Hebrews 11:17 MEANING

Hebrews 11:17
(17) The patriarchs displayed their faith in the attitude of their whole life, and in their death. This has been the thought of the preceding verses; the writer now passes to the lessons taught by particular actions and events.

Tried.--Genesis 22:1 : "God did tempt Abraham." The following word is in the Greek "hath offered up Isaac," and several other examples of a similar peculiarity will present themselves in this chapter. As in former cases (Hebrews 4:9; Hebrews 7:11; Hebrews 10:9) the reference is to the permanent record of Scripture, in which the fact related is ever present. Abraham stands before us there as having offered his son. It will be seen that the offering is spoken of as if consummated. As regards faith the sacrifice was indeed complete; the perfect surrender of will had been made, and the hand was stretched out for the deed.

And he that had received the promises offered up.--Rather, and he that had welcomed (gladly accepted) the promises was offering up. From the figurative accomplishment of the deed the writer passes to the historical narrative; hence we read, "he . . . was (in the act of) offering." This clause and Hebrews 11:18 set forth the greatness of the sacrifice (compare Genesis 22:2, in the literal rendering, "Take now thy son, thine only one, whom thou lovest, Isaac"); Hebrews 11:19 explains the operation of his faith.

Verses 17-19. - By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up (literally, hath offered up, denoting an accomplished act of which the significance continues) Isaac: and he that had received (rather, accepted, implying his own assent and belief) the promises offered up his only begotten son, he to whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. The above rendering varies slightly from the A.V. in vers. 18, 19. For, in ver. 18, πρὸς ο{ν is more naturally connected with the immediate antecedent, ὁ ἀναδεξάμενος, than with μονογενῆ: and, in ver. 19, there is no need to supply "him" after ἐγείρειν: the Greek seems obviously to express belief in God's general power to raise from the dead, not his power in that instance only. The offering of Isaac (specially instanced also by St. James, if. 21), stands out as the crowning instance of Abraham's faith. The very son, so king expected, and at length, as it were, supernaturally given, - he in whose single life was bound up all hope of fulfillment of the promise, was to be sacrificed after all, and so seemingly all hope cut off. Yet Abraham is represented as not hesitating for a moment to do in simple faith what seemed God's will, and still not wavering in his hope of a fulfillment somehow. Such faith is here regarded as virtually faith in God's power even to raise the dead. (For a similar view of Abraham's faith as representing "the hope and resurrection of the dead," comp. Romans 4:17, 24.) The expression, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called" (literally, "In Isaac shall be called to thee a seed"), quoted from Genesis 21:12, means, not that the seed should be called after the name of Isaac, but that the seed to be called Abraham's should be in Isaac, i.e. his issue. The concluding phrase, "Whence also he received him in a figure" (literally, "in a parable," ἐν παραβολῇ), has been variously interpreted. Notwithstanding the authority of many modern common-taters, we may certainly reject the view of παραβολῇ carrying here the sense borne by the verb παραβάλλεσθαι, that of venturing or exposing one's self to risk, or that of the adverb παραβόλως, unexpectedly. Even if the noun παραβολή could be shown by any instance to bear such senses, its ordinary use in the New Testament as well as in the LXX. must surely be understood here. It expresses (under the idea of comparison, or setting one thing by the side of another) an illustration, representation, or figure of something. Its use in this sense in the Gospels is familiar to us all; elsewhere in the New Testament it occurs only in this Epistle, Hebrews 9:9, where the "first tabernacle" is spoken of as a παραβολή. Still, the question remains of the exact drift of this expression, ἐν παραβολῇ. It surely is, that, though Isaac did not really die, but only the ram in his stead, yet the transaction represented to Abraham an actual winning of iris son from the dead; he did so win him in the way of an acted parable, which confirmed his faith in God's power to raise the dead as much as if the lad had died. For such use of the preposition ἐν we may compare 1 Corinthians 13:12, βλέπομεν δἰ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι, which may mean (notwithstanding the different view of it given doubtfully by the distinguished commentator on the Epistle in the 'Speaker's Commentary'), "We see, not actually, but in the way of an enigmatical representation, as through a mirror." The above seems a mere natural meaning of the phrase, ἐν παραβολῇ, than that of the commentators who interpret it "in such sort as to be a parable or type of something else to crone," viz. of the death and resurrection of Christ. It does not, of course, follow that the transaction was not typical of Christ, or that the writer does net so regard it; we are only considering what his language fit itself implies. Rendered literally, and with retention of the order of the words, the sentence runs: "From whence [i.e. from the dead] him [i.e. Isaac, αὐτόν being slightly emphatic, as is shown by its position in the sentence, equivalent to illum, not eum; and this suitably after the general proposition preceding] he did too in a parable win [ἐκομίσατο, equivalent to sibi acquisivit; cf. ver. 39, οὐκ ἐκομίσαντο τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν]." With regard to what we may call the moral aspect of this peculiar trial of Abraham's faith, a few words may be said, since a difficulty naturally suggests itself on the subject. How, it may be asked, is it consistent with our ideas of Divine righteousness, that even readiness to slay his son should be required of Abraham as a duty? How are we to account for this apparent sanction of the principle of human sacrifices? To the latter question we may reply, in the first place, that the narrative in Genesis, taken as a whole, affords no such sanction, but very much the contrary. All we are told is that the great patriarch, in the course of his religious training, was once divinely led to suppose such a sacrifice to be required of him. The offering of sons was not unusual in the ancient races among where Abraham lived; and, however shocking such a practice might be, and however condemned in later Scripture, it was due, we may say. to the perversion only of a true instinct of humanity - that which suggests the need of some great atonement, and the claim of the Giver of all to our best and dearest, if demanded from us. That Abraham should be even divinely led to suppose for a time that his God required him to express his acknowledgment of this need and this claim by not withholding from him as much as even the heathen were accustomed to offer to their gods, is consistent with God's general way of educating men to a full knowledge of the truth. But the sacrifice was ill the end emphatically forbidden by a voice from heaven; to Abraham thenceforth, and to his seed for ever, it was made dearly known that, though God does require atonement for sin and entire submission to his will, he does not require violence to be done to tender human feeling, or any cruel rites.

