The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 13: The Test of Faith
Abraham had accepted without question the promise of a
son, but he did not wait for God to fulfill His word in His
own time and way. A delay was permitted, to test his faith in the
power of God; but he failed to endure the trial. Thinking it
impossible that a child should be given her in her old age, Sarah
suggested, as a plan by which the divine purpose might be fulfilled,
that one of her handmaidens should be taken by Abraham as a
secondary wife. Polygamy had become so widespread that it had
ceased to be regarded as a sin, but it was no less a violation of the
law of God, and was fatal to the sacredness and peace of the family
relation. Abraham's marriage with Hagar resulted in evil, not
only to his own household, but to future generations.
Flattered with the honor of her new position as Abraham's
wife, and hoping to be the mother of the great nation to descend
from him, Hagar became proud and boastful, and treated her
mistress with contempt. Mutual jealousies disturbed the peace of
the once happy home. Forced to listen to the complaints of both,
Abraham vainly endeavored to restore harmony. Though it was
at Sarah's earnest entreaty that he had married Hagar, she now
reproached him as the one at fault. She desired to banish her
rival; but Abraham refused to permit this; for Hagar was to be
the mother of this child, as he fondly hoped, the son of promise.
She was Sarah's servant, however, and he still left her to the control
of her mistress. Hagar's haughty spirit would not brook the
harshness which her insolence had provoked. "When Sarai dealt
hardly with her, she fled from her face."
She made her way to the desert, and as she rested beside a
fountain, lonely and friendless, an angel of the Lord, in human
form, appeared to her. Addressing her as "Hagar, Sarai's maid,"
to remind her of her position and her duty, he bade her, "Return [p. 146] to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands." Yet with
the reproof there were mingled words of comfort. "The Lord
hath heard thy affliction." "I will multiply thy seed exceedingly,
that it shall not be numbered for multitude." And as a perpetual
reminder of His mercy, she was bidden to call her child Ishmael,
"God shall hear."
When Abraham was nearly one hundred years old, the promise
of a son was repeated to him, with the assurance that the
future heir should be the child of Sarah. But Abraham did not yet
understand the promise. His mind at once turned to Ishmael,
clinging to the belief that through him God's gracious purposes
were to be accomplished. In his affection for his son he exclaimed,
"O that Ishmael might live before Thee!" Again the promise was
given, in words that could not be mistaken: "Sarah thy wife shall
bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and
I will establish My covenant with him." Yet God was not
unmindful of the father's prayer. "As for Ishmael," He said, "I
have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, . . . and I will
make him a great nation."
The birth of Isaac, bringing, after a lifelong waiting, the
fulfillment of their dearest hopes, filled the tents of Abraham and
Sarah with gladness. But to Hagar this event was the overthrow
of her fondly cherished ambitions. Ishmael, now a youth, had
been regarded by all in the encampment as the heir of Abraham's
wealth and the interior of the blessings promised to his descendants.
Now he was suddenly set aside; and in their disappointment,
mother and son hated the child of Sarah. The general rejoicing
increased their jealousy, until Ishmael dared openly to mock the
heir of God's promise. Sarah saw in Ishmael's turbulent disposition
a perpetual source of discord, and she appealed to Abraham,
urging that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away from the encampment.
The patriarch was thrown into great distress. How could
he banish Ishmael his son, still dearly beloved? In his perplexity
he pleaded for divine guidance. The Lord, through a holy angel,
directed him to grant Sarah's desire; his love for Ishmael or
Hagar ought not to stand in the way, for only thus could he
restore harmony and happiness to his family. And the angel
gave him the consoling promise that though separated from his
father's home, Ishmael should not be forsaken by God; his life
should be preserved, and he should become the father of a great [p. 147] nation. Abraham obeyed the angel's word, but it was not without
keen suffering. The father's heart was heavy with unspoken grief
as he sent away Hagar and his son.
The instruction given to Abraham touching the sacredness of
the marriage relation was to be a lesson for all ages. It declares
that the rights and happiness of this relation are to be carefully
guarded, even at a great sacrifice. Sarah was the only true wife of
Abraham. Her rights as a wife and mother no other person was
entitled to share. She reverenced her husband, and in this she is
presented in the New Testament as a worthy example. But she
was unwilling that Abraham's affections should be given to
another, and the Lord did not reprove her for requiring the banishment
of her rival. Both Abraham and Sarah distrusted the power
of God, and it was this error that led to the marriage with Hagar.
