After the destruction of the cities on the plain of Jordan, Abraham moved southward to a land called Gerar. Just as God promised, a son was born to Abraham and Sarah. An angel had already told them to name the baby Isaac. Abraham was a hundred years old when Isaac was born. Sarah was ninety years old (Gen. 21:1-3).
In those days it was a custom to hold a feast in honor of a child between two and three years old. Therefore, when Isaac was that age, Abraham held a great feast because his son, Isaac, had grown out of babyhood and into a little boy.
Abraham had become an important and respected man in the land. No doubt he invited many other important men to the feast – quite likely even the king of Gerar.
When Hagar and her son Ishmael saw what great attention Isaac was receiving from so many people, they were jealous. Ishmael, you will remember, was Abraham’s first son. Such a grand feast had not been given in his honor when he was that age (Gen. 21:8-9). Even while the feast was in progress, Ishmael and Hagar made some unkind remarks about little Isaac. Isaac’s mother overheard some of the things they said, and she became very angry.
For a long time Sarah had not cared to have Hagar and Ishmael living in the same tents with them. One reason was that Hagar, her handmaid, had given Abraham his first son, Ishmael.
Sarah went at once to Abraham and told him to send Hagar and Ishmael away. This made Abraham sad. He had no wish to part with them. But he knew that this could never be a happy family with two jealous mothers living in the same household. It was a great problem to Abraham.
Then God spoke to him, telling him not to feel sorrowful of Hagar and Ishmael. “Do as Sarah wished and send them away,” God said. “I shall take care of them. Isaac, and not Ishmael, will be your heir. But from Ishmael I will make a whole nation” (Gen. 21:10-13)!
This promise made Abraham feel better. He obeyed God. Early the very next morning he prepared food and water for an early journey for Hagar and Ishmael. He hoped that by starting early they might reach some camp or place where they could rest and escape the hot afternoon sun. Probably he also hoped that they would not go too many miles distant to live.
While it was yet cool in the early morning, Hagar and Ishmael took the food and water and started out on foot from Abraham’s tent. Hagar, who was an Egyptian, probably planned to return to Egypt (Gen. 21:14).
But the country through which they had to walk was a desert. Hagar believed that if only the two could reach the caravan trail that led south to the land of Egypt, they might meet southbound travelers who would take them along. Somehow the two lost their way. Hagar could not find the caravan trail. What was worse, she found that they had drunk all their water! It was already the middle of the day. The sun shone upon them with such fierce heat that by the middle of the afternoon Ishmael could walk no farther. He fell to the hot sand, and was unable to get back upon on his feet.
Perhaps you think it strange that a strong, young man of sixteen years would become weak and helpless while his mother still had strength to walk. Growing boys often need more food and water than people who are much older. So it was that Hagar came to realize that unless she could find some water very soon, her son would soon be dead!
But it seemed, impossible that there would be any water in that sea of hot sand and rocks. With every passing minute Ishmael was suffering more and more with thirst. By the middle of the afternoon, when the heat was at its worst, he was in great pain, and could hardly move.
Hagar knew that Ishmael was close to death. The best she could do was roll him under the weak shade of a desert shrub. There she left him, and walked a short distance away where she couldn’t watch him die.
For many miles around there were only two human beings on that vast, hot desert. And in the burning silence were only two sounds – the painful groans of a dying boy, and the bitter sobs of his wretched mother.
Then came a startling, different kind of sound – the voice of an angel speaking to Hagar! “Don’t worry, Hagar,” said the voice. “Go help your son. God will cause a great nation to come from him” (Gen. 21:17-18)!
Hagar looked up. She didn’t see an angel. But she did see something she hadn’t noticed before – clear, cool water bubbling out of the ground just a short distance away! Hagar hurried to the spring, filled her empty leather bottle, and thankfully poured some of the water between Ishmael’s parched, feverish lips. Ishmael’s life was spared – just as God had promised Abraham that He would look out for Ishmael!
From that time on, Hagar and Ishmael moved southeast and lived in the desert. Ishmael was very skillful with the bow and arrow, with which he shot many kinds of birds and animals for food (v. 20).
Ishmael spent so many years living away from people that he became almost like a wild man (Gen. 16:12). His mother brought him an Egyptian woman for his wife. Ishmael and his wife had children, and those children had children. In time, a whole nation sprang from Ishmael – just as God promised (Gen. 21:21). Today we know those people as those who roam the desert countries of Asia and Africa, the Arabs!
Down through the years Abraham had shown by obedience and right living that he was indeed God’s servant. But God planned to put him to one more test, one that was the hardest of all.
At that time Abraham was living at a place called Beer-Sheba, south of the land where Hagar and Ishmael had gone into the desert. Isaac had been growing up. Abraham was pleased with his son, and was thankful that God had given him this fine, young man. Therefore Abraham was all the more shocked one day when he heard God call to him and say: “Take your son Isaac to the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering” (Gen 22:2)!
Abraham could hardly believe what he had heard. But he obediently listened to God’s instructions.
Early next morning Abraham had his servants prepare for the journey. He felt very sad when he saw them splitting the wood on which he was to offer his own son. The materials and provisions for the trip were loaded on a burro. Then Abraham and Isaac and two servants and the burro set out for Moriah.
Abraham had told Isaac and the servants that he was going to make a sacrifice to God. But he didn’t tell anyone what that sacrifice was to be. For more than two days they walked toward a certain high hill where Abraham had been told the sacrifice should take place (Gen. 22:4).
