The Lord told Abraham to take Isaac and present him as a burnt offering. This son, the son of promise, the son of Abraham’s old age born when wife Sarah was in her 90s, was to become a sacrifice at Mount Moriah.
What an outrageous request this seems to be. And it is, but it is one that God did ask of His friend. How did Abraham respond? He rose early, saddled his donkey and got moving with two young servants and Isaac. The traveling party reached its destination and, there, Abraham and Isaac walked off with the wood, the fire, and the knife.
“Where’s the Lamb?’ Isaac wondered aloud at one point.
“God will provide for himself the Lamb,” Abraham answered.
Eventually, the wood was stacked, Isaac tied down, and the knife raised in the hand of Abraham. Then, and only then, did the voice of the angel of the Lord speak out — “Do not lay your hand on the boy!”
A Test of Friendship
The Bible describes this as a test for Abraham, and he is commended for his response of faith. “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is one the seashore. … in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (See Genesis 22:17-18.)
That’s how the story ends.
To some, I am sure that this conclusion is unsatisfying. We want explanations and answers, and we want them on our terms.
Why would God test a man in such a way? Sure, Abraham passed the test, it seems, and so the Lord then spoke of the great things to come. But, really, is this what it means to be the “Friend of God?”
Actually, real friends do bring out the biggest things in each other. God’s challenge to Abraham revealed a depth of trust that earned the man this title: “the Father of our Faith.”Actually, real friends do bring out the biggest things in each other. Click To Tweet
What did the Lord say would come from Abraham? A remarkable line of descendants, that’s what. Some offspring would be stars, others would be sand.
On one level, these word pictures point to the multitude of children who would come from him. Yes, Father Abraham had many sons; many sons had Father Abraham, as the old Sunday school song goes. There are, naturally speaking, millions who trace their genetic roots to this man. These ones are the sand, and like sand they’re everywhere, in every corner of this world.
However, the Lord also declared that some of Abraham’s descendants would shine. These stars of heaven are those who have believed God as Abraham believed God. And, just like Abraham, they’ve had righteousness reckoned to them.
What if Abraham’s response had been different? Suppose he scampered away with Isaac in an attempt to hide from the Lord and His test? Jonah ran from the Lord. He was given a mission and a message and, at first, he refused to do as God asked him. This prophet was guided back into the will of God, but it was not a smooth ride.
Abraham reacted in another way. He heard and obeyed; he promptly set out to prepare an altar — upon which he would put his son.
Places of Sacrifice
Abraham’s life was a life defined by altars for he had built three others before this one at Mount Moriah. Altars mean sacrifice. Abraham believed God; he’d offered before and he would offer now — he would offer what God asked him to offer. Isaac, the one for whom he had waited so long, would be placed before the Lord.
When we read forward into the prophets and the New Testament, we discover that God was not asking Abraham to do something He would not do Himself. Jesus is the revelation of this. The Son of God would be offered for us all on the altar of Calvary. Isaiah 53 describes Him as “smitten by God … pierced for our transgressions … crushed for our iniquities … a Lamb that is led to the slaughter. …” The gospel of Matthew opens with this statement: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Christ came to be the King, a descendant from the line of Abraham through David, the bright Morning Star from Heaven.
God says that there are things that “are not for us to know.” Job wrestled and complained and protested as he went through his trials. The end of the story shows Job with twice as much as he had before the tragedies that befell him. Still, nowhere do we read of God explaining Himself and His ways. Job held fast to his integrity; he clung to the reality of the relationship he knew that he had with the Lord.
Friends know each other well enough that they do not need to know all things. Abraham followed the leading of God through his years. It was not a perfect walk. Twice, he lied about Sarah being his wife when he feared for his life. He also went along with his wife’s suggestion and slept with Hagar, a union that gave the world Ishmael and the wild “sand” of offspring that came from him.
But when God said “offer up Isaac,” Abraham’s faith in the Lord was sure. He knew God as the God of the living. Abraham believed God, and he put all on the altar.
What would the Lord have us put before Him? Are there things we’ve determined are off limits to Him? Our great Friend may ask something big of us. He may ask us to stretch, to reach, to move, to stand. The good news is that He will not require us to perform in our own strength. His Spirit lives in our hearts. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Jesus, what a Friend we have in Him. We never shall know all things, but we do know the One who does. Let us rest in His power and provision. Let’s rise, saddle up, and move forward in Him.