Abraham’s Faith Regarding Isaac
Hebrews 11:17-19 (NIV)
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
Let’s work our way through this event. Then we will look at the explanation of it in Hebrews.
God promised Abraham many descendants. Genesis 15:4-5 says “The the word of the LORD came to him (Abraham): this man (the servant Eliezer) will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir. He took him outside and said ‘look up at the heavens and count the stars - if indeed you can county them. Then he said to him, “so shall your offspring be’.”
Abraham went a long time with no descendants. Then, God miraculously gave him a son, Isaac, who was the partial fulfillment of the promise. “But God said to him, “...it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” (Genesis 21:12) God made it clear that his promise of many descendants would be fulfilled through Isaac.
Then, God instructed Abraham to go sacrifice his son. This event is recorded in Genesis 22. Let’s look at that account:
22 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
As much as Abraham loved Isaac, he loved God more. He obeyed God’s command. “Offered up” is the translation of the word “προσενηνοχεν — prosenēnochen”. It is the perfect active indicative of “προσπερω — prospherō” the verb so often used in this Epistle. The act was already consummated so far as Abraham was concerned when it was interrupted. So, it was not that Abraham expected God to stop him at the last second. He expected to sacrifice Isaac.
But he also believed God. Notice he told his servants ““Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham fully intended to sacrifice his son on an altar, yet he fully intended to return with his son. How can that be?
The writer of Hebrews explained it this way: “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” (19)
Abraham believed God. He believed God would fulfill his word (or promise) with regard to Isaac, so he believed he could obey God and still receive the fulfillment of the promise even though the two seemed contradictory. He could do that because he had faith. He believed and he trusted God. He expected to kill Isaac and he expected God to bring him back to life to fulfill his promise. He had extraordinary faith. As far as we can ascertain, God had not revealed the concept of resurrection at this point in time. But Abraham believed God could and would do it. Romans 4:20-21 says “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”
“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future”. Isaac inherited the promises God gave to Abraham. He did not live to see them fulfilled. But he blessed Jacob with the inheritance of the promises because he believed God would fulfill them. (Genesis 27)
Likewise, Jacob died without seeing the promised fulfilled. He died in Egypt. But, as he was about to die, he blessed Josephs sons. (Genesis 47-48) He even asked them not to bury him in Egypt, but to carry his body back to to Canaan because he believed God had given that land to his family. (Genesis 47:29-30) When Joseph swore to do so, Jacob leaned on his staff and worshipped. He believed God, he trusted God and he worshipped God.
Joseph was the same. He believed God would take Israel from Egypt back to Canaan. He instructed his family to take his bones with them. He said “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Genesis 50:24) Even though he died in a strange land, he did not waver in faith that God would keep his promise.
His faith was remarkable, because he only lived in the promised land as a young person. He spent most of his life in Egypt. He died about 200 years after God made the covenant with Abraham and it was still unfulfilled. Yet he had faith.
Matthew Henry said “Though the grace of faith is of universal use throughout the Christian’s life, yet it is especially so when we come to die. Faith has its great work to do at the very last, to help believers to finish well, to die to the Lord so as to honor him, by patience, hope and joy so as to leave a witness behind them of the truth of God’s Word and the excellency of his ways.”
Each of these men passed on the promises to his children by faith. Isaac and Jacob received them by faith and passed them on by faith.
The Faith of Moses’ Parents
In Exodus 1, we see that the king of Egypt ordered all the male babies of the Israelites killed at birth. He did not want their population to grow But Moses’ mother (Jochebed) hid him for three months, then, when she could hide him no longer, put him in a basket and set him afloat in the Nile river, trusting God to save him. By preserving Moses’ life, his parents disobeyed the edict of the king and put themselves at risk of death. But, Moses’ parents did not fear the king or his edict, they trusted God. They chose God’s will over their personal safety.
The Faith of Moses
Moses lived for 40 years as a prince of the wealthiest, most cultured and advanced society of his day. Acts 7:22 says “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians”. But he rejected a comfortable life at court with the royal family. He “refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter”. (24)
Instead, he identified himself with God’s people, believing God’s promises. He suffered disgrace (26) and great danger to obey God. God asked Moses to do many scary things, such as confront the Pharaoh, part the sea and lead a nation out into the desert to the Promised Land. He did all that by faith. He believed God. He trusted God to fulfill his promise. He “was looking ahead to his reward”. (26)
This is a very important example in this passage, along with that of Abraham. Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation. Moses was the law giver. The law was often called “the law of Moses” even though it was the law of God revealed to Moses. Since he was associated with the law, it is important to the writer’s Jewish audience to see that he lived by faith, not law or ritual.