Here is the trial of Abraham’s faith, whether it continued so strong, so vigorous, so victorious, after a long settlement in communion with God, as it was at first, when by it he left his country: then it was made to appear that he loved God better than his father; now that he loved him better than his son. Observe here,
I. The time when Abraham was thus tried (Gen. 22:1): After these things, after all the other exercises he had had, all the hardships and difficulties he had gone through. Now, perhaps, he was beginning to think the storms had all blown over; but, after all, this encounter comes, which is sharper than any yet. Note, Many former trials will not supersede nor secure us from further trials; we have not yet put off the harness, 1 Kgs. 20:11. See Ps. 30:6, 7.
II. The author of the trial: God tempted him, not to draw him to sin, so Satan tempts (if Abraham had sacrificed Isaac, he would not have sinned, his orders would have justified him, and borne him out), but to discover his graces, how strong they were, that they might be found to praise, and honour, and glory, 1 Pet. 1:7. Thus God tempted Job, that he might appear not only a good man, but a great man. God did tempt Abraham; he did lift up Abraham, so some read it; as a scholar that improves well is lifted up, when he is put into a higher form. Note, Strong faith is often exercised with strong trials and put upon hard services.
III. The trial itself. God appeared to him as he had formerly done, called him by name, Abraham, that name which had been given him in ratification of the promise. Abraham, like a good servant, readily answered, “Here am I; what says my Lord unto his servant?” Probably he expected some renewed promise like those, Gen. 15:1; and Gen. 17:1. But, to his great amazement, that which God has to say to him is, in short, Abraham, Go kill thy son; and this command is given him in such aggravating language as makes the temptation abundantly more grievous. When God speaks, Abraham, no doubt, takes notice of every word, and listens attentively to it; and every word here is a sword in his bones: the trial is steeled with trying phrases. Isa. it any pleasure to the Almighty that he should afflict? No, it is not; yet, when Abraham’s faith is to be tried, God seems to take pleasure in the aggravation of the trial, Gen. 22:2. Observe,
1. The person to be offered. (1.) “Take thy son, not thy bullocks and thy lambs;” how willingly would Abraham have parted with them by thousands to redeem Isaac! “No, I will take no bullock out of thy house, Ps. 50:9. I must have thy son: not thy servant, no, not the steward of thy house, that shall not serve the turn; I must have thy son.” Jephthah, in pursuance of a vow, offered a daughter; but Abraham must offer his son, in whom the family was to be built up. “Lord, let it be an adopted son;” “No, (2.) Thy only son; thy only son by Sarah.” Ishmael was lately cast out, to the grief of Abraham; and now Isaac only was left, and must he go too? Yes, (3.) “Take Isaac, him, by name, thy laughter, that son indeed,” Gen. 17:19. Not “Send for Ishmael back, and offer him;” no, it must be Isaac. “But, Lord, I love Isaac, he is to me as my own soul. Ishmael is not, and wilt thou take Isaac also? All this is against me:” Yea, (4.) That son whom thou lovest. It was a trial of Abraham’s love to God, and therefore it must be in a beloved son, and that string must be touched most upon: in the Hebrew it is expressed more emphatically, and, I think, might very well be read thus: Take now that son of thine, that only one of thine, whom thou lovest, that Isaac. God’s command must overrule all these considerations.
2. The place: In the land of Moriah, three days’ journey off; so that he might have time to consider it, and, if he did it, must do it deliberately, that it might be a service the more reasonable and the more honourable.
3. The manner: Offer him for a burnt-offering. He must not only kill his son, but kill him as a sacrifice, kill him devoutly, kill him by rule, kill him with all that pomp and ceremony, with all that sedateness and composure of mind, with which he used to offer his burnt-offerings.