Moses relieves the suspense surrounding Isaac’s ultimate fate when he tells us in Genesis 22:1 that God’s command to sacrifice the young man is a test for Abraham. The focus is really on the character of the patriarch’s faith, and the challenge to obey the Lord provides the tension for the rest of the chapter.
Consider what it means for God to test His people. We would be straying from God’s Word if we said He is ignorant of our response to His testing beforehand, for He knows what the outcome will be in advance (Isa. 46:8–11). Instead, Scripture teaches that the Lord puts us through trials so that we might see the stuff of which we are made. Divine testing can create, renew, or strengthen our humility (Deut. 8:16). God disciplines us through trials that we might yield “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:5–11). When we pass heaven-sent tests we realize the strength of our faith and find a greater assurance of our salvation and the Lord’s faithfulness.
Still, it is not easy to endure such testing. This is no less true for the greatest heroes of the faith. We as readers have the insight that Abraham was being tested, but the patriarch did not know this at the time. This elderly man had waited more than twenty-five years for Isaac to be born (Gen. 12:4; 21:5), and now, just when the Lord’s promises of life and land are starting to be fulfilled, God commands him to eliminate the one in whom the Creator pledged to accomplish His purposes (22:2). Imagine how difficult it was for Abraham to obey — the One who made the promise was calling him to kill the promise! Moreover, Isaac was his own flesh and blood. Who among us can contemplate having to do as Abraham was ordered? John Calvin comments, “It was sad for him [Abraham] to be deprived of his only son, sadder still that this son should be torn away by a violent death, but by far the most grievous that he himself should be appointed as the executioner to slay him with his own hand.”
If Abraham hated to cast Ishmael out (21:10–11), the command to sacrifice Isaac was undoubtedly more difficult for him. However, the patriarch obeys (22:2–6), so strong is his trust in the Lord.
Faith comes quickly when the Lord calls us to do easy things. But it is much harder to trust Him when He asks us to do difficult tasks. God will not call us to offer up our children as burnt offerings, but He will ask us to step outside of our comfort zones. If you are a shy person, reach out and make a new friend this month. No matter your temperament, try to do ministry in a place that may make you uncomfortable, such as a prison, hospital, or food pantry.