BY FAITH ABRAHAM, WHEN HE WAS TESTED OFFERED UP
ISAAC: Pistei prosenenochen (3SRAI) Abraam ton Isaak peirazomenos (PPPMSN):
(Ge 22:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12; Jas 2:21, 22, 23, 24) (Dt 8:2;
2Chr 32:31; Job 1:11,12; 2:3-6; Pr 17:3; Da 11:35; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2,3; Jas
1:2, 3, 4; 5:11; 1Pe 1:6,7; 4:12; Re 3:10) (2Co 8:12)
See related discussions of
trials/testing - Ro 5:3-
; 1Pe 1:6-note;
Jas 1:2 -
This is the third illustration of
Abraham’s faith in Hebrews 11 (Heb 11:8 = "by faith...when he was called" and
Heb 11:9, 10, 11, 12 = "By faith he lived as an alien...")
Abraham - Surely one of the prime
examples of a man's faith.
Dwight Pentecost commenting on
Abraham's faith and obedience exemplified in Hebrews 11:17-19 writes that...
Our faith is often tested most when our
present circumstances seem completely contrary to what God has revealed to
us through His Word. That is precisely the situation Abraham faced, and yet
he did not succumb to “doubting in the dark what God told him in the light.”
Instead, he lived his life in accordance with what God had said. (Pentecost,
J. D., & Durham, K.. Faith that Endures: A Practical Commentary on the Book
of Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publication)
and flow of this letter of exhortation to
those Hebrews who were being afflicted with various tribulations, which
undoubtedly tempted some consider turning back to the Old Covenant ways of
worshiping God. The writer of Hebrews is presenting the OT truths of the
faith-life, so that their faith might be encouraged. In a parallel passage
Paul emphasized the value of the OT Scriptures to encourage perseverance to
to the end writing that...
whatever was written in earlier times was
written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement
of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Ro 15:4-note)
In Hebrews 11, the great “Faith”
chapter, it is interesting to observe that Hebrews 11:1 tells us what faith
is and the other 39 verses demonstrate what real faith accomplishes or what
genuine faith looks like in everyday life.
The offering of Isaac, after years of
waiting for the promise of this son, was Abraham’s ultimate test of faith,
and is often stressed in Jewish sources, these sources regarding this a
model of faith to be emulated. It is fascinating to see how near these
Jewish sources come to the truth without grasping the whole truth about
Abraham's faith in the Messiah. In one source the Rabbis taught that Abraham
faithfully withstood ten temptations (not clearly a Biblical conclusion), of which the
call to offer up his only son was the greatest (M Avoth 5:3). The Midrash Rabbah on Numbers (XVII.2)
records a non-biblical narrative stating that when God's test of Abraham
Isaac was completed, Abraham asked God never to put him to any test again,
because it almost destroyed him (there is no record of this in Scripture).
Morris comments as do others
Abraham's offer of Isaac can be taken as
a thrilling type of God offering His only begotten Son. (Morris,
Henry: Defenders Study Bible. World Publishing)
Certainly one cannot read the story of
Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac without thinking of passages like...
He who did not spare His own Son, but
delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us
all things? (Ro 8:32-note)
John MacArthur entitles his
comments on this section of Hebrews 11 "The Proof of Faith"
The proof of Abraham’s faith was his
willingness to give back to God everything he had, including the son of
promise, whom he had miraculously received because of his faith. After all
the waiting and wondering, the son had been given by God. Then, before the
son was grown, God asked for him back, and Abraham obeyed. Abraham knew that
the covenant, which could only be fulfilled through Isaac, was
unconditional. He knew, therefore, that God would do whatever was necessary,
including raising Isaac from the dead, to keep His covenant... If Noah
illustrates the duration of faith, Abraham shows the depth of faith. (MacArthur,
John: Hebrews. Moody Press)
word study on
is synonymous with trust or belief and is the
conviction of the truth of anything, but in Scripture usually speaks of
belief respecting man's relationship to God and divine things, generally
with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined
with it. Note that this discussion of pistis is only an overview and not a
detailed treatise of this vitally important subject. Those interested are
directed to respected, conservative books on systematic theology for more in
depth discussion (eg, Dr Wayne Grudem's book
Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical
is an excellent, uncompromising, imminently readable resource for the lay
person. See especially Chapter 35 which addresses the question "What is
saving faith?" in an easy to understand manner.) Much of this "definition"
deals with the general word group for faith (pistis = noun, pistos
= adjective, pisteuo = verb)
The great theologian John Calvin defined
“a steady and certain
of the Divine benevolence towards us, which, being founded on the truth of
the gratuitous promise in Christ, is both revealed to our minds, and
confirmed to our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.”
Note that faith is founded on divine truth
(God’s promise) and is witnessed to by the Spirit in the heart. It has both
objective and subjective aspects, and both are essential!
