Faith with Works Is Profitable:
Abraham Offers Up His Only Son,
Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19)
by Bob Wilkin
God promised Abraham a son when Abraham was 75. God made him wait 25 years for the fulfillment of that promise. It wasn't until he was 100 that Sarah gave birth to their promised son, Isaac.
When Isaac, whose name means Laughter, was weaned, his half-brother Ishmael mocked him. Thus God expelled the slave woman, Hagar, and her son. God promised to bless both sons and make great nations of each, but Isaac was the promised son.
Genesis 21 ends (vv 22-34) with the covenant Abraham made with the local people at Beersheba. Abraham is blessed by God and even the unbelievers in the area recognize God's blessing on his life. God provides water for Abraham, a symbol of blessing and of life. Abraham secures legal right to live in the land, anticipating a day when his descendants will live there peacefully as well.
We don't know how much time passed between the end of Genesis 21 and the start of Genesis 22.
The first part of Genesis 21 occurred when Isaac was weaned at around age 3. Sarah would have been 93. We are told in the chapter following this one that Sarah died at age 127 (Gen 23:1).
There are hints that Isaac must have been a teenager when this occurred. First, he is called a lad in Gen 22:5, 12. The term lad is used of Joseph later in Genesis when he was age 17 and even when he was age 30 (Gen 37:2; 41:12, 46). The same word could refer, of course, to a small boy. But there are other clues.
Second, Isaac was old enough to go on a three day journey and to carry the wood of the sacrifice (Gen 22:6). Surely a small boy could not do those things. A young man in his late teens would be able to do this.
Third, if this incident was spaced exactly in the middle between Genesis 21, when Sarah was 93 and Isaac was 3, and Genesis 23, when Sarah died at age 127, a period of 34 years, Isaac would have been around 20. Of course, there is nothing to say that this is precisely in the middle.
Putting everything together, Isaac was probably around 16 to 19 here.
The Test (Genesis 22:1-2)
God, probably the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus, calls out to Abraham and tested him with these words: "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and…offer him as a burnt offering."
Imagine the shock to Abraham.
This is the son he waited 25 years for. Now he is about the age when he can marry and have children and yet God asks Abraham to offer him up as a burnt offering.
Would he obey God? Or would he disobey God?
Most of us claim to love God and to obey Him. But when He asks us to give back something to Him that we dearly love, will we obey?
Here are some things God asks us to give back to Him:
- Our money 2 Corinthians 8-9; esp 9:7 "God loves a cheerful giver."
- Our time In prayer, in Bible reading, in assembling with other believers, in training your children in the ways of the Lord, in sharing your faith with others, in working with your hands so you can provide for your family.
- Our fame Christianity is about exalting Jesus, not ourselves. As John the Baptist put it so well, "He must increase, but I must decrease."
- Our honor At times we are called to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. See Matt 5:11-12 and Acts 5:41.
- Our ideas We are called to do things the way God says to do them. Thus we must abandon our own good ideas if they conflict with God's Word. David should have moved the ark by having Levites carry it, not with a new cart. We may find it encouraging to practice TM and to chant Hindu words, but that is not what God tells us to do. Some churches construct altars and call their ministers priests. While that may seem right, that is not what God says we should do in the church age. There are no altars for the church. All believers are priests, not simply the elders.
- Our children While no one other than Abraham was ever called to literally sacrifice their children, all Christian parents must be willing to let their children go in service of God. If they wish to go to the mission field, we will not get to see them very often. If they go into the military, so too we will be separated from them for years. We must let our children maximize their lives for Christ, even if it means less time around them.
Abraham Obeys Right Away without Any Haggling
You will remember that back in Chapter 18 when the Lord told Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom, Abraham haggled with Him, trying to get Him not to destroy it.
But here there is no haggling, no arguing, no trying to talk the Lord out of it. Abraham simply obeys.
He gets the wood ready for the sacrifice. He takes two of his servants, a saddled donkey with provisions, and Isaac. On the third day of the journey, he leaves the two servants and the donkey, and says, "the lad and I will go yonder and worship and we will come back to you" (v 5).
