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ABRAHAM COMMANDED TO OFFER UP HIS SON ISAAC.
When Isaac was born, Abraham might be apt to hope that his trials were nearly at an end : but if so, he was greatly mistaken. It is not enough, that, in consequence of this event, he is called to give up Ishmael : a greater trial than this is yet behind.
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham. Many temptations had assailed him from other quarters, out of which God had delivered bim : and does he after this become his tempter ? As God cannot be tempted with evil, so neither (in one sense) tempteth he any man.
But be sees fit to try the righteous ; and very frequently those most who are most distinguished by their faith and spirituality. So great a value doth the Lord set upon the genuine exercises of grace, that all the grandeur of heaven and earth is overlooked, in comparison of a poor and contrite spirit, which trembleth at his word. It is no wonder, therefore, that he should bring his servants into situations, which, though trying to them, are calculated to draw forth these pleasant fruits.
In discoursing upon this temptation of Abraham, I shall deviate from my usual practice of expounding verse by verse; and shall notice the trial itself; the conduct of the patriarch under it ; the reward conferred upon him; and the general design of the whole.
First, with respect to the trial itself. The time of it is worthy of notice. The same things may be more or less trying as they are connected with other things. If the treatment of Job's friends had not been preceded by the loss of his substance, the untimely Vol. V.
death of his children, the cruel counsel of his wife, and the heavy hand of God, it had been much more tolerable: and if Abraham's faith and patience had not been exercised in the manner they were anterior to this temptation, it might have been somewhat different from what it was. It is also a much greater trial to be deprived of an object when our hopes have been raised, and in a manner accomplished respecting it, than to have it altogether withheld from us. The spirits of a man may be depressed by a heavy affliction; but if he be nearly recovered, and experiences a relapse ; if again he recovers, and again relapses, this is much more depressing than if no such hopes had been afforded him. Thou hast lifted me up, said the Psalmist, and cast me down ! Now such was the temptation of Abraham. It was after these things that God did tempt Abraham : that is, after five-and-twenty years waiting ; after the promise had been frequently repeated ; after hope had been raised to the highest pitch ; yea, after it had been actually turned into enjoyment; and when the child bad lived long enough to discover an amiable and godly disposition. Ver. 7.
The shock which it was adapted to produce upon his natural affections, is also worthy of notice. The command is worded in a manner as if it were designed to harrow up all his feelings as a father ; Take now thy son, thine ONLY SON (of promise)- Isaac, WHOM THOU LOVEST-Or, as some read it, 'Take now that son... that only one of thine . . . whom thou lovest .... that ISAAC!' And what ? Deliver him to some other hand to sacrifice him ? No: be thou thyself the priest : go, offer him up for a burnt offering! When Ishmael was thirteen years old, Abraham could have been well contented to have gone without another son : but when he was born, and had for a number of years been entwining round his heart, to part with him in this manner must, we should think, be a rending stroke. Add to this, Isaac's having to carry the wood, and himself the fire and the knife ; but above all, the cutting question of the lad, asked in the simplicity of his heart, without knowing that he himself was to be the victim, Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering ?--This would seem to be more than human nature could bear.
But the shock which it would be to natural affection is not represented as the principal part of the trial; but rather that it must have been to his faith. It was not so much his being his son, as his only son of promise ; his Isaac, in whom all the great things spoken of his seed were to be fulfilled. When called to give up' his other son, God condescended to give him a reason for it; but here no reason is given. In that case, though Ishmael must go, it is because he is not the child of promise; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. But if Isaac go, who shall be a substitute for him?