As pistis relates to God, it is the conviction that God exists and is
the Creator and Ruler of all things well as the Provider and Bestower of
eternal salvation through Christ. As faith relates to Christ it represents a
strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through
Whom we obtain eternal salvation and entrance into the Kingdom of
Heaven. Stated another way, eternal salvation comes only through
belief in Jesus Christ and no other way.
Forsaking All I
Wayne Grudem defines faith that saves one's soul...
Saving faith is trust in Jesus
Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with
God. This definition emphasizes that saving faith is not just a belief in
facts but personal trust in Jesus to save me... The definition emphasizes
personal trust in Christ, not just belief in facts about Christ. Because
saving faith in Scripture involves this personal trust, the word “trust” is
a better word to use in contemporary culture than the word “faith” or
“belief.” The reason is that we can “believe” something to be true with no
personal commitment or dependence involved in it. (Grudem,
W. A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine Zondervan)
By faith - Abraham’s faith
produced immediate, unhesitating obedience. His faith was demonstrated by his works. Faith
alone saves but the faith that saves is not alone. Faith shows itself to be
genuine by obedience. To obey is better than sacrifice.
Here is the test in God gave
Abraham in Genesis 22 (see Ge 22:1) - God declared...
Take now your son, your only son,
whom you love (first use of "love" in the OT!), Isaac, and go to the land of
Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of
which I will tell you. (Genesis
There was no arguing with God, no
bargaining, no equivocating. Abraham had learned well from the lessons of
life—for example, his own wasted sojourn in Haran, or the unforgettable
tragedy of Lot’s wife. Therefore, his obedience was immediate and explicit.
Though every fiber of his natural being rebelled against what God was
calling him to do, though his feet felt like lead, he did not turn aside.
What amazing faith!...No wonder he is the father of all who believe. No
wonder he is called the friend of God. (Hughes,
R. K. Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill:
The fourth stanza (below) of one of the
grand old hymns,
Trust and Obey,
captures the essence of Abraham's sacrifice
Trust and Obey
When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey. - Refrain
Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey. - Refrain
But we never can prove the delights of
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.
from the noun peira = test from peíro =
perforate, pierce through to test durability of things) is a morally neutral
word simply meaning “to test”. Whether the test is for a good (as it
proved to be in Heb 11:17) or evil (Mt 4:1 "Then Jesus was led up by the
Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil") depends on
the intent of the one giving the test and also on the response of the one
tested. (See study of similar word
See also word study on related word -
Peirazo here in Hebrews 11:17 is
("continually tested") which
indicates the test was ongoing. It began with God's command in Genesis
22:1, 2, continued as he walked with Isaac to Moriah and culminated when God
told him not to drop the sword on Isaac.
Peirazo is used 39 times (Matt.
4:1, 3; 16:1; 19:3; 22:18, 35; Mk. 1:13; 8:11; 10:2; 12:15; Lk. 4:2; 11:16;
20:23; Jn. 6:6; 8:6; Acts 5:9; 15:10; 16:7; 24:6; 1 Co. 7:5; 10:9, 13; 2 Co.
13:5; Gal. 6:1; 1 Thess. 3:5; Heb. 2:18; 3:9; 4:15; 11:17, 37; Jas. 1:13,
14; Rev. 2:2, 10; 3:10) and is translated in KJV as "assay, 1; examine, 1;
go about, 1; prove, 1; tempt, 29; tempter, 2; try, 4 and in the NAS (40) as
"did, 1; put, 1; put to the test, 2; tempt, 2; tempted, 13; tempter, 2;
test, 6; tested, 2; testing, 7; tried, 2; trying, 2.
There are 24 uses of peirazo in
- Ge 22:1; Ex. 15:25; 16:4;
17:2, 7; 20:20; Nu 14:22; Dt. 4:34; 13:3; 33:8; Jdg 2:22; 3:1, 4; 6:39; 1Ki
10:1; 2Chr. 9:1; 32:31; Ps. 26:2; 35:16; 78:41, 56; 95:9; 106:14; Eccl. 2:1;
7:23; Isa 7:12; Da 1:12, 14; 12:10
Peirazo can have several nuances depending on the
(1) trials with a beneficial purpose and effect, (2) divinely permitted or
sent, (3) with a good or neutral significance, (4) of a varied character,
(5) definitely designed to lead to wrong doing, temptation, (6) of men
trying or challenging God.
The trials may come from God or under
His permissive will from Satan, or may be the result of our own wrong doing.
The solicitations to do evil come from the world, the evil nature (the
"flesh"), or the
When the Scriptural context clearly indicates the testing is an enticement
to evil, the word is most frequently translated by a form of the English
tempt, which carries that negative connotation and this NEVER refers to a
test from God.
compares the use of the related verbs peirazo and dokimazo
online for Trench's full discussion of dokimazo and peirazo)
Douglas Moo writes that...
