William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Supreme Sacrifice (Hebrews 11:17-19)

11:17-19 It was by faith that Abraham offered up Isaac when he was put to the test. He was willing to offer up even his only son, although it had been said to him: "It is in Isaac that your descendants will be named." He was willing to do this for he reckoned that God was able to raise him even from the dead. Hence he did receive him back which is a parable of the resurrection.

The Isaac story, told in Genesis 22:1-18 , is that most dramatic account of how Abraham met the supreme test of the demand for the life of his own son. To some extent this story has fallen into disrepute. It is excluded from syllabuses of religious education because it is held to teach an unacceptable view of God. Or it is held that the point of the story is that it was in this way that Abraham learned that God did not desire human sacrifice. No doubt that is true; but, if we want to see this story at its greatest and as the writer to the Hebrews saw it, we must take it at its face value. It was the response of a man who was asked to offer God his own son.

(i) This story teaches us that we must be ready to sacrifice what is dearest to us for the sake of loyalty to God. There have been many who have sacrificed their careers to what they took to be the will of God. J. P. Struthers was the minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Greenock, a little congregation, which, it is neither false nor unkind to say, had a great past but no future. Had he been willing to forsake the Church of his fathers, any pulpit in the land was open to him and the most dazzling ecclesiastical prizes were his; but he sacrificed them all for the sake of what he considered to be loyalty to God's will.

Sometimes a man may have to sacrifice personal relationships. He may feel called by God to a task in a sphere which is difficult and in a place that is unattractive and it may be that the girl he is to marry will not face it with him. The man must choose between the will of God and the relationship which means so much to him. When Bunyan was in gaol he was thinking of what must happen to his family if he was executed. Especially the thought of his little blind daughter, who was so dear to him, haunted him: "O," he said, "I saw in this condition I was a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his wife and children; yet, thought I, I must do it, I must do it."

"The dearest idol I have known,

Whate'er that idol be,

Help me to tear it from thy throne,

And worship only thee."

Abraham was the man who would sacrifice even the dearest thing in life for God. Time and again in the early Church it happened. In a home one partner became a Christian and the other did not; the children became Christians and the parents did not. The sword came down upon that home; and unless there had been those who counted Christ dearer than all else, there would be no Christianity today.

God must come first in our lives, or he comes nowhere. There is a story of two children who had been given a toy Noah's Ark as a present. They had been listening to the Old Testament stories and determined that they too would offer a sacrifice. They examined the animals in their toy ark and finally decided on a sheep with a broken leg. The only thing they would offer was a broken toy they could well do without. That is the way in which so many people would like to sacrifice to God; but only the dearest and the best is good enough for him.

(ii) Abraham is the pattern of the man who accepts what he cannot understand. To him there had come this incomprehensible demand. It did not make sense. The promise was that in Isaac his seed would grow and grow until he became a mighty nation in which all others would be blessed. On the life of Isaac depended the promise; and now God seemed to want to take that life away. As Chrysostom put it: "The things of God seemed to fight against the things of God, and faith fought with faith, and the commandment fought with the promise." For everyone at some time there comes something for which there seems to be no reason and which defies explanation. It is then that a man is faced with life's hardest battle--to accept when he cannot understand. At such a time there is only one thing to do--to obey and to do so without resentment, saying: "God, you are love! I build my faith on that."

(iii) Abraham is the pattern of the man who, with the test, found a way of escape. If we take God at his word and stake everything on him, even when there seems to be nothing but a blank wall in front of us, the way of escape will open up.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible