The Test of Abraham's Faith

Genesis 22:1-14

This story of God testing Abraham’s faith is one of the clearest types of the crucifixion that appears in the Old Testament. There is indeed no type or pattern giving a clearer picture of the death of God’s only, unique, and well-loved Son. This is also one of the most tender scenes in the Bible, second only to the pathos, or emotional appeal, of Jesus’ death on the cross at Calvary. In Genesis 22:11, God addresses Abraham as “Abraham, Abraham!” This is interesting and significant, because the duplication of names in the Scriptures usually introduces matters of great importance. For example, take a look at the following name duplications found in the Word where God speaks to men:

Exodus 3:4 - God calls out to Moses.

Genesis 46:2 - God speaks to Jacob in a vision.

1 Samuel 3:10 - God calls Samuel in the night to prophesy.

Luke 10:41 - Jesus speaks to Martha and exhorts her not to worry.

Luke 22:31 - Jesus predicts Simon will betray him three times.

Acts 9:4 - The Lord asks Saul why he is persecuting him.

There are three other occasions where Jesus, Himself, used the name duplication:

Matthew 7:22 - Jesus speaks with His disciples about those who will try to enter the “kingdom of heaven.”

Luke 13:34 - Jesus laments the state of Jerusalem.

Matthew 27:45 - Jesus cries out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This incident where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son was the supreme test of Abraham’s faith. This offering took place on one of the mountains in the land of Moriah, where Jerusalem was later built. The people of God were centered in this locale as they would also be centered from the church in Jerusalem in the future, where the temple would be built. This could be considered the Christian center of the world. Many scholars also believe that this place could have been the location of Calvary as well!

In Genesis 22:2, God asks Abraham to do the unthinkable: “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.” This was all to be done for God, just as Jesus’ trial, suffering, and death on Calvary was all for God’s glory! God’s command must have caused Abraham great concern, surprise, and astonishment. He must have been crushed at God’s request. Isaac was his only son, the son of his old age, and most importantly, the son that God had promised Abraham.

Isaac’s birth was a miraculous one, because of Sarah and Abraham’s old age. When Abraham was 100 years and Sarah was 90 years old, God promised them a son. They laughed at God in their unbelief. We must consider how the Lord acted in this situation and opened Sarah’s womb even though this seemed impossible to them. See Genesis 17:15-2, 18:10-15 and 21:1-7. Sarah would become the mother of nations, and kings would be among her offspring through Isaac’s line. God would also bless Abraham and his seed would be “as the stars and as the sand on the seashore.” See Genesis 22:17. 


Abraham’s Love

Let us consider the awful results of unbelief evident in the story of God’s promise to Sarah and Abraham and Hagar’s son Ishmael. See Genesis 16:12. Consider the statement from Genesis 22 in which God named Isaac as Abraham’s “only son.” What about Ishmael? He was the son of the flesh, conceived through Hagar, Sarah’s servant woman. We can see that Abraham loved his boy Ishmael too.

In Genesis 17:18, Abraham laughed before God’s promise to provide them a son, saying, “O, that Ishmael might live before Thee.” To this God replied, “I will make him fruitful, multiply his seed, I will make him a great nation.” (Genesis 17:20) From this seed, God created the seed that eventually became the nation of Islam. However, it is clear that the promises of God were invested in Isaac, not Ishmael.

God had promised to make Isaac’s seed as many as the stars and the sand. But Isaac was twenty-five years old and unmarried. If Abraham slew him, then how would the promise be fulfilled? It is also evident that Abraham loved Isaac with a passion and that Isaac was his pride and joy. In Genesis 22:2, God called Isaac the son “whom you love.” Note that this is the first mention of love in this story. God’s ultimate plans for Abraham and his covenant with him were foreordained in Isaac.

Most likely, Abraham’s hopes, aspirations, and his own posterity were dependent on Isaac’s survival. So when God’s command for sacrifice came to Abraham, his faith in God and his love for Isaac was tested to the uttermost. This was a challenge to the depth of his being. Try and understand in your mind Abraham’s dilemma. First, note the magnificence and splendor of his faith in God. Secondly, note his love for Isaac that was immeasurable, because as a father he was consumed by the promises invested in him by God. Despite all this, his love for God was greater than his love for Isaac!