The word that is translated “trial”—
peirasmos— and its
verbal cognate — peirazo — are important words in this section: we
find peirasmos in Jas 1:2-note;
and peirazo in Jas 1:13, 14-notes.
These words have two distinct meanings in
the NT. They can denote either an outward trial or process of
“testing” or they can denote the inner enticement to sin:
“temptation” or “tempt.” The latter meaning is seen in verses such as 1Ti
6:9...(see also Lk 22:40, 46). 1Pe 4:12 (note),
on the other hand, is a good example of the other meaning...(see also 1Pe
Mt 26:41; Lk 22:28; Ac 20:19; Re 3:10-note).
In several verses, the meaning of the
word is not clear. The Lord’s Prayer is a good example: most English
translations have rendered “Do not lead us into temptation,” (Mt 6:13-note)
but many contemporary scholars argue for “Do not bring us to the time of
trial” (NRSV). In other verses, the meaning of peirasmos/peirazo
may even combine these ideas, in the sense that the external trial is at the
same time a point of temptation (see, e.g., Lk 4:13; 1Co 10:13-note;
A combination of meanings of this kind may well be present in Jas 1:13, 14,
15. In Jas 1:2, however, peirasmos means “trial.” The surrounding language
makes this clear: believers run the risk of “falling into” these trials,
which have as their purpose the “testing” of faith and need to be “endured.”
These same terms are used elsewhere in the NT when peirasmos has the meaning
“trial” (1Pe 1:6-note;
(Moo, D. J. The letter of James. The Pillar New Testament commentary Grand
Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: Eerdmans)
Swanson summarizes the meaning
of peirazo as falling into one five general categories (modified from
Swanson, J. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains):
(1) To examine, submit another to a test,
to learn the true nature or character of. To endeavor to discover the nature
or character of something by testing. (2Co 13:5, 1Cor 10:13-note)
This use can refer to a trial of God by humans, the intent being to put
God to the test, to discover whether God really can do a certain thing.
(2) To try to trap through a process of
inquiry. To attempt to catch in a mistake (Mt 16:1)
(3) To tempt, test for purposes of making
one sin (Mk 1:13)
(4) To attempt, try to do something,
implying not succeeding at the endeavor. (Acts 9:26)
(5) The Tempter. (Mt 4:3)
In a sermon titled "Faith
Tested and Crowned" (on
the able expositor Alexander Maclaren distinguished between being tempted and being
tried writing that
the former word conveys the idea of
appealing to the worst part of man, with the wish that he may yield and do
the wrong. The latter means an appeal to the better part of man, with the
desire that he should stand." "Temptation says, 'Do this pleasant thing; do
not be hindered by the fact that it is wrong.' Trial or proving says, 'Do
this right and noble thing; do not be hindered by the fact that it is
Satan tempts us to bring out the worst
in us; God tests us to bring out the best.
Recommended Resource (related
Of Temptation by John Owen
Character is revealed by what
you do in secret, when no one else is around to see. If you are not a person
of integrity then you will not be a person of character. Maturity is
revealed by what you do in your free time. A person of integrity uses their
free time wisely.
Abraham again proved his faith by his willingness to give back to God his
son of promise, Isaac, whom he had miraculously received because of his
faith. It would take an even greater miracle for them to replace Isaac by
natural means. He trusted God for a resurrection.
The testing of one's faith/obedience was
not unique to Abraham...
(Moses warning Israel) And you shall
remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness
these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know
what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or
(Speaking of King Hezekiah) And even in
the matter of the envoys of the rulers of Babylon, who sent to him to
inquire of the wonder that had happened in the land, God left him alone only
to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart. (2 Chronicles 32:31)
Comment: King Hezekiah acted
foolishly and in pride showed the Babylonian envoys his treasures, arousing
their desire to possess them, a desire that would soon be fulfilled. See 2Ki
20:12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19.
The refining pot is for silver and the
furnace for gold, but the LORD tests hearts. (Pr 17:3)
The point that is emphasized in these
verses on testing is that with the tests God provides opportunities
for His children to demonstrate and grow their faith. In fact it is fair to
state that every test the Father allows becomes either a stumbling block
(King Hezekiah) or a stepping stone (as in Abraham's case in this
Jonathan Edwards wrote that...
The surest way to know our gold is to
look upon it and examine it in God’s furnace, where He tries it for that end
that we may see what it is. If we have a mind to know whether a building
stands strong or no, we must look upon it when the wind blows. If we would
know whether that which appears in the form of wheat has the real substance
of wheat, or be only chaff, we must observe it when it is winnowed. If we
would know whether a staff be strong, or a rotten, broken reed, we must see
it when it is leaned on, and weight is borne upon it. If we would weigh
ourselves justly, we must weigh ourselves in God’s scales, that He makes use
of to weigh us.
