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Here I Am.

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Our Father, who art in heaven,Hallowed be thy Name.Thy kingdom come.Thy will be done,On earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread.And forgive us our debts,As we forgive our debtors.And lead us not into temptation,But deliver us from evil.[For thine is the kingdom,and the power, and the glory,for ever and ever.]Amen. 28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.

Genesis 22Abraham often enjoyed intimate and immediate communion with God, but now he was being asked to sacrifice that which he had faithfully depended on God for decades to deliver, Isaac the son of the promise. We shall look at some background history leading up to this momentous event in the life of Abraham. While we do so let us not forget that this must have been a momentous event in Isaac’s life as well.

The name “Abraham” is understood to mean the “father of multitudes” even though, as far as we know, there is no Hebrew root rhm meaning “multitudes.” There is a corresponding Arabic term (ruham). The etymology is far from certain but the scripture is clear enough, Abraham was to be father of many nations through God’s promised seed of Isaac. Before being changed his name was Abram meaning “exalted father.” For the sake of clarity, I will use the name Abraham throughout.

Abraham was 75 years old when God called him from the land of Ur probably in the first half of the second millennium B.C. We have no information as to his religious disposition before the call from God. It is enjoyable to speculate but the text does not allow us to come to a conclusion. The best we can do is ask questions that will not be answered until we meet him in person in glory. Was he a pagan who had an experience akin to Saul’s on the road to Damascus? Was he an idolater who had his gods trampled on by the one true God? Was he just a farmer who had a dream? Whatever the case he took his wife, father, nephew and all he owned and headed west.

It was at this time when God called Abraham out of the land that He also promised to make a great nation from Abraham. His wife, Sarah, was barren and was unable to produce children but this was part of God’s promise. We read in Hebrews chapter 11:

     8     By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to  receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.
     9     By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;
     10     for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
     11     By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.
     12     Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.[1]

These verses in the New Testament refer back to Genesis 15 and God’s cutting of the covenant with Abraham. This is the key text in the entire Bible concerning the relationship between faith and righteousness. It is of vital importance for understanding our text as well. The author of Hebrews commends Abraham’s faith, but he does not say that faith begins with Abraham. We see Abraham as the father of the faith, but the author takes us further back in the first seven verses of chapter 11. In verse 7, Noah is commended for his faith, In verse 5, Enoch, and in verse 4, Abel. Therefore we must understand that righteousness achieved through faith, not by works, was the case all the way back to the firstborn after the fall. It has always been so. It will always be so.

In chapter 14, Abraham rescues Lot, receives a blessing from Melchizedek and gives him gifts. He refuses to keep the plunder of the eastern kings modeling faith to the world. At that point Abraham slowed down and began to reflect; the journey to Canaan, the fiasco in Egypt, the victory over the kings, but Sarah was still barren. And God was silent to Abraham.

In chapter 15 two major events occur. First, God promises Abraham a seed, an heir through which multitudes shall come. In vss. 4-5 we read:

    4          Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.”
    5          And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”[2]

Abraham knew Sarah was barren and expected another member of his house to be his heir. But God promised him a physical descendant as heir.

Second, God “cuts” a covenant with Abraham. The Hebrew word בְּרִ֣ית in v. 18 carries in it the meaning of “to cut.”[3] The animals in v. 10 are cut as well. God does this in response to a question Abraham asks in v. 8 “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?”[4] Abraham is not asking this in unbelief. In Lk. 1:18 Zechariah asks God an identical question when he is told that he will become the father of John the Baptist—“How can I be sure of this?” He was struck mute for his unbelief. Abraham is not punished for his question, but rather, God takes his question seriously. Abraham was not asking for a sign only to confirm the promise, but also to illuminate if further. This reminds us of the father of the boy in Mark 9:24 who says, “I believe; help my unbelief!” It is not necessarily wrong for us to ask God for signs—so long as our heart trusts God and our desire is to know him better.

Abraham believed God would deliver the promised offspring, but after ten years, at the age of 85, the promise had yet to be delivered. So Sarah, trying to help God, as we so often do, offered her maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham for the purpose of bringing to fruition the promised offspring(Gen. 16). This resulted in the birth of Abraham’s son Ishmael; however, he was not the son of the promise.

Fourteen years later, (Gen. 17) the covenant with Abraham is renewed and the sacrament of circumcision is instituted. Again, God promises to make a great nation of Abraham’s seed. One year later, Abraham, now one hundred years old, sees the child of promise born.

During these long years of waiting we see Abraham’s faith being refined. It is not always evenly and equally so, but it has peaks and valleys, as does our own sanctification. Some of the valleys we see include the taking of Hagar and Abraham’s lying about Sarah being his wife not just once, but twice.

Several years after Isaac’s birth, Abraham received a call from God again. We do not get our curiosity satisfied here concerning the age of Isaac, Sarah’s role, or the reaction of Isaac to being bound. We might want to ask these questions, and they naturally come to mind, but the Scripture is silent here, and so must we be, except to note that Isaac speaks enough to inform us that he is obedient to his father and also trusts in God’s provision, and that he is old enough to carry the wood.

