Thursday, September 1

By Faith Abraham, Again

This is the eighth post in a series from Hebrews 11. You'll find all the posts done so far in this series listed here.

After the summary statement in verses 13-16 of this chapter, the author of Hebrews returns to his examination of Abraham's faith. He's already told us that it was by faith that Abraham obeyed God and left his homeland, and it was by faith that Abraham conceived his son Isaac. Now the author tells us that it was by faith that Abraham offered up Isaac.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, "Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name," and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there. (Hebrews 11:17-19 NET)

You know the story, right? God speaks to Abraham:
Take your son--your only son, whom you love, Isaac--and go to the land of Moriah! Offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will indicate to you. (Genesis 22:22)
And Abraham obeyed.

This was, of course, a test of Abraham's love for God: did he love God enough to give up his son? This text, however, points in particular to this being a test of something else--Abraham's willingness to keep on believing and obeying God in the face of what appeared to be contradictory revelations from him. God had told Abraham that Isaac's descendants would carry on Abraham's name, and Abraham had already received partial fulfillment of that promise in the birth of Isaac. Now God was telling Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering, which would seem to ensure that Isaac would have no descendents at all.

How did Abraham reconcile these two things? He didn't deny either of them, but rather he reconciled the two by trusting in God's ability to raise the dead. God would still be able to fulfill the rest of his promises even if Isaac died because God had the power to raise Isaac to life again.

Abraham was in the process of offering up Isaac, and in Abraham's thought, it was a done deal. The perfect tense of "offered up Isaac" makes this a completed act, even while the tense of "ready to offer up" makes this a process not completed.* Abraham was determined to obey, and with certainty would have completed Isaac's sacrifice if God hadn't intervened in a way not anticipated by Abraham.
But the Lord's angel called to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am!" he answered. "Do not harm the boy!" the angel said. "Do not do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God because you did not withhold your son, your only son, from me." (Genesis 22: 11,12 NET)
God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead, giving Abraham and all the rest of us a picture of the provision God would make in the person and sacrifice of his own Son.

The phrase "only Son" in regards to Isaac must be taken in the sense of "unique", since Abraham had several other sons besides Isaac. None of them, however, were conceived in the unlikely way that Isaac was, and only Isaac was the child of promise.

The text tells us that "in a sense" Abraham did receive Isaac back from the dead. In his mind, Abraham had already given Isaac up for dead, expecting him back only through a miraculous work of God. The way God chose to intervene was different than they way Abraham had expected, but God did act in keeping with his trustworthy nature so that his promise to Abraham could be fulfilled.

*See NET notes on Hebrews 11, number 21.
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