Study 5 THE TRIAL OF FAITH – ABRAHAM
Studies in Hebrews Eleven
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portions: Hebrews 11:17-19; Genesis 22: 1-19)
In our series of studies in Hebrews Eleven we come now to verses 17-19. Here we have brought before us what was surely Abraham’s supreme act of faith, in which he offered up Isaac his son as a burnt offering to the Lord. Notice that Abraham and Sarah are also mentioned in Hebrews 11:11-12 in connection with the birth of Isaac, and what a very wonderful illustration of faith this is! - read the verses carefully and then turn to Romans 4:18-21. Contrary to all human hopes and to the laws of nature, Abraham trusted God to perform His word and fulfil His promise. That is what faith is, and in Genesis 21:1-3 we see how safe it is to trust God and how perfect His timing is. When we compare Hebrews 11:17-19 with Genesis 22:1-19, we have a historical record which perfectly illustrates the very heart of the gospel.
ABRAHAM is a type of God the Father - look up John 3:16; Romans 8:32; 1 John 4:14.
ISAAC is a type of the Lord Jesus - look up Psalm 40:6-8; Philippians 2:5-8.
THE RAM is a type of Substitution, of the fact that the Lord Jesus took our place when He died upon the cross - look up Isaiah 53:5;Hebrews 10:5-10; 1 Peter 2:24.
HEBREWS 11:19 tells us that Abraham believed that God would raise up Isaac - look up 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.
The two statements which pinpoint the emphasis of this study are Genesis 22:1 - ‘Some time later God tested Abraham’; and Hebrews 11:17 - ‘By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac.’ Where there is true faith in God, that faith will always be tried and tested. It is impossible to be a believer and not be tested - look up Hebrews 12:5-11; 1 Peter 1:7. Not only is it true that faith will be tested, but it is the Lord who does the testing. He may use many agencies, but He is the one who directs the testings of our faith – notice in Genesis 22:1 that ‘God tested Abraham …’ - or look up 1 Kings 12:24. So precious is the testing of faith to God, and so profitable is it to the child of God, that we should not only expect it but rejoice in it - look up James 1:2; knowing that it is our living and sovereign Lord who is directing the testing of our faith, and that His hand will never cause His child a needless tear. Let us notice three aspects of the trial, or the testing, of faith.
1. THE MEASURE OF FAITH’S TESTING.
How much is faith tested? It is clear that some are, or appear to be, tested more than others. For example, not all are tested to the same extent as Abraham, Job or Paul. Is there any ruling principle which will give us an explanation of the degree of testing? Yes, there is: faith is tested according to the measure of faith. There are degrees of faith, which fact we quickly learn by a comparison of Mark 4:40; Matthew 6:30; 17:20; Luke 17:5; 7:9 (the references should be looked up in that order). To offer Isaac was not Abraham’s first test of faith, it was nearly his last! He would not have been ready for this great trial at the beginning of his experience of faith in God. This is all true in our experience. We begin by trusting God simply for pardon, but as we go on we learn to trust Him in ten thousand other ways and for ten thousand other matters. As faith grows it is tried and tested according to its measure; but have no fear - look up 1 Corinthians 10:13.
2. THE MANNER OF FAITH’S TESTING
In other words, how is faith tested? The Bible is packed full of illustrations of men and women whose faith was tested. Sometimes in the testing of faith our affections are touched, as was the case with Abraham in the portion we are considering, and we hear the Lord saying to us, ‘My child, put back into My hands what I have given you.’ Sometimes the test comes in the realms of our bodies, as was the case with Paul - look up 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Sometimes the trial of faith involves the loss of position, the upsetting of our carefully laid plans, the seemingly mysterious intervention of God’s hand; but faith’s testing is always for God’s glory and for our good, and our part is to rejoice in the truth of Job 23:10; Romans 8:28.
3. THE MEANING OF FAITH’S TESTING
Why does God test our faith? There is a sense in which faith must never ask ‘Why?’ because faith trusts the Lord and leaves the ‘Why’s’ to Him; and yet it is true to say that God has told us in His Word some reasons why He tests our faith:
- God tries our faith to prove the genuineness of it. Only when faith is tested is the reality of faith proved and demonstrated - compare Genesis 22:1 and 12; it was as if God said, ‘Abraham, do you trust Me?… All right! Prove it!’
- God tries our faith to increase the measure of it. How strong Abraham’s faith was after he had trusted God for the gift of Isaac! - as Romans 4:20 tells us; but how much stronger it would have been after the experience of Genesis 22! He would then be able to say with Job - look up Job 13:15. A little tree is strengthened by the wind; that is, by adversity.
- God tries our faith to secure the preciousness of it. 1 Peter 1:7 is a great verse, and it should always be read in conjunction with Malachi 3:3. The gold of our life is to His ‘praise, glory and honour’ when it is separated from the dross, and the trial of our faith is so precious because it brings about this separation.
- God tries our faith to produce the fruit of it. This is what we learn from John 15:2, particularly in the last part of the verse. Our heavenly gardener is looking for fruit (verse 2), more fruit (verse 2), and much fruit (verses 5 and 8); and one method He employs for producing this increasing amount of fruit in the lives of His children is that of trial and testing. ‘Faith blossoms when the winds of trial blow the fiercest.’
- God tries our faith to use the testimony of it. Read 2 Corinthians 11:23-28; Philippians 1:12, and then compare Acts 16:22-25, particularly noticing the last eight words in verse 25.
Here is a closing thought! God will always give back to us far more than He asks us to give up for Him. He may do the giving back in this life, but if not, He will most certainly grant us an abundant reward in the life to come - look up and carefully read 1 Peter 4:12-19.