 The Hebrew in 12:1 and in 22:2 both have לֶךְ־לְךָ. לְךָ֛ literally translated is “to you(singular).” So we could translate this “go by yourself.” His command is to “go by yourself,” the same as it was in Gen. 12:1 when he is called out of Ur. Mathews in his commentary says:

Both episodes share in many features: (1) the patriarch is commanded to separate from family, “[from] your country, your people and your father’s household” (12:1), and “take your son, your only son, Isaac (22:2)”; (2) he faithfully carries out the divine instructions, which ends in promise of blessing and in the patriarch’s worship (“built an altar,” 12:7; 22:9).[5]

The call from his country and from his family put Abraham’s faith in God to the test. We can take comfort in the fact that this is announced as a test in verse 1. This story would be painful to us, and agonizing to the original hearers, were it not for this gracious announcement.[6] God’s command of Abraham to leave Ur  was a call from his security to the unknown; this call to take Isaac and sacrifice him is in the same category, and it also put Abraham’s faith to the test. Abraham believed God would fulfill His promises when he left home and family, and Abraham believed God would fulfill his promise to make a great nation of his seed, even in sacrificing that seed. The command to “leave” in 12:1 is followed in v. 4 with “so Abram left.” Likewise the command “go to the land of Moriah” in 22:2 is followed with “so Abraham rose early in the morning” in v. 3. In both cases, Abraham did not question God, but immediately followed God’s instructions.

We should note here that God says “your only son” in Gen. 22:2. Is God mistaken? No, not at all, Isaac is not literally Abraham’s only son, but he is the only son of the promise, the only son of Abraham and Sarah, and the only potential heir of Abraham. He expelled Ishmael, the firstborn and now Isaac is the “only son.”

This account in Genesis 22 is the second of three major events in the Pentateuch where we can clearly see the pattern God has laid out for redemption. The first is in the cutting of the covenant in Genesis 15,we mentioned earlier. When God himself moves through the pieces of the animals, He is emphasizing that He will take upon Himself the covenant curses if it is broken. The passage under consideration develops the idea of a substitute. And finally, in Exodus 17, when the rock is struck bringing forth life-giving water, we get a clear picture of salvation.

Let us consider the idea of a substitute as we find it in this passage. We can see Isaac as a type of Christ in three ways. First he was appointed to be a sacrifice. Isaac was the child of promise, yet God required him to be sacrificed—not Abraham’s cattle, not his son Ishmael, but Isaac, Abraham’s only beloved son. So also was Jesus the promised seed; He was the beloved son in whom the Father was well pleased; yet God appointed Him to be a sacrifice.

 Second, Isaac bore the wood on which he was to be lifted up. He volunteered his body to be bound and his life to be destroyed in God’s appointed way. In the same way did Jesus bear his cross to the place he would be crucified to the very same spot Isaac was lifted up according to some. Isaac was to suffer at the hand of his own father; likewise Jesus was punished by His Father.

Third, we see a foreshadowing of the familiar Isaiah 53 passage. In verse 7 we read, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” Isaac, like Christ, went to the wood in silence.

There is a fourth point, however, where the similarity disappears. As Charles Simeon puts it, “For Isaac was found a substitute; for Jesus none. Neither the cattle on a thousand hills, nor all the angels in heaven, could have stood in his place. None but Jesus could have made a full atonement for our sins. He therefore saved not himself, because He was determined to save us.”[7]

In verse 9, we find Abraham built an altar. This once again takes us back to chapter 12 where Abraham, upon entering the land in vss. 7-8, built an altar. This also foreshadows Moses, who built an altar for a burnt offering in Exodus 17. The article in הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ probably distinguishes this altar proleptically as the commemorated altar of Isaac’s binding. So says Matthews.[8]

The altar was built, Isaac was younger and stronger; he could have fled at any moment, and Abraham would have been helpless to apprehend him. This shows that Isaac is a willing sacrifice. Why? Because he too had faith. He believed what his father had told him in verse 8, “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering.” This is a faith that does not just show up out of nowhere; this is a faith handed down from father to son, a faith built on teaching about God that comes from persistent instruction. Abraham was faithful in passing on the wisdom of the fear of the Lord.

Isaac was bound and laid upon the altar in verse 9. Verse 10 calmly states a fact, “Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.” It is at this point we see true faith, faith that works as James makes known to us in chapter 2 verses 21-24 when he says:

    21        Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?
    22        You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;
    23        and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.
    24        You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. [9]

Just as Abraham is about to plunge the knife into his son Isaac there is divine intervention. The angel of the Lord appears and speaks to Abraham in v. 11-12:

    11        But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
    12        He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”[10]

This is a theophany, a pre-existent manifestation of Christ. In v. 12, there is a hint at the trinity, as well. This angel of the Lord distinguishes between himself and God saying, “you fear God,” but also claims divinity in ending the verse with “from me.”

