Faith Sorely Tried and Sublimely Triumphant
Hebrews 11:17-19
By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,…

By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac, etc. Our subject naturally divides itself into two branches.

I. FAITH SORELY TRIED. The supreme trial of Abraham's faith will appear if we consider the sacrifice which be was summoned to make. He was commanded:

1. To offer up as a burnt offering his only and much-loved son, Isaac. "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." "By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac; yea, he that had gladly received the promises was offering up his only begotten son." Isaac was called his "only son" because Ishmael had been finally sent forth from the paternal home, and because Isaac was the only son which Sarah the wife of Abraham bare unto him. He was now a young man, and inexpressibly dear to the hearts of his parents; and his father is commanded by God to offer him up as a sacrifice. Being a human sacrifice, Abraham's conviction of the sacredness of human life would rise up against the fulfillment of the command. Can such a behest proceed from him who had so solemnly asserted the sacredness of human life (Genesis 9:5, 6)? Being his own son, his only son, his Isaac, the laughter of his heart, his deep and pure and strong paternal instincts would rebel against the dread summons. Is it possible that the holy and Divine Father can make such a demand upon any human father?

2. To offer up his son who was in a special sense the gift of God to him. Isaac was the child of Divine promise, and he was born when his parents were far advanced in years, and when in the ordinary course of nature his birth was impossible (cf. vers. 11, 12; Genesis 17:16-19; Genesis 18:10, 14; Genesis 21:1-3). For twenty-five years Abraham had waited for the fulfillment of the promise; twenty-five years more had elapsed since the birth of Isaac, during which he had been growing ever more and more precious and beloved; and now God is asking back the gift so long waited for, and which had become so inexpressibly dear. Can such a demand proceed from that God whose "gifts are not repented of"? Can it be that he should try his servant thus?

3. To offer up his son upon whose life the fulfillment of the hopes which God had inspired seemed to depend. Isaac was not only the son of promise, but the other promises made to Abraham were connected with him as to their fulfillment. The promise that he should inherit Canaan, that he should be the father of a countless posterity and the founder of a great nation, that in his posterity all nations should be blessed, - all these were to be fulfilled in Isaac. "To whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called." Only the descendants of Isaac were to be known as Abraham's seed, and only in them were the promises to be fulfilled (cf. Genesis 17:19, 21; Genesis 21:12). These promises the patriarch "had gladly received." "He had as it were with open arms accepted and taken to himself each and all of the promises;" he had drawn from them assured hopes - hopes which he had cherished during many years. But if Isaac be sacrificed as a burnt offering, how shall these hopes be realized? - nay, how shall they not each and all expire, leaving the soul of the patriarch in dark disappointment? It seems that God is asking him to give back the promises which he had made to him, and which had so long sustained and cheered him. But is it possible that "the faithful God, which keepeth covenant with them that love hint and keep his commandments to a thousand generations," should make a demand like this? Can it be his voice that summons to the terrible sacrifice?

4. And there is a sore aggravation of this trial. Abraham is himself to be the sacrificing priest. He is to kill and to present this precious and awful offering. The knife that was to slay the victim must be driven into the heart by the hand of his own father, and the same hand must kindle the fire for the consumption of the sacrifice. When Ishmael seemed near unto death in the wilderness of Beersheba, his mother laid him "under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him at the distance as it were of a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the boy. And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept." But for Abraham there is no such relief. He must "see the death of " his beloved son; and more terrible, himself must strike the death-inflicting blow. Can it be God, the good and the holy One, that commands this? And is it possible that any loving father can comply with the terrible requirement?

II. FAITH SUBLIMELY TRIUMPHANT. Abraham made the awful sacrifice. "By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac... his only begotten son." Virtually he as fully offered Isaac as if he had sheathed the knife in his heart and consumed his body on the altar. And he did it by faith. The triumph was the triumph of faith.

1. Faith in the righteousness and supremacy of the authority of God. Abraham believed that God had a right to his obedience in this also; that "the Judge of all the earth" would not command what was wrong. The reason of the command to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering was dark and utterly mysterious to the patriarch; moreover, it pierced his inmost soul with sharpest and bitterest sorrow, and convulsed his being with fierce agony; yet God was supreme and righteous, therefore he would obey him. Faith was victorious.

2. Faith in the unlimited power of God. "By faith Abraham offered up Isaac,... accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead." How extraordinary and astonishing was this faith in that early age!

3. Faith in the unchanging fidelity of God to his word. Abraham believed that God would fulfill his promises, however unlikely or even impossible that fulfillment might appear to him. How he would do so after Isaac was sacrificed the patriarch knew not. But he felt assured of the fact. And so by faith he obeyed the dread command, and offered up to God his only begotten son. Faith in God triumphed over doubts and fears, the questionings and reasonings of the intellect, and the pathetic pleadings and passionate appeals of the heart. And how God honored this sublime and conquering faith! Isaac was truly offered to God, yet he was untouched by the sacrificial knife. He was given by his father to God, and then given back by God to his father unhurt, and inestimably more beloved and more sacred. And high is the encomium given to Abraham: "Now I know that thou fearest God," etc. (Genesis 22:12). We know what it was that God required of Abraham. It was not the sacrifice of Isaac, but the complete surrender of himself to God. When that was made the Divine purpose in this awful trial was accomplished, and" the last and culminating point in the Divine education of" the patriarch was attained. And still God requires this from us. He demands the unreserved surrender of ourselves to him, "Whatever is dearest to us upon earth is our Isaac." And when God summons us to give that Isaac up to him, his object in so doing is to lead us to present ourselves wholly and heartily to him as "living sacrifices." "He that loveth father or mother more than me," etc. (Matthew 10:37-39). - W.J.

Parallel Verses
KJV: By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,

WEB: By faith, Abraham, being tested, offered up Isaac. Yes, he who had gladly received the promises was offering up his one and only son;

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