Gods Instruction (vv.1-2)
"And it came to pass after these things that God did tempt (prove or test) Abraham, and said...". This is the seventh and last time that God speaks to Abraham. It is the final test of faith recorded and the severest of them all. God tests to promote and produce godliness in His people, to prove the reality of faith. Abraham had been well prepared as a result of previous experiences - "after these things"; he endured at least seven trials in a mix of failures and successes. The Christian life is a series of tests, but, thank God, He will prepare us and "not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able" (1 Cor 10.13).
Abraham was not left to a quiet and uneventful retirement; God had higher purposes for him (and for us) even in old age. He was now to face the ultimate challenge. The divine demand is staggering, indeed awesome! "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac (in Hebrew this is the first mention of this word "only" which corresponds to "only begotten") and offer him there for a burnt offering." Each phrase is calculated to hurt and to cut ever deeper into Abrahams heart. No reasons were given and no explanation offered. God abhorred the practice of human sacrifice, and Isaac was the son of promise, of miraculous birth, the seed upon whom all future blessing depended; was he to be slain and burnt to ashes? What seeming madness, but "the foolishness of God is wiser than men" (1 Cor 1.25)! There is a similarity between this last test and the first in 12.1. Both are calls into the unknown and unseen, but could faith possibly rise to such a peak as this final test? God demands all that Abraham holds dear. Of course God did not intend that Isaac should be slain (He said "offer" not "slay"); God did not want Isaac, He wanted Abrahams heart as He wants ours: "My son, give me thine heart" (Pr 23.26; see also Mt 10.37; 22.37). Here we have the first mention of "love" in the Bible and how appropriate that it is used in connection with the father son relationship. The first reference to love in the New Testament is, "My beloved Son" (Mt 3.17).
Abrahams Devotion (vv.3-5)
Abraham obeyed without delay and without question (cp. Ps 119.60). He acted decisively, not impulsively, in making preparations and went out trusting in his God. It was a journey of three days, giving plenty of time to reflect and retreat, but he went on to the place (note four references to "the place", vv.3,4,9,14) in spite of mixed emotions and mental confusion. On the third day "he lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off". He was a man of clear vision within the distance of death, and, as it were, in the spirit of Christ who said, "Not my will, but thine, be done" (Lk 22.42), he moved obediently on to the appointed "place". Some have suggested that the Saviour died on the slopes of Moriah, in the same vicinity where Isaac was offered and where the Temple was built (2 Chr 3.1). Abraham and Isaac must now go on alone, none could share this experience: "Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad (young man) will go yonder and worship, and come again to you" (cp. Mt 26.36). Abraham had come to this settled conviction "Accounting (reckoning) that God was able to raise him (Isaac) up even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure" (Heb 11.19). Faith glimpsed the God of Resurrection. He concluded that the God who brought life out of death from Sarahs barren womb could also raise up Isaac out of the ashes of a burnt offering (Heb 11.17,19). Abraham also regarded it as an act of worship, indicating that worship is selfless, sacrificial, scriptural (based on Gods Word), and centred in His Son.
Isaacs Submission (vv.6-9)
Abraham laid the wood upon Isaac; similarly the Lord "bearing his cross went forth". The father and son "went both of them together" (vv.6,8); there was no compulsion or coercion, reminding us of the Lords words, "I am not alone, because the Father is with me" (Jn 16.32). Isaac had been silently submissive, but now utters the great question, "Where is the lamb?". Notice the strong bond and oneness of the intimate, filial relationship of "My father" and "My son", and particularly the number of times that "son" is mentioned; it parallels the divine relationship, and mirrors the greater divine love. This is the first mention of "lamb", the great theme of the Bible through to the book of the Revelation. Abrahams answer, "God will provide himself the lamb" (RSV), has been amply fulfilled in the person of the Saviour (Jn 1.29).
Isaac seemed satisfied with this reply and left the matter in his fathers hands. He was a strong young man, not a boy; he "was not rebellious, neither turned away back" (Is 50.5), but acquiesced in his fathers will. "And they came to the place" (cp. Jn 19.17), where the altar was carefully constructed, the wood laid in order, and Isaac was bound and "laid upon the wood" (see v.6). So the Lord was laid upon and bound to the Cross. He bore the Cross and the Cross bore Him! In picture Isaac "became obedient unto death", but our heavenly Isaac experienced death, even the death of the Cross (Phil 2.8).
Gods Intervention (vv.10-12)
The climax is now reached and the drama intensifies. As Abraham takes the knife to slay his son, faith and obedience are tried to the uttermost. Father and son look at one another with tear dimmed eyes, then comes the urgent double call, "Abraham, Abraham Lay not thy hand upon the lad, for now I know...". God accepts the deed as done. Abraham climbed the mountain of faith and attained the summit, but some of us get no higher than the foothills. He was "justified by works" as well as by faith - are we (Jas 2.21; Heb 11.17)? God is not ashamed to be called the God of Abraham, nor ashamed to call Abraham His friend. God was delighted: twice He says, "Thou hast not withheld (spared) thy son, thine only son from me" (vv.12,16). This is a statement of divine intent anticipating Calvary when heaven was silent and no substitute was found, for God "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all" (Rom 8.32).
Gods Provision (vv.13-24)
"Abraham lifted up his eyes", and with relief he saw an unblemished substitute ("caught by its horns" - no torn flesh) at hand to offer "in the stead of his son". This latter phrase exactly describes the principle of substitution, for Christ died as a substitute "on behalf of all", that is available to all, but "in the stead of many" is applicable only to believers (1 Tim 2.6; Mk 10.45). Imagine how Isaac felt as he watched the innocent ram dying in his place; surely he wept and loved! Abraham named the place Jehovah-Jireh meaning the Lord will see, or provide; thus pointing on to Calvary, the place of vision and provision, revelation and redemption. Gods ways are wonderful, they are past finding out!
What comfort to know the Lord will provide for our every need (Phil 4.19). The results for Abraham are multiplied blessings guaranteed by divine oath for him, his seed, and all nations, Israel and the Church being a part, "because thou hast obeyed my voice". Obedience is ever the path to blessing. Isaac is not named again, not even when Abraham returns (v.19) (in figure he has died and risen), but his potential bride (picture of the church) Rebekah is first mentioned in v.23, indicating Gods purposed gift. Isaac reappears in ch.24 to claim his bride. That this is all a prophetic picture foreshadowing Calvary is clear and compelling. May our faith be strengthened while we wait for our heavenly Isaac to claim His bride and take us to the Fathers House.