The Trial of Abraham's Faith
Abraham was a hundred years old, and Sarah his wife was ninety years old. God had promised Abraham that his descendants should be in number as the stars so that he could not count them, and that his children should possess all the land of Canaan, but Abraham did not see how this could ever be for now he and his wife were old, and they had no children.
But God gave them a son and he was named Isaac. To celebrate the event Abraham gave a great feast when Isaac was a few months old, and all the herdsmen and the friends of Abraham came to rejoice with him.
Now Sarah had a handmaid named Hagar, who had a son named Ishmael. Sarah did not like Hagar nor her son, because the Lord had said that Ishmael should also found a great nation and that his descendants should also people the earth. Therefore, Sarah made Abraham drive Hagar away from his tents.
Abraham rose up early in the morning, took bread and a bottle of water and gave it to Hagar, putting the bottle on her shoulders for it was made of goat skin and was easily carried in that manner. Then he sent her away and she wandered in the wilderness. After a while the bread was all eaten and the water in the bottle was all gone, and poor Hagar saw that her child was about to die. She could not bear to look upon his wasted face, nor hear him cry for food and water, so she laid him under a bush, for the wilderness was very hot and there were no trees.
Then Hagar went and sat down a good way off, and cried out: "Let me not see the death of my child," and she wept because she thought Ishmael was going to die and that the Lord had deserted her. The boy also cried out for he was weak and his mother was not near to comfort him.
An angel of the Lord heard the lad cry and saw Hagar kneeling in the sand of the wilderness, and came to her and said: "What ails you Hagar? God has heard the voice of the lad. Arise, lift him up, and hold him in your hand, for I will make of him a great nation."
Hagar opened her eyes and rose, and behold, there was a well close by her. She ran and filled her bottle with the cool water and took it to Ishmael who drank, and Hagar drank of the water herself. Then they found food also and lived in the wilderness. The child grew to be a man and became an archer and found a wife out of the land of Egypt. And all his descendants lived in the wilderness ever afterwards.
Abraham and Sarah were very happy with their son Isaac. The boy grew strong in body and learned to obey his parents and fear the Lord, and his mother and father loved him very dearly. God determined to try the faith of Abraham, and called unto him one day: "Abraham," and the old man replied: "Behold, here I am."
"Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love and go unto the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering, upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of," said the Lord to Abraham.
What a terrible thing to ask Abraham to do! Must he take his only son, his beautiful boy, whom he loved, and slay him upon an altar and burn his body as a sacrifice? How could he tell his mother Sarah, such a thing, and how could he tell the boy what the Lord had ordered him to do? The head of the poor old Abraham was bowed to the ground with a great grief.
But the word of the Lord had come and Abraham never thought otherwise than to obey. Perhaps the Lord would some day give him another son who would fulfil the prophecy that his descendants would people the land of Canaan, or perhaps the Lord had become angry with his servant and had changed his mind. And all through the night Abraham sorrowed for he was about to sacrifice his only son.
Early in the morning Abraham rose, and saddled an ass, and took two of his young men with him, and a lot of wood for the fire, and little Isaac went along, not knowing why or where they were going. Abraham said nothing to Sarah of what the Lord had commanded him to do.
Two days went by and still they journeyed, but the Lord gave no sign that they were near the place where he wanted them to stop. Abraham said but little by the way, and the men trudged along by the side of the ass that bore the wood. Little Isaac played by the roadside or held his father's hand as they journeyed on and on, waiting for the Lord to tell them stop.
On the third day Abraham saw the place afar off, and at once knew they had come to the mountain whereon he was to offer his son as a sacrifice to the Lord. Turning to the young men he said: "Abide you here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you."
Then Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it upon Isaac and told him to carry it. Then he took some fire in his own hands and a large knife, and he and Isaac started off unto the mountain to obey the command of the Lord. Abraham's heart was very sad and he had nothing to say.
"Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" said Isaac to his father.
Abraham replied by saying: "My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering." And he and Isaac went on together until they came to a place that God had told him of.
Isaac lay down his load of wood, and Abraham built an altar, and made it ready for the sacrifice. Isaac stood by wondering what his father would do for a lamb, but not asking any more questions. When the altar was ready Abraham seized his son and bound him with cords and laid him upon the altar, and made ready to slay him for a burnt offering as the Lord had commanded him to do.
Before the old man lay his only son upon the altar, with his breast bare and ready for the great knife to descend and take away his life. Isaac uttered not a sound, while Abraham prayed to the Lord for a few minutes. Then the old servant of the Lord stretched forth to take the knife and slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him out of the heavens and Abraham stopped to hear the voice. Then the angel said:
"Lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do anything with him, for now I know that you fear God, for you are willing to sacrifice your only son unto Him."
When Abraham heard the word of the angel, he unbound Isaac and took him down from the altar, for now he knew that God had spared his son and that he was not to be slain for a sacrifice. Then he lifted up his eyes and behold, there was a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, which the Lord had provided for the offering.
Abraham seized the ram and slew it and laid it upon the altar. Then the fire was lighted and the sacrifice was made unto the Lord, and Abraham and Isaac returned unto the young men who were waiting for them at the foot of the mountain.
After this the Lord told Abraham that, because he had obeyed Him and had not withheld his only son from Him, that his descendants should be like the stars in the heavens and the sands on the seashore, and that in them all the nations of the earth should be blessed. And Abraham rejoiced because he had done right in the sight of the Lord and pleased Him.