The Pulpit Commentary

Hebrews 11:17-19 (Hebrews 11:17-19)

By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up (literally, hath offered up, denoting an accomplished act of which the significance continues) Isaac: and he that had received (rather, accepted, implying his own assent and belief) the promises offered up his only begotten son, he to whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. The above rendering varies slightly from the A.V. in Hebrews 11:18 , Hebrews 11:19 . For, in Hebrews 11:18 , πρὸς ὃν is more naturally connected with the immediate antecedent, ὁ ἀναδεξάμενος , than with μονογενῆ : and, in Hebrews 11:19 , there is no need to supply "him" after ἐγείρειν : the Greek seems obviously to express belief in God's general power to raise from the dead, not his power in that instance only. The offering of Isaac (specially instanced also by St. James, if. 21), stands out as the crowning instance of Abraham's faith. The very son, so king expected, and at length, as it were, supernaturally given,—he in whose single life was bound up all hope of fulfillment of the promise, was to be sacrificed after all, and so seemingly all hope cut off. Yet Abraham is represented as not hesitating for a moment to do in simple faith what seemed God's will, and still not wavering in his hope of a fulfillment somehow. Such faith is here regarded as virtually faith in God's power even to raise the dead. (For a similar view of Abraham's faith as representing "the hope and resurrection of the dead," comp. Romans 4:17 , Romans 4:24 ) The expression, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called" (literally, "In Isaac shall be called to thee a seed"), quoted from Genesis 21:12 , means, not that the seed should be called after the name of Isaac, but that the seed to be called Abraham's should be in Isaac, i.e. his issue. The concluding phrase, "Whence also he received him in a figure" (literally, "in a parable ," ἐν παραβολῇ ) , has been variously interpreted. Notwithstanding the authority of many modern common-taters, we may certainly reject the view of παραβολῇ carrying here the sense borne by the verb παραβάλλεσθαι , that of venturing or exposing one's self to risk, or that of the adverb παραβόλως , unexpectedly. Even if the noun παραβολή could be shown by any instance to bear such senses, its ordinary use in the New Testament as well as in the LXX . must surely be understood here. It expresses (under the idea of comparison, or setting one thing by the side of another) an illustration, representation, or figure of something. Its use in this sense in the Gospels is familiar to us all; elsewhere in the New Testament it occurs only in this Epistle, Hebrews 9:9 , where the "first tabernacle" is spoken of as a παραβολή . Still, the question remains of the exact drift of this expression, ἐν παραβολῇ . It surely is, that, though Isaac did not really die, but only the ram in his stead, yet the transaction represented to Abraham an actual winning of iris son from the dead; he did so win him in the way of an acted parable, which confirmed his faith in God's power to raise the dead as much as if the lad had died. For such use of the preposition ἐν we may compare 1 Corinthians 13:12 , βλέπομεν δἰ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι , which may mean (notwithstanding the different view of it given doubtfully by the distinguished commentator on the Epistle in the 'Speaker's Commentary'), "We see, not actually, but in the way of an enigmatical representation, as through a mirror." The above seems a mere natural meaning of the phrase, ἐν παραβολῇ , than that of the commentators who interpret it "in such sort as to be a parable or type of something else to crone," viz. of the death and resurrection of Christ. It does not, of course, follow that the transaction was not typical of Christ, or that the writer does net so regard it; we are only considering what his language fit itself implies. Rendered literally, and with retention of the order of the words, the sentence runs: "From whence [ i.e. from the dead] him [ i.e. Isaac, αὐτόν being slightly emphatic, as is shown by its position in the sentence, equivalent to illum, not eum ; and this suitably after the general proposition preceding] he did too in a parable win [ ἐκομίσατο , equivalent to sibi acquisivit ; cf. verse 39, οὐκ ἐκομίσαντο τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν ] . " With regard to what we may call the moral aspect of this peculiar trial of Abraham's faith, a few words may be said, since a difficulty naturally suggests itself on the subject. How, it may be asked, is it consistent with our ideas of Divine righteousness, that even readiness to slay his son should be required of Abraham as a duty? How are we to account for this apparent sanction of the principle of human sacrifices? To the latter question we may reply, in the first place, that the narrative in Genesis, taken as a whole, affords no such sanction, but very much the contrary. All we are told is that the great patriarch, in the course of his religious training, was once divinely led to suppose such a sacrifice to be required of him. The offering of sons was not unusual in the ancient races among where Abraham lived; and, however shocking such a practice might be, and however condemned in later Scripture, it was due, we may say. to the perversion only of a true instinct of humanity—that which suggests the need of some great atonement, and the claim of the Giver of all to our best and dearest, if demanded from us. That Abraham should be even divinely led to suppose for a time that his God required him to express his acknowledgment of this need and this claim by not withholding from him as much as even the heathen were accustomed to offer to their gods, is consistent with God's general way of educating men to a full knowledge of the truth. But the sacrifice was ill the end emphatically forbidden by a voice from heaven; to Abraham thenceforth, and to his seed for ever, it was made dearly known that, though God does require atonement for sin and entire submission to his will, he does not require violence to be done to tender human feeling, or any cruel rites.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Hebrews 11:8-19 (Hebrews 11:8-19)