Offered up (4374)
(prosphero from prós = toward + phéro = bring)
literally means to bring toward and so refers to
an offering, whether of gifts, prayers, or sacrifices. The
uses this word 124 times and often in the context of a sacrificial offering (more
than 50 times in Leviticus alone!).
The picture of this verb is to carry or bring something into the presence of
someone usually implying that what is brought is then transferred to the one
to whom it is brought. Abraham was offering up that which was most precious
to him, his son of promise, through whom the covenant blessings given to
Abraham were to flow.
when considered from the perspective of Abraham’s intention to comply with
the solemn command views the sacrifice as an accomplished and perfectly
A T Robertson
The act was already consummated so far as
Abraham was concerned when it was interrupted and it stands on record about
him. (Word Pictures)
Hughes helps understand making an interesting
comment noting that Abraham...
"really did “sacrifice” Isaac. The
Greek perfect tense is used when the text says that he “offered Isaac as a
refers to a completed action in past time. This means that the sacrifice
actually took place as far as Abraham’s resolve and obedience were
concerned. From the divine perspective, as well as from Abraham’s
perspective, Abraham did it! But immediately the same verb is used in
the imperfect tense in the following statement—he “was about to sacrifice
his one and only son”—indicating that it did not physically happen. The
point is, in terms of obedience to God, Abraham did it. He completely
offered his beloved Isaac, the laughter and joy of his life. (Hughes,
R. K. Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill:
Crossway Books) (Bolding added)
Dwight Pentecost comments on the
offering noting that...
Since Isaac was set apart to be a burnt
offering (Lev 1:1–17), he was being offered not in atonement for some sin,
but as an act of worship to God. And the obedience of Abraham was itself
acceptable worship. Thus, based on the life of Abraham, the writer desires
that his readers should “imitate those who through faith and patience
inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12) and show the same patient endurance and
obedience that their faith ought to produce. (Pentecost,
J. D., & Durham, K.. Faith that Endures: A Practical Commentary on the Book
of Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publication)
AND HE WHO HAD RECEIVED THE PROMISES WAS OFFERING UP HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN
kai ton monogene prosepheren (3SIAI) o tas epaggelias anadexamenos (AMPMSN):
(anadechomai from aná = an emphatic + déchomai =
receive kindly, accept deliberately and readily) means to receive kindly as one would receive a guest
and so to entertain (see below). It means to experience something by being
accepting. It was used in secular writings to describe one taking a burden
Received suggests more than a
passive attitude, instead indicating a willingness to take what God offered.
Wescott writes that anadechomai
is an unusual word and...
The idea which it suggests here seems to
be that of welcoming and cherishing a divine charge which involved a noble
responsibility. The word is used frequently of undertaking that which calls
out effort and endurance (Wescott, B F: The Epistle to the Hebrews the Greek
text with Notes and Essays. 1903)
Thayer writes that it was used "from Homer down; to take up, take
upon oneself, undertake, assume; hence, to receive, entertain anyone
Anadechomai implies the
seizing or laying hold upon that which is presented.
In the only other NT use (none in
Acts 28:7, anadechomai means to receive hospitably.
The promises (1860)
(epaggelia from the verb epaggello = announce upon or engage to do something
in turn from epí = intensities meaning + aggéllo = tell,
declare) in secular Greek was used primarily as a legal term denoting summons
and in Scripture refers to a promise to do or give something. It refers only
to the promises of God (except Acts 23:21). Epaggelia is a gift graciously given
and is not a pledge secured by negotiation. God's promise to Abraham was
that Isaac would establish the guaranteed posterity.
Elsewhere the writer of Hebrews
exhorts his readers...
that you may not be sluggish, but
imitators (mimetes = one who does what others do, especially the
patriarchs like Abraham) of those who through faith and patience inherit
the promises. For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He
could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, "I WILL SURELY
BLESS YOU, AND I WILL SURELY MULTIPLY YOU." And thus, having patiently
waited, he obtained the promise. (Hebrews
Offering up (4374)
(prosphero from prós = toward + phéro = bring)
means to offer gifts, prayers, or sacrifices. (see the above comment on
prosphero). This use of prosphero is in the
showing that the sacrifice was not in fact completed but was ongoing; i.e.,
Abraham was in the midst of carrying out the sacrifice.
Net Bible Notes explains the
The tense of this verb indicates the
attempt or readiness to sacrifice Isaac without the actual completion of the
Abraham's willingness to offer up Isaac
proved his faith, because the final standard of faith and its real proof is
the willingness to sacrifice. This is an interesting thought to ponder
especially in light of Paul's exhortation to believer's regarding their
bodies (which of course includes their minds, their wills, their members) in
which is your
service of worship.
