The Preacher continues his sermon now turning to Abraham—the man to whom the promises were made that birthed a people (the Israelites and later Jews) that birthed the Messiah. He had but one son through whom the promise would continue. But God asked a strange and horrifying thing of Abraham—that he sacrifice his son.
We shudder at this. How could God ask of any man what He Himself condemned? We must understand two things in what is an extreme case: 1) God’s omniscience. God knew that Abraham would obey and go through with His command, something none of the rest of us would do. God also knew that he would stop Abraham at the last moment. Yes, I am aware that God said to Abraham, “Now I know that you fear God” (Genesis 22:12), as if God were ignorant of this beforehand, but this is simply the manner in which Scripture speaks sometimes. It should not be taken as teaching that God tests us to see what we might do in certain situations; He tests us to teach us about ourselves, not to teach Himself about us. He knew each one of us inside and out from before the foundation of the world.
And 2) The point of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac which happened two thousand years before the birth of Christ was to foreshadow what the Father Himself would do for our salvation. And two verses from that very account show this: God told Abraham, “Take your son, you only son Isaac, whom you love,…and offer him as a burnt offering” (22:2). Did you catch that: Your only son whom you love? And the words are repeated in 22:12. Sounds a lot like John 3:16, doesn’t it? Of course, our hearts go out to Abraham (and surely Isaac), but do our hearts go out to the Father who offered His Son, His only Son Jesus, whom He loves, for us? You see again how the Old Testament preaches Christ and even prefigures him in certain persons and their actions. No wonder the Preacher used them as examples of great faith!
The rest of the passage shows how faith is ever forward-looking. Abraham thought that God would simply raise Isaac from the dead; Isaac and Jacob blessed their children on their deathbeds certain that God would fulfill His promises to them; and, Joseph gave directions about his bones knowing that God would one day visit and liberate His people even though it was not for another four-hundred years (Genesis 50:22-26). By bringing assurance about the future, faith encourages and serves to buttress hope, while love for the Lord feeds and nurtures both, for now abide these three.