Father of the Faithful

Chapter 9

After the people were scattered from Babel, immorality became almost universal. Finally, the Lord left those who were determined to maintain their rebellion against His authority to follow their evil ways. From the midst of the apostasy, He selected Abraham, of the line of Seth, to be the keeper of His Law, preserving a knowledge of the true faith for future generations.

Abraham’s character was an example of moral uprightness, generosity, and hospitality. He commanded respect as a mighty prince among the people. His reverence and love for God and his strict obedience in performing His will gained for him the respect of his servants and neighbors.

The Lord then gave to Abraham a promise that was especially important to the people of that age. “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:” To this was added the most precious promise of all, that from his descendants the Redeemer of the world would be born. “And in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

In order to qualify Abraham to be the keeper of the sacred oracles, it was necessary for him to receive a special training. Spiritual things are spiritually understood. (See 1 Corinthians 2:14.) To his family and friends who were not fully committed to following the high standard of truth, Abraham’s motives and actions were certain to be a mystery. Failing to understand the nature of his calling, they would naturally tend to exert an influence that would interfere with the training that God proposed to give to His servant. Therefore, the Lord called Abraham to separate from them. “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” Hebrews 11:8. Abraham’s unquestioning obedience is one of the most outstanding demonstrations of faith to be found in the Bible.

Sometime after he had settled in the land of Canaan, the Lord renewed His promise to Abraham. He said to him, “Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.” “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” “And Abram said, Behold, to me Thou hast given no seed: and, no one born in my house is mine heir.”

As Abraham had no son, his first thought naturally turned to his trusted servant, Eliezer. Abraham proposed that Eliezer should become his son by adoption. God informed Abraham, however, that his servant was not to be his heir, but that his heir would be a son of his own. The Lord then called him outside and said, “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.”

If Abraham and Sarah had waited in faith, relying on God for the fulfillment of the promise that they should have a son, they would have saved themselves much unhappiness. They believed that it would be just as God had promised but could not believe that Sarah, in her old age, could have a son. In order to solve the problem, Sarah suggested a plan whereby she thought to fulfill God’s promise of a son. She suggested that Abraham take her servant Hagar as his wife. By listening to the voice of Sarah and taking Hagar as his wife, Abraham failed to endure the test of his faith in God’s unlimited power. As a result, he brought upon himself, and upon Sarah, much unhappiness.

Hagar flattered herself that she was to be the mother of the great nation that God had promised to make of Abraham, and she began to treat her mistress with arrogance and contempt. Abraham soon found himself in the position of having to listen to complaints from Sarah regarding Hagar’s conduct. Though he had married Hagar at Sarah’s request, she now charged him with having caused the problem and asked that Hagar be sent away. Though he refused to send Hagar away, Abraham did tell Sarah that Hagar was still her servant and that she could exercise full control over her. Sarah reacted to Hagar’s insolence by treating her so roughly that she fled from her mistress.

Making her way into the lonely wilderness, Hagar rested by a spring of water. Then an angel of God addressed her, reproving her for her haughty conduct. He told her to return and to submit herself under her mistress’ hand. Yet with the reproof, there were words of comfort: “I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.”

After Hagar had given birth to Ishmael, the promise was again repeated to Abraham. “And I will make My covenant between Me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.” Again the promise was given that Sarah should have a son and that she would be a mother of many nations. Abraham did not yet, however, understand the promise of God. His mind immediately turned to Ishmael; and in his affection for his son, he exclaimed, “O that Ishmael might live before Thee!”

But the promise came even more emphatically to Abraham. “Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.”

After the birth of Isaac, the great joy shown by Abraham and Sarah caused Hagar to be very jealous. Ishmael’s mother had told him that as the son of Abraham, he was to be especially blessed by God and all that was promised to his father would be his by inheritance. Bitterly disappointed by the change of circumstances, Ishmael shared his mother’s feelings and was angry because of the joy displayed at the birth of Isaac. He resented and despised Isaac until his attitude could no longer be tolerated. Going to Abraham, Sarah said, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.”

Sarah’s request put Abraham in a most difficult position. Ishmael was his son, and greatly loved. How could he possibly send him away! In his perplexity, he turned to God. “And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.”

In the passage of time, the Lord again tested the faith of Abraham. Speaking to him, He said, “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.” The command of God stirred Abraham to the very depths of his soul.

Early the next morning, Abraham took two of his servants, Isaac his son, and the wood for the burnt-offering, and began the trip to the place of which God had told him. He did not tell Sarah of the Lord’s instructions to him, knowing that her love for Isaac might lead her to distrust God and withhold her son.

For three days they traveled, giving sufficient time for Abraham to reason and doubt God if he was inclined to do so. Abraham believed that Isaac was the son of promise. He also believed that God, who had in His providence given Sarah a son in her old age, could also bring him back from the dead. (See Hebrews 11: 19.)

Arriving at the foot of the mountain on which he had been instructed to offer Isaac, Abraham left the servants. Taking the wood and laying it on the young man’s shoulders, father and son began their walk. “And 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? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.”

Reaching the designated spot, Abraham built an altar. Completing the work, He now told Isaac of God’s command to him. Had he chosen to do so, Isaac could easily have resisted his father; but from childhood, he had been taught loving obedience. As God’s purpose was made clear to him, he willingly submitted. After affectionately, embracing his father, he allowed himself to be bound and laid upon the wood. Then, just as the father’s hand was raised to slay his son, “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.”

Abraham had now fully borne the test of faith that he had failed when he took Hagar as his wife. “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.”

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