AFTER the destruction of the cities on the plain of Jordan, Abraham moved southwestward to a land called Gerar. 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. (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. When Isaac was that age, Abraham held such a feast because his son had grown out of babyhood and into a little boy. Having become a greatly respected man in that region, Abraham invited important men to the feast, probably even the king of Gerar. When Hagar and her son Ishmael saw what special attention Isaac was receiving from so many people, they became envious. Ishmael was Abraham's first son, and Hagar was bitter because Ishmael hadn't been so honored when he was that age. (Gen. 21:8-9.) During the dinner, Hagar and Ishmael made some unkind remarks about little Isaac. His mother became very angry when she overhead them.
Even though Sarah had suggested that Abraham have a child through her maid Hagar, Sarah had disliked having Hagar and Ishmael living in the same tents with Abraham and her. She went at once to Abraham to ask him to send Hagar and Ishmael away. This was a problem to Abraham, who knew that there could be little happiness in a household where there were two jealous mothers. "Do as Sarah wishes and send them away," God told Abraham. "But don't feel sorrowful about it, because I shall take care of them. Isaac, not Ishmael, will be your heir, but from Ishmael I will make a whole nation!" (Gen. 21:10-13.) This promise greatly relieved Abraham. He obeyed God. Early the next morning he prepared provisions for the immediate departure of Hagar and Ishmael, whom he hoped could reach a place where they could rest out of 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 morning, Hagar and Ishmael took food and water and started out afoot from Abraham's tent. Hagar, who was an Egyptian, set out with her son across the desert to the south, probably intending to go back to her native land. (Gen. 21:14.) She believed that if they could reach the main caravan trail to Egypt, they might meet a caravan that would take them along to the southwest. It didn't happen that way. Hagar failed to find the caravan trail. By the middle of the hot day they had drunk all their water. The shadeless desert became so warm that by the middle of the afternoon Ishmael fell to the burning sand, and was unable to get back on his feet. Because he was a growing teen-ager, he required more refreshment than did his mother, who realized that if she didn't find water soon, her son would surely die of thirst within hours! Hagar became frantic. There seemed no possibility of finding water in that great expanse of hot sand and rocks. By the middle of the afternoon, when the heat was at its worst, Ishmael was only partly conscious. Hagar struggled to roll him into the weak shade of a wizened desert shrub. There she left him and walked far enough away to be unable to hear his groans. That and her bitter sobs were the only two sounds in the painful heat of the wilderness.
After a while there came a startlingly different sound. It was the voice of an angel speaking to Hagar! "Don't worry about your son, Hagar", the angel said. "Go help him. God will cause a great nation to come from Ishmael!" (Gen. 21:17-18.) Hagar looked up. She didn't see the speaker, but she saw something she hadn't noticed before. It was a spring of clear, cool water bubbling out of the sand only a few feet away! Hagar lunged for the spring, filled her empty leather bottle, and thankfully hurried to pour some of the water between Ishmael's parched lips. God had promised Abraham that He would look out for Ishmael and his mother. He began by saving their lives in the desert. After Ishmael recovered, he and Hagar were still unable to find the caravan trail. They traveled to the southeast to a desert area where Ishmael became so skillful at archery that he was able to shoot plenty of birds and animals for food for the two. They kept on living in the desert for so many years that he became almost like a wild man. (Gen. 16:12.) Hagar managed to bring him an Egyptian woman for a wife. (Gen. 21:21.) Ishmael and his wife had children, and those children grew up and had children. In time, a whole nation sprang from Ishmael, just as God had foretold. Today we know those people as Arabs.