11:8-19 We are often called to leave worldly connexions, interests, and comforts. If heirs of Abraham's faith, we shall obey and go forth, though not knowing what may befall us; and we shall be found in the way of duty, looking for the performance of God's promises. The trial of Abraham's faith was, that he simply and fully obeyed the call of God. Sarah received the promise as the promise of God; being convinced of that, she truly judged that he both could and would perform it. Many, who have a part in the promises, do not soon receive the things promised. Faith can lay hold of blessings at a great distance; can make them present; can love them and rejoice in them, though strangers; as saints, whose home is heaven; as pilgrims, travelling toward their home. By faith, they overcome the terrors of death, and bid a cheerful farewell to this world, and to all the comforts and crosses of it. And those once truly and savingly called out of a sinful state, have no mind to return into it. All true believers desire the heavenly inheritance; and the stronger faith is, the more fervent those desires will be. Notwithstanding their meanness by nature, their vileness by sin, and the poverty of their outward condition, God is not ashamed to be called the God of all true believers; such is his mercy, such is his love to them. Let them never be ashamed of being called his people, nor of any of those who are truly so, how much soever despised in the world. Above all, let them take care that they are not a shame and reproach to their God. The greatest trial and act of faith upon record is, Abraham's offering up Isaac, Ge 22:2. There, every word shows a trial. It is our duty to reason down our doubts and fears, by looking, as Abraham did, to the Almighty power of God. The best way to enjoy our comforts is, to give them up to God; he will then again give them as shall be the best for us. Let us look how far our faith has caused the like obedience, when we have been called to lesser acts of self-denial, or to make smaller sacrifices to our duty. Have we given up what was called for, fully believing that the Lord would make up all our losses, and even bless us by the most afflicting dispensations?By faith Abraham, when he was tried, .... Or tempted; that is, by God, Genesis 22:1. This temptation or trial respects the command given by God to Abraham, to offer up his son Isaac; which lays no foundation for a charge against God, either of sin or cruelty; for God's will is the rule of justice and goodness, and whatever he requires is just and good; and though his creatures are bound by the laws he prescribes them, he himself is not: besides, he is the Lord of life, the giver and preserver of it; and he has a right to dispose of it, and to take it away, when, and by what means, and instruments, he thinks fit; to which may be added, that the secret will of God was not that Isaac should die, but a command was given to Abraham to offer him up, for the trial of his faith and love; this was a temptation of probation, not of seduction, or to sin, as are the temptations of Satan; for God tempts no man with sin. The Jews speak (x) of ten temptations, with which Abraham was tried, and in all which he stood; and say, that this of the binding of Isaac was the tenth and last.

Offered up Isaac; he showed great readiness to do it; as soon as he had the command given him, he travelled three days' journey in order to it; took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on his son; took fire, and a knife in his hand, with the one to burn the wood, with the other to slay his son; he built an altar, laid the wood in order on it; and bound his son, and laid him on that; and took the knife, and stretched forth his hand to slay him, and fully intended to do it, had he not been prevented: and all this he did by faith; he believed the equity, justice, and wisdom of the divine command; he was fully assured of the truth and faithfulness of God in his promises, however contrary this might seem thereunto; and he was strongly persuaded of the power of accomplishing them in some way or another. This was great faith, and it was greatly tried, as follows:

and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son; he had a promise made him that he should have a son, and that a numerous issue should spring from him, which should inherit the land of Canaan; yea, that the Messiah himself should be of his seed: and he had received these promises; given credit to them, and firmly believed them, and fully expected the performance of them; as he had reason to do, since the first was fulfilled, the son was born; and yet now he is called to offer him up, on whom his expectation was placed; everything was trying; it was an human creature he was called to offer, whose blood is not to be shed by man; a child of his own, a part of himself; a son, an own son; an only begotten son; a son whom he loved; an Isaac, a son of joy; a son of promise; and his heir, the son of his old age, and who was now a grown up person. The Jews are divided about the age of Isaac at his binding: Josephus (y) says he was twenty five years of age; others say twenty six (z); some say (a) thirty six: but the more prevailing opinion is (b), that he was thirty seven years of age; only Aben (c) Ezra makes him to be about thirteen; rejecting the more commonly received account, as well as that he was but five years old, that being an age unfit to carry wood. Some Christian writers have thought he might be about three and thirty years of age, the age of Christ when he suffered, of whom he was a type.

(x) Targum in Cant. vii. 8. Pirke Eliezer, c. 26. & c. 31. Maimon. Jarchi & Bartenora in Misn. Abot, c. 5. sect. 3.((y) Antiqu. l. 1. c. 13. sect. 2.((z) Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 6. 1.((a) Targum Jon. in Genesis 22.1.((b) Zohar in Gen. fol. 68. 2. & 74. 4. & 76. 2. Targ. Hieros. in Exodus 12.42. Pirke Eliezer, c. 31, Juchasin, fol. 9. 1. Prefat. Echa Rabbati, fol. 40. 2. Seder Olam Rabba, c. 1. p. 3. Shalshelet Hakabala, fol. 3. 1. (c) In Genesis 22.4.

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