Abraham was directed of God to go up to Mount Moriah, and there offer up his son as a burnt offering. There the Lord tested Abraham by a most fearful trial. In taking Hagar for his wife he showed distrust in the promises of God. If he had patiently waited for the promise to be fulfilled in God’s own time and manner, and had not sought to make a providence himself, he would not have been subjected to this the closest test that was ever required of man.
Show Your Faith
This command of God was calculated to stir his soul to its depths. He was one hundred and twenty years old when this terrible and startling command came to him, in a vision of the night. He was to travel three days’ journey, and would have ample time for reflection. Fifty years previous, at the divine command, he had left father and mother, relatives and friends, and had become a pilgrim and a stranger in a land not his own. He had obeyed the command of God to send away his son Ishmael to wander in the wilderness. His soul was bowed down with grief at this separation, and his faith was sorely tried, yet he submitted because God required it.
But now a trial was before him which caused all his other afflictions to appear insignificant. The words of the command were sufficient to harrow up his soul and give him the deepest pain. “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” [Genesis 22:2.] Over and over again did the burdened soul say, Oh! my son, my son, would to God my life would be accepted in the place of thine; then should my light not go out in darkness. Abraham arose before day, and as he looked up to the starry heavens, he called to mind the promise which God made to him fifty years before. “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them. And he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.” [Genesis 15:5.] And now the same voice had commanded him to slay this only son, through whom this promise was to be fulfilled.
Abraham was tempted to believe that after all this might be a delusion. Stricken with grief, he bowed before God, and prayed as never before for a confirmation of this strange command, for greater light if he must perform this terrible duty. He remembered the angels sent to tell him of God’s purpose to destroy Sodom, and those who bore to him the promise that he should have this same son Isaac. He walked forth where he had several times met the heavenly messengers, hoping to meet them again and receive some special direction from them; but he gained no light, darkness seemed to close about him, day was approaching, and he must be on his journey before light.
He first passed to the couch upon which Isaac slept in peaceful innocency; he was the joy of his heart, the comfort of his old age. Abraham’s lips quivered, he turned quickly away, and looked upon the couch where Sarah was quietly sleeping. He knew that Isaac was her pride, that her heart was intwined with his. Should he awake Sarah, that she might look upon her son for the last time? Should he tell her the requirement of God? He knew that he himself had strength of faith, and confidence in God; he did not know the strength of Sarah’s faith; but he did know the strength of her love for Isaac.
He passed from one sleeper to the other, undecided in regard to the wisest course to pursue. He finally awakened Isaac softly, informing him that he was commanded of God to offer sacrifice upon a distant mountain, and that he must accompany him. He called his servants, and made every necessary preparation for his long journey. If he could unburden his mind to Sarah, and they together bear the suffering and responsibility, it might bring him some relief; but he decided that this would not do; for her heart was bound up in her son, and she might hinder him. He went forth on his journey, with Satan by his side to suggest unbelief and impossibility.
As the Stars
While walking by the side of Isaac, he could not engage in conversation as usual, for a deep sorrow was concealed in his own breast. The night approaches, the longest day Abraham ever experienced has come to a close. He saw his loved son Isaac and the servants locked in slumber, but he could not sleep. He spent the night in prayer. He would pray, still hoping that some heavenly messenger would appear to tell him that it is enough, that he may return to Sarah, with Isaac unharmed. The stars seem to shine forth more beautiful than ever before, reminding him of the promise, As the number of the stars, so shall thy seed be.
No new light dawned upon the tortured soul of Abraham. A heavy pressure was upon him, but he staggered not at the promise. He reasoned not that his posterity, which would be as the stars, must now come through Ishmael, for God had plainly stated that through Isaac should the promise be fulfilled. Then again was that voice ringing in his ears, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest.” That terrible command which would leave him childless can scarcely be realized. He rises early to continue his toilsome journey. Satan whispers his doubts, but Abraham resists his suggestions.
All day he had hopes of meeting an angel coming to bless and comfort him, or perhaps to revoke the command of God, but no messenger of mercy appeared. Satan suggested that he must be deceived, for God had said, “Thou shalt not kill,” and that it was not like God to require what he had forbidden. The second long day comes to a close, another sleepless night is spent in humiliation and prayer, and the journey of the third day is commenced. Abraham lifts his eyes to the mountains, and upon one he beholds the promised sign. He looks earnestly, and lo, a bright cloud hovered over the top of Mount Moriah. Now he knows it is all a terrible certainty, and no delusion.
He was yet a great distance from the mountain, but he removed the burden from the shoulders of his servants and bade them remain behind; while he placed the wood upon the shoulders of his son, and himself took the knife and fire. Abraham braced himself for his sad work which he must perform. He did not murmur against God, for Isaac had been given to him unexpectedly. He had received him with gratitude and great joy, and though he was the son of his old age, the son of his love, he yet believed that the same power that gave him Isaac, could raise him again even from the ashes of the burnt sacrifice. He strengthens his soul by the evidences he has had of the goodness and faithfulness of God. Had not God, who had graciously given Isaac to him perfect right to recall the gift, and demand him back?
