And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said to him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.…
The significance of the transaction is rooted in the fact that Abraham was not a mere private individual, but in a very special sense a representative man. God's communications to him were made, not for his own sake alone, but also for that of those who should come after him. There was a revelation through Abraham as well as to him; and in this transaction God was seeking not only to develop Abraham's faith to its highest exercise, but at the same time to instruct him and all his spiritual children in their duty to their covenant Lord. It was literal fact, but it was also acted parable. I would say that the whole story was meant to reveal the universal law to this effect, that what is born of God must be consecrated to God; that the children of promise are at the same time the children of consecration, and so there is no more difficulty in the command to sacrifice Isaac than there is in the injunction to cast out Ishmael. Both alike arose out of the representative character of Abraham and his seed, and through both alike a revelation has been made for all time. The one says to unbelievers, "Ye must be born again"; the other says to believers, "I beseech you by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable, unto God, which is your reasonable service." The whole transaction, therefore, literal fact as it was, was at the same time the acted hieroglyphic of a spiritual revelation foreshadowing the self-sacrifice of the Christian to his Lord. But now leaving the merely expository for the time, let us take with us one or two practical lessons suggested by the whole subject.
1. And in the first place we may learn that the people of God should expect trial on the earth'. Here is one of the greatest saints subjected to the severest of tests, and that not as an isolated experience but as the last of a series which began when he was called to leave his country and his kindred in the land of the Chaldees. So when we are required to pass through ordeals that seem to us inexplicable let us not imagine that some strange thing has happened to us. And Tholuck is right when he says: "I find in all Christians who have passed through much tribulation, a certain quality of ripeness which I am of opinion can be acquired in no other school. Just as a certain degree of solar heat is necessary to bring the finest sorts of fruit to perfection, so is fiery trial indispensable for ripening the inner man." Nor is this all: trial may come upon the believer for the sake of others rather than for his own. The chemist darkens the room when he would show some of his finest experiments; and when God designs to let others see what His grace can enable His people to endure, He darkens their history by trial. So God, by our trials, may be seeking to show through us what His grace can do; may be making manifest the reality of His presence with His people in the fire, in such a way as to bring others in penitence to His feet. Thus we too may vicariously endure, and so enter into what Paul has called "the fellowship" of the Saviour's sufferings. What a sting does that take out of many of our trials!
2. But we may learn in the second place, that if we would stand trial thoroughly we must meet it in faith. Tribulation by itself will not improve our characters. The patriarch did not know the way God was taking with him; but he knew God. He had received such proof of His tenderness, His faithfulness, and His wisdom in the past that he could trust Him now; and so putting his hand in the Divine grasp, he was once more upheld by God's strength. Andrew Fuller has well said that a man has only as much faith as he can command in the day of trial.
3. Finally, we may learn that faith triumphant is always rewarded. At the end of this dreadful ordeal the Lord renewed the covenant with Abraham; and in the belief of many writers, it was on this occasion that he was permitted to see Christ's day and to rejoice in the assurance thereby given him that his hope should never be belied.
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.