This is one of the most pivotal stories in Abraham’s life. This is his greatest test of faith and obedience to God. It’s also one that I believe lived with Isaac for the rest of his life.
I have thought of Isaac’s experience many times when reading this passage, but today I thought a little more about Abraham’s. We are told that Abraham and company traveled three days before he saw the place where God wanted him to go. What was going through his mind during those three days? “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (verse 8a). Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed God was able to raise Isaac from the dead if necessary. But what was his mind saying every step of the journey?
I have personally set out on “adventures” that I felt God was leading me to. I never had the same audible directions that Abraham received for his journey, but I felt the conviction to “go” or “do” anyway. During these times I would consider exactly how it was that God was going to do whatever it was He had in mind. I thought about what my part would be. I thought about how I would know when or how to act. I considered the “possibility” I was wrong or heard Him wrong. I even looked for “signs” along the way to be sure I was walking in His will.
How many “signs” did Abraham look for along the way? Did he tell Sarah what he was commanded to do before leaving with their son? Would she have fought him over it? We already know she was a strong influence in the camp and that Abraham had a history of listening to her. But we saw Abraham begin to check out Sarah’s desires with God when Sarah told him to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. Was that the ending of the “hen pecked husband” and the beginning of the “obedient in faith” Abraham that we see today?
The journey Abraham takes with Isaac, KNOWING what awaits at the end, started with a single step out of bed that morning. Abraham wasn’t told to take Isaac at daybreak. He was told the day before. He had to sleep on this command all night. I have no doubt that he thought about the upcoming journey as he tried to sleep that night. Did he seek God in prayer that night? Did he go over God speaking to him as he lay there on his mat? Or did he peacefully sleep the night away, waiting for morning? I know which one I would have been doing and sleep would have been the LAST thing happening in MY bed!
Morning comes and Abraham gets up. God hasn’t changed His mind in the middle of the night. Abraham cuts the wood and loads the donkey. He gathers two servants and Isaac. He probably kissed Sarah good-by and told her he was off to sacrifice to the Lord. By this time she was probably used to Abraham going off to spend time with God. We know she was used to Abraham instructing Isaac in the ways of the Lord. Isaac shows us that himself when he asks about the lamb.
Day one: wood cut, donkey loaded, servants given assignments, Isaac instructed to join in the journey, miles trod on the way. Camp is made for the night. With every step Abraham takes he wrestles with obedience, faith, and fear. Every step brings him closer to the task God has called him to do. Every step is also another opportunity for God to say that He changed His mind. But God remains silent.
Day two: continue to march towards the place God called Abraham to go. What was the conversation like on this journey? Did Abraham reminisce about all the good times with God? Did he think back to the lessons he learned along the way? Did he instruct Isaac even more about God’s faithfulness? Or was he silent with his face set like flint?
Day three: God stirs in his heart and points out the place he wants Abraham to perform this ultimate sacrifice. God gave Abraham a general destination, the land of Moriah, but He didn’t specify where until Abraham’s eyes beheld the land before him. Abraham looked up and God spoke to his heart, “That’s it. That’s where I want you to go.” And again Abraham said, “Yes Lord.”
Abraham leaves the two servants behind with the rest of their provisions. Would they have tried to intervene if they had come along? Would Isaac have turned to them for protection? Abraham also leaves all but the items needed for the sacrifice behind.
We are not told that he brings food or water on this last part of the journey. It’s not impossible but it is also not mentioned among the provisions. We are told that Abraham “saw the place from afar” (verse 4b). This was another act of faith. Food and water are essential to our survival but for the last leg of this journey, it wouldn’t be readily available.
“Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you” (verse 5b).
Isaac is now curious. Was he too busy to notice the absence of the lamb until now? Did Abraham tell his team that they were going to make a sacrifice to the Lord before starting on this journey? Where is the lamb?
Did this question tear at Abraham’s heart or “steel his metal.” His response seems heart driven and full of conviction. He DOESN’T clue Isaac in to the plan to have him be that lamb. Together they walk on to the place God has prepared for them.
Once they arrive at God’s specifically chosen place, Abraham set about preparing everything for the sacrifice. Is Isaac helping or watching? Is Abraham praying “Not my will but Yours be done”? This is his Garden of Gethsemane.
When it is time to bind Isaac what does that look like? Does Abraham tell him what is about to happen? Does he bind him by force? Or does Isaac willingly submit to his father’s directions? Is this Isaac’s Garden of Gethsemane too?
We are not told that Abraham hesitates or takes an extra-long time in preparing his sacrifice. He simply sets about the task God has called him to do. Did he have tears in his eyes or running down his face as he lifted the knife? Did he have peace in his heart at this time? Maybe both were happening at the same time. Tears of love for his son while perfect peace from being in the center of God’s will.
We are also not told how Isaac was reacting to this whole situation. Was he struggling? Was he pleading for his life with his father? Or was he trusting his father; showing faith in God and in Abraham?
I’m banking on the angel’s words being the best thing either of these two men had ever heard! “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (verse 12). Abraham had passed the ultimate test of obedience. I imagine there were tears of joy streaming down his face now!
I’m still curious how Isaac reacted and participated in this whole experience. Was he an obedient son; obedient even unto death? Did he struggle for freedom? Did his relationship with his father change; for the good or bad? Did his relationship with God change? Did his faith grow when he saw the ram that the LORD provided in his place?
While thinking about Isaac’s relationship change, for there SURELY was some kind of change, I was reminded of a few stories my mom told me. The first one was about how, when traveling, my grandfather never stopped for meals when the children asked for food. Instead he would ask if my grandmother was hungry. If she wasn’t, they didn’t stop. But ONE time he stopped because SHE said she was hungry. He put her first that time.
The second story is about how when asked who he loved more, grandma or the kids, he always chose her. “I can always have more kids, but there’s only one mama.” This was Abraham’s position with God on this day. It wasn’t ALWAYS his behavior, but on the MOST IMPORTANT TEST OF HIS LIFE, it was. He put God first, no matter what the consequences. He gave God his WHOLE life. His WHOLE future.
I have a feeling that one of the BIG reasons Abraham trusted God so fully with Isaac’s life was because of God’s promises. Abraham had seen time and time again that God was true to His word. God NEVER “crossed His fingers” to negate a lie. God took His time in fulfilling His promises, but He was ALWAYS true to His word, He told Abraham straight out that Isaac would be the son of the promise. So Abraham KNEW that God WOULD intercede in some way, if he was faithful. He had already seen the results of trying to help God out or trying to find a work a round. He couldn’t risk that with these instructions from God. ALL he could do was to trust and obey. THAT was the ONLY way for Isaac to be spared.
Father God, thank You for that last lesson! Following where YOU lead is the ONLY way with a guarantee of success. I’m not saying the roads there won’t be bumpy or full of danger, but You will see to the outcome. You said it and that’s all I need to know. The rest of the details will work themselves out in the end. And the “end” will be AMAZING because I followed You!