4. Abraham's success: The test of obedience (22:1-24)
The seriousness of faith is nowhere more clearly highlighted than in the narrative of Abraham's offering Isaac to God. This is no play acting but a genuine struggle that brings the patriarch to the pinnacle of his walk with God. God genuinely must know the extent of Abraham's trust in the call. Abraham's response to God's voice is immediate (vv. 1-3). They have a history with one another, and though the command to sacrifice Isaac is absurdly incomprehensible, Abraham demonstrates faith in God's dependability. This is a God whom he can trust though he may not understand. We are assured in Heb 11:17-19 that Abraham is convinced that God can “raise the dead” and so will give Isaac back from death.
The enigmatic summons to kill Isaac threatens the promise. Abraham will be left bereft of progeny and a future hope. It is a negation of all that has been accomplished in the miracle birth of the son. It is a return to hopelessness. The significant difference this time from other occasions in which the promise was placed in jeopardy lies in the fact that it is the Promise-Giver, not the promise-bearer who is the responsible party. And since the Promise-Giver stands as sole guarantor of the promise (15:1-21), a threat to the promise is a threat to the veracity of God. Abraham must rely a priori on the Promise-Giver, otherwise the promise is of no intrinsic value.
The issue at stake supersedes the concept of promise per se and focuses on a God who demands unequivocal trust and allegiance. It is a message of timeless character particularly appropriate at times when the church is inclined to accommodate her standards to the world and compromise faith to something much less demanding. Abraham's obedience illustrates the serious nature of faith and encourages the community to allow God to be fully God.
The narrative concludes with an affirmation of God as Provider (v. 14). In the appearance of the ram (v. 13), God shows grace and sets the entire story in the context of providential care. In response to Abraham's obedience, God once more reiterates the divine obligations of the covenant (vv. 16-18). The promise is still very much alive.