Abraham Put Through His Greatest Test
Down through the years Abraham had shown by his obedience that he was truly God's servant. God planned to put him to one more test that would be the hardest of all. At that time he was living at a place called Beer-sheba, north of where Hagar and Ishmael had gone into the desert. There Isaac grew up. Abraham was thankful that God had given him this fine, young man. He was shocked one day when he heard God say: "Take Isaac to the land of Moriah and offer him for a burnt offering!" (Gen. 22:2.) Abraham could hardly believe what he had heard, but he obediently began to plan carrying out the instructions because he knew they were from the Creator God. He had his servants prepare to start on the journey early next morning. He was almost overcome with sadness when he saw them chopping the wood on which he was to offer the son for whom he had waited so many years. The provisions for the trip were loaded on a burro. Then Abraham, Isaac, two servants and the loaded burro set out for Mount Moriah, a high hill to the east. Abraham had told the others that he was going to make a sacrifice to God, but he didn't say what that sacrifice would be. For more than two days they walked toward where the sacrifice was to take place. (Gen. 22:4.) Meanwhile, many thoughts went through Abraham's troubled mind. God had promised him that through Isaac there would become nations whose people would number 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 sacrifice his son? This was a terrible ceremony begun by Nimrod and practiced by certain idol worshipers in those days. Could it be that God wanted His followers to do the same? The more Abraham thought about these things, the more depressed he became. Nevertheless, he refrained from trying to argue with God or give excuses for not sacrificing his son. He knew that God was far wiser and more merciful than any human being. He simply obeyed, no matter how he felt about what he was asked to do. After Abraham had sighted the mountain on which the sacrifice was to be made, and the group had reached a point close to its base, Abraham told his two servants to stay with the burro while he and Isaac went up alone to worship. (Gen. 22:5.)
Abraham Obeys God Without Question
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 what part he would have in the 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. (Verse 7.) "God will provide the lamb, my son," Abraham replied. (Verse 8.) When they reached the top of the hill, Abraham chose a brushy spot where the servants below couldn't see what would take place. "Bring stones for the altar," Abraham said, and together they built up a flat pile of rocks large enough for a person to lie on. Abraham then arranged the wood on the stone altar. At this point the Bible doesn't state in detail what happened next. It simply tells that Abraham bound Isaac and put him on the altar. (Verse 9.) Very likely Abraham told Isaac at the last moment that he, Isaac, was to be the sacrifice. With his son lying helpless on the altar, Abraham picked up the sharp knife with which to slay his son. Isaac stared in sudden, shocking alarm at the white knuckles of his father's hand as it lifted the knife. Then he tore his gaze from the point of the knife to the sad face of a father who felt that within seconds the son he loved so much would be dead. Abraham would have chosen to take his own life, but that wasn't what God had told him to do. Abraham knew that one cannot do better than obey the Creator, no matter how difficult it may be.
Abraham tensed his arm for the blow. At that instant a strong, clear voice called out his name. He crouched motionless and listened. "Do not harm Isaac", the voice spoke. "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 to him through an angel. He tearfully fell to his knees, overcome with joy and thankfulness because God hadn't required him to take his son's life. When at last he looked up, he saw a ram thrashing about in nearby brush. The ram's horns were locked so tightly in a bush that it was trapped. Abraham realized that here was an animal for the sacrifice in place of Isaac. (Verse 13.) Isaac, too, was very thankful as his father slashed the ropes that bound him. They then 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. God is never cruel. He is always loving and merciful. Sometimes He gives some very hard tests to those who choose to obey Him. This is to prove obedience or wisdom, just as sometimes school teachers or parents give tests to find out how much is being learned. In Abraham's case it proved that Abraham loved his Creator more than any other thing or person, including his son. The proof was good for Abraham and a good example for millions who would later 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 there's more to the story.
Abraham's Descendants Promised Prosperity
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. All this will happen because you have obeyed me!" Those who have come down from Abraham are today numbered in the hundreds of millions, but most of them have no knowledge of who they are and the real reason why they are so prosperous. After Abraham and Isaac had returned to where the two servants were waiting, they set out to go back to Beersheba. Later, Abraham moved to Hebron in the southern part of the land of Canaan. There Sarah died at the age of one hundred and twenty-seven years. This mother of many millions of people now living around the world was buried in a cave in a field belonging to Abraham.