Note that he says, "we will come back to you."
How can he say this if he knows he is going to kill Isaac?
There is really only one answer.
God promised that through Isaac God would make Abraham a great nation. Isaac had not yet had a son. Yet Abraham, at God's command, is about to kill Isaac.
The only way to reconcile these things is that God is going to raise Isaac from the dead and then he will be able to have children.
The author of Hebrews actually tells us that this is what Abraham believed.
Turn with me to Heb 11:17-19.
He concluded "that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead" (Heb 11:19).
Alan Ross says, "His statement of 'worship and return' is amazing. Hebrews says in a way he thought of resurrection. All Abraham knew was 1) God planned the future around Isaac, and 2) God wanted him to sacrifice Isaac. He could not reconcile the two, but he would obey."
Ross also says, "for this to be a real test it had to defy logic: it went against all reason."
I strongly disagree.
It didn't defy logic. It didn't go against all reason. Whatever God asks us to do is reasonable, even if we don't understand all the details. God rewards obedience. It always makes sense to please Him.
And Abraham could reconcile the two since he was convinced that God would raise Isaac from the dead. Hebrews doesn't say "in a way he thought of resurrection." It says he believed "that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead." The only way God wouldn't raise Isaac from the dead at that time is if somehow God intervened before Abraham killed him.
Possibly Abraham thought that was a possibility. Possibly he prayed for God to intervene. But he knew that God could raise Isaac from the dead, and that he would if Abraham took his life.
Verse 5: We will come back to you. Kidner says that Abraham spoke with full conviction, since he was convinced that God would raise Isaac from the dead. After all, in Gen 21:12 God had again promised "in Isaac shall your seed be called."
Isaac bears the wood. This too is a type of Christ since Jesus Himself bore His own cross (John 19:17).
Abraham takes the dangerous objects, the knife and the fire, that is, the torch. Isaac, of course, is puzzled. He sees the wood, the knife, and the fire, but there is no lamb to sacrifice: "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" (v 7).
Abraham responds, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering." This, of course, ultimately looks to the Lord Jesus, the lamb of God (John 1:29). Is Abraham lying to his son? Is he saying what he hopes will happen? Or is he speaking prophetically?
We don't know. But we know Abraham is ready to obey God and take his son's life.
God will provide. That is a great principle to live by. Many people have made this the underlying principle they live on.
Abraham says more here than he is aware.
Abraham Is Stopped by the Lord
Just before He Sacrifices Isaac (Genesis 22:9-14)
This event must have been very hard for both Abraham and Isaac. As Isaac is being tied up, he knows he is the sacrifice. We are not told if he resisted. Did he fight his father?
As he was being laid on the wood for the burnt offering, surely he was afraid of the pain to come. As his father took the knife to kill him, Isaac faced immediate death.
Yet Moses does not tell us about the emotions of father or son. He simply reports the basic facts. Ultimately the story is told from God's viewpoint, as He looks upon the scene.
Surely God is waiting until the exactly right time to stop this.
From the human side: Abraham shows this ultimate sacrifice has been "faced and willed" as Kidner notes.
From the divine side: "not a vestige of harm is permitted, and not a nuance of devotion is unnoticed (as the phrase, thy son, thine only son, echoed from 2 and reechoed in 16, make clear)" (p. 144).
As Abraham takes up the knife to slay his son, the Angel of the Lord, surely the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ, tells him, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, 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" (v 12).
By God's intervention we learn (and the nation of Israel learned) that God never wanted child sacrifice. Israel was not to follow the practices of the nations around her and sacrifice her sons and daughters.
God provides a substitute sacrifice (v 13). In light of John 1:29, we know that this is a type of Christ, that is, this incident is prophetic. This is a prophetic picture of substitutionary atonement. One day soon God the Father would send His one and only Son, His Son whom He too deeply loved, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die in the place of all of mankind. By His death He would take away the sins of the world in the sense that now all men are savable simply by faith in Christ.
