Abraham’s faithfulness in Genesis 22 is remarkable in that he not only willingly followed God’s plan to sacrifice his son, but in this act of obedience the patriarch was offering up the child of promise. The sacrifice of Isaac is profound not only because of what God called Abraham to do, but because the birth—and life—of Isaac had been the focus of Abraham’s life for more than three decades. God’s initial promises to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3 and 15:1-6 were now in question.
Genesis 22 is a drama of faithfulness. When Abraham heard the word of the Lord, he did not delay. “Early in the morning Abraham got up, saddled his donkey, and took with him two of his young men and his son Isaac” (Gen 22:3). For Abraham, the sacrifice of Isaac was an act of worship. Fearing God and obeying His word took precedence over any other commitment—even to his family (Gen 22:5, 12). Abraham’s courage in Genesis 22 contrasts his cowardliness in Genesis 16 when he esteemed Sarah more than God and conceived a child with Hagar. Abraham’s actions provided Isaac with a living illustration of Prov 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and he will guide you on the right paths.” Ultimately, Abraham trusted in God’s ability to provide. In Gen 22:8, Abraham spoke to his son’s searching heart and said, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
Abraham’s faith and faithfulness in Genesis 22 established a grid for New Testament authors to help their audiences understand God’s work in Christ and how to respond to it.
(1) In Heb 11:19, the author of Hebrews commented that when Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice, Abraham was expressing confidence that God could raise Isaac back to life.. Abraham’s reliance on God was a mode he wished for his audience to follow as they persevered in the new covenant. He reminded His audience that after Abraham offered Isaac, the Lord promised to bless and multiply him abundantly (Heb 6:14).
(2) In Romans 4 and Galatians 3-4, Paul cited Abraham’s declaration of trust in God as the basis on which we believe that faith, and not works, justify us in Christ. For Paul, the timeline of Abraham’s life was all important. Abraham made his confession of belief in Genesis 15 and received the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17. Abraham was thus justified by faith and not circumcision, Paul told the Romans and Galatians.
(3) In Jas 2:15-17, James cited Abraham’s work of faith as an example for his audience. James noted—with Paul—that Abraham was justified by faith in Genesis 15. And James saw in Abraham the kind of behavior he desired for his readers. James urged his audience toward Christian maturity, faith that works itself out in loving service toward those in need. James questioned: “If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (Jas 2:15-17). James presented Abraham’s faithfulness in Genesis 22 as the example of Christian works, the fulfillment of Abraham’s faith commitment in Genesis 15. In Jas 2:22-23, James wrote, “You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected. So the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.” James understood that Abraham’s confession of faith in Genesis 15 was worked out in his obedience with Isaac in Genesis 22. Abraham’s justification was not on the basis of works, such as offering up his son Isaac, but his faith was not lacking in works.