God had called Abraham to be the father of the faithful, and
his life was to stand as an example of faith to succeeding generations.
But his faith had not been perfect. He had shown distrust
of God in concealing the fact that Sarah was his wife, and again
in his marriage with Hagar. That he might reach the highest
standard, God subjected him to another test, the closest which
man was ever called to endure. In a vision of the night he was
directed to repair to the land of Moriah, and there offer up his son
as a burnt offering upon a mountain that should be shown him.
At the time of receiving this command, Abraham had reached
the age of a hundred and twenty years. He was regarded as an
old man, even in his generation. In his earlier years he had been
strong to endure hardship and to brave danger, but now the ardor
of his youth had passed away. One in the vigor of manhood may
with courage meet difficulties and afflictions that would cause
his heart to fail later in life, when his feet are faltering toward
the grave. But God had reserved His last, most trying test for
Abraham until the burden of years was heavy upon him, and
he longed for rest from anxiety and toil.
The patriarch was dwelling at Beersheba, surrounded by
prosperity and honor. He was very rich, and was honored as a
mighty prince by the rulers of the land. Thousands of sheep and
cattle covered the plains that spread out beyond his encampment.
On every side were the tents of his retainers, the home of
hundreds of faithful servants. The son of promise had grown up to
manhood by his side. Heaven seemed to have crowned with its [p. 148] blessing a life of sacrifice in patient endurance of hope deferred.
In the obedience of faith, Abraham had forsaken his native
country—had turned away from the graves of his fathers and the
home of his kindred. He had wandered as a stranger in the land
of his inheritance. He had waited long for the birth of the promised
heir. At the command of God he had sent away his son Ishmael.
And now, when the child so long desired was entering
upon manhood, and the patriarch seemed able to discern the fruition
of his hopes, a trial greater than all others was before him.
The command was expressed in words that must have wrung
with anguish that father's heart: "Take now thy son, thine only
son Isaac, whom thou lovest, . . . and offer him there for a burnt
offering." Isaac was the light of his home, the solace of his old
age, above all else the inheritor of the promised blessing. The
loss of such a son by accident or disease would have been heart
rending to the fond father; it would have bowed down his
whitened head with grief; but he was commanded to shed the
blood of that son with his own hand. It seemed to him a fearful
Satan was at hand to suggest that he must be deceived, for the
divine law commands, "Thou shalt not kill," and God would
not require what He had once forbidden. Going outside his tent,
Abraham looked up to the calm brightness of the unclouded
heavens, and recalled the promise made nearly fifty years before,
that his seed should be innumerable as the stars. If this promise
was to be fulfilled through Isaac, how could he be put to death?
Abraham was tempted to believe that he might be under a
delusion. In his doubt and anguish he bowed upon the earth, and
prayed, as he had never prayed before, for some confirmation of
the command if he must perform this terrible duty. He remembered
the angels sent to reveal to him God's purpose to destroy
Sodom, and who bore to him the promise of this same son Isaac,
and he went to the place where he had several times met the
heavenly messengers, hoping to meet them again, and receive
some further direction; but none came to his relief. Darkness
seemed to shut him in; but the command of God was sounding
in his ears, "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou
lovest." That command must be obeyed, and he dared not delay.
Day was approaching, and he must be on his journey.
Returning to his tent, he went to the place where Isaac lay
sleeping the deep, untroubled sleep of youth and innocence. For [p. 151] a moment the father looked upon the dear face of his son, then
turned tremblingly away. He went to the side of Sarah, who was
also sleeping. Should he awaken her, that she might once more
embrace her child? Should he tell her of God's requirement?
He longed to unburden his heart to her, and share with her this
terrible responsibility; but he was restrained by the fear that
she might hinder him. Isaac was her joy and pride; her life
was bound up in him, and the mother's love might refuse the
Abraham at last summoned his son, telling him of the
command to offer sacrifice upon a distant mountain. Isaac had often
gone with his father to worship at some one of the various altars
that marked his wanderings, and this summons excited no
surprise. The preparations for the journey were quickly completed.
The wood was made ready and put upon the ass, and with two
menservants they set forth.
