It must be kept in mind that faith is here not merely defined in a rather scholastic definition, but is here described to us in its living operation and manifestation in the lives of the saints. We see faith here as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It is the faith by which the elders obtained a good report. Yes, we saw this in Abel, Noah, Enoch, and now in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yes, even in Sarah, the mother of kings and nations.
In the case of Abraham it is constantly the obedience of faith that clings to God’s Word and His promises which is displayed before our eyes. He obeyed in leaving the land of his birth; he obeyed in dwelling as a sojourner in the land; he obeyed in waiting for the promised son, Isaac. In all this, faith shines forth in glorious beauty and splendor. We see here the like-precious faith of all the saints which is to be found unto the praise and honor of God in the day of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:7) However, in all of this, faith is not yet perfected. This perfection of faith was exemplified and demonstrated in Abraham offering Isaac his son upon the altar for a burnt offering, a thank offering wholly consumed in the service of the Lord! Here we see a faith which is not sterile and dead and useless, but here is living faith which is not only the means of justification of the godless sinner, but it shows this godless sinner as he is transformed by faith into a man which has learned the obedience of godliness. Yes, Abraham’s faith had not merely the form of godliness which denied the power of it, but here is the power of godliness manifested in a living faith!
Here is faith which takes God at His word. If it must be a human sacrifice and the breaking of God’s own ordinance, the fundamental law of God governing the sacrifices (Gen. 9:6) then Abraham will do so. If it means that God will destroy his own promised mercies to which Abraham clings with all his being, then let it be so. It is the blotting out in one stroke of all the promises which Abraham has greeted and received with so much longing and desire and joy (“Anadexamenos“) then he rests his cause with the LORD Himself. Here is not the dictum: I see and therefore I believe, but here we have the “credimus ut intelligemus,” that is, we believe that we may understand! Here is the triumphant cry of faith:Jehovah-jireh, the Lord will provide!
ABRAHAM’S FAITH IS TRIED (Genesis 22:1-3; Hebrews 11:17)
The writer simply tells us the facts in Genesis. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob pays the patriarch a visit. He calls to him: Abraham! He calls him by the significant name: a father of many nations have I made thee. It was a rather crowning point in Abraham’s life. It was a word of promise which Abraham so gladly received, in hope against hope. He would be the heir of the world. (Romans 4:16-21) But now Abraham is “tempted.” Yes, Satan would tempt him here to sin, to fall back into disobedience and perdition. Abraham must not continue to look for the city which has foundations, for the better country which is heavenly; he must falter in the battle and be overcome with frustration and despair. But God has better thoughts, thoughts of peace for Him. He will lead him through this humanly impossible way, and Abraham will say: God cannot lie, He cannot deny Himself, He cannot not fulfill His promises to me which culminated in the one point, when I sent away Ishmael: in Isaac shall there be a seed to thee!
For what does it mean that God tries (tempts) Abraham? Does it mean that God desired Abraham to fall? Not at all. But it does mean that God makes the way humanly impossible for Abraham. That there is absolutely no victory over this temptation; there is no solution to this hopeless contradiction except in faith. Faith as the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen! This is faith’s great moment. It will be the test of faith in its ultimacy in Abraham.
Like staccato blows the message comes to Abraham: “take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” (Gen. 22:2) And Hebrews 11:17 says that Abraham did exactly as the LORD had commanded him to do. He offered his son Isaac! He completed the task of offering his son. Such is the implication of the perfect tense of the verb in Greek. He did more than merely contemplate the act. He walked for three days to the mountain. He deliberately left the servants and the ass behind. He walked up that mountain with the wood, the fire, the knife and Isaac. And when the latter inquired concerning the sacrifice, Abraham did not flinch, but pressed on in faith, waiting for what the LORD had in store for them. He built the altar, tied Isaac as the sacrificial victim on the altar and will consummate the act by putting the knife into Isaac’s jugular vein so that the blood may flow, in which the life is. Oh, awfully sublime moment of faith! Abraham finished the act in faith. That is the sublime reality here in Moriah. His faith is tried and it is not found wanting. It was not a dead faith. He was justified by faith-which revealed itself in the work of love for God! (James 2:22-26)
It was not Abraham who stopped Isaac from being slain on the altar. It was the LORD Himself who intervened, He calls: “Abraham, Abraham . . . lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing that thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me!” (Gen. 22:11, 12) Yes, Abraham was interrupted while in the process of offering his son as a burnt offering. We see it as a moving picture in the Greek imperfect tense of the verb. Some have translated it “while he prepared to offer up his son.” This is too weak. The thought is that he was actually offering the son when God intervened!
