At first, my fear was that this lesson would be yet another rehash of the old story of Abraham’s sacrifice. But once I had read all the material, and especially once I had seen the video I have included at the bottom of the article, Abraham’s sacrifice has taken on new meaning. I hope I can communicate this newness to you as you read on.
A life of faith
In modern terms, one could argue that Abraham did not have much concrete evidence to back up all the demands the Lord made on him. He did have some proofs along the way that God was mindful of Abraham, like the time he was about to be sacrificed on the altar of the god of Elkenah by the priest of Pharaoh and Abraham cried out to the Lord to be saved and an angel loosed his bands and slew the priest who was about to sacrifice him. But then Laman and Lemuel were chastised by an angel and lapsed back into complaining almost immediately.
Abraham was also saved by God when he was commanded to go into Egypt, and the Lord told him to tell his wife to tell everyone that she was his sister. This prevented them from killing Abraham because his wife was so beautiful that people would want her for themselves and would have killed Abraham to get her. Sure enough, Pharaoh himself wanted her, and it was this line about her being his sister that saved Abraham’s life.
Those are just two events in a lifetime of service and sacrifices that made up Abraham’s devotion to God. He was commanded to leave his homeland and travel to a new country in which he had never set foot, and had no relatives nor business in his new home. He really was a stranger in a strange land. The Lord promised Abraham that eventually he would be given this land for his posterity to inherit, but he, personally would never be able to call it his own. It was a promise that in 400 years his posterity would conquer it and it would be their’s to enjoy. In this case the Lord was considering one generation to be 100 years.
Four hundred years away! That is what he was putting his faith in. And he didn’t even have a single heir, and was getting old. The Lord moved Abraham from place to place – from Ur to Haran, to Canaan, to Egypt, then back to Canaan. Still no heir, except for Ishmael whom he had fathered when he was about 86. He was now 99 years old, and Sarah, his wife was about 90.
This is his discussion with the Lord about God’s promise of an “exceeding reward.” This is found in Genesis 15:1.
1 After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
2 And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
4 And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
5 And he brought him forth abroad, 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.
6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Do you see a pattern emerging in all of Abraham’s dealings with the Lord? Abraham’s life is ebbing away. He is still serving faithfully in every way he knows how. He is keeping all the commandments he has ever been given. He seeks to know more of and to learn more from God. And what does the Lord promise Abraham? He promises him that he will give him posterity as infinite as the stars in the heavens and the sands of the sea. He promises Abraham a special son through whom He will establish his covenant with Abraham, and through whom this great posterity will be born.
But what does Abraham have to lean on? He still has not seen his promised heir. He still has no country to call his own, not even a city to call home. He has to travel from place to place, trading as he goes. Sure, the Lord has made him very wealthy, but at the age of 86 years, Abraham is still living completely by faith in that which is to come, not in that which is.
What we don’t see is that Abraham has a ministry. The Lord is gathering people through Abraham’s teaching as he is moved from place to place. Abraham’s camp now has many hundreds of people in it. He is a recognized leader wherever he goes. When Lot was captured and taken prisoner by multiple kings, Abraham took 300 trained men from his own camp and went and conquered those kings and rescued Lot. A household like that of Abraham’s was a force to be reckoned with. But still, Abraham, for all his worldly wealth, had to walk by faith in that for which he as yet had no physical proof.
Finally, at the age of 100, the Lord gave him the long awaited, and even longer hoped for son, Isaac. This is the son on which all their dreams, aspirations, and promises from the Lord hung. In a culture where posterity meant everything, you can only imagine how Isaac was doted on and cared for. He was cherished like none other. Abraham loved Ishmael also, but their promises from the Lord centered around the priesthood blessings that would be realized through Isaac.
When Isaac was weaned Abraham gave a great feast, but Ishmael, who was a teenager by then, mocked Isaac, which really upset Sarah. She wanted Hagar and Ishmael gone from their home. Abraham was upset about this, but the Lord promised to prosper Ishmael, because he was also Abraham’s seed. So Hagar and Ishmael were told to leave (Genesis 21:9-13).
9 ¶ And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.
10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.
11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.