(in this verse
hold pointer over words in blue for short definition. See also the main notes
Demonstrated his faith.
James uses Abraham's OT example to
teach about genuine faith, asking the rhetorical
Was not Abraham our father
(here justified means shown to be righteous not declared righteous -
used this same way in
note] of God Who clearly did not need to be
"declared righteous") by works, when he
offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22
You see that
faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works,
was perfected (aorist
tense = a definite
event, a completed actions. Faith was brought to its intended goal, accomplished the end God
intended see related word
teleios) 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled
which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD (here James clearly reiterates what
"saved" Abraham - it was not his works but his faith in the promises of God,
ultimately consummated in Abraham's "seed", Christ Jesus, cf Gal 3:16), AND IT
(placed on Abraham's "spiritual account" so to speak) TO HIM AS
RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man
(shown to be righteous) by works, and not by
alone (James is not saying that works
save anyone but he is teaching that one's "works" are a valid marker of
whether or not their faith is genuine faith, faith that saves them. In other words
faith alone saves but the faith that truly saves is not alone)
(see notes on
Jas 2:14 ; 15; 16;
Only begotten (3439)
(monogenes from mónos = only + génos = offspring,
posterity from verb gínomai = come into existence) means
only begotten, unique, one of a kind or one and only. The word "son"
is not in the Greek text so literally this reads "the only begotten".
Isaac was not
only son of Abraham—there was also
Ishmael through Hagar
(Ge 16:1-16) but Isaac was the "unique" son that God had promised and whose
birth was a supernatural fulfillment of Jehovah's promise.
of Hebrews proceeds to quote from Genesis
notes) to prove the
point that Isaac was the unique son of Abraham for through Isaac's seed
pass the promises of the Abrahamic covenant, not through the seed of
Abraham's other son
In addition Abraham by Keturah had six more sons named in Genesis 25:1, 2.
John writes that
"the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory
as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." (Jn 1:14)
"For God so loved the world, that He gave
His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but
have eternal life." (John 3:16)
In Our Daily Bread we read the
devotional entitled "Unlikely Heroes"...
The Lord makes heroes out of very
unlikely people. One such person is Angie Garber. She was born with a severe
facial deformity. The surgery to correct her appearance left her deaf in one
In her teens, Angie contracted polio. She survived, but after months of
agonizing therapy and exercise her left leg and arm remained weak. During
this difficult time her mother became ill. Angie and one of her sisters
cared for their mom till she died.
Her brother George, who had done more to encourage Angie than any other
person, died in an accident. And then crop failure made it necessary to sell
the family farm.
But through it all, Angie kept praying that she could someday serve the Lord
as a missionary-teacher. God honored her desire, and about 5 years after her
mother's death Angie began her life's work as a teacher for the Navajo
Mission. She became such an effective Christian worker that two books have
been written about her. Today her happy face reflects her inner joy. Angie
faced incredible obstacles in her walk of faith. Yet, like the heroes of
faith listed in Hebrews 11, she continued to trust God.
If you're discouraged and feel like giving up, remember, God makes spiritual
heroes out of unlikely people. --H V Lugt (Our
Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by
permission. All rights reserved)
All God's testings have a purpose--
Someday you will see the light;
All He asks is that you trust Him,
Walk by faith and not by sight. --Zoller
Suffering can prepare ordinary Christians
for extraordinary service.
Steven Cole's Sermon...
The Summit of Faith
Marla and I enjoy climbing Colorado’s
14er’s, the peaks that tower at least 14,000 feet above sea level. The views
from the top are breathtaking! You get a perspective on the land below that
you cannot get when you’re down there. I especially enjoy it when we are the
only ones on the summit, just to sit and drink it in.
Today we are going to look up at the Mount Everest of faith. Abraham’s
willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, is the highest point-the summit-of
faith in all history, except for Jesus’ going to the cross. I have never
climbed anywhere near this high. I can only stand below and look up, aware
of how my own faith falls far short. But from below, we can learn some
important lessons, which will help us to go higher. His story teaches us
The summit of faith is, when God tests us, to surrender to Him that which is
most precious to us, counting on Him to keep His promises.
The author’s purpose in this chapter is to show these believers facing
trials that faith overcomes all obstacles, even when circumstances seem
contrary to God’s promises. Faith obtains the blessing-if not in this life,
in eternity-by looking to God, not to circumstances. But faith is like a
muscle: it grows stronger by frequent use. Thus,
1. God will test our faith.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac….” As Peter wrote
(1Pet. 1:6, 7) to believers facing persecution,
“In this [your salvation] you greatly
rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been
distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more
precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be
found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus
Testing through fire sounds scary, but
keep in mind:
A. God will test our faith, but never beyond what we can bear.
Paul promises (1Co 10:13-note),
No temptation has overtaken you but such
as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be
tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the
way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
Tempted comes from the same Greek verb
translated tested in Heb. 11:17. James 1:13, 14-note
Let no one say when he is tempted [same
verb], ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and
He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried
away and enticed by his own lust.
