God honored Abram’s faith so much the Bible says He “credited it to Abraham’s account as righteousness.” Genesis chapter 15, verse 6, New International Version (NIV)
What (Who) was it Abram believed?
He believed God. He believed God when He said He would make Abram the father of many nations. He believed God when God said these nations would come through Abram’s son Isaac. He believed before Isaac was even conceived and he believed after Isaac had been born and weaned and was a young man–
He even continued to believe those promises when God told him to sacrifice that son, the son of the promise, on Mt. Moriah. Here is that account from Genesis 22:1-19 International Standard Version (ISV):
Sometime later, God tested Abraham. He called out to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he answered.
God said, ‘”Please take your son, your unique son whom you love—Isaac—and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him as a burnt offering there on one of the mountains that I will point out to you.” (verses 1-2)
(The phrase is usually translated “Take now your son–” The word for “now” נָ֠א (na) is a term of entreaty: “I/we pray (that you take)–“)
Obediently, Abraham set out with Isaac, two servants with donkeys to help carry the wood, fire and knife for the sacrifice, prepared to obey this demand of God that went against all that God had told the nations NOT to do and all that seemed to contradict God’s promise and character.
So Abraham got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his male servants with him, along with his son Isaac. He cut the wood for the burnt offering and set out to go to the place about which God had spoken to him. On the third day he looked ahead and saw the place from a distance.
Abraham ordered his two servants, “Both of you are to stay here with the donkey. Now as for the youth and me, we’ll go up there, we’ll worship, and then we’ll return to you.” Then Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac. Abraham carried the fire and the knife. And so the two of them went on together.
Isaac addressed his father Abraham: “My father!”
“I’m here, my son,” Abraham replied.
Isaac asked, “The fire and the wood are here, but where’s the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered, “God will provide himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
The two of them went on together and came to the place about which God had spoken. Abraham built an altar there, arranged the wood, tied up his son Isaac, and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. Then he stretched out his hand and grabbed the knife to slaughter his son.
Just then, an angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he answered.
“Don’t lay your hand on the youth!” he said. “Don’t do anything to him, because I’ve just demonstrated that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only unique one, from me.”
Then Abraham looked up and behind him to see a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So Abraham went over, grabbed the ram, and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named that place, “The Lord Will Provide,” as it is told this day, “On the Lord’s mountain, he will provide.” (verses 3-14)
God stops Abraham’s hand as he is ready to plunge his knife into his son’s heart. Instead, God himself provides a ram caught in a nearby bush as a substitute sacrifice. At the end of the test:
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “I have taken an oath to swear by myself,” declares the Lord, “that since you have carried this out and have not withheld your only unique son, I will certainly bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in heaven and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the gates of their enemies. Furthermore, through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed my command.”
After this, Abraham returned to his servants and they set out together for Beer-sheba, where Abraham settled. (verses 15-19)
When Isaac asked, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham told him, in faith, “God will provide himself the lamb.” And God did. He provided the ram as a substitute for the son–and restored the son to the father.
In the New Testament, Hebrews chapter 11 explains, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered Isaac—he who had received the promises was about to offer his unique son in sacrifice, about whom it had been said, ‘It is through Isaac that descendants will be named for you.’ Abraham was certain that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did get Isaac back in this way.” Hebrews 11:17-19 (ISV)
Abraham believed that even if God had him slay his son, God would raise him from the dead.
Here in Hebrews 11 and also in Genesis 22:1-2 God calls Isaac his “unique” son. (The Hebrew word יְחִֽידְךָ֤ (ye chi de cha, from yachad) means “only” or “solitary.”) What about Ishmael? Ishmael was also Abraham’s son, his firstborn. But Isaac was the son God had promised him through whom the prophecy of “many nations” would be fulfilled.
In the second half of the Bible, the New Testament, God reveals that we become Abraham’s real sons and daughters not through Abraham’s body and blood line but by sharing Abraham’s faith in God.
More than two thousand years later, God Himself would provide another Lamb as a substitute burnt offering. This time the Lamb was God’s own son and He did not spare him, because the sacrifice was made for our sakes, “the just for the unjust”, the sinless one for sinners–all of us, every one in the world.
And when the offering was slain and the substitute accepted by God, He would bring that Lamb back from the dead.