When we consider the story of how God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to God on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:1-19), we typically view it as an example of Abraham’s great faith. Yet this test proved Isaac’s faith to be just as strong.
Isaac was the child of promise, whom God had promised to Abram and Sarah when they were very old and had no children. Even more amazing, this would be the child through whom Abraham (his new name) would be the father of a great nation, in whom all would be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3), with descendants as innumerable as grains of sand on the seashore or stars in the sky (Genesis 22:17).
Sarah laughed when she heard that they would have a child, for she was aged and barren (Genesis 18:10-15). She had grown weary of waiting for God to allow her to conceive, and took matters into her own hands by persuading Abraham to have relations with her handmaid Hagar (Genesis 16:1-8).
Sadly, Abraham acquiesced, and Ishmael was born from that illicit union. This lapse in faith proved not only that Abraham was human, subject to the same weaknesses as all of us (Romans 3:23), but also that God can and will use those who love and trust him, even when they have gone astray as Abram had done several times before (Genesis 12:10-20).
But every choice has its consequences. The birth of Ishmael caused strife not only in Abram’s own household, particularly after Isaac was born to Sarah as God had promised, but also engendered constant warring between the great nations born of Abraham’s offspring – Israel and the Muslim nations (Genesis 16:8-12).
Nonetheless, Abraham was a man of great faith in the One True God, which I believe is the greatest legacy a father can pass on to his children (Ephesians 6:4). His faith began when God first spoke to him, asking him to leave behind his home, pagan beliefs, and seat of power to journey through the wilderness (Genesis 12:1-3). God spoke of the Promised Land and said he would lead Abram there, and make of him a great nation (Genesis 12:1-7).
What amazing faith it took to trust God to do this when Abram had no idea where he was going or how long it would take to get there! But even that faith pales in comparison with what happened later. God tested Abraham’s faith by asking him to take his only son Isaac, whom he loved, and to offer him as a burnt offering on a mountain of Moriah that God would later specify (Genesis 22:1-19).
What must have raced through Abraham’s mind, and how must his heart have ached as he heard this! There was no mistaking God’s command. He specified “his only son” Isaac, making it clear that he referred to the child of His promise, and not the illegitimate son born through the weakness of Abraham’s flesh.
God clearly knew how much Abraham loved Isaac, making His command all the more repugnant and incomprehensible. Any loving parent would rebel at sacrificing their child, and most would even be willing to sacrifice their own life to spare that of their child, if they had the opportunity. Yet God was asking Abraham to lay Isaac on the altar, slay him with a knife, and then set his body on fire!
God’s command seemed to fly in the face of His very nature, which cannot change (Hebrews 13:8), as He later would forbid child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5). His own Son loved little children and held them up as an example of the type of faith needed to enter His kingdom (Matthew 19:14; 18:3). Abraham did not have the benefit of knowing this, yet he believed that God would keep His promise to make him the father of a great nation, which could only happen through Isaac.
Abraham’s faith is clear in his detailed obedience by getting up early for the journey, saddling and loading his ass, taking two companions for the trip, and bringing the wood for the burnt offering. He traveled for three days, and must have had to silence whatever doubts and fears gnawed at his soul as he resolutely headed for the mountain (Genesis 22:1-4).
At the base of the mountain, Abraham told his companions to stay there with the ass, and reassured them that he – and Isaac – would return after they had worshipped God (v. 5). What faith he showed to trust that God would somehow spare Isaac’s life!
Then it was only Abraham and Isaac ascending the mountain. The father carried the fire and knife, and the son bore the heavy burden of the wood to be used for his own funeral pyre. It foreshadowed Jesus struggling under the weight of the cross that would be the cruel instrument of His death (John 19:17).
Finally Isaac voiced the question that must have been troubling him, and to which he already knew the answer – where is the lamb for the burnt offering? (v. 6-7).
At this point Isaac was a strong young man, and his feeble father more than a centenarian. Isaac’s faith must have been just as great as Abraham’s faith, to obey God to the point of death, just as God’s only begotten Son Jesus would millennia later (Philippians 2:8). That type of faith is not born in a vacuum (2 Timothy 1:5), but from the living faith Isaac saw daily in his father Abraham.
Almost as if trying to convince himself, Abraham told Isaac that God Himself would provide the burnt offering. A man of lesser faith than Isaac would no doubt be tempted to escape as Abraham prepared the altar and wood, or to wrestle free as his father laid him on the altar and then raised the knife to slay Him (Genesis 22:8-10).
Yet Isaac held fast without complaint or struggle, submitting himself to God’s mercy, just as Jesus did when He was led as a sheep to the slaughter to pay the debt for our sin (Isaiah 53:5-7).
God rewarded the faith of father and son by sparing Isaac’s life, sending the angel of the Lord to keep Abraham from harming Isaac (Genesis 22:11-19). This test proved through their obedience and submission to God’s will that not only Abraham, but also Isaac, feared and trusted God. This came as no surprise to God, Who knows all things (Psalm 139:1-6), but it must have been an amazing confirmation to both men of God’s faithfulness and of their own faith.
God rewarded them further by providing a ram for the offering and by expanding upon His 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; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:17-18).
All nations would be blessed through Jesus Christ, Who would be born to the house of Abraham (Matthew 1:1-17) and be the Savior of all who trust in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6).
But Abraham’s legacy of faith did not stop with Isaac. His firstborn son Jacob, later renamed Israel because his faith was so great that he spent all night wrestling with God until He promised to bless him (Genesis 32:24-30), gave rise to the great nation of the same name, God’s chosen people. When Isaac was on his deathbed, Jacob acknowledged that his God was the God of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham (Genesis 32:9).
Similarly, when Israel was on his deathbed, he blessed each of his twelve sons, progenitors of each of the twelve tribes of Israel. These included Joseph, himself a great example of faith in God working all things together for good (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). Israel described Joseph as blessed “by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above” (Genesis 49:25).
As God had promised, the lineage of the Messiah would stem from Abraham’s seed, namely through Israel’s son Judah, direct ancestor of Jesus, Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5), from whom the scepter of kingship and the lawgiver would not depart (Genesis 49:10).
On Father’s Day, we honor our earthly fathers and thank our Heavenly Father for their Godly influence and other blessings on our life. May our earthly fathers bless their children with the greatest legacy – the gift of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ!
© 2021 Laurie Collett