Let us next observe the conduct of Abraham under this sharp trial. In general, we see no opposition, either from the struggles of natural affection, or those of unbelief: all bow in absolute submission to the will of God. We may depict to ourselves how the former would revolt, and how the latter would rise up in rebellion, and what a number of plausible objections might have been urged ; but there is not a single appearance of either in Abraham. We have here, then, a surprising instance of the efficacy of divine grace, in rendering every power, passion, and thought of the mind, subordinate to the will of God. There is a wide difference between this, and the extinction of the passions. That were to be deprived of feeling ; but this is to have the mind assimilated to the mind of Christ, who, though he felt most sensibly, yet said, If this cup may not pass from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
No sooner had the father of the faithful received the heavenly mandate, than without further delay he prepares for the journey. Lot lingered, even when his own deliverance was at stake : but Abraham rose early in the morning, in prompt obedience to God. He had to go three days' journey ere he reached the appointed spot; a distance perhaps of about sixty miles. Sarah seems to have known nothing of it. He takes only two young men with him to carry what was necessary; and, on bis arrival within sight of the place, they were left behind. Abide you here, said he, with the ass, and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. This would intimate that he wished not to be interrupted. In hard duties and severe trials, we should consider that
we have enough to struggle with in our minds, without having any interruptions from other quarters. Great trials are best entered upon with but little company. Such was the precaution taken by our Lord himself. It is admirable to see how, in this trying hour, Abraham possessed his soul. He lays the wood upon his sontakes the fire and the knife-they go both of them together--he évades the cutting question of Isaac so as to prevent disclosure, and yet in soch a manner as to excite resignation to God—built the altar-stretched forth his hand and took the knife with an intention to slay his son !
But what did he mean by telling his two servants that he and the lad would come again to them? These words, compared with those of the Apostle, in Hebrews xi. 17. explain the whole story. They show that Abrabam from the first believed that the lad would in some way be restored to bim, because God had said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. He expected no other than that he should have to slay him, and that he would be burnt to asbes ; but if so it were, he was persuaded that he should receive him again, Accounting that God was able to raise him even from the dead. Such was the victory of faith!
Take notice, in the next place, of the reward conferred upon him. At the very moment when he was about to give the fatal stroke, and to which Isaac seems to have made no resistance, the angel of the Lord, who visited him at Mamre, and with whom he had interceded in behalf of Sodom, called unto him to forbear: for now I know, saith he, that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me. The Lord knew the heart of Abraham before he had tried him ; but he speaks
1 ; after the manner of men. It is by a holy and obedient reverence of the divine authority that faith is made manifest. As a sinner, Abraham was justified by faith only : but as a professing believer, he was justified by the works which his faith produced. This accounts, I apprehend, for what is said by Paul on the first of these subjects, and by James on the last. They both allege the example of Abraham ; but the one respects him as ungodly, the
; other as godly. In the first instance he is justified by faith, exclusive of works, or as having reference merely to the promised seed; in the last by faith, as producing works, and thereby proving him to be the friend of God.*
Abraham, being thus agreeably arrested in his design, makes a pause, and lifting up his eyes, sees a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. Him he takes, as provided of God, and offers him up for a burnt-offering instead of his son. This extraordinary deliverance so impressed his mind, that he called the name of the place Jehovah-Jirek; the Lord will see, or provide. And this name seems to have become a kind of proverb in Israel, furnishing not only a memorial of God's goodness to Abraham, but a promise that he would interpose for them that trust in him in times of extremity. To all this, the Lord adds a repetition of the promised blessing. The angel of the Lord who called upto him before, called upon him a second time, saying, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord; for because thou hast done this thing, and hast nat 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 upon
the sea-shore ; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice. Though the things here promised are much the same as had been promised before, yet they are more than a mere repetition. The terms are stronger than bad erer been used on any former occasion, and as such, more expressive of divine complacencyBlessing, I will bless thee, &c. is a mode of speaking which denotes, I will greutly bless thee. (Chap. iii. 16.) It is also delivered in the form of an oath, that it may be a ground of strong consolation : and the same things which were promised before are now promised as the reward of this singular instance of obedience, to express how greatly God approved of it.
A few remarks on the general design of the whole, will conclude this subject. Though it was not the intention of God to permit Abraham actually to offer a human sacrifice ; yet he might mean to assert bis own right, as Lord of all, to require it, as well as to
Rom. iv.3–5. James ii. 21–24.