10 The Testing of Abraham’s Faith
by Hubert F. Sturges, www.everlastingcovenant.com , 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
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).
“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).
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
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.
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.
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
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
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”
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
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.
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,
was given a new name, Israel, which became the name of his nation
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).Endnotes
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