He and Sarah had waited decades for the birth of a child. Isaac was their pride and joy. On him rested all their hopes for the future.
And now God came and said, “Take now your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him up on one of the mountains which I will show you” (Gen. 22:2).
In fact there was no offering and an angel of God stayed Abraham’s hand, but Abraham was not to know that this would happen.
The question everyone asks is why the test of faith was necessary. Surely it is not God who needs to be assured of Abraham’s loyalty.
Yet when Abraham has passed the test, the angel says, “Now I know that you are a God-fearing man and would not have withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Gen. 22:12).
The words, “For now I know” are explained by Rashi thus: “Now I have an answer for Satan and the nations who wonder at the love I bear you; now they will see for themselves that you are a God-fearing man”.
Abravanel says something similar. For him the word nissah (God “tested” Abraham) is linked with nes, a banner. By means of the test, God raised Abraham like a banner for all the peoples of the world to see and admire.
But why should the nations be so impressed at Abraham’s faith?
The answer is suggested by Rav Soloveitchik, who points out that Judaism rejects human physical sacrifice, but it insists upon spiritual sacrifice.
From Judaism the nations of the world see that it is the Jewish principle that if you believe in a cause or idea, you will commit yourself to it without qualification or condition.
From Judaism the nations of the world learn that genuine faith does not vacillate. As the sages put it, its yea is a yea and its nay is a nay.