The Test of
chapter is based on Genesis 16; 17:18-20;
had accepted without question the promise of a son, but he did not wait
for God to fulfill His word in His own time and way. A delay was
permitted, to test his faith in the power of God; but he failed to endure
the trial. Thinking it impossible that a child should be given her in her
old age, Sarah suggested, as a plan by which the divine purpose might be
fulfilled, that one of her handmaidens should be taken by Abraham as a
secondary wife. Polygamy had become so widespread that it had ceased to be
regarded as a sin, but it was no less a violation of the law of God, and
was fatal to the sacredness and peace of the family relation. Abraham's
marriage with Hagar resulted in evil, not only to his own household, but
to future generations.
with the honor of her new position as Abraham's wife, and hoping to be the
mother of the great nation to descend from him, Hagar became proud and
boastful, and treated her mistress with contempt. Mutual jealousies
disturbed the peace of the once happy home. Forced to listen to the
complaints of both, Abraham vainly endeavored to restore harmony. Though
it was at Sarah's earnest entreaty that he had married Hagar, she now
reproached him as the one at fault. She desired to banish her rival; but
Abraham refused to permit this; for Hagar was to be the mother of this
child, as he fondly hoped, the son of promise. She was Sarah's servant,
however, and he still left her to the control of her mistress. Hagar's
haughty spirit would not brook the harshness which her insolence had
provoked. "When Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her
She made her
way to the desert, and as she rested beside a fountain, lonely and
friendless, an angel of the Lord, in human form, appeared to her.
Addressing her as "Hagar, Sarai's maid," to remind her of her
position and her duty, he bade her, "Return
to thy mistress, and
submit thyself under her hands." Yet with the reproof there were
mingled words of comfort. "The Lord hath heard thy affliction."
"I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered
for multitude." And as a perpetual reminder of His mercy, she was
bidden to call her child Ishmael, "God shall hear."
was nearly one hundred years old, the promise of a son was repeated to
him, with the assurance that the future heir should be the child of Sarah.
But Abraham did not yet understand the promise. His mind at once turned to
Ishmael, clinging to the belief that through him God's gracious purposes
were to be accomplished. In his affection for his son he exclaimed,
"O that Ishmael might live before Thee!" Again the promise was
given, in words that could not be mistaken: "Sarah thy wife shall
bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will
establish My covenant with him." Yet God was not unmindful of the
father's prayer. "As for Ishmael," He said, "I have heard
thee: Behold, I have blessed him, . . . and I will make him a great
The birth of
Isaac, bringing, after a lifelong waiting, the fulfillment of their
dearest hopes, filled the tents of Abraham and Sarah with gladness. But to
Hagar this event was the overthrow of her fondly cherished ambitions.
Ishmael, now a youth, had been regarded by all in the encampment as the
heir of Abraham's wealth and the interior of the blessings promised to his
descendants. Now he was suddenly set aside; and in their disappointment,
mother and son hated the child of Sarah. The general rejoicing increased
their jealousy, until Ishmael dared openly to mock the heir of God's
promise. Sarah saw in Ishmael's turbulent disposition a perpetual source
of discord, and she appealed to Abraham, urging that Hagar and Ishmael be
sent away from the encampment. The patriarch was thrown into great
distress. How could he banish Ishmael his son, still dearly beloved? In
his perplexity he pleaded for divine guidance. The Lord, through a holy
angel, directed him to grant Sarah's desire; his love for Ishmael or Hagar
ought not to stand in the way, for only thus could he restore harmony and
happiness to his family. And the angel gave him the consoling promise that
though separated from his father's home, Ishmael should not be forsaken by
God; his life should be preserved, and he should become the father of a
nation. Abraham obeyed the angel's word, but it was not without keen
suffering. The father's heart was heavy with unspoken grief as he sent
away Hagar and his son.
instruction given to Abraham touching the sacredness of the marriage
relation was to be a lesson for all ages. It declares that the rights and
happiness of this relation are to be carefully guarded, even at a great
sacrifice. Sarah was the only true wife of Abraham. Her rights as a wife
and mother no other person was entitled to share. She reverenced her
husband, and in this she is presented in the New Testament as a worthy
example. But she was unwilling that Abraham's affections should be given
to another, and the Lord did not reprove her for requiring the banishment
of her rival. Both Abraham and Sarah distrusted the power of God, and it
was this error that led to the marriage with Hagar.
