Covenant to the Patriarchs

10 The Testing of Abraham’s Faith

by Hubert F. Sturges, , December 2013

And He said, 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. Genesis 22:2

In Genesis 17, God gave the covenant with more detail than before. He also changed the names of Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah and gave circumcision as a token of the covenant. God promised Abraham that Sarah would give birth to the covenant son. Abraham had accepted the idea that Sarah would never have a son, and he replied to God: “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (Gen. 17:18). In response, God affirmed that the covenant son would be born of Sarah, though Ishmael would also be blessed.

A Promised Miracle Child

A short time after that conversation, as Abraham sat in the door of his tent, he saw three travelers coming down the dusty road (Gen. 18). Hospitality was his habit, so he ran to meet them, insisting that they stop for refreshment. As they ate and talked together, they asked, “Where is your wife Sarah?”

He might have thought, How did these strangers know my wife’s name? Yet, he indicated no surprise, simply saying, “There, in the tent.”

The One who spoke continued, “Sarah your wife will have a son.”

When Sarah laughed, He added, “Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son” (Gen. 18:9-14, NIV). It was clear now who these visitors were and that the promised child would come through Sarah. They pointedly referred to “Sarah thy wife” twice but to Hagar not once.

Abraham, Intercedes on Behalf of Sodom

The men rose, and as they started down the road, One spoke to the others: “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do? Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him” (Gen. 18:17, 19).

He continued, “The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great.”| I will go down now and see” (Gen. 18:20, 21).

The Speaker meant for Abraham to overhear Him. Abraham quickly grasped the intent of their visit and took heart in the information given him. Sodom was going to be destroyed, but maybe Lot could be saved! Abraham stepped “before the Lord” (Gen. 18:22) as the other two travelers continued down the road toward their destination.

What followed was an intense negotiation in which Abraham tested the judgment and mercy of God. Abraham asked, “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen. 18:13). Pleased with the intercession of Abraham, the Lord told him that He would save the city if there were fifty righteous. As negotiations continued, the Lord cut the number down to forty, then down to thirty, and, finally agreed that if only ten righteous were present, He would not destroy the city for their sake (Gen. 18:22-32; cf. Isa. 43:3, 4). The longsuffering of God comforted Abraham. Surely, Lot has at least ten servants who would qualify! he thought. Why, not long before, Abraham himself mustered a small army of 318 from his staff of servants!

Abraham had done what he could for Lot. He had, with fear in his heart, interceded directly with God as far as he dared. Sadly, Lot had been impotent in his witness in Sodom. Ten righteous people could not be found (Gen. 19).

Abraham had become the “friend of God,” not because God was partial to Abraham, but because Abraham was partial to God.1 Abraham loved God and had made Him first in his life. God was able to speak freely with him because Abraham had faith to believe incredible things of God.

What is the significance of the story of Sodom in the overall history of the covenant of God? It is that God will go to extraordinary lengths to save souls. He had warned the people of judgment when the four kings of the east invaded the cities of the plain some years before; He would have saved a whole wicked city if He could find ten righteous persons there (Gen. 18). God is extremely patient; Israel had to wait over 400 years because “the iniquity of the Amorites” was “not yet full” (Gen. 15:16).
God had shown that He is merciful.
Yet, He is also just, for there is a point beyond which He will not permit evil to flourish without passing judgment. Sodom had passed that point. God had to destroy Sodom and limit wickedness in the earth. Likewise, in the end time, God will destroy evil on this earth and restore the planet to Edenic purity and beauty.

The Test of Faith

When Abraham was 120 years old and Isaac about twenty, God commanded Abraham to take Isaac and offer him for a burnt offering in the land of Moriah. Only Abraham received this command (Gen. 22:1, 2). Neither Isaac nor the two servants, who went with them, knew what God had said. “Early in the morning,” Abraham, the two servants, Isaac, and the donkeys carrying their supplies set out on their journey (Gen. 22:3).

Isaac and the servants did not think their object strange, for Abraham regularly offered burnt offerings to God. As they approached the mountain, Isaac asked, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham replied, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:7, 8). Isaac did not notice the tears in his father’s eyes as Abraham turned his face away.

Abraham and Isaac went alone to the top of the mountain. Isaac learned that he was to be the sacrifice. At twenty years of age, Isaac could have easily resisted his elderly father. However, Isaac had learned that his father had a close relationship with God. Trusting God and his father, he willingly helped his father in the difficult task, allowing himself to be bound and put on the altar.