God tests us and every testing is
potentially a temptation if we yield to our lusts. But temptation does not
come from God but from our sinful lusts. If we sin under testing, we cannot
blame God, because He provides the way of escape for us in every testing. He
knows how much we can handle.
If we fail the test, rather than blaming God, we need to examine why we
failed and learn from it. Proverbs 19:3 observes,
The foolishness of man ruins his way, and
his heart rages against the Lord.
Our own moral stupidity gets us in
trouble, but then we’re prone to blame God. But rather than rage against the
Lord, we need to accept responsibility for our failures. God tests our
faith, but never beyond what we can bear. Why does He test us?
B. God’s purpose in testing our faith is not to make it fail, but to
reveal the quality of our faith and to help us to grow.
His purpose in the testing is to prove to us and to others the genuine
quality of our faith. Without testing, we don’t know if our faith is real.
The test shows how strong the faith is. If we submit to God in the test by
trusting Him, our faith will grow stronger.
When I was in college I took a course in First Aid. But in the 35 years
since then, I’ve never once had to use what I learned in that course to save
someone’s life. If you had a heart attack right now and stopped breathing,
would you rather that I gave you CPR, or an EMT, who has done it often? I
might be able to do it, but my skill has never been tested. You’d have a far
better chance of survival if someone who has tested his skill at CPR many
times came to your aid.
It is encouraging to realize that this test of sacrificing Isaac was not the
first one that God laid on Abraham, and to know that Abraham had failed some
of the earlier tests. (Maybe there is hope even for me!) God was patient and
faithful to keep working with Abraham, growing his faith through repeated
When God first called Abram to leave his family and his native country, he
only partially obeyed. He went as far as Haran, but his father went with
him. Only after his father’s death and a subsequent call of God, did Abram
fully obey (Acts 7:2, 3, 4, compared with Ge 11:31, 32, Ge 12:1, 2, 3, 4).
When he finally got to Canaan, there was a famine. Without seeking God,
Abram went down to Egypt, and there he failed by passing off Sarah as his
sister (Ge 12:10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20). Years later, when
God delayed fulfilling the promise of a son, Abram failed by having
relations with Hagar, resulting in the birth of Ishmael (Ge 16:1-16). Later,
he failed the test again by lying about Sarah as his sister (Ge 20:1-18).
So it wasn’t as if Abraham started out strong in faith and never faltered.
He had his ups and downs, just as we do. It was through the many times that
his faith was tested, with some victories, but also with some failures, that
Abraham grew in faith. So if you are going through a time of severe trial,
take to heart Peter’s words to suffering saints (1Pe 4:12, 13-note):
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes
upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to
you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on
rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with
Abraham’s response to this extreme test of faith instructs us about how we
should respond when we are tested:
2. We should respond to the testing of our faith with prompt obedience
and total surrender of that which is most precious to us.
That’s easily said, but not so easily done! Note Abraham’s response to this
A. Abraham obeyed God promptly without argument, even though God’s
command seemed to contradict His promise.
Abraham, being human, must have wrestled emotionally with this horrific
command. During the three-day journey to the place that God had designated,
Abraham must have been tempted with thoughts, such as, “Are you sure that it
was God who spoke to you? Surely a good and loving God would not ask a
father to slaughter his own son! It must have been Satan telling you to do
this terrible deed! After all, if Isaac is the promised heir through whom
Messiah will come, it would defeat God’s purpose to kill Isaac!”
But the Bible does not describe any such struggle. Genesis simply records
that God commanded him to offer his son whom he loved, and that he arose
early the next morning and proceeded to obey. In Hebrews 11:17, the tense of
offered indicates that in purpose and intent, he offered Isaac. He would
have done so if God had not stopped him at the last possible moment (F. F.
Bruce, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews [Eerdmans], p. 308).
Let me emphasize that God has never given such a command, either before or
after Abraham’s time. This was unique in all of history. Also, Abraham did
not have any portion of the Bible to guide him. I presume that God spoke to
Abraham in an audible voice that he clearly recognized. Today, we have God’s
complete revelation in His Word. He rarely, if ever, speaks to us audibly.
