It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. -(Hebrews 11:17a)
This scene is known as the Akedah or the binding. To compare, think of how Americans remember the feeling of 9/11 – the tragedy, fear, and loss which etched that day into the minds of citizens for the rest of their lives. In a similar way that is how the nation of Israel looked back to this binding. It was painful, how could God ask Abraham to give up not only the promise of God, but his own son? The writer of Hebrews delves into this emotional episode to reveal how Abraham could do such a thing.
Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, though God had promised him, ‘Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.’ -(Hebrews 11:7b-18)
Let’s take this piece by piece.
First of all it says that Abraham received the promises of God. Receiving is a sign of trust. When you receive anything, you are also to some degree receiving the one who gives. Receiving means allowing and making room for whatever it is you receive. Therefore, in the case of receiving anything from God, you are also to some degree receiving God himself – for whom you must make room. God is not satisfied with a corner of your life. He will not be satisfied until all the room is his.
Finally, receiving is acceptance. And everything accepted comes in three parts: person, particular, and price.
Person is the one who gives. Particular is the thing being given. And price is the cost to receive what is being given. For the sake of illustration lets say it is your birthday and you receive a book from your father. Your father would be the person, the book the particular, and the price would be free since it was a gift by occasion of your birthday.
These three appear in v.17. God is the person giving to Abraham. The particular is the promise of many descendants. And the price, which up to this point had been faithfulness and trust, now escalates into sacrifice. The sacrifice of Isaac becomes the price to keep hold of the particular promise from the person of God.
Verse 18 moves into an explanation, Isaac will be the one through whom the promise comes. How could Abraham give up Isaac when the explanation he received from God contradicted the price he was now being asked to pay? Because Abraham trusted, focused on, the person far above the particular. Abraham’s confidence rested in the character of God, not in his explanations. This is clearly a lesson for us who love to ask why. Our whys will grow faint as our understanding of the who grows clearer.
Abraham assumed that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. -(Hebrews 11:19a)
What sort of things do you assume? I assume that if I place my keys on the counter they will be in the same place tomorrow. I assume that when I walk to my refrigerator there will be food inside. I assume every time I go to sit down that the chair will be able to hold me. We assume things that are easy to believe.
That realization makes this verse ten times more extraordinary. Abraham assumed, Abraham found it easy to believe, he did not struggle with the concept that resurrection was a thing God could do. Even an easy thing he could do.
What kind of faith was this! It was an enduring faith, founded upon the person of God. Abraham had marinated in God’s character for years, through flurries of suffering and success, and found Him to be faithful.
And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. -(Hebrews 11:19b)
This is where the Gospel shines. Abraham received Isaac back. What happened to the price? The sacrifice of Isaac was supposed to seal the promise. Instead, God supplied the sacrifice and paid the price in Isaac’s place. Abraham received the promise without any cost to him.
Abraham received an immense inheritance because his son lived. This was just a foreshadow. We receive an incomprehensible inheritance because God’s son died. Just like Abraham who received the prize without the price, now we can too.