Faith of the Hebrew Pilgrim Fathers.

What Anglo-Saxon could look without emotion on the granite boulder at New Plymouth—"the corner-stone of a nation"—upon which the Pilgrim Fathers of New England stepped ashore from the Mayflower? And, in like manner, what Jew can think but with enthusiasm of those three glorious names—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The verses before us were well fitted to stir the hearts' blood of the Hebrews to whom this treatise was addressed. And they should stir ours too; for these patriarchs are the Pilgrim Fathers of all the men of faith. We shall consider the passage chiefly in connection with Abraham, the father of the faithful. In his spiritual life there were at least four great crises—four occasions upon which his faith was severely tried, and came forth victorious. The apostle introduces his reference to each of these with the expression which is the refrain of the whole chapter—" By faith" ( Hebrews 11:8 , Hebrews 11:9 , Hebrews 11:11 , Hebrews 11:17 ).

I. ABRAHAM 'S FAITH WAS SHOWN IN HIS EMIGRATION . ( Hebrews 11:8 ) It was a hard command which he received, to leave his native country, and to cast himself upon the bare promise of God for another home. He had to break the ties which bound him to the scenes of his youth. He was at first ignorant as to what country he was going. His long journey would expose him to hardships and dangers. Yet Abraham did not hesitate to obey. He gathered his flocks together, and set out with his household caravan. It was impossible that he could have comprehended the large plan of Providence, of which only one little corner was unfolded in his call; but the precept and the promise were sufficient to determine his action. So he put his hand trustfully into the great hand of God, and allowed him to guide his feet. Abraham's emigration was the first link in the golden chain of the triumphs of his faith. It teaches us such lessons as these—that personal religion

II. ABRAHAM 'S FAITH WAS SHOWN IN HIS LIFELONG PILGRIMAGE . ( Hebrews 11:9 , Hebrews 11:10 , Hebrews 11:13-16 ) When he arrived in Canaan, the patriarch found that he was not to receive immediate possession of the land. Indeed, while he lived, it remained stilt but "the land of promise." He dwelt in tents. He did not build any walled city. The only piece of ground which he ever acquired was a burying-place. But his view of the meaning of the covenant expanded with his spiritual experience. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, gradually learned that the promise of an inheritance in the literal Canaan was in their own case an illusion. Yet they did not conclude that it had been a delusion. They learned to understand the promises spiritually, and were persuaded that God would fulfill his word even to themselves, in a deeper way than at first they had dreamed. So they steadfastly maintained their faith; and, viewing Canaan as a type of heaven, "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." Abraham was content to feel always from home in this world. Although he became immensely wealthy, he continued spiritually a pilgrim. His maxim was not that of sense, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; "rather, as a prince of the men of faith," he looked for the city which hath the foundations." The fatherland for which he longed was not the place of his birth, else he could easily have recrossed the Euphrates ( Hebrews 11:15 ). "The heirs of the promise" sought their home in heaven. And so, "These all died in faith," is the epitaph common to all the monuments in Patriarchs ' Corner of the abbey church of the Old Testament. And because they so died, God condescended to take one of his great Bible-names from those Hebrew Pilgrim Fathers—"The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."