As Abraham raised the knife to take the life of his son, just then, an Angel called from heaven, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now, I know that thou fearest God ” (Gen. 22:12). A noise behind the patriarch caught his attention. A ram was caught in a nearby thicket. God had indeed provided the sacrifice.

Abraham had learned to recognize the voice of God and to trust Him without question. He did not know how God would fulfill His promises before He gave him Isaac, and He did not know how God would make him a father of a great nation if he sacrificed his only son. Yet, he had learned to trust God. This sacrifice was a dramatized parable to instruct another “only begotten Son.” Many years later, a twelve-year-old only begotten Son would visit the Temple and observe the sacrifices and learn their meanings. He would remember that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son. Through that story, the boy Jesus would learn more of His Father’s will for His own life.

When God Tests

God severely tested Job, as He did for Abraham. In the story of Job, we see that God allows tests and trials only by His permission. “Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?”And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord” (Job 1:9, 12).

We also recognize that God limits the tests and temptations according to one’s capacity. Paul wrote: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

Abraham knew that God would fulfill His covenant. He had faith to believe that if he sacrificed Isaac, God would raise him up from the dead to make His covenant promise possible. “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” (Heb. 11:17-19).

Isaac, Quiet Man of Peace

In Genesis 17, God gave Abraham the covenant in greater detail. He promised that Abraham would be the “father of many nations” (Gen. 17:4, 5). He also emphasized that the covenant was for “thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7-10). For emphasis, He repeated the first quoted phrase four times and the second quoted phrase, six.

We do not associate Isaac with any great events. We might even think that he was a rather passive link between Abraham and Jacob. On the other hand, heroes stand out in times of crisis when they 58 More Than a Promise might not even be noticed in times of peace. With this in mind, what can we find out about Isaac?

God appeared to Isaac and presented the covenant to him on two occasions. The first was when he went to Gerar to live among the Philistines. God promised Isaac all the land that He had promised to Abraham. He repeated the promise about having descendants as the stars of heaven, and He added, “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 26:2-4). Later, Isaac moved to Beersheba and God again appeared to him, saying: “I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake” (Gen. 26:23-24).

The godly example of his father, Abraham, strongly influenced Isaac. When God had commanded Abraham: “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and [go unto] the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:2), Isaac was then a young man capable of having ideas of his own. However, Abraham had taught Isaac to obey the voice of the Lord, and Isaac recognized that God had again guided his father in what to do. Even though it meant his becoming a burnt offering, Isaac willingly cooperated with his aged father, allowing Abraham to bind him as the sacrifice. Yet, as we know, God interrupted the sacrifice and provided a ram to be used instead.

In later years, Isaac loved peace and moved several times rather than fight over wells for watering. God gave Isaac the Abrahamic covenant to pass on to his descendants.

Jacob, Tenacious Man of Action

Isaac’s son Jacob was a man, who, with considerable difficulty, overcame his personality defects and the wrong choices of his younger years. He deceived Isaac into giving him the birthright blessing (Gen. 27:6-29) and fled to avoid his brother’s wrath (Gen. 28:11). As he slept by the path with a stone for a pillow, God came to him in a dream, giving him the covenant of Abraham (Gen. 28:12-15; cf. John 1:51).

After twenty years, Jacob began his return trip to Canaan. He sent his family, servants, and animals ahead while he stayed to pray by the brook Jabbock. There he was accosted by what he thought was a man and wrestled all night for his life. As dawn was breaking, the one he had been wrestling “touched the hollow of his thigh” and put it out of joint (Gen. 32:25). Jacob then realized that it was not a man at all, but an angel with whom he had been wrestling. He held onto the angel, saying: “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Gen. 32:24-30; see Gen. 35:10-12 for the blessing). With the blessing, Jacob was given a new name, Israel, which became the name of his nation thereafter.2

The covenant given to Abraham was to extend to all his descendants. Isaac and Jacob were the first of these. God gave His covenant directly to Isaac and to Jacob. There would be many other presentations of the covenant during the history of Israel and of the Church in the New Testament (Gal. 3:29).


1. Abraham is described as “the friend of God” (Gen. 18:1-8; 2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; James 2:23).

2. The Hebrew word Yisra’el is translated “Israel” in the KJV 2489 times and as “Israelites” sixteen times. It means, “he will rule as God.” It is the symbolical name of Jacob and of his posterity (Strong’s no. 3478, James H. Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible; with Their Renderings in the Authorized English Version [New York, Cincinnati: The Methodist Book Concern, 1890]).