He never commands us to do anything contrary to His written Word. When a
demented person says that a voice told him or her to kill someone, it is not
God, but Satan, who is speaking! God’s commandments do not contradict His
So we must apply Abraham’s example carefully, but we must apply it. The
application is this: When God’s Word commands us to do something difficult
or distasteful, we must obey promptly, without disputing with God. It may be
the command to stay in a difficult marriage, even though you would find
great relief in leaving. It may be the command to love a difficult person,
or to forgive someone who has greatly wronged you. There are many such
difficult commands in the Bible. We will not grow in faith if we dodge them.
We must submit to God with prompt obedience if we want to go higher in
Also, there are some difficult truths in God’s Word that re-quire
submission, not debate, if we want to grow in faith. The doctrine of God’s
sovereignty in choosing some, but not all, for salvation causes many to
stumble. They think that it contradicts God’s will that none should perish
and that it violates human freedom. Because they can’t reconcile these
things, they deny what Scripture plainly and repeatedly teaches, that God
“has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Ro 9:18-note).
I believe that such difficult truths are not understood primarily through
logic or arguments, but through submission.
So, even though God’s command to sacrifice Isaac seemed contradictory to
God’s promises and to His love, Abraham submitted himself in prompt
B. Abraham surrendered to God that which was most precious to him.
It would have been easier for Abraham if God had said, “I’m going to take
your life.” And, while Abraham dearly loved Sarah, I’m sure that it would
have been easier to let her go than to sacrifice Isaac. Our text uses three
phrases to hammer home how difficult it was for Abraham to offer up Isaac.
First, it refers to Abraham as “he who had received the promises.” God had
repeatedly promised to make of Abraham a great nation. Abraham and Sarah had
waited 25 years, from when he was 75 till he was 100, for God to give them
Isaac, the son of the promise. After waiting so long, with no hope of any
other fulfillment, God finally gave them this special son. But now, He tells
Abraham to kill and incinerate this precious son!
Second, the text says that Abraham “was offering up his only begotten son.”
Abraham had fathered Ishmael, and he would have other sons through Keturah
(Gen. 25:1, 2, 5, 6). So the term does not mean his only son, but rather,
his unique son, the son of the promise. It is the same term that John uses
of Jesus (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9), who is God’s unique Son in a
way that no one else is or could be.
We all have hopes for our children, not only that they would be protected
from danger and outlive us, but also that they might do well in life. But
imagine how much greater were Abraham’s hopes for Isaac, the unique son of
God’s promise, who had been miraculously conceived after all human hope was
To further emphasize the difficulty, He 11:18 recites the promise, “In Isaac
your descendants shall be called.” How confusing this must have been to
Abraham! Before Isaac’s birth, Abraham had asked God to let Ishmael be the
son of the promise. God re-fused, saying, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear
you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My
covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him”
(Ge 17:19). So now that Abraham has Isaac, and the boy has grown probably
into his teens, God says, “Offer him as a burnt offering!” Nothing was more
precious to Abraham than Isaac, and now God asks Abraham to kill him! With
the exception of Jesus going to the cross, God has never given a more
difficult command to anyone!
It’s not easy to apply what I’m about to say, but we all need to work at it:
God should be more valuable to me than even the most precious gifts that He
has given to me. That’s what Jesus meant when He said,
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate
his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters,
yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).
In comparison with our love for Him, our
love for those who are closest to us should seem like hatred.
It is so easy to shift your focus from the Giver to the gifts. You pray for
a husband or wife, and after years of loneliness, God provides. There is the
danger of loving that mate more than you love God! You’re childless, and
pray for a child. God answers and gives you a beautiful baby. What if the
Lord, in His wisdom and providence, takes that child in death? I admit that
losing a child is still my greatest fear, even though my children are all
adults now. But we need to face the question: If God took one or all of my
children, would I bitterly rage at God? Or would I submit and say with Job,
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken
away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21)?
We can even love a ministry more than we
love God. It’s easy to get so caught up with advancing His kingdom that in
all of our busyness, God takes a back seat to the work! I once heard the
late Alan Redpath, an exemplary man of God, speak. He shared how God had
struck him down with a stroke. It was at a time when the ministry was
thriving and there were many opportunities. He lay in the hospital and asked
God, “Why?” The Lord impressed on him, “Alan, you’ve gotten the work ahead
of your worship!”
God wants the absolute first place in our hearts, even if it means offering
up Isaac! It is a severe test of our faith when He takes something precious
from us. Will we, like Abraham, obey with total surrender, or do we find
fault with God? But, how did Abraham do this? In two words, “by faith.”
He 11:19 explains how his faith reasoned:
3. Faith counts on God to keep His promises, even if it requires the
“considered that God is able to raise
people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.”
Abraham’s faith in God was so great that
he thought, “If God wants me to kill Isaac, then to keep His promise, God
will have to raise him from the dead!” This is amazing, in that there had
been no resurrections from the dead in world history!