III. ABRAHAM 'S FAITH WAS SHOWN DURING HIS PROTRACTED CHILDLESSNESS . ( Hebrews 11:11 , Hebrews 11:12 ) This severe trial Sarah shared with him. If the faith of Abraham forms, as it were, the magnificent frontispiece of the volume of Jewish history, Sarah's faith occupies the positron of the vignette upon the title-page ( Isaiah 51:2 ). The time came when the birth of a child to them was, humanly speaking, doubly impossible; and yet God said that the covenant would not be fulfilled in the line of Ishmael. Had it not been for their faith, accordingly, Sarah's son Isaac would never have been born; and the promise could not have been realized that Abraham should have a posterity—both natural and spiritual—numerous as the stars in the Eastern sky, or as the sand-grains upon the shore of ocean.

IV. ABRAHAM 'S FAITH WAS SHOWN IN THE SACRIFICE OF HIS SON . ( Hebrews 11:17-19 ) This extraordinary event was the final strain to which his faith was subjected. It was a dreadful ordeal, and one from which even most good men would have recoiled with horror. The patriarch was commanded to offer up the most precious of all sacrifices. He was to perform a deed abhorrent to the most sacred human affection. He was required to put to death the heir of the Divine promise, and thus appear to destroy the hopes which clustered round him. Yet by faith Abraham sustained this last and crowning trial. His submission was entire. His obedience was perfect. The apostle says definitely that he "offered up Isaac;" for the sacrifice was completely accomplished in the patriarch's will before the angel stayed his hand. And what was the faith which comforted his heart and nerved his arm, at this unparalleled crisis of his spiritual life? Abraham accounted that "God is able to raise up, even from the dead." He was sure that Isaac would be restored to life again, rather than that the promise should fail. Isaac's resurrection would not be a greater miracle than his birth had been. And, the apostle adds, the patriarch really did receive Isaac from the dead, figuratively speaking ( Hebrews 11:19 ). An achievement so sublime evinced that complete self-consecration and submission to God's will which belongs only to perfect faith, and thus certifies Abraham's right to the lofty title of "father of the faithful."


1. Are we ready to obey any call of God, whether relating to our outer life or to our soul-life?

2. Do we feel ourselves to be "strangers and pilgrims on the earth," or could we take an eternity of our present life, provided our material circumstances were comfortable?

3. Have we the faith which can laugh at impossibilities rather than disbelieve the Divine promise?

4. Have we unreservedly consecrated to God our soul, our life, our all? Happy is each heart that can "make melody to the Lord" in the words of the hymn—

"The God of Abraham praise,

At whose supreme command

From earth I rise, and seek the joys

At his right hand.

I all on earth forsake,—

Its wisdom, fame, and power;

And him my only Portion make,

My Shield and Tower."


- The Pulpit Commentary

Hebrews 11:17-19 (Hebrews 11:17-19)

Faith sorely tried and sublimely triumphant.

"By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac," etc. Our subject naturally divides itself into two branches.

I. FAITH SORELY TRIED . The supreme trial of Abraham's faith will appear if we consider the sacrifice which be was summoned to make. He was commanded:

1. To offer up as a burnt offering his only and much-loved son, Isaac. "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." "By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac; yea, he that had gladly received the promises was offering up his only begotten son." Isaac was called his "only son" because Ishmael had been finally sent forth from the paternal home, and because Isaac was the only son which Sarah the wife of Abraham bare unto him. He was now a young man, and inexpressibly dear to the hearts of his parents; and his father is commanded by God to offer him up as a sacrifice. Being a human sacrifice, Abraham's conviction of the sacredness of human life would rise up against the fulfillment of the command. Can such a behest proceed from him who had so solemnly asserted the sacredness of human life ( Genesis 9:5 , Genesis 9:6 )? Being his own son, his only son, his Isaac, the laughter of his heart, his deep and pure and strong paternal instincts would rebel against the dread summons. Is it possible that the holy and Divine Father can make such a demand upon any human father?

