Son, let's go to the mountaintop and offer a sacrifice to God." Abraham believed his son would be that sacrifice, but Isaac assumed they would sacrifice a lamb. Fully trusting his father, Isaac might have even reached for his father's hand.
The touch of his son's hand must have sent shock waves through Abraham's body. Abraham's mind was whirring; his thoughts alternated from deliberate, studied obedience and faith to passionate resistance, hoping that God might rescind this almost unthinkable directive.
The lessons of Hebrews 11 are written for you and me. Christians are encouraged to walk in the steps of Abraham, the father of the faithful. Your Bible makes plain that we can and must exercise the same faith that Abraham had, and that kind of faith is within our reach.
Although the biblical narrative doesn't directly reveal Abraham's feelings until Genesis 22:8, we can speculate on the probable thoughts and emotions of Abraham. Abraham's faith is in evidence; the reader, unlike Abraham, can know how the story will end. God didn't want Abraham to kill his son; He was testing Abraham's faith in Him.
"All right, Father, let's go. May I help carry the wood?"
Abraham could only nod consent, for the lump in his throat blocked the sound that would otherwise have offered a simple, "Yes, you may, my son."
"God will provide"
Off they went, a sad father, his trusting son and two servants, toward the mountain on which Abraham believed he would sacrifice the only son whom God, in their old age, had given him and Sarah (Genesis 18:10-11).
Three days later the travelers arrived at their destination, tired but aware this was the mountain God had chosen for them.
"Stay here while my son and I worship, then we will return to you," Abraham told his servants.
Up the side of the mountain father and son trudged, Isaac with the wood for the sacrifice and father Abraham with the fire and knife.
"Father, we have the wood and fire, but where is the lamb for our burnt offering?"
"God will provide, my son. God will provide."
This is the first hint of the rest of the story and the remarkable faith of Abraham. When they reached the precise spot for the burnt offering, Abraham laid down the fire and knife and began building an altar for the sacrifice. He neatly laid the wood and gently but firmly took hold of his son and began binding him. Then he laid Isaac on the altar on top of the carefully placed wood. At that point, Abraham dutifully, obediently, raised his knife to slay his son.
"Abraham! Abraham!" cried an angel in a strong voice.
"Here I am! I hear you!" Abraham responded to the angel.
"Do not touch your son Isaac, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not held back your son, your only son from Me" (Genesis 22:12).
Abraham had passed his supreme test of faith. In his mind and heart, Abraham had already followed through with his obedience to God's command (Romans 4:17).
It was faith of this magnitude that inspired others to write that Abraham is the father of the faithful (Romans 4:12, Romans 4:16). He was a man who believed and had total, complete trust and faith in God.
Abraham: God's Friend
Their bond was so close that God called Abraham "My friend" (Isaiah 41:8). Besides just being an interesting concept, this idea of Abraham as a friend of God points to some fascinating and far-reaching implications. We might ask why would God pay Abraham the great compliment of calling him His friend?
The answer can be found in comparing Abraham's relationship with God to our Christian calling. Although we may never have thought of it this way, Jesus Christ also views us as His friends. He said to His disciples, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard of My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15).
But there is more. For Jesus to call His disciples "friends" requires a precondition. "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you" (John 15:14).
That was the key for Abraham to be known as God's friend. Obedience to God was and is the prerequisite to faith and qualifying as God's friend. Paul highlighted Abraham's faithful obedience (Hebrews 11:8-10; Hebrews 11:17-19).
Abraham's faithful obedience
Let's consider Abraham's faith from three perspectives:
1. Abraham's call: By faith when he was called he went out (Hebrews 11:8)
2. Abraham's sojourning: By faith he sojourned in a strange country (Hebrews 11:9)
3. Abraham's trial: By faith, when he was tried, he offered up his only begotten son (Hebrews 11:17).
From the beginning, Abraham obeyed God (Genesis 26:5). Hebrews 11:8 tells the story briefly: "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would afterward receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going."
In the Greek, the thrust of Abraham's obedience is emphatic: "By faith being called out Abraham obeyed to go out . . ." (The Englishman's Greek New Testament).
