, but, “there is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
“On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and he saw the place afar off.” It was about a 40-mile journey from Beersheba to the place God designated for the sacrifice. “And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship, and come again to you.” Abraham was confident that Isaac would return with him, although he fully expected to kill him (Hebrews 11:19). “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife; and they went both of them together.” There must have been some sufficient reason for Abraham and Isaac to go alone to the place of the sacrifice even though one of them would have to carry the wood. (Jesus carried the wood [i.e., the cross] for His own sacrifice.)
Because of the undaunted faith, and that perfect obedience of Abraham and of Christ also, both were tested to the uttermost. In the case of Jesus Christ, He destroyed our enemies and won our salvation. In all the annals of history, can any other acts of faith outshine the two we are studying now?
“And Isaac spoke unto Abraham, his father, and said, My father; and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt-offering?” What a hard question for a father who fully expected to sacrifice his only son! “And Abraham said, God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son; so they went both of them together.” In this reply, Abraham was speaking the language of faith and obedience. Was Abraham thinking of Isaac as the lamb or was he speaking prophetically concerning the lamb?
Genesis 22:9-13 shows result. “And they came to the place which God had told him of: and Abraham built the altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood.” Abraham began to prove his great faith and obedience. With his faith and hope of the restoration of his son’s life, he proceeded with his duties without any misgivings. Surely, only a father in this place could explain the feelings in his heart. Why do you suppose that Isaac was bound?
“And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.” This shows that he fully intended to carry out Jehovah’s command to the letter. “And the angel of Jehovah called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham, and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou has not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” God knew before He gave the command what Abraham’s reaction would be, but he wanted Abraham himself to meet the test; Abraham needed to know, too.
“And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for the burnt-offering in the stead of his son.” There is no evidence to show that Abraham expected to find a ram to offer instead of his son, even though this was a literal fulfillment of his saying that “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt-offering.” “And Abraham called the name of the place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, in the mount of Jehovah it shall be provided” (Genesis 22:14).
[Editor’s Note: The testing of Abraham’s faith ought to provide God’s children today with an invaluable perspective on the testing of one’s faith, irrespective of the form in which tests or trials of faith may manifest themselves. ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]