The writer of Hebrews continues with the story of Abraham. Before we can leave and move down the hallway to the next hero, we find that there is more about Abraham that we need to appreciate. Hebrews 11:17-19 records more important information.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (ESV)
To fully understand the story, I think it important for us to read Genesis 22:1-18 and see the events unfold in the life of Abraham. The story begins with Abraham showing us for a second time the nature of faith through prompt obedience. When Abraham was called to go to the land God was going to show him, Abraham immediately packed and moved upon the command. In Genesis 22 God tells Abraham to take his one and only son take him to a mountain and offer him there. Would you have dragged your feet before obeying this command? I think we all would have taken our time before we decided to go forward with this very difficult command of the Lord. But notice the words of the scripture: “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac” (22:3). We made this point last week but we want to see that Abraham is showing faith by prompt obedience. When he was told what to do, Abraham quickly obeyed the Lord. This shows that Abraham’s life motivation was to serve and obey the Lord. As painful as this command must have been for Abraham to comprehend, Abraham makes preparations and rises early in the morning to perform the offering. Faith is obeying God on his terms, not our terms. We want to obey God when we are ready to obey God. We will obey God when it is convenient and comfortable for us. But such is not faith in God.
As we read the story in Genesis, we are told that Abraham “took the knife to slaughter his son.” The writer of Hebrews emphasizes this point in verse 17, “was in the act of offering up his only son.” This is the force of the Greek words: that Abraham was offering up his son but was interrupted from the activity.
To understand this great faith further, we need to understand something about Isaac. Isaac was the son of promise. As we noted in the last lesson, Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children. It was not physically possible for them to have children. Because of this fact, Sarah tried to take matters into her own hands, telling Abraham to go into Hagar, the handmaid, and have a child so that the inheritance would go to a descendant. That child’s name was Ishmael. It seems that Abraham believed that the promises would be fulfilled through Ishmael (Genesis 17:17-18). But God said that Ishmael would not be the one through whom the promises would be fulfilled. “God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him'” (Genesis 17:19). Isaac was the son of promise. There was now to be no question. Isaac was the one. The covenant would be fulfilled through Isaac.
The timing of this command cannot be missed either. In the previous chapter, Genesis 21, Abraham had to send Hagar and Ishmael away because of conflict in the household. So Ishmael is gone and now comes the command to take Isaac and sacrifice him. Abraham had been told that Isaac was the one. Ishmael was gone, proving that Ishmael was certainly not the one. Isaac had been identified by name as the one through whom the covenant and promises would be fulfilled. So as we read the Genesis account, we want to know how Abraham does not argue with God. We want to know how Abraham was arising early in the morning to offer his son. We want to know how he could have that much trust in God.
The writer of Hebrews gives us staggering insight. “He considered God to be able even to raise someone from the dead, from which he also got him back as an illustration” (Hebrews 11:19; HCSB). Slow down over those words. Abraham believed that God was able to raise someone from the dead. Abraham had no basis for that kind of faith. People were not being raised from the dead. Where would Abraham have seen such a thing happen in the past to know that God could raise his son from the dead? No where. Resurrection had not happened yet, at least as the scriptures record. So was this blind, ridiculous faith in God? Not at all. The basis of his faith was that God said that Isaac was the child of promise and the covenant would be established through him. Abraham’s belief in Isaac being raised from the dead shows how much Abraham believed God. God said it was Isaac. So, if God tells me to offer Isaac, then God will raise Isaac from the dead.
When God said the words, Abraham knew that those words that he could hang his life upon. He knew that God’s words will come to pass. He did not have to worry about how it was going to come about. Maybe God was going to raise Isaac from the dead. God said it, and it will happen. True faith is the ability to anchor our lives upon God’s promises so that we are not shaken.
Some life anchors:
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13; NRSV)
Will we hold on to this promise in face of any difficulty that may come before us? True faith believes the promises of God and we use these words to anchor our lives.
Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Therefore, we may boldly say: The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:5-6; HCSB)
Another anchor for our lives. God will not leave us. We are the ones who leave God. God does not give up on us. It is time for us to return to God.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9; HCSB)
God will always forgive our sins when we turn to our lives back to God, striving for obedience. There are so many other anchors for us in life that can found in the scriptures. Read the scriptures, find those anchors, and use them to encourage you in your life.
Hebrews 11:19 tells us that as a figure Abraham did receive Isaac back from the dead. This is a very intriguing statement. Most of the versions treat the text to say that figuratively speaking God did raise Isaac in the fact that Isaac was not offered on the altar but was given back to Abraham. But that does not seem to be the point of the argument. The Greek word that most of the versions translate “figuratively speaking” literally is “parable.” A parable is two things set side by side for comparison. That is why Jesus would tell a parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” He is making a comparison between two things. The story or event is to be compared to something else. This Greek word is also used by the writer earlier in Hebrews in chapter 9 and verse 9.
This is a symbol for the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshiper’s conscience. (Hebrews 9:9; HCSB) The tabernacle was a symbol for something that would happen at the present time. Therefore, the offering of Isaac was a parable or a symbol for something else. Upon closer analysis, it becomes clear that the parable is what God would have to do offering his one and only son. Notice that parallel in verse 17. Isaac is called Abraham’s only son. John 3:16 makes the same point that God so loved the world that he gave his only son. In fact, it is the same Greek word that describes Abraham’s son and Jesus in those passages.
Since this is a parable, let us create the comparison. God the Father was going to offer his son for us to take our sins away. Hebrews 7:27 tells us that Jesus offered himself up once for all time on our behalf. When Jesus is on the cross, there is no one to say stop. There is no one to stop the execution from happening. This is the great contrast of the story. Abraham was spared the pain of offering his son on the altar. The Father was not. But the comparison is the resurrection. Abraham received back his son at the end. Jesus, after being crucified and laid in the tomb, three days later rose from the dead.
- True faith is seen in prompt obedience.
- True faith is about anchoring our lives to God’s promises