The Offering of Isaac
From Gospel Translations
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac” (Heb. 11:17).
- Hebrews 11:17–19
Though we have the privilege of living under the new covenant, we still wait to receive some of the things that have been promised. These things — the new heavens and the new earth, perfect holiness, uninterrupted fellowship with God — are not yet here in our day-to-day experience. But they are a positional reality, anticipating the future. Jesus has done the work necessary to achieve all of these things. Those of us who are in Christ are seated with Him in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:4–7). Therefore this promised inheritance really is ours even though God has delayed its full manifestation in our everyday lives.
Only through true persevering faith are we granted these promises, first as a positional reality and then later as an experiential one. A prime example of persevering faith is found in today’s passage. In Hebrews 11:17–19, we are reminded that by faith Abraham offered up Isaac. These verses refer to Genesis 22, where Abraham faithfully obeyed God’s command to sacrifice Isaac on the altar.
But why was this offering such an act of faith? The answer is that Isaac was the child of the promise (Heb. 11:18). Remember that God promised Abraham many descendants but seemed to delay a long time in fulfilling this promise. After many years Isaac was born (Gen. 21:2), and through him the promised nation would come (v. 12).
Imagine how hard it was for Abraham to obey God through this sacrifice. God was asking Him to do something that might invalidate the promise. For if Isaac, the child of promise, was killed, how could God be true to His Word to make a nation from Isaac?
Abraham trusted God anyway. He knew that God would keep His promise and name descendants through Isaac even if he was sacrificed. His confidence in God made him know that God would be true to His promise in Isaac even if He had to raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:19). He knew that though it might seem impossible, following the command to kill Isaac would not nullify God’s promise.
John Owen says that “sometimes, through God’s providence, there may appear to be inconsistency between God’s commands and his promises. Nothing but faith bowing the soul to divine sovereignty can reconcile this.” True faith, like Abraham’s, believes that God can do the impossible.
God’s command that the Messiah must die (Isa. 53) seemed at first glance to be inconsistent with His promise that Messiah would rule the earth (Zech. 9:10). But now we see that both are perfectly consistent. We must resolve in our hearts to trust God even if His will may sometimes seem inconsistent to our limited understanding.
Passages for Further Study
1 Cor. 1:18–25