It is difficult to know the true character of a man until he is tested.
Abraham had experienced difficulties, but nothing like this. This chapter records Abraham’s ready obedience to God’s command, journeying with Isaac to Moriah, and divine intervention and fresh revelation of God’s covenant promises. Heb. 11:17-19 is key to understanding.
vv. 1–2 - We often view Isaac as very young here, but probably he was in his 20s at least. The range of guesses is generally 18–37. God tempts, i.e. tests Abraham concerning his “only” i.e. special son. In that time, child sacrifice was common. As shocking as the language seems to us, it would not have been as shocking to Abraham. However, the passage ends up enforcing the fact that the true and living God does not accept child sacrifice.
vv. 3–8 - Abraham immediately obeyed. He is sustained by his convictions. v. 5 - he expects both to return. This is the voice of faith. v.6 - perhaps reflects a familiar experience for Isaac, for no doubt Abraham had taught him to worship at an altar, and so he asks, “Where is the lamb?” (v. 7–8). It is at this point I envision Abraham explaining things to Isaac. There is no way he is placed on the altar in ignorance. Thus, I picture Abraham discussing with his son an overview of the history of God’s dealing with him, God’s promises and intentions concerning him, the miracle of his birth and ultimately leading Isaac to believe that God can be trusted to keep His Word, and since He had given His Word to make of him a great nation, then that must be fulfilled and I must return with you. He can trust God, even if He doesn’t understand God’s intentions or purposes. He knows that the judge of all the earth will do right (Gen. 18:25).
vv. 9–14 - so Isaac goes with his father, voluntarily. Since there is no struggle or resistance, we must view him as believing and trusting God just as much as Abraham. At the moment Abraham evidences his readiness to do as God had said, the angel of the Lord, the Son of God himself, intervenes, and Abraham, comprehending the gospel message of substitution, sees a ram that can be offered instead of Isaac.
vv. 15–19 - following the event, God repeats His promises with greater clarity, “thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies” (v. 17).
vv. 20–24 - most people think these verses are about revealing God’s provision of a wife for Isaac. While that may be part of it, an additional truth is seen in how Abraham’s brother, Nahor, who has 12 sons. The line through whom God will work looks weak. It is like a comparison between the church and the world. They seem so much more numerous and powerful. But God’s purpose is centered on the seed of Abraham.
The Lord reserves the right to test His people. Abraham was in a very content stage of life, and God rattles him through this test. He may do the same to you. He tested his love (did he love God more than his son). He tested his faith (did he trust God more than his sight). He tested his fear (did he fear God more than losing his son). If you are being tested, learn from Abraham. All your professed devotion to God is empty until you are tested.
When it seems like God is asking for too much from us, it is because He intends to give something great to us. It appeared that God was asking for Abraham’s son. Instead, God was giving one of the most clear revelations of the gospel in the entire Old Testament. Trust and follow Christ, because no man has left houses, lands, family, for the sake of Christ without being assured of eternal life.
Take yourself to the cross every time you are trying to determine the will of God. v. 14 “In the mount of the Lord is shall be seen.” The sense is that it is when God brings His people into the mount of His presence, you can see things clearer. It is like Asaph in Psalm 73, not understanding the prosperity of the wicked until he entered the sanctuary of God. When Scripture does not explicitly guide, make your decisions in the presence of God and before the altar of Calvary.
God will provide. Jehovah-Jireh is often expressed to mean God will provide materially. However, this is a blasphemous application if it ignores the primary meaning. The context is a sacrificial provision. God reveals Himself as the one who provides what man needs to worship Him. Thus, it points to the provision of Christ and our spiritual need, not material things.
Children, do you know the gospel as well as Issac? Isaac knew to ask, “Where is the lamb?” Your sin must be judged, and the question is, where is the lamb? If you have trusted Him, then He has been judged for your sins. If you have not, then you will be judged for your sins. Where is the lamb? I hope He is in your heart.
In what way is the gospel here? Either a) Isaac represents Christ who should come and be a sacrifice for sin and be raised from the dead, or b) Isaac represents the Israel of God, those who should die but don’t because of a substitute. Either way, there are few chapters in the Bible so full of the gospel as this one.
“Oftentimes, our highest obedience must be a solitary one—friends cannot help us in such emergencies—and it is better for them and better for us that they should not be with us.” — Charles Spurgeon