Isaac had been a comfort, a sunbeam, a blessing to Abraham in his old age, and although this gift of God seemed so precious, so dear to him, yet he was now commanded to give it back to God. The words of God’s command showed that he fully realized the pain which Abraham must feel in obeying his requirement, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest.” Abraham wanted no witnesses. It was enough that God could look on and not only see the full consecration of his darling Isaac, but read the heart and fully understand how severely he felt the test. He wished no one but God to witness this parting scene between father and son.
Abraham knew not how Isaac would receive the command of God. As they drew near the mountain, “Isaac spake unto Abraham, his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” [Genesis 22:7.] These endearing words, “My Father,” pierced his affectionate heart, and again he thought, Oh! that I, in my old age, might die instead of Isaac. Still reluctant to open before his son the true purpose of his errand, Abraham answered, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” [Genesis 22:8.]
Isaac assisted his Father in building the altar. Together they placed on the wood, and the last work preparatory to the sacrifice is done. With quivering lips and trembling voice, Abraham revealed to his son the message that God had sent him. In obedience to God’s command, he had taken the journey. Everything was ready. Isaac was the victim, the lamb to be slain. Had Isaac chosen to resist his father’s command, he could have done so, for he was grown to manhood; but he had been so thoroughly instructed in the knowledge of God that he had perfect faith in his promises and requirements.
Abraham assured his son that his affection for him was not diminished, and that he would rather give his own life than to deprive him of life. But God had chosen Isaac, and his requirement must be fulfilled to the letter. He told Isaac that God had miraculously given him to his parents, and now he had required him again. He assured his son that God’s promise, that “In Isaac shall thy seed be called,” would be fulfilled; that doubtless God would raise him to life again from the dead. He told Isaac that he had hoped that the Messiah would spring from him. In this he was disappointed, and then, that his darling son must die by his own hand, increased his grief a hundred-fold.
Isaac at first heard the purpose of God with amazement amounting to terror. He considered the matter fully. He was the child of a miracle. If God had accepted him as a worthy sacrifice, he would cheerfully submit. Life was dear, life was precious, but his Creator had specified him, Isaac, to be offered up as a sacrifice. He comforted his father, by assuring him that God conferred honor upon him, in accepting him as a sacrifice; that in this requirement he saw not the wrath and displeasure of God, but special tokens that God loved him, in that he required him to be consecrated to himself in sacrifice.
Father of the Faithful
He encouraged the almost nerveless hands of his father to bind the cords which confined him to the altar. The last words of endearing love were spoken by father and son, the last affectionate, filial, and parental tears were shed, the last embrace was given, and the father had pressed his beloved son to his aged breast for the last time. His hand is uplifted, grasping firmly the instrument of death, which was to take the life of Isaac, when suddenly his arm is stayed. “And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen. And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” [Genesis 22:11–18.]
God estimated Abraham’s obedience and unswerving faith, and gave him the name of “Father of the faithful.” The example of Abraham is recorded in sacred history for the benefit of his believing children. This great act of faith teaches the lesson of implicit confidence in God, perfect obedience to his requirements, and a complete surrender to the divine will. In the example of Abraham we are taught that nothing we possess is [too] precious to give to God.
All that we have is the Lord’s. Our money, our time, talents and ourselves, all belong to him. He has lent them to us, to test and prove us, and to develop what is in our hearts. If we selfishly claim as our own the favors God has graciously intrusted to us, we shall meet with great loss, for we rob God, and in robbing him, we rob ourselves of heavenly blessings, and the benediction Christ will give the faithful and obedient: “Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” [Matthew 25:23.]
How many now who profess to be Christians would yield up to God their beloved Isaac? Our dearest treasure belongs to God. A solemn duty rests upon Christian parents to so educate and mould the minds of their children that they will ever have a high respect and exalted reverence for God and everything sacred and holy. Such will feel that God’s claims must first be regarded, that nothing is too precious to sacrifice for him. Such will, like Abraham, exemplify their faith by their works.
How many now who profess to believe God, and pass for Christians, will not obey his voice when he calls upon them to deny self, and yield to him their darling treasures. They will hesitate, and cling to earthly things. Their affections are upon the world and the things of the world, and some of these very ones will have the most to say about how much they have sacrificed to obey the truth. Isaac felt that it was a privilege to yield his life as a sacrifice to God. If God could accept him, he felt that he was honored.
Sacrifice of God
Human judgment may look upon the command given to Abraham as severe, too great for human strength to bear. Abraham’s strength was from God. He looked not at the things which are seen with mortal vision, but at the things which are eternal. God required no more of Abraham than he had, in divine compassion and infinite love, given to man. He gave his only begotten Son to die, that guilty man might live. Abraham’s offering of Isaac was especially designed of God to prefigure the sacrifice of his Son.