called Abraham to be the father of the faithful, and his life was to stand
as an example of faith to succeeding generations. But his faith had not
been perfect. He had shown distrust of God in concealing the fact that
Sarah was his wife, and again in his marriage with Hagar. That he might
reach the highest standard, God subjected him to another test, the closest
which man was ever called to endure. In a vision of the night he was
directed to repair to the land of Moriah, and there offer up his son as a
burnt offering upon a mountain that should be shown him.
At the time
of receiving this command, Abraham had reached the age of a hundred and
twenty years. He was regarded as an old man, even in his generation. In
his earlier years he had been strong to endure hardship and to brave
danger, but now the ardor of his youth had passed away. One in the vigor
of manhood may with courage meet difficulties and afflictions that would
cause his heart to fail later in life, when his feet are faltering toward
the grave. But God had reserved His last, most trying test for Abraham
until the burden of years was heavy upon him, and he longed for rest from
anxiety and toil.
was dwelling at Beersheba, surrounded by prosperity and honor. He was very
rich, and was honored as a mighty prince by the rulers of the land.
Thousands of sheep and cattle covered the plains that spread out beyond
his encampment. On every side were the tents of his retainers, the home of
hundreds of faithful servants. The son of promise had grown up to manhood
by his side. Heaven seemed to have crowned with its
blessing a life of
sacrifice in patient endurance of hope deferred.
obedience of faith, Abraham had forsaken his native country--had turned
away from the graves of his fathers and the home of his kindred. He had
wandered as a stranger in the land of his inheritance. He had waited long
for the birth of the promised heir. At the command of God he had sent away
his son Ishmael. And now, when the child so long desired was entering upon
manhood, and the patriarch seemed able to discern the fruition of his
hopes, a trial greater than all others was before him.
was expressed in words that must have wrung with anguish that father's
heart: "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, . .
. and offer him there for a burnt offering." Isaac was the light of
his home, the solace of his old age, above all else the inheritor of the
promised blessing. The loss of such a son by accident or disease would
have been heart rending to the fond father; it would have bowed down his
whitened head with grief; but he was commanded to shed the blood of that
son with his own hand. It seemed to him a fearful impossibility.
Satan was at
hand to suggest that he must be deceived, for the divine law commands,
"Thou shalt not kill," and God would not require what He had
once forbidden. Going outside his tent, Abraham looked up to the calm
brightness of the unclouded heavens, and recalled the promise made nearly
fifty years before, that his seed should be innumerable as the stars. If
this promise was to be fulfilled through Isaac, how could he be put to
death? Abraham was tempted to believe that he might be under a delusion.
In his doubt and anguish he bowed upon the earth, and prayed, as he had
never prayed before, for some confirmation of the command if he must
perform this terrible duty. He remembered the angels sent to reveal to him
God's purpose to destroy Sodom, and who bore to him the promise of this
same son Isaac, and he went to the place where he had several times met
the heavenly messengers, hoping to meet them again, and receive some
further direction; but none came to his relief. Darkness seemed to shut
him in; but the command of God was sounding in his ears, "Take now
thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest." That command must
be obeyed, and he dared not delay. Day was approaching, and he must be on
his tent, he went to the place where Isaac lay sleeping the deep,
untroubled sleep of youth and innocence. For
moment the father looked upon the dear face of his son, then turned
tremblingly away. He went to the side of Sarah, who was also sleeping.
Should he awaken her, that she might once more embrace her child? Should
he tell her of God's requirement? He longed to unburden his heart to her,
and share with her this terrible responsibility; but he was restrained by
the fear that she might hinder him. Isaac was her joy and pride; her life
was bound up in him, and the mother's love might refuse the sacrifice.
last summoned his son, telling him of the command to offer sacrifice upon
a distant mountain. Isaac had often gone with his father to worship at
some one of the various altars that marked his wanderings, and this
summons excited no surprise. The preparations for the journey were quickly
completed. The wood was made ready and put upon the ass, and with two
menservants they set forth.