The Greek word translated considered comes from a word whose root meaning is
numerical calculation. It came to be used metaphorically without reference
to numbers to mean, a reckoning of characteristics or reasons (G.
Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament [Charles
Scribner’s Sons], p. 270). It means to take into account in light of the
Abraham did not blindly take a leap of faith. Rather, he considered God’s
attributes and character. He is loving, just, and mighty. He never deceives
us. He is faithful to keep His covenant promises. He had promised that in
Isaac, Abraham’s descendants would be numbered. Isaac did not yet have any
children, and yet God now had asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Therefore,
God must be planning to raise Isaac from the dead! What logic!
Abraham’s thought process shows us how to work through any trial of faith
that we encounter. Satan will invariably try to get us to doubt or deny some
aspect of God’s character or attributes. He got Eve to doubt God’s goodness
by implying that God was keeping back something good in forbidding her to
eat the fruit. He sometimes tempts us in times of trial to doubt God’s love.
That is why Paul affirms that no trial can separate us from God’s love in
Christ (Ro 8:35, 36-note,
Ro 8:37, 38, 39-note).
Sometimes he tries to get us to doubt God’s
“A good and loving God wouldn’t permit the kind of trial that you’re going
through.” But, if you fall into that trap, you are giving Satan more power
than he has, because he can only go as far in afflicting us as God directly
permits him to go (Job 1-2).
As we’ve seen, faith is bringing into present reality the things hoped for
(God’s promises). It proves things not seen (He 11:1-note).
Faith believes that God “is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him”
With Abraham, faith says, “Even though my cur-rent situation seems to go
against God’s love and goodness, based on His covenant promises to me, I
trust that He will work it all together for good for me.” Or, as Joseph said
after all of the rotten things that his brothers had done to him, “you meant
evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Ge 50:20).
The last phrase of the verse, that he “received him back as a type,” means,
“So dramatic was the sequence of events that it was as though Isaac really
had died and had been raised up to life again” (Philip Hughes, A Commentary
on the Epistle to the Hebrews [Eerdmans], p. 484). This points us to the
real reason that God commanded Abraham to kill his own son: It was a type of
what God Himself would do with His Son on the cross.
Instead of being against God’s love, His difficult command to Abraham
actually demonstrates God’s love in an unforgettable way that every parent
can identify with. I never really knew how much my own father loved me until
I became a dad. Then it hit me: My dad loved me as much as I love my child!
And, God loves me even more than that! As Paul wrote (Ro 8:32-note),
“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will
He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
The September, 1930 Moody Monthly described the progress of Arthur and Ethel
Tylee’s pioneering a work with the Nhambiquara Indians in Brazil. They had
made some good progress in “over-coming prejudice, cultivating confidence,
acquiring a smattering of their language, and giving the first
demonstrations of Christian love.”
However, the December, 1930 issue reported the tragic deaths of Arthur Tylee,
Mildred Kratz (a nurse who had joined the work), and the Tylees’ baby at the
hands of the very Indians they loved and served. While the Tylees had made
some progress gaining their confidence, conflict developed between the
Indians and government workers who were attempting to erect a telegraph line
through the area. Evidently the tribe’s animosity towards outsiders confused
them and led them to attack the missionaries, who were easy targets as they
opened their home to the Indians. Mrs. Tylee was seriously wounded, but
survived. She wrote a letter on January 4, 1931, from the very place where
she lost her husband, baby, and friend (in Moody Monthly [6/31]).
She began by thanking those who had faithfully prayed, assuring them that
they were not at fault for the attack. Then she wrote, “We must believe that
all happened according to the plan of an all-wise and loving Heavenly
Father, even to the smallest detail. I do not say we must understand, but
only believe.” She went on to describe the details of the attack, which left
her unconscious after witnessing her husband’s murder.
Then she said, “As I came back from the darkness of unconsciousness to find
myself not only without my own family but to find my entire household gone,
it was to know a Father’s care so tender, so gentle, that even the intense
loneliness of the first day’s separation were made sacred and hallowed. The
‘Kindly Light’ that never fails made even those days luminous with His
presence. So I ask you to believe with me that no accident has happened but
only the working out of our Father’s will. To you who knew and loved Arthur
I beg you not to mourn him as dead, but to rejoice with me that he has been
called to higher service.”
That is the summit of faith: When God tests us, to surrender to Him that
which is most precious to us, counting that He will keep His promises. May
we all climb higher in faith!
1. Why is it important to distinguish
between testing and temptation? Why is it sin to rage against God in our
2. How can we know if God is telling us
to do something, or whether it is coming from some other source?
3. Does faith mean putting our brains in
neutral? How can we know when to stop trying to understand and just to
4. How can we overcome the fear that God
may take that which is most precious from us? How do we process this
mentally? (Hebrews 11:17-19 The Summit of
Faith - Used by Permission)