During the autumn before His death, while in attendance on one of the Jerusalem feasts, the leaders are boasting of their direct descent from Abraham, and attacking Jesus. On their part the quarrel of words gets very bitter. They ask sharply, “Who do you pretend to be? Nobody can be as great as Abraham; yet your words suggest that you think you are.” Then came from Jesus’ lips the words, spoken in all probability very quietly, “Your father Abraham exulted that he might see my day, and he saw it, and was glad.” It is a tremendous statement, staggering to one who has not yet grasped it.
In attempting to find its meaning, some of our writing friends have supposed it means that, after Abraham’s death, when he was in the other world, at the time of Jesus being on the earth, he was conscious of Jesus having come and was glad. But this hardly seems likely, else it would read, “He sees, and is glad.” The seeing and gladness were both in a day gone by. Others have supposed that it refers to the scene on Moriah’s top, when the ram used as a sacrifice instead of Isaac enabled Abraham to see ahead by faith, not actually, the coming One. But this, too, seems a bit far-fetched, because Abraham was surprised by the occurrences of that day. He fully expected to sacrifice his son, apparently, so there could be no exultant looking forward to that day for him. And deeper yet, the coming One was not expected to be a sacrifice, but a king.
The natural meaning seems to lie back in Abraham’s own life. Abraham was Israel’s link with the idolatrous heathen, as well as the beginning of the new life away from idolatry. He grew up among an idolatrous people, yet in his heart there was a yearning for the true God. Back in his old home there came to him one day the definite inner voice to cut loose from these people, his own dear kinsfolk, and go out to a strange unknown land, with what seemed an indefinite goal, and there would come to him a vision of the true God.
It was a radical step for a man of seventy-five years to take. He was living among his own kinsfolk. His nest was feathered. It meant leaving a certainty for an uncertainty. It meant breaking his habit of life, a very hard thing to do, and starting out on a wandering roaming life. Not unlikely his neighbors thought it a queer thing, a wild goose chase, this going off to a strange land in response to a call of God that he might see a vision of the true God. Decidedly visionary. But the old man was clear about the voice. The fire burned within to know God, the real true God. All else counted as nothing against that. He would see God. And a warming glow filled his heart and shone in his eyes and kept him steady during the break, the good-byes, the start away, the journeying among strangers. Into the strange land he came, and pitched his tent. And—one night—in his tent—among these strange Canaanites, there came the promised vision. “Jehovah appeared unto Abraham,” and tied up there anew with him the promise made back in his native land. This seems to be the simple explanation of these words about Abraham. “He exulted that he might see my day. He saw ... and was glad.”