2. To offer up his son who was in a special sense the gift of God to him. Isaac was the child of Divine promise, and he was born when his parents were far advanced in years, and when in the ordinary course of nature his birth was impossible (cf. Hebrews 11:11 , Hebrews 11:12 ; Genesis 17:16-19 ; Genesis 18:10 , Genesis 18:14 ; Genesis 21:1-3 ). For twenty-five years Abraham had waited for the fulfillment of the promise; twenty-five years more had elapsed since the birth of Isaac, during which he had been growing ever more and more precious and beloved; and now God is asking back the gift so long waited for, and which had become so inexpressibly dear. Can such a demand proceed from that God whose "gifts are not repented of"? Can it be that he should try his servant thus?

3. To offer up his son upon whose life the fulfillment of the hopes which God had inspired seemed to depend. Isaac was not only the son of promise, but the other promises made to Abraham were connected with him as to their fulfillment. The promise that he should inherit Canaan, that he should be the father of a countless posterity and the founder of a great nation, that in his posterity all nations should be blessed,—all these were to be fulfilled in Isaac. "To whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called." Only the descendants of Isaac were to be known as Abraham's seed, and only in them were the promises to be fulfilled (cf. Genesis 17:19 , Genesis 17:21 ; Genesis 21:12 ). These promises the patriarch "had gladly received." "He had as it were with open arms accepted and taken to himself each and all of the promises;" he had drawn from them assured hopes—hopes which he had cherished during many years. But if Isaac be sacrificed as a burnt offering, how shall these hopes be realized?—nay, how shall they not each and all expire, leaving the soul of the patriarch in dark disappointment? It seems that God is asking him to give back the promises which he had made to him, and which had so long sustained and cheered him. But is it possible that "the faithful God, which keepeth covenant with them that love hint and keep his commandments to a thousand generations," should make a demand like this? Can it be his voice that summons to the terrible sacrifice?

4. And there is a sore aggravation of this trial. Abraham is himself to be the sacrificing priest. He is to kill and to present this precious and awful offering. The knife that was to slay the victim must be driven into the heart by the hand of his own father, and the same hand must kindle the fire for the consumption of the sacrifice. When Ishmael seemed near unto death in the wilderness of Beersheba, his mother laid him "under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him at the distance as it were of a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the boy. And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept." But for Abraham there is no such relief. He must "see the death of " his beloved son; and more terrible, himself must strike the death-inflicting blow. Can it be God, the good and the holy One, that commands this? And is it possible that any loving father can comply with the terrible requirement?

II. FAITH SUBLIMELY TRIUMPHANT . Abraham made the awful sacrifice. "By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac... his only begotten son." Virtually he as fully offered Isaac as if he had sheathed the knife in his heart and consumed his body on the altar. And he did it by faith. The triumph was the triumph of faith.

1. Faith in the righteousness and supremacy of the authority of God. Abraham believed that God had a right to his obedience in this also; that "the Judge of all the earth" would not command what was wrong. The reason of the command to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering was dark and utterly mysterious to the patriarch; moreover, it pierced his inmost soul with sharpest and bitterest sorrow, and convulsed his being with fierce agony; yet God was supreme and righteous, therefore he would obey him. Faith was victorious.

2. Faith in the unlimited power of God. "By faith Abraham offered up Isaac,… accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead." How extraordinary and astonishing was this faith in that early age!

