There were but three individuals who were present atop Mt. Moriah when Abraham offered up his son Isaac. Abraham, Isaac, and God. There were no other witnesses present when this occurred. Each of the three had a very different perspective on what was planned to happen, and even a very different amount of insight as to what was going to actually transpire. God had revealed to Abraham what he was asking Him to do, but He obviously did not tell him that His commandment was a test, the which He had no intention of Abraham carrying out to completion. Isaac had been told by his father that they were going afar off from home to make a burnt-offering to the Lord, but Abraham did not divulge all of the Lord’s instructions until they arrived at their destination. All three of these individuals came at this crossroads from a different perspective. Let us now consider the first of these: Abraham’s.
I cannot imagine any commandment coming from God to Abraham that could have seemed more puzzling than what he is instructed to do in Genesis 22:2. When we consider all that has happened leading up to and even after the birth of Isaac, it is hard not to imagine Abraham’s utter perplexity over what God was now asking of him. God had repeatedly promised that through Isaac Abraham would become a father of many descendants (e.g., Gen. 17:19, 21:12), yet now God was asking him to put the young man to death himself, before Isaac had fathered a single child!
What a great difference we see between Abraham’s response here in Chapter 22 and that of Chapter 18: when God told him how he intended to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham knew with all certainty that the “Judge of all the Earth would do right.” We have no record here of Abraham pleading with God, bargaining with God, or even questioning God. His faith at this point has reached the level that he could say: God has promised that Isaac would have children to my posterity, yet now He is asking me to put my son to death. I know not how God will make good on His promises after Isaac is dead, but I know that He shall!
“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.” (Hebrews 11:17-19)
Many centuries later, the writer to the Hebrews gives us a commentary providing insight into what Abraham was thinking as he and Isaac climbed up the mountain. So often the picture is painted of an angry, resentful Abraham reluctantly trudging up the mountain; uncertain whether or not he should go through with this. But this doesn’t really seem to be the idea that Scripture is giving us at all. Verse 3 of Genesis 22 says that Abraham got up early, there was no hesitation on his part. And then, he tells his servants in Verse 5 that he and Isaac both will return from the mountain. Someone might suggest: Well, Abraham probably knew deep inside that God would stay his hand and keep him from taking Isaac’s life, but there is certainly no indication of that. What Abraham was counting on is actually much more remarkable. He believed that God would raise Isaac back to life, resurrecting him after the sacrifice was made! Those of us living today might not believe that God is still in the “business of miracles”, but Abraham sure had no problem believing it.
We have seen several events up to this point of Genesis where Abraham’s faith either failed or was very shaky, to say the least. But here atop Mt. Moriah, his faith was as pure as refined gold. The idea that is so often taught in Sunday School classes about this incident that the underlying lesson is that Abraham was willing to follow God’s instructions, even when they were “unreasonable and cruel.” But we see so much more about the fiber of Abraham’s faith here than just “blind obedience.” Abraham had learned enough about the character of God to realize that God will make good on His promises no matter what. Abraham was not hoping for a miracle to bring Isaac safely through this event, he was counting on one!
So often we limit God in what He is able to do and question every instruction that He gives us. We ourselves seek to rectify the seeming paradoxes of His commandments rather than trusting Him to do so. We attempt to take into account all things in order to determine if we can safely obey what He is leading us to do, so as not to overturn some other area of our life. But Abraham knew better. God had promised that Isaac would have children and would carry on Abraham’s lineage, yet He also commanded Abraham to offer Isaac up as a sacrifice before a single offspring had been born. Abraham did not know exactly how God would harmonize these two statements, but he knew that He would. Even if it took a miracle.