THE DEEP WAYS OF GOD’S TRIAL IS RESOLVED BY FAITH’S REASONING (Hebrews 11:18, 19)
Had God not said to Abraham: in Isaac shall thy seed be called? And had that not been at the occasion of the weaning of Isaac when Ishmael mocked the little Isaac? Had Sarah then not insisted in getting rid of Hagar the Egyptian handmaid and her son, saying, “the son of this bond-woman shall not be heir with my son.” And God had agreed with Sarah and He had instructed Abraham to send Ishmael away. Oh, it had grieved Abraham greatly. He had overcome that fatherly sorrow in faith, and now all his hope for becoming a great people and nation is pinned upon Isaac, the son of the free woman. And God cannot lie. He had said: in Isaac and in no one else shall the Seed be called! In Isaac Abraham is Abraham and Sarah is Sarah! Thus was the former word of God. And not one of these shall fall to the ground. The Word of God cannot fall out!
The text in Hebrews tells us that Abraham had so joyfully claimed these promises for himself. He was living in this pure joy that now at last he would be the heir, that he would finally obtain the promise. (Hebrews 6:11, 12) Now in one word the LORD will dash all his hopes to pieces. It seems that the LORD will destroy His own work, and that the Lord is changeable, that he is as a man who promises but does not bring to pass. Yes, it almost has the semblance of the sadist who raises the hopes high, and then laughs when he dashes these hopes to smithereens, and then lets the poor victim pick of the bits of his perished hopes and fond expectations! That was the temptation with which Satan tempted Abraham.
For that was the natural conclusion. God is not just, He is changeable. He can lie, nay, He does lie! For not so for the ratiocination of faith! Faith believes that God is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek him. Faith believes that God is not in the abstract, but in the midst of the battle. Nothing shall separate me from the love of God, life, death, things high or low, future or present or past. All things work together for good to those who love God. That is what faith says!! And such was Abraham’s faith. Yes, there was here perhaps a syllogism of faith. It ran something as follows:
1. God is Almighty, God is able, NOTHING IS TOO WONDERFUL FOR GOD.
2. Isaac will be dead, nothing but ashes, cremated on the altar of God. Yet, it will be consecrated ashes, and not some heathenistic cremation of those who belittle the meaning of the body and the resurrection of the body in the last day.
3. But if God will have him ashes dedicated on the altar in his service as a burnt offering, a thankoffering from me, then I commit him to the hands of the Almighty God, who cannot lie. He will surely fulfill His Word of promise. Isaac will be raised from the dead. Hallelujah! The Lord will prepare the sacrifice!
In this faith Abraham is triumphant! Faith is the victory which overcomes the world. It says all is God’s! Be it Abraham, Isaac and his ashes from the altar, all are God’s Life, death, things present, things future, all belong to the Lord.
Thus is this matter resolved by faith’s reasoning. And this reasoning was resolute. Such was the position of Abraham’s faith as he progressed from the tent to the mountain-top! Here is anticipated the prayer of Christ: Father, into thy hands I commend my son, Isaac!
ABRAHAM’S FAITH AWARDED (Hebrews 11:19b)
Abraham is not put to shame. God’s word of promise stands. Not one word will fall to the ground till all are fulfilled. For Abraham received his son from the dead. He received in thus in a figure. As far as Abraham’s faith was concerned he really received Isaac back to himself from the Lord—from the dead. Perhaps there is here the expanded thought that Abraham saw that the only way in which Isaac could be the one in whom the Seed would be called would be through death.
Howbeit, Abraham receives another reward. He receives this time a fuller and more condescending assurance that the Promise surely be realized. That we have an anchor with God in the holy place is affirmed by God’s oath. God could swear by none greater, so He swore by Himself. He came, as it were, between Abraham and the promise with His word of oath. Thus Abraham now has two immutable things to assure him. He goes down the mountain with greater and gladder assurance that in Isaac the Seed would be called. He came back with the lad from the mountain-top and now he can really look for the redemption of Israel to come forth from the loins of Isaac, and he sees a great and mighty people, a great nation in him.