In verse 14 Abraham names the place "the Lord will provide." This is typically called Jehovah Jireh. However, the Hebrew should be pronounce Yahweh Yireh. Whenever Jews read this they would say Adonai Yireh (My Lord Will Provide) since they did not say the Divine name, Yahweh.
Verse 14 looks back to verse 8 and "God Will Provide."
God provides for all our needs, even the need of a Savior Who would lay down His life for our sins.
God Reiterates His Promise of Blessing
to Abraham (Genesis 22:15-19)
Abraham's obedience resulted in blessing from God. That is a general principle taught in Scripture. Obedience leads to blessings.
Of course, Abraham was justified by God over 30 years prior to this (Gen 15:6). The issue here is not the new birth, but blessings in this life (and in the life to come).
"Blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies."
Abraham returned with Isaac and the two servants. Again, we are not told how Isaac or Abraham felt. Surely they were overjoyed at what God had done. Since there is no evidence in Genesis that Isaac ever harbored any anger toward Abraham about this, it seems clear that Isaac responded in faith in this incident as well. He recognized that he and his father had been tested, but that God never intended to take his life.
Faith Without Works Is Dead
Faith with Works Is Alive (James 2:14-26)
James refers to this incident in Jas 2:21-24. The point is clear. Abraham was justified, or vindicated, before men by offering up Isaac.
People have objected: But no one was there to see this!
Well, Isaac was there and he certainly told many people what happened.
Moses wasn't there, but he knew about it and recorded it in Scripture.
This became one of the most well know acts in all of human history. The rabbis consider this the greatest act of piety in history. Muslims think that Abraham offered up Ishmael, not Isaac, and that this was the greatest act of piety. Christians believe that this is the greatest act of obedience to God.
The truth is that Abraham has been vindicated before untold billions of people, believers and unbelievers, ever since this happened. And he is still being vindicated as more and more people learn about it.
Every sermon that is preached on Genesis 22 or James 2 brings up this wonderful account of obedience to God.
Faith with works is profitable. We are called to be profitable people.
Lessons And Applications
- We should apply what we believe. If we believe it is more blessed to give than to receive, then we ought to give, don't you think? Men, if we believe that we ought to love our wives as Christ loved the church, then we ought to lay down our lives for our wives, right?
- We must not love our children or our parents or our spouses more than we love God. Whenever there is a conflict between what our loved ones want and what God says, we must obey God, not our loved ones. Fortunately this conflict doesn't happen every minute, but it will happen in all our lives, especially with children. Children want things that are contrary to God's Word and as long as they live under our roofs, we need to guide them by God's Word, not by what the other kids get to do.
- We must not mix up obedience as the condition for blessings with faith as the condition for everlasting life.
- When we obey God, He blesses us. Obedience is thus always in our best interests. The idea that rebelling against God would be a good way to live is ridiculous. Where there are what the author of Hebrews calls "the passing pleasures of sin," they are very short-lived and the pain that follows last a whole lot longer.
- The promise God made to Abraham is still in effect. One day soon Israel will become a believing nation and the Lord will return and rescue her. The Kingdom is coming soon. Jesus will rule from Jerusalem both during the Millennium and on the New Earth forever.
When God tested Abraham with a very difficult test, Abraham obeyed.
We too will be tested often in our lives. Our tests will not be quite this big. But we will have major tests too.
God will bless us if we obey him in our times of testing. Having the right perspective, like Abraham did, is the key to victory.
Abraham practiced the truth of 2 Cor 5:7. He walked by faith, not by sight, when this test came. He knew God was able to raise his son from the dead, and he believed he would if God required him to go through with the sacrifice. God had made a promise of descendants through Isaac. Thus God would fulfill His promise.
May we too walk by faith in what God has promised, even if what we see today is not yet the fulfillment. Our world is not the righteous one which is promised. But it is coming. In the meantime, let's obey God because we love Him and because we know He blesses obedience.