“That God “tests” (nissâ) his people is not exceptional; it is a means for revealing their obedience (e.g., Exod 15:25; 16:4; Judg 2:22), producing fear so as to engender piety (Exod 20:20; Ps 26:2), discovering their authenticity (Deut 8:2; 13:3[4]; 2 Chr 32:31), and producing their well-being (Deut 8:16).”[11] In this case, what is revealed about Abraham is that he “fears God” (v. 12). The object of the test is Abraham’s proper response, which includes obedience and trust. There is a definite link between “trust” and “fear.” The only other place we find these two together in the Pentateuch is at Sinai in Exodus 20:20. R. W. L. Moberly identifies Abraham’s “fear of the Lord” as the Hebrew equivalent to what Christians mean when they refer to “faith.”[12]

Henry Law has given one of the most elegant descriptions of faith I have ever heard when he says:

Faith is the brightest star in the firmament of grace. High is its origin—for it is born in heaven. Lowly is its abode—for it dwells in the hearts of the redeemed. Mighty are its deeds—for it prevails with God, and over sin and Satan. It treads down seeming impossibilities. It strides to victory over mountains of stupendous hindrance. It speeds to its haven through oceans, in which each billow is an overwhelming difficulty. It braces the Christian warrior for every combat—giving a shield to screen, and a sword to subdue. It has a keen eye to discern things invisible. It reads the mind of God, as written in the tablets of eternity—as emblazoned on the cross of Christ—as wrapt up in the folds of providence. It enthrones Jesus, as king of the inner man. It kindles and fans the flame of love. It opens the lips of prayer and praise. It turns the current of life into a strong stream of spiritual service. It endures, until the gates of light open at its touch. It only expires, when it sees the Lord face to face.[13]

This gives us an insight into the ultimate purpose of the test. This test is not because God was unsure of Abraham’s loyalty; this test was to strengthen Abraham in his faith! Faith untried, unprobed, unproved, is faith uncertain.[14]

We know that child sacrifice is strictly forbidden in Scripture. So then how do we reconcile that with the matter at hand? We must look at the episode as a whole. Right from the beginning, we are informed this is a “test,” so it must be evaluated provisionally. “This divine request for human sacrifice is unique in Israel’s experience; the special circumstance of Abraham’s role as the father of the covenant requires a test without parallel.”[15]

Verse 13 is the Bible’s first explicit mention of substitutionary sacrifice of one life for another. Abraham lifted his eyes and immediately saw a ram caught in a thicket; indeed the Lord had provided a sacrifice for Himself. God’s provision of the ram on Mount Moriah typified His sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Abraham offers the ram as a burnt sacrifice, and Isaac is spared. “Abraham’s declaration of faith—“God will provide”—as he and Isaac ascended toward sacrifice had now become the story’s end. We see that the God who tests is also the God who provides—the Tester is the Provider. Both truths are actual fact, but they must be appropriated by faith. When God tests you, he will provide for you.”[16]

Verse 16 contains references both past and future, when God says “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son,”[17] the “By Myself I have sworn,” refers back to Genesis 15 where God established the covenant by walking between the cut animals. But we get a taste of John 3:16 and Romans 8:32 with the “only son,” reference that closes the verse.

So we see that the Lord who tests is the Lord who provides. Abraham names the place יְהוָ֣ה׀ יִרְאֶ֑ה Yahweh sees, or Yahweh appears. As we go through the tests of growing a greater faith, as God tests us and stretches us, we believe, and he provides. He always has provided. But this is not the thrust of the story; it is not when we are called to give the “Isaacs” in our life God will provide. Instead the story points us to Christ at every turn. Abraham’s obedience is a picture of Christ’s active obedience, at which we fail. The substitution of the ram for Isaac shows us Christ’s substitution. Ultimately, God provides the true lamb without blemish that stands in humanity’s place. This Lamb of God died instead of the elect so that they might live. Even Abraham’s symbolically receiving Isaac back from death typifies Christ’s resurrection from death of the cross (Heb. 11:19).

What can we take from this story that applies to our lives today? We can look to the very first verse when Abraham says “Here I am.” This is a picture we can emulate. These three words have volumes to teach us. Here is an image of humility and obedience, humility and obedience we can only follow in light of what God in Christ has done for us. This is a prefiguring of the New Testament reality of the indicative preceding the imperative. It is not “Do this and live,” but rather “Live and do this.” Because God has saved us through Christ we should respond to the Lord in humility and obedience, “Here I am.”


----

[1] New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, M.E.J Richardson and Johann Jakob Stamm. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. electronic ed. Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999.

[4] New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[5] K. A. Mathews, vol. 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2007), 283.

[6] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis : Beginning and Blessing, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2004), 300.

[7] Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae Vol. 1: Genesis to Leviticus (London, 1832-63), 179.

[8]K. A. Mathews, vol. 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2007, c2005), 295.

[9] New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[10] New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[11] K. A. Mathews, vol. 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2007), 284.

[12] R. W. L. Moberly, The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

[13] Henry Law, The Gospel in Genesis (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1993). 136.

[14] ibid. 137

[15] K. A. Mathews, vol. 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2007), 285.

[16] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis : Beginning and Blessing, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2004), 304.

[17]New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ge 22:16.

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