This is an important aspect of faith. Abraham was not called because of his faith (Genesis 12:1-4). He was called because God willed to call him. His faith is to be understood in relation to Abraham's obedience. It was Abraham's immediate obedience that proved his faith and justified him (James 2:21-24).
Hebrews 11:8 tells us that Abraham went out to obey God, not knowing where he was going. That is an important and difficult step for a Christian to take, because human beings desire independence. However, God wants us to learn to depend on Him forever. Abraham looked to God for guidance, direction and protection. Had Abraham lived by sight, he would never have obeyed God's call to go into a foreign land.
Another element of Abraham's obedience is evident in his sojourning: "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise" (Hebrews 11:9). The Englishman's Greek New Testament shows that the Greek is emphatic about how Abraham lived: "In tents dwelling" highlights that he did not live in a permanent abode.
Obedience without reservation
Like you and me, Abraham would surely have preferred a permanent, stable home and life. However, Abraham knew he was a stranger and pilgrim in a strange land; and because he knew his citizenship was reserved in a heavenly city built by God (Hebrews 11:10), he remained faithful to God and did not return to his homeland (Hebrews 11:13-16). Little wonder God called Abraham His friend. God's friends obey Him; Abraham obeyed God without reservation.
Finally, God supremely tested Abraham's faith when He commanded him to offer his only son as a sacrifice. Scripture indicates that Abraham somehow knew, that he deeply believed that God would raise his son from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). God was so moved by Abraham's faith and obedience that He guaranteed His blessings to be upon Abraham and his descendants from then on, both physically and spiritually (Genesis 22:15-18).
We must remember that Abraham and Sarah had Isaac when they were old. Bearing a son beyond their time was a tremendous blessing in itself. God had promised Abraham He would bless his descendants through Isaac.
What a shock it would be to a father that someone, anyone, would demand that he take his only son's life. All of the hopes of two older parents, all of their desires to see their son grow up to father his own children, all of these emotions and more would have discouraged anyone of lesser faith.
Abraham's response to this trial is why God says that He is not ashamed to be called Abraham's God (Hebrews 11:16). This is also why God is preparing a city for His faithful disciples. You and I can exhibit this same faith.
Our faithful obedience
The lessons of Hebrews 11 are written for you and me. They are treasure troves of faith stored up for our spiritual enrichment. Paul encourages Christians to walk in the steps of Abraham, the father of the faithful (Romans 4:12, Romans 4:16). Your Bible makes plain that we can and must exercise the same faith that Abraham had-and that kind of faith is within our reach.
We must remember the clear teachings of James 2, that faith without works is dead. For faith to be alive and well, for faith to be active, it must be seen as alive in the actions of the person who professes it.
Don't let anyone deceive you into thinking otherwise. The works that prove our faith result from obedience to God and Christ's plain and direct commands. Such scriptural commands are either the Ten Commandments themselves, as obeyed in the Spirit, or principles based on the Commandments (James 2:8).
The tools we need to exercise Christ's faith are all readily available. Jesus Christ is on the job 24 hours a day to help us experience the faith we need to weather the storms of life. With God's help we can obey God's commands. This proves our faith and pleases God.
"But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
Our exercise of faith toward God pleases Him. "And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22).
To please God, one must believe that God is alive and all-powerful. Abraham believed God existed. You believe God exists. Abraham diligently sought God, for he knew God would reward him for his diligence. You and I can diligently seek God, and we know He will reward us for studying and obeying His will.
Yes, we can please God. Yes, we do please God, and we do so through the same faith that Abraham exhibited.
This is not to say that we obey perfectly, that we show perfect faith. We do not. But our faith can grow through daily overcoming (that is, through daily contact with God in prayer, study of His Word and application of His law of love). What we lack God will provide (2 Corinthians 4:16; Philippians 3:14-16).
And so the story ends. God called Abraham His friend. In the same way, Christ calls us His friends. We are God's friends because of our faith in Him, proven by our obedience to His holy commands.
Let us all continue to follow an excellent example of obedient faith, that of God's friend, Abraham.