By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. ~ Hebrews 11:17–19.
Faith cannot survive mortality. One of the truest signs of faith’s strength is its willingness to face even its own death. But Abraham has faced a test unlike any most people face. He was giving up his only son, in whom was his future, and all of the reasons he had followed God in the first place.
Or was it.
The Elephant in the Room
Many people can’t get past a father offering up his own son. Does allegiance to the God of all reality Seen and Unseen require child sacrifice? Of course if he truly is God, He is more important than anything else, even our own beloved family. Allegiance to God is one thing, but the murder of someone else seems like an insurmountable barrier to this kind of faith. Few English translations will show you what I will here, but the Rabbis who study the Torah will tell you that what I write coming up is true. Remember that we are talking about an extraordinary life because it is grappling with the Unseen Reality that is real. This may be challenge your own faith.
Genesis 22, the tale where Abraham offers Isaac, is a famous story in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic circles, though details are emphasized more some places than others. All three are largely in agreement that it was written by Moses, and also agree it was written in Hebrew. The text reveals something about God’s command which Abraham obeyed in offering up his son. The Hebrew word for “Now take your son . . . ” is better translated “Please take your son . . . ” The first thing any faith needs to acknowledge about God is the heart of a father; the heart of a friend. This faith of Abraham was based only on what God had revealed to him, and in Abraham, God found a friend with whom he could share one of his most intimate secrets. He already understands what it will cost Himself one day. He has already seen that it will be his own Son, whom He will be offering, but here, with the kindest of all invitations, He calls Abraham out of his entire past, present, and future to give up his one and only son whom he loved. Such is the friendship of God that He lets us experience alongside him the inexpressible joy of resurrection of an insurmountable promise undaunted by death itself. Such a faith and joy are given not in the harsh immediacy of command only, but also with the gentility of an inviting heart that says “Please.”
The Most Difficult Test of Faith
There is no room in real faith for “coming out ahead on the deal” with God. No self-gain, no added benefits that you can finagle or haggle or sneak past God. This is because Death is the gateway for everything in the new life. Only that which is for God and of God will last. Nothing for self or sin will be able to escape the penalty of Death. Death is therefore the truest test of something’s worth. Paul spoke of this a great deal in his epistles, though what he most often referred to it as was “the cross.” He closes the letter to the Galatians with these words.
“But as for me, may it never be that I should boast in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified [as far as I’m concerned] and I [am crucified] to the world.” ~ (Galatians 6:14 translation mine)
There is no good thing that can pass from this world to the “new creation” spoken of in the next verse except that passes through the gate of the cross. Consider in Pilgrim’s Progress how Cristian the Pilgrim needed to cross the River of Death to reach the Celestial City. And God knows that because of sin’s all pervasive presence, the only way for the promise of faith to be fully realized, is for that very same promise to be laid down.
One thought before Application: God really does know best how to realize the Promise. If Abraham had not had the faith to offer up his son, he would not have seen “day of his salvation” when the ram got caught in the thicket. (John 8:56) In this place where he laid down his very future on the altar, he came to know God by a new name. “Yahweh sees.” (Also known as Jehovah-Jireh– God will provide.) When your faith is tested, remember that even though You can’t see, in the Unseen Reality there is a God who sees and who is stronger than death.
- Let every good thing that you count dear to you be before the Lord on the Altar to live or let die. I am speaking figuratively primarily, because the sacrifice has been made for the Promise to be secured for all humanity. Still, even our family must come second to God. One thing this practically might look like is taking time away from your family to be with Him. We do it for work; why not do it for Him? The same one who demonstrated care for his family also showed us how to value time with just Him.
- Do not seek to get ahead on deals with God. It can only end in greater misery for yourself. If you have any selfish agenda for pursuing a walk with the Lord, abandon it now. Lay it down on the altar. Example: you may be following God because you want fame or prestige among God’s people. God will call you to do things which will be utterly frowned upon by the church so that you will be infamous and a shame in the midst of His people. His Joy is worth only the price or real faith, and the cost of real faith is the death of self. Surrender is the only way.
- Remember what Abraham remembered. “He considered that God is able to raise even from the dead . . .” Let it be God’s glory to vindicate the one who has trust in Him, and satisfy you with Himself, and in Him to give you all things.