We have all grown up with this story, but perhaps, in our review of this story we might gain new insights about God's love to each of us. Abraham accepted without question the promise of a son, but did not wait for the Lord and took things into his own hands.
Polygamy was so wide spread and accepted, it hardly seemed like a sin. Both Abraham and Sarah were in their late years; even in their generation they were considered too old to have children. So Abraham decides to help God and takes one of Sarah's maids, marries her and she gives birth to a boy that they name Ishmael. When Abraham turned 100 years old the promise of a son was repeated to him, that Sarah his wife, would have a son. This is crazy, thought Abraham, how can this be? We are too old to have children. Besides, didn't You already give us a child Lord? Nevertheless, the promise was repeated, and Abraham still did not understand. And what happened? Sarah in her 90's gave birth to a son, named Isaac, just as God had promised.
God called Abraham to be the father of the faithful and his faith failed. Several years after the birth of Isaac, God subjected Abraham to another test -- only this time it was a test of love. In this story, love works both ways -- the love between father and son and how much love Abraham had for his Father in Heaven. Would Abraham's love for his only son who he waited for years, exceed that of his love for God the Father?
Let us pick-up the story in Genesis chapter 22. One night while Abraham was sleeping he was awaken, verse 1 of Genesis chapter 22, “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, Abraham! Here I am, he replied. Then God said, Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about. "Abraham calls out, Angel! Angel! Did I actually hear the voice of an angel or was I just dreaming? He told me to sacrifice Isaac, my son, why I cannot do that, Isaac is the joy of my old age, above all else, he is to inherit the promise blessing, I can't sacrifice Isaac. After all Sarah and I gone through, the hard lessons we have learned; now you are going to take our only son away? This does not make sense. How can two negatives be a positive? Oh, Lord this must be a mistake! Nevertheless, God's command still kept ringing in Abraham's ear, "take thou thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest and sacrifice him." God's will requires obedience, sometimes it is not always logical or does not make good sense, but it is God's will. To follow it takes love no matter how crazy it may seem, a step out into darkness. When Abraham received this command, he was 120 years old, very old even in his generation. 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.
Abraham got up from his bed and went outside; he saw the millions of stars, saying to himself, I have been promised to be the father of millions like these stars. How can this be if I lose my only son? This tore at Abraham's heart, as it would for any father's heart. The loss of such a son by accident or disease would have been devastating enough, but to willfully shed the blood of his only son was too much. Isaac was the light of their home, the solace of his old age and his joy. To willfully give up your only son is one thing, but to sacrifice him with your own hands is a completely new ball game. This is what Abraham was being called to do.
Satan was there to tempt Abraham, telling him how could a loving God let such a terrible thing happen? Satan said to Abraham, doesn't it say in the Bible, "thou shall not kill;” besides how could he be the father of many nations if he were to kill his only son? With great distress, Abraham would not yield and kept his faith.
Returning to his tent, Abraham went to the side of Sarah who was sleeping. Should he awaken her that she might say her last good byes? He wanted to unburden his heart to her. Isaac was her pride and joy; her life was bound up in him and any mother's love might refuse the sacrifice. He could not tell her, the burden was too great. Finally, Abraham wakes up Isaac and tells him they must go make a sacrifice at a distant mountain. This was no surprise to Isaac for they had done this often.
Preparations were made quickly and off they went. Side by side, the father and son journeyed in silence. The patriarch pondering his heavy secret, thinking to himself, "what am I going to do?" Will God really let this happen and Sarah, Oh, my Sarah, she is going to die when she finds out, will her trust in God still be as strong? "Oh, Lord, Oh, Lord, My heart aches, the burden on me is too much, the pressure is about to crush me." That first day of travel was the longest day of his life. That night, and all night long, Abraham pleaded before the Lord to let this cup pass, but no relief came. Another long day, another night of prayer and humiliation, and the command still kept ringing in his ears. Satan was near tempting him, but Abraham would not yield. Remember, Abraham is 120 years old, the years had taken their toll, and he has spent the last two nights up in prayer and traveling during the day. He was very tired and worn out. This is clear evidence that Abraham was driven by love.
As they begin their third day, Abraham sees the promising sign, a cloud of glory hovering over Mount Moriah. He knew instantly this was the place, now, there was no question about the sacrifice and the place. When they got to the bottom of Mount Moriah Abraham told his servants to wait there for them, for he wanted only but God to witness the parting scene. None but God could understand how great was the father's sacrifice in yielding up his son to death. So together both father and son started to ascend to the summit. Isaac with the wood, Abraham with the knife and the fire. As they walk to the summit, Abraham thinking, "Hey Lord hasn't this gone far enough? I have learned my lesson, surely you are not going to let this happen are You? Meanwhile Isaac is wondering to himself, I wonder why father has been acting so funny lately? He sure seems depressed, this sacrifice we are about to perform seems to be different from all the others we have done. Besides where is our sacrifice, the lamb?
At last Isaac speaks, verse 7, "Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, 'father?' 'Yes, my son?" Abraham replied. "The fire and wood are here." Isaac said, "But where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Talk about hurt, those words from his son must have pierce right through his father's heart. Verse 8, "Abraham answered, 'God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.' And the two of them went on together." Verse 9, "When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it."
Here comes the hardest part, telling his son God's plan, that he is the sacrifice. I can see Abraham after making sure all was in place, turning and facing Isaac, grabbing both of his hands, and then in trembling voice unveils the divine message. Talk about a surprise and a shock. I imagine Isaac was in disbelief for a moment. Meanwhile, the entire universe is watching with intense care, wondering how this young man will react to this, and will Abraham really carry this out?
And now the last words of love are spoken, the last tears are shed, and last embrace is given. Isaac then calmly lies down on the altar. Abraham takes the knife, lifts it up, looking towards Heaven asking God to be with them. He starts to come down with a swift blow, for he wants death to quick and not let his son suffer more than he has to. When suddenly, two things happen at once: First, his arm is stopped right in midair, as if some invisible hand had grab him, and at the same time, he hears a voice speaking to him. Verse 11, "But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, 'Abraham! Abraham!' 'Here am I,’ he replied. 'Do not lay a hand on the boy,' he said. 'Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."
I can just hear and see Abraham, falling down on his knees, praising God and in tears saying, "Oh, God! Praise be unto you, I have learned my lesson, and I will never, ever let you down again! Praise God!
Oh, what rejoicing, for mentally Abraham did take his sons life. The angel had to hold his arm from doing this. Abraham had completely surrendered this over to God and had already accepted this sacrifice; it was just a matter of follow through. God not only had to give Abraham a voice command to not take his son's life, but also, had to stop his arm from coming down. God had to let Abraham go this far in order to test him, and show the universe as well.
If God had stopped Abraham, before he raised the knife, Satan would have said how do we know he would have really followed through? So God had to let Abraham mentally take the life of his son. So when God called out to Abraham, not to take his son's life Abraham was full of joy. What rejoicing there must have been, between the father and son!
Abraham letting God lead in his life, was willing to surrender his only son. This is faith and love, to give up something that is so precious, so close. If we as humans are devastated by our loss because of our love for our children, then it gives us a little idea of what God and His only Son went through for you and I.
The story of Abraham and Isaac is not only a story about love, but it is a story about a miniature plan of salvation. The good news is, John 3:16, "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not die but have everlasting life!"