Isaac, the promised miracle child, is born. But then, a few years later, God tests Abraham’s faith.
When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”
“Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”
Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son.
Pagan nations practiced human sacrifice, but God condemned this as a terrible sin (Leviticus 20:1-5). So why did God ask Abraham to perform human sacrifice? God was testing Abraham. God did not want Isaac to die, but he wanted Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in his heart so it would be clear that Abraham loved God more than he loved his promised and long-awaited son. The purpose of testing is to strengthen our character and deepen our commitment to God and his perfect timing.
Imagine what Abraham must have felt as he walked slowly up the mountain with his beloved son. And then as he built the altar with Isaac and laid the wood on it. And finally, as he tied Isaac to the altar and reached for his knife. What a test! But he passed; and through this difficult experience, Abraham strengthened his commitment to obey God. He also learned about God’s ability to provide. He learned to trust God more.
The ram offered on the altar as a substitute for Isaac parallels Christ, who was offered on the cross as a substitute for us. Whereas God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son, God did not spare his own Son, Jesus, from dying on the cross. If Jesus had lived, the rest of humankind would have died instead. But God sent his only Son to die for us so that we could be spared from eternal death and instead receive eternal life (John 3:16).
Letting go of what we deeply love is extremely difficult. What could be more proper than to love your only child? Yet when we do give to God what he asks, he returns to us far more than we could dream. The spiritual benefits of his blessings far outweigh our sacrifices. Have you withheld your love, your children, or your time from him? Trust him to provide.