Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE TESTING OF FAITH. Abraham was to be the head of the faithful and type of the justified, therefore it was essential he should be tested. Entire obedience is the test of perfect faith. Abraham had shown his faith when he left his own land, and when he waited patiently for a son; now he has to show it in a different way. In the two former testings he had a promise to rest on; now he must go far without any promise to buoy him up in the perplexing sea of trial. "Take now thy son," &c. Surely there is some mistake! Must Abraham offer a human sacrifice? This event has perplexed many, and they have only escaped from the difficulties presented by regarding the event -
(1) As exceptional for the purpose of securing a unique type of the future sacrifice of Christ.
(2) As never intended to be actually carried out, God having foreseen the faith of his servant, and having determined at the right moment to interfere and prevent any disaster. There is also a miraculous element in the narrative, both in the special voice and the ram caught in the thicket. Some have thought that the impulse was from Abraham's own mind - that, seeing human sacrifices around, he wished to rise above all others in devotion to the one God. Had this been the case, the Scriptures would not have represented the testing as from God. In that age a father's right to do as he would with his son was as unquestioned as his right to do what he would with his slave. The command of God was not out of harmony with this idea, but it helped to correct the mistake. A single act of such self-sacrifice becomes of the highest value; it is even a means of education to the world. God elicited the highest exercise of faith, but not the blood of Isaac. What it must have cost the patriarch to submit to the Divine command! With one blow he must slay his boy and his own ardent hopes. The only gleam of light was in the thought that God who first gave Isaac could also restore him from death. This is indicated in the words he uttered to the young man, "We will come again to you." Tradition says that the mount was the same on which Adam, Abel, and Noah had offered sacrifice. Here possibly Abraham found an altar to repair or rebuild. Isaac helps in rebuilding the altar and in arranging the wood. Silent prayers ascend from father and son. Isaac wonders where the lamb is to come from. He finds out when his father has bound him and laid him on the altar. The knife gleams aloft, and, but for the arresting voice, would have been plunged in Isaac. The test was satisfactory.
II. GOD'S MANIFEST APPROVAL OF THE PATRIARCH'S FAITH AND PERFECT OBEDIENCE.
1. It was by a voice from heaven.
2. It was manifested also by the way in which God took away any pain consequent on obedience to his command. It is remarkable how those who appear to have little faith can become, when trial falls, perfectly submissive to the Divine will.
3. The approval was seen also in the way in which God provided a sacrifice.
4. And God repeated his promise of blessing, confirming it by a solemn covenant. "By myself have I sworn," &c. No such voice comes to us, and no such promise is audibly given; still we can have, in the inner calm of the soul, an evidence of the Divine approval. When our faith is strongest, after passing through some trial, we get a clearer view of the glory of God's working, both in our lives and in the world. What approval have we won? Does not Abraham put us to shame? Too many will laud the obedience of Abraham who will never try to emulate it. Abraham was glad to have his Isaac spared; so would the Father have been, but he gave up his "only-begotten, well-beloved Son" for us. Our readiness to accept and follow the Savior given is only another way of showing how we bear the testing of faith. "Thy will be done" should be the utterance of each believer. Perfect faith in the heart should be exhibited by perfect obedience in life. - H.
John 1:29. It sets forth in type the way of salvation. Whether Abraham understood this we need not inquire. The lesson is for us. Isaac, i.e. laughter (cf. Luke 2:10), the child of promise (Romans 9:7), type of the children of the kingdom," is yet condemned to die (cf. Romans 5:12). So in Egypt the Israelites were not exempted; God's gift to them was a way of escape. What is that way? (cf. Micah 6:6). Every age of the world has asked this question. A sense of separation from God has led to many efforts for its removal. Hence sacrifices, offerings, austerities, &c., but all in vain (Hebrews 10:4). Still the soul asked, "Where is the Lamb?" the effectual sacrifice for sin. The answer of prophecy, i.e. God's answer, "God will provide himself a lamb" (cf. John 1:29; John 8:56). Man has no claim upon God, yet his need is a plea (cf. Exodus 34:6, 7). We know not what was in Abraham's mind; perhaps he was escaping from the direct answer, unable to utter it; perhaps there was a hope that God would in some way preserve or restore his son (cf. Hebrews 11:19). There are many instances of prophecy unconsciously uttered (cf. John 11:50). Isaac was bound - type of man's helplessness to escape from the curse (cf. Luke 4:18), or from the law of sin in the members. The law of God of itself can only condemn. It can only he fulfilled by one who loves God; but he who is not at peace with God cannot love him. The sacrifice was now complete as far as Abraham could offer it. He had cast down self-will (cf. Matthew 26:39); he had sacrificed himself (Romans 12:1). This is the state of mind of all others most prepared to receive blessings (cf. 2 Kings 4:3-6). "Lay not thine hand upon the lad." God's purpose our deliverance (Romans 8:1). The work of the law, bringing home the conviction of sin, is the prelude to the knowledge of life (cf. Romans 7:10-13) - life through death. God's way of deliverance (Isaiah 53:6). The type, the ram caught in the thicket; the antitype, Christ fulfilling the Father's will (Matthew 26:54; Mark 15:31). The practical application of this shown in brazen serpent (John 3:14). Marvelous love of God (Romans 5:8). We had no claim on him, yet he would not that we should perish (Ezekiel 33:11). He wanted, for the fullness of his blessedness, that we should partake of it, and therefore Christ came that he might die in our stead; and now in him we are dead (2 Corinthians 5:4). Do not dilute the truth by saying he died for believers only. This is to miss the constraining power of his love. If there is any doubt of his death being for each and all, the gospel is no longer felt to be "whosoever will" (Revelation 22:17). Behold the Lamb. We need not now to say, "God will provide; "he has provided (1 John 2:2). The universe could not purchase that propitiation. No efforts could make thee worthy of it, yet it is freely offered to thee today. And mark what that gift includes (Romans 8:32) - the help of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), wisdom (James 1:5), help in trials (1 Corinthians 10:13), peace (Romans 8:33), needs of this life (Luke 12:30). Bring all thy sins, thy wants, thy hindrances to the mercy-seat (Hebrews 4:16). The Lord will see, will look upon thy need; and ere thy prayer is offered he has provided what that need requires. - M.
