This is about one of the more “difficult” passages of Scripture.
Genesis 22:2 (NKJV), “Then [God] said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
This is perhaps one of the most controversial chapters in the Bible. “What kind of God would demand that you sacrifice your son?” I heard this or something like it a few years ago on a popular TV show. I’ve mentioned that I spend a lot of time on Yahoo Answers’ Religion and Spiritual section. Two or three times, I’ve seen the question, “What would you do if God asked you to kill your son?” You can imagine some of the answers.
It is a perplexing thing to many. Why DID God require this of Abraham? Without going into a lot of speculation. let’s see if we can make some sense of all this. Note that there are three main characters in this scenario: God, Abraham, and Isaac.
God. What was God doing, asking such a thing of a devoted believer? Genesis 22:1 says that all this was a “test”. There are some who use this verse and others like it to claim that God isn’t omniscient, that is, all-knowing. He was testing Abraham, so these folks say, so He could find out what Abraham would do, what kind of faith he had. I submit that this test was so that Abraham could find out what kind of faith he had. It’s easy enough to say, “I believe God” when the Sun’s shining, but not so easy when things go South.
And God didn’t make it “easy.” Notice the language: “Take now – your son – your only son Isaac – whom you love….” Making sure that Abraham understood what he was doing. Besides all that, Isaac was the channel through whom blessings were to flow to humanity. Yet God said, “Take him and sacrifice him.” It’s true that God had no real intention that Isaac should die, but Abraham didn’t know that.
Abraham. Genesis 22:3 has got to be one of the most amazing verses in the Bible: “So Abraham rose early in the morning….” I wish I could underline this: “early in the morning.” No hesitation, no questions, just got up to go and do what God had told him to do. Four men on a three-day journey. I can’t help wondering what thoughts went through Abraham’s mind.
Isaac. I’ve seen pictures showing Isaac as a young boy accompanying his father on this journey. Some have pictured him as such, helpless and unable to defend himself from a cruel and heartless father. However, v. 6 tells us that he was able to carry the wood for the sacrifice. This was more than just a couple of sticks. Isaac would have been well able to refuse and prevent his father from laying him on the altar when the time came. His father was probably 115, or older. Isaac was probably at least an older teenager; I heard one preacher say that Isaac was 33 years old, like Jesus going to the Cross, but there’s no way to know that for sure. He was, however, old enough that he had to be willing to go along with his father.
He was also an observant young man. In verse 7, we read of his asking his father, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” This brings us back to Abraham.
Abraham, v. 8. We mentioned a moment ago the thoughts that must have gone through Abraham’s head. I think that by morning Abraham had already settled his mind on this matter. Note what he told the two young men who accompanied him and Isaac on this journey. When they got within sight of their destination, “Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you’,” v. 5.
“WE will come back to you….” The Hebrew text is even stronger: “We are determined to go, we are determined to worship, we are determined to return.” Was this just something Abraham said to cover a bad situation, or did he really mean it? Or, perhaps he was delusional, an old man overwhelmed by a tragic situation?
We can’t be sure of the exact sequence of Abraham’s thoughts, but the New Testament gives us some insight into them. Hebrews 11:17-19 says, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”
In other words, Abraham knew God, he trusted God. Now, the rationalists of his day, like those of our day, might have said, “Now, wait a minute, Abraham. Show us tangible, verifiable evidence that God can raise anyone from the dead. No one has ever come back from the dead. It’s not scientifically possible. When you’re dead, you’re dead.” Granted, in Abraham’s case, he could have pointed to Isaac, who had been born miraculously, and said, “Here’s my evidence.” The point is, in this case, Abraham trusted God in spite of “the evidence,” that is, that he was going to have to kill his son, so far as he knew, and no one had ever, up to that time, been raised from the dead. He knew that God had promised great blessing through Isaac. Indeed, he was to be the continuation of the Abrahamic line. Perhaps Abraham reasoned something like this: if God were to be faithful to that promise, then He would have to raise Isaac from the dead.
Abraham didn’t look at the situation; He looked at God. God knows what He is doing, even if we don’t. In fact, when it comes right down to it, how can we know – really know – what God is doing?
But that’s not the focus of this story; it’s on Abraham’s answer to his son’s question; his response to the query about a lamb: Abraham answered, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering,” v. 8. This brings us back to God.
God. God stopped Abraham at the last possible moment, humanly speaking. He doesn’t always act when, or how, we think He should. Leaving aside what God told him about his obedience, there was “a ram caught in a thicket by its horns,” v. 13. God had indeed “provided”.
Centuries later, John the Baptist cried out concerning the Lord Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world,” John 1:29. The incident of Abraham and Isaac is a foreshadowing, a “type”, of the Lord Jesus. This is how Paul, in Galatians 3:8, could say that “God preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand.” Granted, Paul doesn’t specifically mention the death and resurrection of Christ, but it’s only through that death and resurrection that “all nations of the earth shall be blessed,” Galatians 3:8; Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4, where the promise is repeated and verified to Isaac himself.
As that ram became a substitute for Isaac, so the Lord Jesus became a substitute for sinners. As the ram was sacrificed in the place of Isaac, so the Lord Jesus was sacrificed in the place of sinners. The Gospel isn’t, “Smile, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” The Gospel is that God has provided a substitute and a sacrifice for those who believe on Him. He has given the answer to our sin problem. God imputed the sins of those who would believe to Christ. As it were, those sins became His, even though He was sinless and perfect and holy. Christ suffered the punishment due those sins. Conversely, God imputed the righteousness of Christ to believers, though we are anything but righteous. God looks at believers as being as righteous as Christ, because His righteousness has been credited to them.
When my firstborn son was just an infant, I was someplace where there was a crying baby. He was having a fit about something, as babies know how to do! I had never liked crying babies, but as I looked at this red-faced little fellow, somehow I saw my own son – and it was alright. God looks at believers and, instead of seeing our failings, sins, stubbornness and general all-around unworthiness, He sees His Son, in Whom He is well-pleased. And it’s alright. Not that we can live as we like, as some charge, or that we don’t have responsibility to live holy lives by the grace of God. It’s that we’re accepted because of the Lord Jesus Christ, not because of what we do. God has provided for Himself – and for us – a Lamb.
As I said at the beginning, this is a controversial passage. I’ve tried to explain it Scripturally. I hope it’s been a blessing to you. If you still have any questions, I’d be glad to try to answer them.
“To the praise of the glory of His grace.”