Let’s imagine that you’re Abraham. You’re out there tending the flocks and suddenly, you have this visit from God. He says to you, "Abram, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to bless you. I’m going to make you the father of nations. All nations and families are going to be blessed through you."
Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation and I will bless thee and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).
So anyway, God made this promise to Abraham. And it came to pass that Abraham became incredibly wealthy. Not only did he have gold and silver, but he had lots of other possessions. In fact, when you read, for example, how Abraham had to ride to the rescue of his nephew Lot, the Scripture says Abraham took something like 137 of his own servants.
Now you’ve got to have some kind of wealth to have 137 servants. So Abraham was tremendously blessed.
Some time later, God made Abraham another promise:
That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies (Genesis 22:17).
What an exciting promise! But year after year came and went without Abraham and his wife, Sarah, having any children. Now, how was the Lord to fulfill this promise? Without any sons, how was Abraham to become the father of anything?
Well, you know the story of how in his old age, the Lord blessed Sarah and she gave birth to a son, Isaac. The boy was the apple of Abraham’s eye. But one day, God called out to Abraham, calling his name.
"Here I am," Abraham replied.
"Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah," instructed the Lord in Genesis 22:1-2. "Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."
There was no mistake about Who this was or who was speaking to him. Abraham had heard God’s voice many times before. He knew the voice. It is not the voice of an enemy, but a friend. But the message must have brought agony to Abraham’s heart.
Abraham’s son Isaac was probably just a young boy, though the Scripture doesn’t tell us. Abraham’s heart had already been broken when he sent away his firstborn son, Ishmael, born to his concubine, Hagar – banished to the desert because of Sarah’s jealousy.
After losing one son, Abraham had watched Isaac grow into a young boy. In Isaac, all the promises that God had given to Abraham now found their focus, the divine promises of blessing and descendents. Isaac truly was a miracle-son, born to Sarah at 90 and Abraham at 100.
So, how could God ask for Abraham to offer the child as a burnt offering to the Lord?
But the dread words could not be more clear: ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love ...."
A "burnt offering" meant the entire sacrifice was burned on the altar. Hundreds of years later, in the Mosaic law, God prescribed other offerings of which only the fat is burned and the rest is eaten by the priests and their families.
Human sacrifice was not unknown in the ancient Near East, although it had never been commanded before in the Bible.
Such murderous practices were performed by pagans and heathens, not God’s chosen people. Prisoners or foreigners were sacrificed in Egypt. Skeletons of infant children have been found buried in the floors of Palestinian houses. In the sanctuary of Tanit at Carthage, archaeologists have discovered urns containing burnt human bones. The sacrifice of Carthage’s finest children was reported in 310 BC. Philo of Byblos says that the Phoenicians had an ancient custom of burning "their dearest children in a way full of mystery" when danger threatened the nation.
In Bible times, the King of Moab offered his son as a burnt offering when his capital was under siege (2 Kings 3:27).
Apostate Hebrew King Ahaz "made his son pass through the fire" (2 Kings 16:3) as did Manasseh, said to be one of the most wicked kings of Israel (2 Kings 21:6). The custom was condemned in Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5, Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Kings 17:17; 21:6, 2 Chronicles 28:3; 23:10, Psalm 106:37-38, Jeremiah 19:4-5 and Jeremiah 32:35.
But Abraham had heard directly from God. He had no option but to believe that the Lord desired that he sacrifice Isaac on a fiery altar.
So Abraham prepared to travel with Isaac to Mount Moriah. To Abraham’s credit, he didn’t put it off. He began his journey the next day.
Genesis 22:3-5 says that early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled 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. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and come back to you" (Genesis 22:3-5).
Observe Abraham’s confident promise: "We will worship and then we will come back to you," he tells them.
While Abraham was fully prepared to offer Isaac, he also was confident that God would keep the promises that Isaac himself would be heir to the covenant and have descendents (Genesis 17:19, 21; 21:12).
Here is obedient faith in action.
The writer of Hebrews reflects on the quality of Abraham’s faith. Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us that by faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. This man who had received God’s promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned."
Do you suppose that Abraham reasoned God could raise the dead?
But this was no play-acting for Abraham. He fully intended to obey God – but at the same time, he had those promises pointing to Isaac. Somehow, he hoped and prayed, God would intervene. Isaac was old enough to sense something amiss.
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on Isaac’s shoulders. Abraham carried the fire and the knife. As the two went up the mountain together, Isaac spoke up: ‘Father?’
"Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.
"The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
Abraham answered, "God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together."
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.
He bound Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son, according to Genesis 22:11-12.
An animal to be sacrificed was generally killed in the swiftest and most painless way possible, by cutting horizontally across the throat in an uninterrupted movement. That was what Abraham expected to do.
As he raised the knife, an angel called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!"
"Here I am," he replied.
"Do not lay a hand on the boy," instructed the angel. "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."
Imagine Abraham’s joy. Imagine his thanksgiving as he clutched Isaac to his chest, praising God for His goodness.
Why would God do this?
James 1:2-3 tells us to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials, because we know that the testing of our faith develops perseverance!
The Apostle Paul advises us in 2 Corinthians 4:17 that our earthly troubles achieve for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Job doesn’t understand his suffering, but in God’s eyes, his faithfulness is a showpiece of character that Satan’s attacks cannot undermine. Abraham’s faith on Mt. Moriah has inspired countless generations to a faith in God and a commitment to God that goes beyond the ordinary.
God stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac on the altar, but not from worship:
In Genesis 22:13-14, Abraham looks up and there in a thicket he sees a ram caught by its horns. He goes over and takes the ram and sacrifices it as a burnt offering – instead of his son.
Abraham then named the place "The Lord Will Provide" (Jehovah Jireh).
Yes, He will.
Yes, He does.