51 – Hebrews 11:17-19: The Faith of Abraham and Isaac

Hebrews 11:17-19

“When Abraham’s faith was tested, he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. He accepted God’s promises and was ready to offer his only son. Although God had told him it was through Isaac his posterity would be traced, he reasoned God had the power to raise him from the dead. Receiving back his son was an analogy of the resurrected life.”   (paraphrased)

Before proceeding to examine additional personalities in The Hall of Faith, a minor point should be addressed. The order in which these individuals are listed is not in perfect harmony with the Old Testament record.

For example:

<> Isaac and Jacob (Heb.11:9) are referred prior to Sarah (11:11), although Isaac was Sarah’s son (Gen. 21:3) and Jacob was her grandson (Gen. 25:20 & 27:6).
<> The destruction of Jericho is called to our remembrance. The writer then commends Rahab (Heb.11:30-31), yet her story begins prior to the actual collapse of the walls (Josh. 2:1 & 6:20).
<> Gideon’s name is listed before Barak (Heb.11:32), but Barak is introduced in Judges 4:6 ahead of Gideon (Jud. 6:13).
<> The name of Samson is recorded prior to Jephthae (Heb.11:32), however Jephthae is referenced in Judges 11:1 and Samson is introduced later (Jud. 13:24).
<> David is mentioned earlier than Samuel (Heb.11:32), yet Samuel was born many years prior to David (I Sam. 1:20 & 16:13).

The answer to this dilemma is simple. The author’s intent is to present a cross-section of men and women who illustrate faith. Consequently, the list is generally chronological, but not strictly chronological.

v. 17
A son’s death due to either accidental or natural causes is tragic, but to kill one’s own son is a repulsive thought to any father. Paternal instinct naturally recoils from the idea. Few crimes are more appalling than the murder of an immediate family member. Ethical considerations include the divine and human laws prohibiting filicide (Gen. 9:6). Because Isaac had committed no crime, there was no punitive reason which would warrant his death.

Abraham was “tried” (peirazo), meaning “put to the test.”  While God tempts no one, He does prove us (Jas. 1:13-14). Only a great trial can evaluate great faith. Throughout this ordeal, Abraham displayed unquestioning obedience. The Greek terminology used here indicates Abraham passed his examination – even prior to the angelic intervention (Gen. 22:11-12).

When God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac was probably in his early thirties. Abraham knew that the fulfillment of the promise regarding his future posterity depended on Isaac. His death would mean God’s oath could not be fulfilled. Abraham did not expect another miracle child, for Isaac was the specified heir. Because Sarah would bear no more children, Isaac was irreplaceable. Should he perish, all hope for future offspring would vanish with him. Ishmael had earlier been eliminated as a contender for the promised posterity (Gen. 17:19-21), as well as the sons Abraham would later father through Keturah (Gen. 25:1-3). 

“Offered” is prosphero, a verb in the perfect tense. This terminology indicates Abraham considered the sacrifice to be already completed as far as his sinserity and obedience were concerned. James also refers to Abraham’s proposed sacrifice as something that had been fully accomplished (Jas. 2:21). The patriarch felt compelled to obey God rather than question His judgment. Knowing Abraham’s heart, God treated him as if he had actually consummated the sacrifice. Isaac was the sole progenitor of the Hebrew race. He was Abraham’s “only begotten” (monogenes). Monogenes is the exact same term used when referring to God’s “only begotten” in John 3:16. Isaac was the unique son who would fulfill his destiny and father a dynasty.

The supreme evidence of Abraham’s faith was his willingness to give back to God that which he cherished most. He was ready to follow God’s detailed instructions at the specified time and place. Abraham built the altar and attempted to make the sacrifice. He was so determined to carry out God’s will, angelic intervention was required to stop him from proceeding.

vv. 18-19
It must have been difficult for Abraham to reconcile God’s current directives with His former promises. The Lord told Abraham He knew how dearly he loved Isaac (Gen. 22:2). The inner conflict was between his love for his son and his love for God. The disparagement, stress, and heartache caused by God’s command are unimaginable. While Abraham did not refuse to sacrifice his son, neither did he doubt God’s promises. He trusted the Lord to keep His commitments, but how He chose to do so was His business.

Because Isaac had been supernaturally born, Abraham believed he could be supernaturally restored. The writer focuses upon the faith which enabled him to follow through with God’s command. “Accounting” (logisamenos) infers logical thinking. Abraham reasoned God could not take Isaac from him permanently, for it was impossible for Him to lie (Heb. 6:18). Abraham knew God could revitalize aging reproductive organs that were “as good as dead” (11:12). He realized the One capable of that miracle could also cause the deceased to live again. In the Genesis account, Abraham left his servants some distance from Mount Moriah. He told them that both he and his son would return, convinced Isaac would come back with him (Gen. 22:5). This agrees perfectly with our verse under consideration: Abraham calculated God would resurrect Isaac. Abraham’s belief in this possibility is amazing, considering the fact no one as yet had ever been raised from the dead. However, a number of resurrections are later recorded in Scripture:

<> Elijah raised the son of the widow of Zarephath (I Kgs. 17:21-22).
<> Elisha raised the son of the Shunammite (II Kgs. 4:32-37).
<> Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain (Lk. 7:15).
<> Jesus raised Lazarus (Jn. 11:44).
<> Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter (Lk. 8:54-55).
<> Peter raised Tabitha (Acts 9:40).

Since the actual sacrificing of Isaac did not occur, only in a parabolic and metaphorical sense was Isaac resurrected. Knowing God could breathe new life into Isaac, Abraham symbolically “received him back from the dead.” In this regard, Isaac is a type of Christ. As Isaac was stretched out upon the altar of sacrifice, so Christ was stretched out upon the cross of Calvary. As Isaac willingly offered his life, so Jesus offered His. 

When Isaac and his father arrived on Mount Moriah, Isaac asked, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” (Gen. 22:7). After Isaac was restored, God provided a ram that was caught in a nearby thicket (22:13). The ram became the substitute, just as Christ became our substitute. That place was called Jehoveh-jireh, meaning “the Lord has provided” (v. 14). All Believers can look forward to the resurrection, for the Lord has provided salvation for everyone though the substitutive sacrifice of His only begotten Son. 


Hebrews 11:17-19

1. The list of characters in Hebrews chapter 11 appears in the same exact chronological order as they are in the Biblical record. True or False?
2. According to I Peter 1:7, the trials and testing Believers experience are more valuable than what?

3. According to I Peter 4:12-13, what should be our response to God’s trials and testings?

4. When Isaac was older, what did God tell him his father Abraham did?  (Genesis 26:5)

5. According to Genesis 22:8, who did Abraham say would provide the lamb for the offering?

6. According to Genesis 22:18, what was Abraham’s reward for his obedience?
7. According to Hebrews 6:8, what is impossible?

8. Recall a time in your life when your faith was severely tested. How did you handle this situation? What lessons did you learn?


Maxim of the Moment

The bankrupt man is the man who has lost his enthusiasm. - H.W. Arnold