3. Faith in the unchanging fidelity of God to his word. Abraham believed that God would fulfill his promises, however unlikely or even impossible that fulfillment might appear to him. How he would do so after Isaac was sacrificed the patriarch knew not. But he felt assured of the fact. And so by faith he obeyed the dread command, and offered up to God his only begotten son. Faith in God triumphed over doubts and fears, the questionings and reasonings of the intellect, and the pathetic pleadings and passionate appeals of the heart. And how God honored this sublime and conquering faith! Isaac was truly offered to God, yet he was untouched by the sacrificial knife. He was given by his father to God, and then given back by God to his father unhurt, and inestimably more beloved and more sacred. And high is the encomium given to Abraham: "Now I know that thou fearest God," etc. ( Genesis 22:12 ). We know what it was that God required of Abraham. It was not the sacrifice of Isaac, but the complete surrender of himself to God. When that was made the Divine purpose in this awful trial was accomplished, and" the last and culminating point in the Divine education of" the patriarch was attained. And still God requires this from us. He demands the unreserved surrender of ourselves to him, "Whatever is dearest to us upon earth is our Isaac." And when God summons us to give that Isaac up to him, his object in so doing is to lead us to present ourselves wholly and heartily to him as "living sacrifices." "He that loveth father or mother more than me," etc. ( Matthew 10:37-39 ).—W.J.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Hebrews 11:17-19 (Hebrews 11:17-19)

Abraham's faith in offering Isaac.

This is to be considered here as an illustration of faith. All our modern difficulties as to the right and wrong of Abraham's conduct never occurred to the writer of this Epistle. A human sacrifice was not abhorrent to Abraham's views of religious necessity. Here we have simply to look at the faith a father showed when called to give up his only son. See—

I. FAITH TRIUMPHING OVER NATURAL INCLINATIONS . Not over natural affections; for Abraham, having loved his son, loved him to the end. The very depth and intensity of his natural affection make his faith appear the stronger. We must not for a moment admit that natural affection could be even deadened in his heart to allow him to do such a thing. But assuredly his natural inclinations must have had a struggle with his faith before they surrendered. It is an almost universal tendency among parents to wish that their children should have the rewards and comforts of life. Wherever failure and suffering may come, they are not to come to them. The mother of James and John showed this feeling very strongly. This is the way in which natural affection gets spoiled and made a hideous thing through selfishness. This is the way in which natural affection often defeats itself, and instead of doing the best thing for children does the worst. Here surely is an example for parents in dealing with their children. Let them try to find out what God would have them do, what is really best upon a large view of the future, and not what seems best, not what is easiest and most comfortable. God called both Abraham and his son to self-sacrifice, and his view was far better than any inclination or judgment of their own.

II. FAITH TRIUMPHING OVER PLAUSIBLE OBJECTIONS . Was there ever a finer chance for the tempter to make the worse appear the better reason, to strengthen natural inclination by plausible representations as to what was the Divine will? It seems most reasonable to say, "Isaac is the child of promise: the future for generations depends on his life; whatever else may happen to him, it is clear he is not to die now." And only too often in life plausible reasons for what turns out in the end an utterly wrong course are found with very little ingenuity. It is not enough that a way should seem right to love and prudence. Opportunities may come seeming on the surface of them to have signs of Providence, and yet all the time the real pointings of Providence may be neglected. The mind gets led away with unconscious sophistries. Now, it is in view of just such circumstances that God comes in with his clear authority to take the place of our plausible views and arguments. There are times when distinct, impressive intimations are not needed, when ordinary common sense and right feeling are quite enough. But also there are times when one clear, significant word from above will settle everything to the humble and docile mind.

III. FAITH ASSURED OF THE OMNIPOTENCE OF GOD . Notice that God did not come in with this trial of faith at the beginning of his dealings with Abraham. He showed him first of all much of his power and his guiding hand. The child whom he asked in sacrifice had first of all been given in miracle. Divine demands are always proportioned to strength and to previous experiences. And so, however hard the trial might be to the feelings of the father, yet it had its eminently reasonable side when it appealed to the experience of the believer. God was putting honor upon Abraham in judging him fit for such a demand as this.—Y.

- The Pulpit Commentary