Singers from Michael Jackson to Billy Joel to Bon Jovi give the same advice for enduring hard times: “Keep the faith!” This phrase with biblical origin (2 Timothy 4:7) has made its way into common conversation for believers and unbelievers alike today. But keeping the kind of faith in the Lord that He deserves is a tough task for all of us, no matter how much we might think we have it all together.
We never know how little faith we have until trials humble us. The apostle Peter didn’t know until after he had taken a step into the sea and started to drown before Jesus rescued him (Matthew 14:25–31). The prophet Elijah didn’t know until Queen Jezebel’s death threat sent him running for his life (1 Kings 19:1–3). And we might not know until we get a scary medical diagnosis, a backlog of bills, or a broken heart.
When our faith starts to waver, we often give in to despair. That’s because we’re human, right? We can only withstand so much pain without losing faith—or so it seems. But the Jewish patriarch Isaac provides a good case study of strengthening our faith in a way that transcends our circumstances.
Obedient to Death
Imagine how Isaac must have felt when he accompanied his father, Abraham, on a three-day hike to Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:1–5), where the Temple would later stand in Jerusalem. Perhaps his heart sank when he realized after reaching their destination that they lacked the most important element of the sacrifice: a lamb. Maybe he figured his elderly father had forgotten and wasted their time with this journey. Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (v. 8).
Here was Isaac’s first major test. Could he trust that God would make their journey worthwhile? And how would He provide this lamb when there didn’t seem to be any around?
Isaac must have been confused and horrified by what happened next. Abraham prepared the altar and led him to it. Abraham then bound his son and prepared to lay him on the wood of the altar (v. 9). Isaac began to understand what this meant. There was no lamb for the sacrifice. He was the sacrifice.
Isaac was probably stronger and no doubt faster than the old man 100 years his superior.
As sober as this scene was, it must have been a funny sight from a distance. Abraham was 100 years older than his son! He was an elderly man who likely didn’t have the strength to bind a young man, one with enough strength to carry the wood for the altar to the top of the mountain, if he resisted. Isaac was probably stronger and no doubt faster than the old man 100 years his superior.
But Isaac realized that there was a good reason for what was happening. He might not have understood what that reason was. But if God said this must be done, then it must be done.
Trusting God’s Purposes
It’s a good exercise to put ourselves in the sandals of people from the Bible to try to understand the victories and defeats they faced. But in Isaac’s case especially, it’s hard to imagine willingly submitting to be slaughtered on an altar like an animal. Could you do it? I can’t confidently say that I could.
Yet Isaac, in his humility, thought of a purpose beyond his own—God’s purpose. He admirably trusted God more than himself, even though God’s plan must have looked horrifying to him. Isaac’s task was to release control of his own life in the most difficult way, being willing to die. As if he were blindfolded on a tightrope and guided only by God’s hand, he took his place on the altar and watched as his beloved father held a knife above him, waiting to kill him brutally.
This account confuses many readers and may cause them to question God’s goodness. How can we trust God if He would kill us just to prove a point? they wonder.
But the answer comes in the resolution. The Angel of the Lord called from heaven to stop Abraham and tell him to spare his son, saying, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (v. 12). God rewarded Abraham’s faith, as He confirmed His covenant with him, promising by the Angel of the Lord to bless him and multiply his descendants (v. 17).
As Isaac submitted to his father and was laid on the wood of the altar, Jesus submitted to His Father and willingly laid down His life as a sacrifice upon the wood of the cross.
The Angel also promised Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” This promise was fulfilled almost 2,000 years later in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As Isaac submitted to his father and was laid on the wood of the altar, Jesus submitted to His Father and willingly laid down His life as a sacrifice upon the wood of the cross—“He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8). Unlike Isaac, He paid the price of death, giving His life so that we might find eternal life in Him. Through His sacrifice, all the nations of the earth are blessed, as He offers salvation from sin and an eternity with God to everyone throughout the world.
The Lord can do amazing things through human acts of faith. Isaac, being willing to die because he trusted God’s command to his father, provides a powerful example of courageous, selfless faith. While we will never find ourselves in Isaac’s situation, we can find inspiration in his actions, being willing to give control of our lives to God even when His plans seem frustrating or frightening. And as the apostle Paul instructed, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).