Side by side the father and the son journeyed in silence. The
patriarch, pondering his heavy secret, had no heart for words.
His thoughts were of the proud, fond mother, and the day when
he should return to her alone. Well he knew that the knife would
pierce her heart when it took the life of her son.
That day—the longest that Abraham had ever experienced—
dragged slowly to its close. While his son and the young men
were sleeping, he spent the night in prayer, still hoping that some
heavenly messenger might come to say that the trial was enough,
that the youth might return unharmed to his mother. But no
relief came to his tortured soul. Another long day, another night of
humiliation and prayer, while ever the command that was to
leave him childless was ringing in his ears. Satan was near to
whisper doubts and unbelief, but Abraham resisted his suggestions.
As they were about to begin the journey of the third day,
the patriarch, looking northward, saw the promised sign, a cloud
of glory hovering over Mount Moriah, and he knew that the
voice which had spoken to him was from heaven.
Even now he did not murmur against God, but strengthened
his soul by dwelling upon the evidences of the Lord's goodness
and faithfulness. This son had been unexpectedly given; and had
not He who bestowed the precious gift a right to recall His own?
Then faith repeated the promise, "In Isaac shall they seed be
called"—a seed numberless as the grains of sand upon the shore.
Isaac was the child of a miracle, and could not the power that [p. 152] gave him life restore it? Looking beyond that which was seen,
Abraham grasped the divine word, "accounting that God was
able to raise him up, even from the dead." Hebrews 11:19.
Yet none but God could understand how great was the father's
sacrifice in yielding up his son to death; Abraham desired that
none but God should witness the parting scene. He bade his
servants remain behind, saying, "I and the lad will go yonder and
worship, and come again to you." The wood was laid upon
Isaac, the one to be offered, the father took the knife and the
fire, and together they ascended toward the mountain summit,
the young man silently wondering whence, so far from folds and
flocks, the offering was to come. At last he spoke, "My father,"
"behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt
offering?" Oh, what a test was this! How the endearing words,
"my father," pierced Abraham's heart! Not yet—he could not
tell him now . "My son," he said, "God will provide Himself a
lamb for a burnt offering."
At the appointed place they built the altar and laid the wood
upon it. Then, with trembling voice, Abraham unfolded to his
son the divine message. It was with terror and amazement that
Isaac learned his fate, but he offered no resistance. He could have
escaped his doom, had he chosen to do so; the grief-stricken old
man, exhausted with the struggle of those three terrible days,
could not have opposed the will of the vigorous youth. But Isaac
had been trained from childhood to ready, trusting obedience,
and as the purpose of God was opened before him, he yielded a
willing submission. He was a sharer in Abraham's faith, and he
felt that he was honored in being called to give his life as an
offering to God. He tenderly seeks to lighten the father's grief,
and encourages his nerveless hands to bind the cords that confine
him to the altar.
And now the last words of love are spoken, the last tears are
shed, the last embrace is given. The father lifts the knife to slay
his son, when suddenly his arm is stayed. An angel of God calls
to the patriarch out of heaven, "Abraham, Abraham!" He quickly
answers, "Here am I," And again the voice is heard, "Lay not
thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him:
for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not
withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me." [p. 153]
Then Abraham saw "a ram caught in a thicket," and quickly
bringing the new victim, he offered it "in the stead of his son."
In his joy and gratitude Abraham gave a new name to the sacred
spot—"Jehovah-jireh," "the Lord will provide."
On Mount Moriah, God again renewed His covenant, confirming
with a solemn oath the blessing to Abraham and to his
seed through all coming generations: "By myself have I sworn,
saith Jehovah, 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 seashore; 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
Abraham's great act of faith stands like a pillar of light,
illuminating the pathway of God's servants in all succeeding ages.
Abraham did not seek to excuse himself from doing the will of
God. During that three days' journey he had sufficient time to
reason, and to doubt God, if he was disposed to doubt. He might
have reasoned that the slaying of his son would cause him to be
looked upon as a murderer, a second Cain; that it would cause
his teaching to be rejected and despised; and thus destroy his
power to do good to his fellow men. He might have pleaded that
age should excuse him from obedience. But the patriarch did not
take refuge in any of these excuses. Abraham was human; his
passions and attachments were like ours; but he did not stop to
question how the promise could be fulfilled if Isaac should be
slain. He did not stay to reason with his aching heart. He knew
that God is just and righteous in all His requirements, and he
obeyed the command to the very letter.
"Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for
righteousness: an he was called the friend of God." James 2:23.
And Paul says, "They which are of faith, the same are the children
of Abraham." Galatians 3:7. But Abraham's faith was made
manifest by his works. "Was not Abraham our father justified
by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest
thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith
made perfect.?" James 2:21, 22. There are many who fail to
understand the relation of faith and works. They say, "Only believe
in Christ, and you are safe. You have nothing to do with keeping [p. 154] the law." But genuine faith will be manifest in obedience. Said
Christ to the unbelieving Jews, "If ye were Abraham's children,
ye would do the works of Abraham." John 8:39. And concerning
the father of the faithful the Lord declares, "Abraham obeyed
My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes,
and My laws." Genesis 26:5. Says the apostle James, "Faith, if it
hath not works, is dead, being alone." James 2:17. And John, who
dwells so fully upon love, tells us, "This is the love of God, that
we keep His commandments." 1 John 5:3.
Through type and promise God "preached before the gospel
unto Abraham." Galatians 3:8. And the patriarch's faith was
fixed upon the Redeemer to come. Said Christ to the Jews. "Your
father Abraham rejoiced that he should see My day; and he saw
it, and was glad." John 8:56, R.V., margin. The ram offered in
the place of Isaac represented the Son of God, who was to be
sacrificed in our stead. When man was doomed to death by
transgression of the law of God, the Father, looking upon His Son,
said to the sinner, "Live: I have found a ransom."
It was to impress Abraham's mind with the reality of the gospel,
as well as to test his faith, that God commanded him to slay
his son. The agony which he endured during the dark days of
that fearful trial was permitted that he might understand from
his own experience something of the greatness of the sacrifice
made by the infinite God for man's redemption. No other test
could have caused Abraham such torture of soul as did the offering
of his son. God gave His Son to a death of agony and shame.
The angels who witnessed the humiliation and soul anguish of
the Son of God were not permitted to interpose, as in the case of
Isaac. There was no voice to cry, "It is enough." To save the
fallen race, the King of glory yielded up His life. What stronger
proof can be given of the infinite compassion and love of God?
"He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us
all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?"
The sacrifice required of Abraham was not alone for his own
good, nor solely for the benefit of succeeding generations; but it
was also for the instruction of the sinless intelligences of heaven
and of other worlds. The field of the controversy between Christ
and Satan—the field on which the plan of redemption is wrought
out—is the lesson book of the universe. Because Abraham had [p. 155] shown a lack of faith in God's promises, Satan had accused him
before the angels and before God of having failed to comply with
the conditions of the covenant, and as unworthy of its blessings.
God desired to prove the loyalty of His servant before all heaven,
to demonstrate that nothing less than perfect obedience can be
accepted, and to open more fully before them the plan of salvation.
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Heavenly beings were witnesses of the scene as the faith of
Abraham and the submission of Isaac were tested. The trial was
far more severe than that which had been brought upon Adam.
Compliance with the prohibition laid upon our first parents
involved no suffering, but the command to Abraham demanded
the most agonizing sacrifice. All heaven beheld with wonder
and admiration Abraham's unfaltering obedience. All heaven
applauded his fidelity. Satan's accusations were shown to be false.
God declared to His servant, "Now I know that thou fearest God
[notwithstanding Satan's charges], seeing thou hast not withheld
thy son, thine only son from Me." God's covenant, confirmed
to Abraham by an oath before the intelligences of other worlds,
testified that obedience will be rewarded.
It had been difficult even for the angels to grasp the mystery
of redemption—to comprehend that the Commander of heaven,
the Son of God, must die for guilty man. When the command
was given to Abraham to offer up his son, the interest of all
heavenly beings was enlisted. With intense earnestness they watched
each step in the fulfillment of this command. When to Isaac's
question, "Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham
made answer, "God will provide Himself a lamb;" and when the
father's hand was stayed as he was about to slay his son, and the
ram which God had provided was offered in the place of Isaac—
then light was shed upon the mystery of redemption, and even
the angels understood more clearly the wonderful provision that
God had made for man's salvation. 1 Peter 1:12.
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"Destruction of Sodom"