In this act, Abraham exemplified the truth of many Scriptures yet unwritten. For example, the greatest commandment communicated by Jesus and God both in the Old Testament and the New: Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and mind. See Deuteronomy 6:1-5 and Matthew 22:37-38. Luke 14:26 also reminds us that our love for the Lord must exceed our love for family, and even our own life. To be a true disciple of Christ we must bear the stigma of the cross. Paul exhibited this willing attitude to sacrifice in his commitment to “go.”

This introduces us to the idea of believers having the Lord as their “first love.” For example, Jesus asks Peter in John 21:15, “Lovest thou Me more than these?” Peter proclaims that he does love the Lord. We have another example in Luke 7:36-50. The woman, identified as a sinner, brought an alabaster box of perfume, knelt behind Jesus at His feet, weeping profusely, and washed His feet with her tears and then wiped them with her hair. She kissed His feet repeatedly and anointed them with the perfume. This is a picture of a woman engrossed with and overwhelmed by the power of a new affection for Jesus. John 12:1-7 portrays a similar situation with Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with expensive oil. Jesus commends Mary, so committed and devoted to Him, for her use of this costly oil that she uses for a worthy recipient. Song of Songs 8:7 says, “Love as strong as death, many waters cannot quench it, neither can the flood drown it.”


Abraham’s Worship

In Genesis 22:5, note the first mention of the word worship. The “law of first mention” is at work here, which is a principle used in interpreting the fundamental meaning of a word in Scripture as it appears for the first time. In this case, true worship is found and can be examined in this passage since this is the first occurrence of it in the Scriptures. Abraham giving Isaac back to God is an eloquent and articulate picture of worship at its highest and best on the human level. He gave back to God what God had given him, and no mortal could have given more. On the divine level, when the Lord Jesus offered Himself to God, without spot, through the eternal Spirit, it was worship exalted, distinguished, unexcelled, and unsurpassed. As the burnt offering, He was all for God, and through this offering, God was never more glorified. 


Abraham’s Faith and the Lamb of God

In Genesis 22:5, note Abraham’s faith in worship. He declared that they would “come again to you.” The writer to the Hebrews indicates that Abraham believed that even if he slew Isaac, God would raise him from the dead. Hebrews 11:17-19 states, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”

Abraham’s faith in God was remarkable because there is no recorded instance of resurrection up to this time in world history. The first story that includes a resurrection in the biblical narrative is in 1 Kings 17:17-24 where the widow’s son is raised by Elijah. In Luke 8:40-54, Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead as well. Again in Acts 9:36-42, Dorcas serves as another example of a resurrection as a result of Peter’s prayer. Yet the most important resurrection from the dead in the Bible is that of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.

In Genesis 22:6, we see that Isaac carried the wood intended for his own bodily sacrifice. In much the same way, Jesus was also forced to carry the cross on which he was sacrificed and died as the lamb for the sins of the world. Here in Genesis 22, Abraham carried the fire and the knife to sacrifice his son. God similarly laid on the Lord Jesus the punishment for our sins, but the people afflicted Him with the physical sufferings.

In Genesis 22:7, Isaac asks his father, “Where is the Lamb?” The Lord knew that He was the Lamb that was to be sacrificed on the cross for the people of God. In the Scriptures, Jesus and his disciples bear witness to this fact. In John 1:29, John the Baptist proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God!” Jesus declares before Pontius Pilate, “For this purpose came I into this world.” (John 18:37) Peter proclaims that Jesus “was foreordained before the foundation of the world,” (1 Peter 1:20) and that “He was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” (Acts 2:23)

In Genesis 22:8, Abraham tells his son, “God will provide Himself a lamb.” Indeed, once Isaac is spared by the angel of the Lord, this promise is fulfilled in Genesis 22:13 with the promised ram as a sacrifice offering. In Genesis 22:9, Abraham and Isaac build the altar together, Isaac is bound by his father, and then laid on the altar. In Genesis 22:10, Abraham raised the knife to slay his son, yet it never fell on the victim. The Angel of the Lord called out to Abraham, “Lay not thy hand on the boy, or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.” This sacrifice from Abraham to the Lord displays a “type,” or pattern, of the sacrificial system that was not totally fulfilled until Christ came and offered the ultimate and final sacrifice for His people on the cross at Calvary. As John the Baptist proclaimed, let us proclaim as well: “Behold! The Lamb of God!”