Meanwhile, many thoughts went through Abraham’s mind. God had promised that through Isaac there would become nations whose people would be as many as the stars in the sky. But if Isaac weren’t to live, how could this be? Would God bring Isaac back to life? And why should God ask him to give up this son in the first place? The sacrificing of sons and daughters was a terrible ceremony begun by Nimrod and practiced by certain idol worshippers in those days. Could it be that God wanted His followers to do the same?
The more Abraham thought about these things, the more sorrowful he became. But he did not argue with God or try to give excuses for not wanting to sacrifice his son. He knew that God was far wiser and more merciful than any human being, so he simply obeyed, no matter how he felt about what he was asked to do.
After two days of slow travel, Abraham sighted the high hill on which the human offering was to be made. After the group had reached a point close to the base of the hill, Abraham said to his servants, “You two stay here with the burro. My son and I will go alone to worship (Gen. 22:5).
Carrying a knife, a torch, some rope and the wood for the fire, father and son set off for the top of the hill. Not knowing just what part he would have in this sacrifice, Isaac began to wonder what was to be offered.
“We have the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering,” he asked his father (v. 7). “God will provide the lamb, my son,” Abraham replied (v. 8).
When they reached the top of the hill, Abraham picked out a brush-lined spot where the servants they had left behind could not see what would take place.
“Bring stones for the altar,” Abraham said, and together they built up a flat pile of stones large enough for a person to lie upon. Abraham then arranged the wood on top of the stone altar.
At this point the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what happened. All the Bible tells us is that Abraham bound Isaac and put him on the altar (v. 9). It appears likely that Abraham told Isaac at the last moment that he, Isaac, was to be the sacrifice, and that Isaac willingly let himself be put on the altar.
If Isaac did agree to lie upon the altar and be slain, then he was a most unusual and obedient young lad. If he didn’t agree, it must have been quite a task for an old man well over a hundred years old to overcome a strong young man a hundred years younger.
However it happened, Abraham was the one who suffered most. With his son lying bound on the wood of the altar, he picked up the sharp knife with which to slay his son.
Isaac stared at the white knuckles of his aged father’s shaking hand as it lifted the knife. Then he tore his gaze from the sharp point of the knife to his father’s face. It was a sad face, because Abraham felt sure that within the next few minutes the son he loved so much would be dead. Abraham would have chosen to slay himself – but that was not what God had asked. And Abraham knew that no man can do better than obey his Creator, no matter how hard it may be.
Abraham tensed his arm for the blow. Then, just as he was about to run the knife blade into the flesh, a strong clear voice called out Abraham’s name! Abraham stood motionless and listened. “Do not harm Isaac,” said the voice. “Because you have been willing to give up your son, I know that you fear me” (Gen. 22:10-12)!
Abraham knew that God was speaking through an angel to him. He fell upon his knees, overcome with tears of joy and thankfulness that God had spared his son. When at last he looked up, he saw a ram thrashing about in the brush nearby. The ram’s horns were caught in the brush, so that it could not escape. Abraham knew God had provided the ram for the sacrifice in place of Isaac (v. 13).
Isaac was a very thankful young man as his father slashed the ropes that bound him. Together, then, they prepared the ram and offered it to God.
Perhaps one might think that it was cruel of God to cause Abraham to almost slay Isaac. But God has always been loving and merciful, never cruel. Sometimes He gives some very hard tests to those who choose to obey Him, to prove their obedience or wisdom just as sometimes your school teacher or your parents give you tests to show how much you know and how willing you are to learn the right things and the right ways.
In Abraham’s case it proved that Abraham loved God more than any other thing or person – even his own son. God already knew this. The proof was good for Abraham and a good example for millions of Christians who would later learn and read of this event. It also pointed to a time two thousand years later when God Himself would be willing to give His only son, Jesus, to be killed because of all the evil things done by man. But this is not all of the story!
Before Abraham and Isaac started back down the hill, the angel spoke again to Abraham:
“Because you have been willing to give up your son for Me,” promised God, speaking through an angel, “I will indeed bless you. Your descendants will be as many as the stars of the heavens and as the sands of the seashore. They shall be able to conquer their enemies. All the nations of the world shall seek to be as prosperous as those who descend from you, and all because you have obeyed Me!”
Abraham’s children are today numbered in the hundreds of millions, but most of them have forgotten who they are and why they are so prosperous today! Did you know that before? (If you would like to know more about God’s promises to Abraham, send for our DVD series “The Blessings of Abraham”).
Abraham and Isaac then walked back down the hill to where the two servants were waiting. They set out at once back to Beer-Sheba, where Abraham and his family lived for quite a number of years (Gen. 22:16-19).
Later, Abraham moved to Hebron in the southern part of the land of Canaan. It was there that Sarah died at the age of 127 years (Gen. 23:1-2). Not long before this happened, Abraham had bought a large field in that region. There was a cave in the field, and there he buried Sarah – the mother of many millions of people now living on this planet.
Perhaps you wonder why Abraham, who was a wealthy man with great number of cattle, sheep and working animals, moved from one place to another so often. You might think that he would have been better off with a large house and huge barns. For one thing, it was sometimes best to move from one location to another for the sake of the flocks. If there was not enough rain, the animals didn’t have enough grass to eat. In that case Abraham simply pulled up his tents and herded his flocks to greener pastures.
The more important reason why Abraham lived in tents and moved about was that God directed him to move from one place to another. Most of the people in those countries didn’t know much about God. They worshipped idols, and God didn’t want Abraham or any of his family to fall in with the heathen ways of those people.
Be watching for our next installment of The Story of the Bible.