“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son.”
The main reason God allows trials in the lives of Christians is to test the strength of their faith.
The memorable example in Genesis 22 of Abraham’s testing is perhaps the severest trial any human being has ever faced. When God told Abraham to offer his only son Isaac as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of Moriah (Gen. 22:1–2), Abraham no doubt was stunned. In terms of God’s nature, His plan of redemption, His promise to Abraham, and His love for Isaac, the entire concept was utterly inconceivable and unprecedented.
But in the face of all that, Abraham showed remarkable faith in dealing with this trial (Gen. 22:3–8). He did not second–guess God, as many of us would, but rather obeyed immediately (v. 3) and displayed the confidence that he and Isaac would return (v. 5) and that God would supply a lamb for the offering (v. 8). Then Abraham showed he was ready to obey completely. Genesis 22 tells us he “bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son” (vv. 9–10). What unbelievable faith, and what a dramatic moment when God spared Abraham from the full cost of obedience (vv. 11–12)! The story clearly shows us the nature of true faith (Gen. 15:6) and why Abraham was later called the father of the faithful (Rom. 4:11–12; Gal. 3:6–7).
As heirs to Abraham and his extraordinary trust in God, we can also endure the most difficult trials and pass tests of faith that seem unimaginably severe at the time. God might want us to offer our own loved ones to Him and let them go His way rather than tightly holding on to them for our own purposes. However, if we look to God as Abraham did (Heb. 11:17–19), we can be confident in any trial and know with certainty that our faith has passed the test.
Suggestions for Prayer: Pray that God would strengthen your faith even in the smallest of daily trials.
For Further Study: Read 2 Kings 20:1–11 and 2 Chronicles 32:24–31. What was at the heart of Hezekiah’s difficulties (2 Chron. 32:25)? ✧ Why did God test him (v. 31)?
The Proof of Faith
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type. (11:17–19)
The proof of Abraham’s faith was his willingness to give back to God everything he had, including the son of promise, whom he had miraculously received because of his faith. After all the waiting and wondering, the son had been given by God. Then, before the son was grown, God asked for him back, and Abraham obeyed. Abraham knew that the covenant, which could only be fulfilled through Isaac, was unconditional. He knew, therefore, that God would do whatever was necessary, including raising Isaac from the dead, to keep His covenant. He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead. The thought of sacrificing Isaac must have grieved Abraham terribly, but he knew that he would have his son back. He knew that God would not, in fact could not, take his son away permanently, or else He would have to go back on His own word, which is impossible.
If Noah illustrates the duration of faith, Abraham shows the depth of faith. In tremendous, monumental faith Abraham brought Isaac to the top of Mt. Moriah and prepared to offer him to God. He believed in resurrection from the dead even before God revealed the doctrine. He had to believe in resurrection, because, if God allowed him to carry out the command to sacrifice Isaac, resurrection was the only way God could keep His promise.
As it turned out, because he did not actually die, Isaac became only a type of the resurrection. He was offered but he was not slain. God provided a substitute. It was the fact that Abraham offered up Isaac that proved his faith. The final standard of faith, its real proof, is willingness to sacrifice. “If anyone wishes to come after Me,” Jesus commands, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1).
When John Bunyan was in jail for preaching the gospel, he was deeply concerned about his family. He was particularly grieved about his little blind daughter, for whom he had a special love. He wrote, “I saw in this condition I was a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his wife and children. Yet, thought I, I must do it; I must do it. The dearest idol I have known, what err that idol be, help me to tear it from Thy throne and worship only Thee.”
The patriarchs, therefore, held to the five great standards of faith: its pilgrimage, in separation from the world; its patience, in waiting for God to work; its power, in doing the impossible; its positiveness, in focusing on God’s eternal promise; and its proof, in obedient sacrifice.
11:17 We now come to the greatest test of Abraham’s faith. God told him to offer up his only son, Isaac, upon the altar. With unhesitating obedience, Abraham set forth to offer to God the dearest treasure of his heart. Was he oblivious of the tremendous dilemma? God had promised him numberless progeny. Isaac was his only begotten son. Abraham was now 117 and Sarah was 108!
17 The NIV’s “was about to sacrifice” represents the Greek imperfect tense “was sacrificing,” which can have the sense of setting out to do what was not in fact completed. The tenses carefully reflect the OT story in which Abraham “offered” his son (perfect tense of the same verb) but was not allowed to go through with the sacrifice.
 MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 335–336). Chicago: Moody Press.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2197). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 161). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.