Side by side
the father and the son journeyed in silence. The patriarch, pondering his
heavy secret, had no heart for words. His thoughts were of the proud, fond
mother, and the day when he should return to her alone. Well he knew that
the knife would pierce her heart when it took the life of her son.
longest that Abraham had ever experienced-- dragged slowly to its close.
While his son and the young men were sleeping, he spent the night in
prayer, still hoping that some heavenly messenger might come to say that
the trial was enough, that the youth might return unharmed to his mother.
But no relief came to his tortured soul. Another long day, another night
of humiliation and prayer, while ever the command that was to leave him
childless was ringing in his ears. Satan was near to whisper doubts and
unbelief, but Abraham resisted his suggestions. As they were about to
begin the journey of the third day, the patriarch, looking northward, saw
the promised sign, a cloud of glory hovering over Mount Moriah, and he
knew that the voice which had spoken to him was from heaven.
Even now he
did not murmur against God, but strengthened his soul by dwelling upon the
evidences of the Lord's goodness and faithfulness. This son had been
unexpectedly given; and had not He who bestowed the precious gift a right
to recall His own? Then faith repeated the promise, "In Isaac shall
they seed be called"--a seed numberless as the grains of sand upon
the shore. Isaac was the child of a miracle, and could not the power that
gave him life restore it? Looking beyond that which was seen, Abraham
grasped the divine word, "accounting that God was able to raise him
up, even from the dead." Hebrews 11:19.
Yet none but
God could understand how great was the father's sacrifice in yielding up
his son to death; Abraham desired that none but God should witness the
parting scene. He bade his servants remain behind, saying, "I and the
lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you." The wood was
laid upon Isaac, the one to be offered, the father took the knife and the
fire, and together they ascended toward the mountain summit, the young man
silently wondering whence, so far from folds and flocks, the offering was
to come. At last he spoke, "My father," "behold the fire
and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Oh, what a
test was this! How the endearing words, "my father," pierced
Abraham's heart! Not yet--he could not tell him now . "My son,"
he said, "God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering."
appointed place they built the altar and laid the wood upon it. Then, with
trembling voice, Abraham unfolded to his son the divine message. It was
with terror and amazement that Isaac learned his fate, but he offered no
resistance. He could have escaped his doom, had he chosen to do so; the
grief-stricken old man, exhausted with the struggle of those three
terrible days, could not have opposed the will of the vigorous youth. But
Isaac had been trained from childhood to ready, trusting obedience, and as
the purpose of God was opened before him, he yielded a willing submission.
He was a sharer in Abraham's faith, and he felt that he was honored in
being called to give his life as an offering to God. He tenderly seeks to
lighten the father's grief, and encourages his nerveless hands to bind the
cords that confine him to the altar.
And now the
last words of love are spoken, the last tears are shed, the last embrace
is given. The father lifts the knife to slay his son, when suddenly his
arm is stayed. An angel of God calls to the patriarch out of heaven,
"Abraham, Abraham!" He quickly answers, "Here am I,"
And again the voice is heard, "Lay not thine hand upon the lad,
neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God,
seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me."
saw "a ram caught in a thicket," and quickly bringing the new
victim, he offered it "in the stead of his son." In his joy and
gratitude Abraham gave a new name to the sacred spot--"Jehovah-jireh,"
"the Lord will provide."
Moriah, God again renewed His covenant, confirming with a solemn oath the
blessing to Abraham and to his seed through all coming generations:
"By myself have I sworn, saith Jehovah, for because thou hast done
this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, that in
blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as
the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and
thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all
the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed My
great act of faith stands like a pillar of light, illuminating the pathway
of God's servants in all succeeding ages. Abraham did not seek to excuse
himself from doing the will of God. During that three days' journey he had
sufficient time to reason, and to doubt God, if he was disposed to doubt.
He might have reasoned that the slaying of his son would cause him to be
looked upon as a murderer, a second Cain; that it would cause his teaching
to be rejected and despised; and thus destroy his power to do good to his
fellow men. He might have pleaded that age should excuse him from
obedience. But the patriarch did not take refuge in any of these excuses.
