If God had said, take your son, your other son, Ishmael, whom you love, Abraham would have found the trial just as heartbreaking and difficult. The real test was not about Abraham’s affection for Isaac as much as it was a test of his faith in the promises of God. Everything Abraham believed and hoped for rested on Isaac.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” (Hebrews 11:17-18)
Abraham’s obedience testifies to his great faith in God’s promises and his selfless devotion to the LORD. The near-sacrifice of Isaac vindicated God’s choice of Abraham in our eyes and the eyes of the world. James the brother of our Master says that Abraham our father was “justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar … and he was called the friend of God” (James 2:21-23).
The Bible calls Abraham “the friend of God” because God and Abraham had a mutual covenant partnership. Abraham was the “friend of God” in the sense that he was God’s “covenant partner.” God “tested” Abraham to test the extant of Abraham’s loyalty to the covenant relationship. Abraham passed the test. He proved his devotion by obeying God and bringing Isaac as a sacrifice. When God saw that Abraham had chosen to keep and honor the covenant, He reconfirmed the covenant, saying, “Because you have done this thing and not withheld your son …” (Genesis 22:16). In other words, the fulfillment of the covenant promises God made to Abraham were contingent upon Abraham’s obedience in offering his only son. Because Abraham willingly offered up his son, God agreed to keep His obligations to Abraham.
A covenant is a two-way relationship. Abraham met the test and proved his loyalty to his covenant friend. That left the ball in God’s court, so to speak. It was God’s turn to prove His own loyalty to the covenant. In so doing, the Almighty could not bring to the table less than Abraham had brought. Abraham demonstrated his covenant loyalty through willingly sacrificing his only son, and by doing that, he obligated the Almighty to reciprocate. Abraham’s demonstration of covenant loyalty demanded God’s demonstration of covenant loyalty. The sacrifice of Isaac not only foreshadowed the sacrifice of Yeshua, it demanded it.
In the Gospel of John, God Himself takes on the role of Abraham and demonstrates His faithfulness before the entire world by sacrificing His Son. In language so reminiscent of the first verses of Genesis 22 that it can hardly be coincidental, the apostle John says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In another place John said, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9). With similar language, Paul said, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The sacrificial death of God’s Son demonstrates God’s love and faithfulness. Christians take that for granted, but long before the story of Yeshua or the writing of the first gospel, there was Abraham—a father willing to sacrifice his only begotten and beloved son as a demonstration of faithfulness and love.