12 ¶ 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.
13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.
Years later, when Isaac had grown into a young man – estimates range from about 20 years of age up to 37 years of age, the Lord spoke to Abraham and commanded him to offer his only son as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:2).
2 And 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.
Note that this is not just any kind of sacrifice. This is a burnt offering. A burnt offering is akin to cremation. The sacrifice is to be completely burned until nothing is left but ash. If it were any other kind of sacrifice perhaps Abraham could have wondered if the Lord would make him kill his son, but would then raise him from the dead. But no, the Lord wanted Isaac’s body cremated so there would be no coming back from this sacrifice. This offering had to be complete, all in, and without any reservation.
Why would this commandment be so difficult? Abraham knew the terror of being on the bed of sacrifice, with the blade over his neck. Had he not been offered up as a sacrifice by his idol-worshiping father? Could he betray his son’s trust in him the way his father had betrayed him?
Abraham knew God to be a man of peace. He knew the Lord hated human sacrifice. Why would God require such a thing after all the promises and the years of waiting just to get his one and only heir? These and many other thoughts must have run through his head. And it wasn’t just for an hour or two either. He had to sleep the night with these thoughts and doubts racing through his head. He then had to make the preparations and cut the wood for the sacrifice, sufficient to consume a human body then travel three days journey to the appointed mountain. That is quite possibly equal to four days in hell.
The nobility of Isaac
When they finally arrived at the mountain, Abraham left his two servants at the bottom of the mountain, and Isaac shouldered the massive pile of wood for the sacrifice, and the two of them climbed to the top. Abraham could have easily been 125 years old or more by now. His whole life’s hope and dreams seemed to be slipping away.
What choices did he have? If he refused the Lord this sacrifice, as difficult as it was, what would that say about all the other sacrifices Abraham had made his whole life in his efforts to follow Jehovah? If he refused to make this sacrifice then everything he had ever believed in would become a sham. If he sacrificed his only son then he might have felt as if everything he had based his hopes on would be dashed to pieces. He was caught in an impossible place. He either killed his only son out of obedience to God or he refused and made a hypocrite out of himself.
All of us will eventually be brought to a place of such darkness as Abraham was put in at this time. There appears no safe road out of our trouble. If we step into the darkness of obedience everything inside us tells us we will be dashed to pieces. But we can’t retreat because refusal to proceed betrays everything we stand for.
This is our Abrahamic test of faith. All of us have to deal with it at one point or another. If you have seen the movies Raiders of the Lost Ark, in one of them the hero has to take a leap of faith into a bottomless chasm. He chooses to take the leap only to find that the pathway across has been colored to look just like the bottomless depths below. That way no one but one possessing great faith can get across the divide. This is where Abraham was.
Facing his son Abraham now had to ask his son to cooperate and climb on the altar voluntarily and submit himself to his father’s will, knowing that to do so meant certain death. To Isaac’s credit he submitted to his father’s will and allowed himself to be bound and made ready for the ultimate sacrifice. This is one of the most obvious types in all the scriptures of the Savior’s submitting himself to the Father’s will and his willingness to die on our behalf. We can also get a glimmer of the Father’s love for his beloved son and what it took to put him on the altar and do the “deed.”
This lesson is a powerful example of not only the Father’s love for his beloved son, the son’s willingness to die for us, and Abraham’s willingness to go against everything inside of him and obey the Lord no matter what God demanded of him, but it also shows us the extent to which each of us will be required to go before we have proven to ourselves and to God that we will follow Him in any and every thing.
As you read the lesson and the verses about Abraham’s sacrifice, try not to just read words. Try to feel what must have been going through Abraham’s mind and heart to be made to make such a difficult choice. Then when he was saved by the angel from having to do the unspeakable, try to imagine how much more he loved his son than he did before. If he thought he loved his son before this ordeal, think how much respect he now had for him seeing that Isaac was willing to lay down his life just to be obedient to his father’s will. What a bond must have existed then between these two ever after.
The Church has put out a video about the sacrifice. I have included it below. Please take a few minutes and watch it. But more importantly try to put yourself in Abraham’s place and try to feel his emotions. It is a powerful piece of film.