Abraham was human; his passions and attachments were like ours; but he did
not stop to question how the promise could be fulfilled if Isaac should be
slain. He did not stay to reason with his aching heart. He knew that God
is just and righteous in all His requirements, and he obeyed the command
to the very letter.
believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: an he was
called the friend of God." James 2:23. And Paul says, "They
which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham." Galatians
3:7. But Abraham's faith was made manifest by his works. "Was not
Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son
upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works
was faith made perfect.?" James 2:21, 22. There are many who fail to
understand the relation of faith and works. They say, "Only believe
in Christ, and you are safe. You have nothing to do with keeping
law." But genuine faith will be manifest in obedience. Said Christ to
the unbelieving Jews, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the
works of Abraham." John 8:39. And concerning the father of the
faithful the Lord declares, "Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My
charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws." Genesis 26:5.
Says the apostle James, "Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being
alone." James 2:17. And John, who dwells so fully upon love, tells
us, "This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." 1
and promise God "preached before the gospel unto Abraham."
Galatians 3:8. And the patriarch's faith was fixed upon the Redeemer to
come. Said Christ to the Jews. "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he
should see My day; and he saw it, and was glad." John 8:56, R.V.,
margin. The ram offered in the place of Isaac represented the Son of God,
who was to be sacrificed in our stead. When man was doomed to death by
transgression of the law of God, the Father, looking upon His Son, said to
the sinner, "Live: I have found a ransom."
It was to
impress Abraham's mind with the reality of the gospel, as well as to test
his faith, that God commanded him to slay his son. The agony which he
endured during the dark days of that fearful trial was permitted that he
might understand from his own experience something of the greatness of the
sacrifice made by the infinite God for man's redemption. No other test
could have caused Abraham such torture of soul as did the offering of his
son. God gave His Son to a death of agony and shame. The angels who
witnessed the humiliation and soul anguish of the Son of God were not
permitted to interpose, as in the case of Isaac. There was no voice to
cry, "It is enough." To save the fallen race, the King of glory
yielded up His life. What stronger proof can be given of the infinite
compassion and love of God? "He that spared not His own Son, but
delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us
all things?" Romans 8:32.
required of Abraham was not alone for his own good, nor solely for the
benefit of succeeding generations; but it was also for the instruction of
the sinless intelligences of heaven and of other worlds. The field of the
controversy between Christ and Satan--the field on which the plan of
redemption is wrought out--is the lesson book of the universe. Because
shown a lack of faith in God's promises, Satan had accused him
before the angels and before God of having failed to comply with the
conditions of the covenant, and as unworthy of its blessings. God desired
to prove the loyalty of His servant before all heaven, to demonstrate that
nothing less than perfect obedience can be accepted, and to open more
fully before them the plan of salvation.
beings were witnesses of the scene as the faith of Abraham and the
submission of Isaac were tested. The trial was far more severe than that
which had been brought upon Adam. Compliance with the prohibition laid
upon our first parents involved no suffering, but the command to Abraham
demanded the most agonizing sacrifice. All heaven beheld with wonder and
admiration Abraham's unfaltering obedience. All heaven applauded his
fidelity. Satan's accusations were shown to be false. God declared to His
servant, "Now I know that thou fearest God [notwithstanding Satan's
charges], seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from
Me." God's covenant, confirmed to Abraham by an oath before the
intelligences of other worlds, testified that obedience will be rewarded.
It had been
difficult even for the angels to grasp the mystery of redemption--to
comprehend that the Commander of heaven, the Son of God, must die for
guilty man. When the command was given to Abraham to offer up his son, the
interest of all heavenly beings was enlisted. With intense earnestness
they watched each step in the fulfillment of this command. When to Isaac's
question, "Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham made
answer, "God will provide Himself a lamb;" and when the father's
hand was stayed as he was about to slay his son, and the ram which God had
provided was offered in the place of Isaac-- then light was shed upon the
mystery of redemption, and even the angels understood more clearly the
wonderful provision that God had made for man's salvation. 1 Peter 1:12.