Every step that Abraham advanced toward Mount Moriah, the Lord went with him. All the agony and grief that Abraham endured during the three days of his dark and fearful trial, were imposed upon him to give us a lesson in perfect faith and obedience, and that we might better comprehend how real was the great self-denial and infinite sacrifice of the Father in giving his only Son to die a shameful death for the guilty race. No trial, no suffering or test, could be brought to bear upon Abraham, which would cause such mental anguish, such torture of soul, as that of obeying God in offering up his son.
Our Heavenly Father surrendered his beloved Son to the agonies of the crucifixion. Legions of angels witnessed the humiliation and soul-anguish of the Son of God, but were not permitted to interpose as in the case of Isaac. No voice was heard to stay the sacrifice. God’s dear Son, the world’s Redeemer, was insulted, mocked at, derided, and tortured, until he bowed his head in death. What greater proof can the Infinite One give us of his divine love and pity. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” [Romans 8:32.]
The meager conception that many have of the worth of the soul, and the sacrifice of God’s dear Son for sinful man, is shown by their works. Should God speak to them as he did to Abraham, Sacrifice your possessions, your temporal benefits that I have lent you to advance my cause, they would look in astonishment, thinking God did not mean just what he said. Their riches are as dear to them as their children, their worldly treasure is their Isaac. To honor God with their substance, they think, is a requirement altogether too great, and they cannot believe that God means it. What have this class sacrificed for God?
Men will show all the faith they have. If God should speak to them and command them to go and offer one of their beloved children, they would think God a hard master. Yet he has done more than this for them. No such command will come to test and prove them. God knew to whom he spake, when he gave the command to true and faithful Abraham. Abraham knew that it was God who had commanded, and that his promises were infallible. Had God commanded him to offer his gold, his silver, his flocks, or even his own life, he would have done so cheerfully. He would have felt that he was but yielding back to God that which belonged to him.
But there are many who know not what self-denial, or sacrifice, or devotion to God, is. They never can have extended and elevated views of the infinite sacrifice made by the Son of God to save a ruined world, until they surrender all to God. If God should speak to them in a command, as he did to Abraham, they would not be enough acquainted with his voice to understand that he did really require something of them, to show their love, and the genuineness of their faith.
The claims of God upon our love, affection, and possessions, our talents, and ourselves, are correspondingly great as was the infinite sacrifice made in giving his Son to die for sinful man. Those who really appreciate the work of the atonement, those who have a high sense of the sacrifice Christ has made to exalt them to his throne, will count it a special honor to be partakers with Christ in his self-denial, sacrifice, and suffering, that they may be co-workers with him in saving souls.
There are many who profess the truth, who do not love God half so well as they love the world. God is testing and proving them. Their love of the world and of riches darkens their minds, perverts their judgment, and hardens their hearts. God has, to some of them at least, revealed his will, and called for a surrender of their Isaac to him. But they refuse to obey, and let golden opportunities pass. Precious time is bearing into eternity a record of duties unfulfilled and of positive neglect.
Nothing we have is of true value until it is surrendered to God. The talent of means devoted to the cause and work of God, is of tenfold more value, than if selfishly retained for the gratification of our own pleasure. The faith of the devoted martyrs was like that of Abraham, it was genuine. They valued the precious truth, and in their turn, although despised of men, hunted from place to place, persecuted, afflicted, and tormented, were valued of God. There was no place for them upon the earth, but of them, says the apostle, the world was not worthy. [See Hebrews 11:37, 38.] Those who clung to precious truth in face of prison, torture, and death, had faith that few now living possess.
Many have chosen a life of ease. They have exalted their earthly interests above the spiritual and eternal. They neglect to learn the hard lesson of self-denial, and of surrendering all to God. They do not count anything interesting, save that which is learned without much effort, and without involving any sacrifice of temporal enjoyment; and it is forgotten as soon as learned, because it cost them nothing.
The deepest poverty, with God’s blessing, is better than houses and lands, and any amount of earthly treasure, without it. God’s blessing places value on everything we possess; but if we have the whole world without his blessing we are indeed as poor as the beggar, for we can take nothing with us into the next world.
Those who profess to be looking for the soon coming of our Saviour, should have Abrahamic faith, a faith that is valued because it has cost them something, a faith that works by love, and purifies the soul. The example of Abraham is left on record for us upon whom the ends of the world have come. We must believe that God is in earnest with us, and that he is not to be trifled with. He means what he says, and he requires of us implicit faith and willing obedience. Then will he let his light shine around about us, and we shall be all light in the Lord.
The Signs of the Times, April 1, 1875.
Ellen G. White (1827–1915) wrote more than 5,000 periodical articles and 40 books during her lifetime. Today, including compilations from her 50,000 pages of manuscript, more than 100 titles are available in English. She is the most translated woman writer in the entire history of literature, and the most translated American author of either gender. Seventh-day Adventists believe that Mrs. White was appointed by God as a special messenger to draw the world’s attention to the Holy Scriptures and help prepare people for Christ’s second advent.