“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” Jesus Christ, John 5:39
In our last post we saw Jesus in the story of Joseph. Today we’ll see Jesus in another Old Testament passage: the story of Abraham taking his son Isaac to sacrifice.
Read Genesis 22
Before Genesis 22, Abraham was last seen together with Isaac when he was celebrating Isaac’s weaning. At that time Isaac was somewhere between three and five years old. Genesis 22 begins in verse one with the phrase “After these things . . .” So fast forward to when some say Isaac is now in his thirties. He’s been the apple of his parent’s eye for thirty or so years now and even as his name means laughter, he’s provided laughter and joy to both Abraham and Sarah. Which as we’ll see makes the next phrase in our story, God tested Abraham, just about as gut wrenching as you can imagine. Abraham is about to hear what to him must have seemed like a very strange request from the Lord.
“Abraham!” The Lord said.
“Here I am” Abraham replied.
“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah.”
The name Moriah means “Foreseen of Jehovah.” This is one of those places in scripture Jesus talked about. This is a place where the scriptures “bear witness about” about Jesus. Here we see a prophetical enactment, a foreseeing of the time to come when God the Father will sacrifice His only Son, who He loves. In fact, even as Jesus experienced a Gethsemane, a Calvary, and a Resurrection, we see these three are also found in the story of Abraham’s test.
“Offer him there as a burnt offering,” the Lord continued.
What a strange and amazing request. We don’t know if Abraham sweat great drops of blood as Jesus did in the garden, but imagine yourself in Abraham’s place for a moment. Imagine his anguish. Imagine the incredible heaviness of his heart. Imagine the tears, the thoughts of how Sarah would react, the thoughts of acting out what the Lord has requested of him.
So, what did Abraham say to God? No Lord, I can’t do that because I love him too much? Or, No Lord, Sarah will never stand for it and how would I face her if I did such a thing? Or, No Lord, I just can’t bear to do what you’re asking me to do?
As you know, he didn’t say any of these things. Instead, the bible tells us that after his Gethsemane, Abraham rose up early the next morning, loaded his donkey with enough wood for the burnt offering, rounded up two servants, rounded up Isaac, and set off to do what the Lord had told him to do.
I’m so impressed with Abraham, doing this thing that I don’t believe I could ever do. He didn’t waste time, he didn’t tarry, he set off to do what the Lord told him to.
After three days of travel with the donkey, Isaac, and the two servants, Abraham looks up and sees the place that God told him about.
He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac even as the cross was placed on the shoulders of God’s own Son, Jesus. (John 19:17) And Isaac carried it up the hill even as Jesus carried the cross up the hill. And Abraham carried the fire and a knife. The fire speaking of God’s judgement as it does throughout scripture.
Now, as they progress up the hill, Isaac asks a very intelligent question: Father?
Yes, my son, Abraham replies.
We have the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
Abraham answers, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
So they went both of them together.
When they climbed the hill and reached the place that God had told Abraham about, Abraham, as we have seen him do before in scripture, builds an altar. He arranges the wood on it, and, I imagine, with tears streaming down his face and with his heart breaking, he binds Isaac to the altar. The binding of Isaac speaks of Isaac’s submissiveness to his father. There’s no way Abraham, an old man, could have possibly bound his son to that altar had Isaac not submitted. Isaac was in the prime of life, his early thirties. Therefore Isaac appears to be as willing as Abraham in the matter.
Who is it you want? Jesus asked the soldiers when they came to arrest him.
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. (John 18)
Jesus, the One Who said “I am he” and knocked over every soldier present, the One who spoke three words and blew away a detachment, he didn’t have to submit to being bound. But even as Isaac was willing, Jesus was also willing to submit to the will of His Father. A few verses further along in John 18 Jesus allows the soldiers to bind him and lead him away.
Getting back to Abraham: He is fighting against his own heart’s cry to spare his son Isaac, Abraham, with the very hands that so many times before he had lifted toward heaven in worship to his Lord, Abraham, in obedience to God’s word and trusting that God will provide a way for Isaac to live according to His promise, “reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.”
How did he do it? How did Abraham find the faith to obey God’s command?
We find a clue about how he found this great faith in verse five where Abraham said something very interesting to his two servants: “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”
“I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you,” Abraham said. Even as Jesus said in Mark 8:31 that He would rise after three days, it appears that Abraham tells his servants he and his son will come back to them. Abraham knew that God had promised him descendants from Isaac, for some years ago the Lord said in Genesis 21:12 that the promise of offspring would come through Isaac (not Ishmael). And for that reason he knew that the Lord, ultimately, had to provide a way for Isaac to live, even if it meant Isaac’s resurrection.
When speaking of Abraham’s faith in this incredible situation the Lord tells us in Hebrews 11:19 that Abraham “considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”
So Abraham, trusting that the Lord will resurrect Isaac, lifts his hand to slay his only begotten son…
…but, the angel of the Lord called out to Abraham from heaven, called out to him twice, called out to him urgently, “Abraham, Abraham!”
And Abraham, obedient once again, stays his hand and says, “Here I am.”
Stop! Don’t slay him, don’t do anything to him, the angel of the Lord says. “. . . now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
Just then Abraham looks up and sees a ram caught by his horns in a thicket. It was just as Abraham had told Isaac it would be when he said in verse eight that, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering . . .”
So Abraham took the ram from the thicket and sacrificed it as a burnt offering, in place of his son.
And from then on that place has been called “The Lord will provide,” or “In the mount where the Lord is seen.”
Then the angel of the Lord tells Abraham that, “By myself I have sworn . . .”
(Whenever we see the term the angel of the Lord, it speaks of Jesus preincarnate. Men always swear by someone greater than themselves, but who can the angel of the Lord swear by but Himself, for there’s no one greater than Him)
“By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
The Prophetic Picture
It’s impossible not to see the prophetic picture painted here.
Even before the story of Abraham’s test we find remarkable parallels between Isaac and Jesus.
- Both Isaac and Jesus were conceived miraculously. Isaac was miraculously conceived by a man and woman 100 and 90 years old respectively. Jesus was miraculously conceived by God, of a virgin.
- Both Isaac’s and Jesus’ births were promised previously. Isaac’s some twenty-five years before and Jesus’ hundreds of years before in Isaiah 53.
- Both Isaac’s and Jesus’ parents were instructed by the Lord what to name their son.
And of course within today’s story there’s more:
- in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice,” God said in verse 18. Had Abraham not obeyed God’s voice, we wouldn’t have this prophetic picture of God’s sacrifice of His Son. But because Abraham did obey, all nations of the earth will be blessed because Jesus Christ, the source of eternal salvation for all of the world, would come from the line of Isaac. (Hebrews 5:9, Matthew 1, Luke 3)
- “The Lord will provide,” Abraham called the place. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) On the mountain of the Lord God provided His lamb as a sacrifice in place of me, and in place of you. Abraham and Isaac prophetically enacted Christ’s story of the death and resurrection. Jesus died for your sins and mine, in place of you, and in place of me.
God could say He knew Abraham loved him because he was willing to sacrifice his son. We can say we know our Father in heaven loves us, because he did sacrifice his Son Jesus Christ.
The price that God requires for your sin, the price required for every debt you owe, the price required for every time you fell short has been paid for by Jesus, God’s lamb, provided by the Father,
as a substitute,
in place of you.
[Image via ashley.adcox – Creative Commons]
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