I. The PREPARATION for this great grace God and Abraham recognizing each other; the servant called by name, responding with the profession of readiness for obedience.
II. The COMMANDMENT is itself a secret communication, a covenant. Do this, and I will bless thee; follow me in this journey "as I tell thee," and thou shalt see my salvation.
III. The simple, childlike OBEDIENCE of the patriarch is reflected in the quiet demeanor of Isaac bearing the wood of the burnt offering, type of Jesus bearing his cross, inquiring for the lamb with lamb-like innocence and patience. "They went both of them together" (Vers. 6 and 8) - "together" in the beginning of the journey, "together" in the end, in the trial and in the blessing.
IV. FAITH which accepts the will of God and takes up the Divine mission WILL COMMIT THE FUTURE TO THE GRACIOUS PROVISION ON WHICH IT DEPENDS. "My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering" (Ver. 8). Already Abraham was saying, "The Lord will provide." We say it sometimes with a fearful burden upon our heart; but when we go steadfastly and hopefully forward we say it at last with the remembrance of a great deliverance sending its glory along the way of our future.
V. THE TRIAL OF THE TRUE HEART IS OFTEN STRETCHED OUT TO ITS LAST EXTREMITY, that the revelation which rewards faithfulness may be the more abundant and wonderful (Vers. 9, 10). We must take God at his word, otherwise we shall not experience the promised deliverance. "Take thy son, and offer him there" (Ver. 2). "And Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slay his son." What else could he do? The commandment must be obeyed. The obedience must be "good and perfect and acceptable" as the will of God.
VI. AT THE POINT OF ENTIRE SURRENDER APPEARS THE ANGEL, is heard the voice of relief, the assurance of acceptance, the change in the method of obedience, the opened eyes, the provided sacrifice, THE RETURNING JOY OF SALVATION (Vers. 11-13). There is a blindness of self-sacrifice which leads to a sight of immeasurable joy. Abraham saw nothing before him but the plain path of obedience; he went on, and at last "lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold' the self-sacrifice changed into peaceful offering of an appointed substitute (Ver. 13) "in the stead of his son."
VII. THE CLIMAX OF OUR EXPERIENCE AND OF DIVINE MERCY BECOMES TO US A NEW NAME OF JEHOVAH. We know him henceforth by that knowledge of fact. "Jehovah-jireh (the Lord will provide): as it is said to this day, in the mount of the Lord it shall be provided" (or seen) (Ver. 14).
1. Not before the mount, but in the mount; therefore go to the summit and wait.
2. What the Lord will provide will be better every way than what we could provide.
3. The offering on the mount is the great provision, the whole burnt offering for the sins of the world, by which the true humanity is redeemed and the true "joy" ("Isaac," laughter) is retained.
4. The last name of Jehovah which Abraham gave him was Jehovah the Everlasting; now he adds to that name that which brings the Everlasting into the sphere of daily life - "Jehovah-jireh, the Lord will provide." We name that name when we reach the mount where the great sacrifice was provided - Mount Moriah, Mount Calvary.
5. The end of the great trial and obedience was a renewal, a solemn republication, of the covenant. "God could swear by no greater; he swore by himself" (Hebrews 6:13). On the foundation of practical faith is built up the kingdom of heaven, which the Lord swears shall include all nations, and be supreme in all the earth. The notes of that kingdom are here in the history of the patriarch -
(1) acceptance of the word of God,
(3) faith instead of sight,
(4) withholding nothing,
(5) perseverance to the end. Beersheba became now a new place to Abraham, for he carried to the well and grove which he had named after the oaths of himself and Abimelech the remembrance of the Divine oath, on which henceforth he rested all his expectations. After this the man in whom all nations shall be blessed looks round and finds the promise being already fulfilled, and his kindred spreading widely in the earth. - R.