The Faith of Abraham (Part 1)

What chapter of the Bible do you think of when you hear the word "faith"? Probably Hebrews 11. That chapter is composed of some great thoughts and examples on the topic of faith. Abraham is one of the individuals mentioned therein.

Abraham was an amazing man of faith. He had a living, obedient faith, and I want us to begin analyzing his faith in this feature lesson. We could examine several events in his life that are mentioned within Hebrews 11, but I want to us to focus upon his faith as it was manifested in his willingness to offer up his son Isaac.

The details of this event are recorded in Genesis 22:1-13:

"Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' Then He said, 'Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.' So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.' So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, 'My father!' And he said, 'Here I am, son.' Then he said, 'Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?' And Abraham said, 'My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.' So the two of them went together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' So he said, 'Here I am.' And He said, 'Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.' Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son."

Now that the details of this event are fresh in our minds, let us note the characteristics of Abraham's faith. We can then examine our own faith and see how we measure up. As we contemplate these attributes of Abraham's faith, keep asking yourself this question: Do I have the same characteristics of faith that Abraham had?

In every dispensation, or Bible age, faith has always shown itself in obedience. "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac..." (Heb. 11:17). Abraham showed his faith through his obedience to God. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?" (James 2:21,22).

God has always required that man prove his faith through obedience (cf. James 2:24)! Regardless of where you open your Bible, that statement is always true. Whether you are studying the patriarchs, or the Jews under the Mosaic law, or Christians under the New Covenant, you will find, time and time again, that God expects man to have an obedient faith. Now don't misunderstand me. God has not required the same things of us as He did of Abraham, for example. But the principle always applies. God set forth His command and Abraham had a choice: obey or disobey--serve God or do whatever he wanted. And we all know what Abraham chose. His faith was pleasing to God because He obeyed!

What does it mean to obey God exactly? It means that a person is doing exactly what God wants them to do without addition, subtraction, or modification (cf. Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18,19). It is pretty clear that Abraham obeyed God exactly--isn't it? He didn't add anything else to the command or try to delete or modify anything. He did what God told him to do simply because God told him to do it! We have plenty of Old Testament examples of men who obeyed partially, but they didn't obey exactly, and the result was not pleasant. Nadab and Abihu usually come to mind when I think of partial obedience (cf. Lev. 10). They were partially obeying God in His command, but they modified it and decided to do it their own way, a way that was without authority. The consequence was immediate death.

What about you and I today? Do we obey God? Are we striving to be as exact as we can be in our obedience? If we're not careful, we'll be burned just like Nadab and Abihu, but it will be an eternal fire! When we study the New Testament, we must have good and honest hearts that are willing to do only that for which we have authority. Colossians 3:17 - "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." We don't restrict ourselves to certain actions just to be "legalistic," but we obey exactly, simply because God commanded it. Plus, we know we cannot please Him with partial obedience. Abraham obeyed God exactly in the offering of Isaac.

Abraham knew God probably better than any man living at that time. He knew of the heathens and their horrifying human sacrifices. Surely, he couldn't believe that God would request such a thing of him. But, as far as the text records, he didn't ask questions! He didn't respond by saying: "Do you really mean it, Lord? Couldn't I just sacrifice Ishmael instead? Can't I be faithful to you without this?" Why didn't Abraham react this way? Because his faith was strong! "He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised, He was also able to perform. And therefore, it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Rom. 4:20-22).

Abraham's faith reminds me of a three line poem I heard once: Our job is not to reason why. Our job is not to make reply. Our job is but to do and die. This should be our attitude when God gives us a command.

It's the devil's work to generate questions of doubt and necessity. Remember Genesis 3:1? "Has God indeed said...""Does God really mean that exactly? Does He really not want you to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Why not? Because you'll become like Him!" That was Satan's reasoning. Satan is still thinking and asking questions today too:

One who thinks this way is bound to hear this response someday from Jesus: "Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matt. 7:23). Genuine faith does not question or modify commands; it simply obeys.

Think about all the things that Abraham could have said to God: "What do you mean, LORD? You want me to kill this son of mine? The son whom I've waited my entire life for? This son whom You've made great promises concerning? Why?! I just don't see the purpose! It's just not reasonable!"

But, look at how unyielding and unwavering his faith was! He knew what God had promised him. He knew that Isaac needed to be alive to fulfill these promises. He could only come to one conclusion: If God wants me to offer him as a sacrifice, then God must be going to raise him from the dead (cf. Heb. 11:19)! What a conclusion! What strong faith in spite of what every human would consider to be an absurd request.

Abraham is not the only man who obeyed God when things just didn't make sense. Think about Joshua and the falling walls of Jericho. What kind of general would have commanded such a tactic of marching around the city in order for the walls to fall down? How foolish, most men would say! Or, what about the cleansing of Naaman? Not a dermatologist today would make the request God did: "Go dip in a dirty river seven times."

Our job today is to obey regardless of whether or not we understand the reason behind God's instructions! Our job is to obey regardless of whether or not we agree with God's instructions!

We will continue this study of Abraham's faith in our next feature lesson. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.