The Life of Abraham, Part 16: Isaac is not the Sacrifice
In the life of Abraham, the LORD seems to break into Abraham’s life in a most unexpected way. Sometimes when we read the Bible, we get the impression that God spoke to his prophets all the time. We forget that the Book of Hebrews say that God spoke to the fathers and prophets at various times and in diverse manners. History tends to compress time by highlighting the big events and discarding the ordinary. Although in the last lesson we got a glimpse of the ordinary, we still tend to focus on the big events. We must understand that at the time of today’s lesson, Abraham had been about fifty years in the land of Canaan. During these fifty years, the LORD appeared to Abraham less than ten times. The rest of the time was occupied with the affairs of everyday life.
Exposition of the Text
Chapter 22 the final words of the LORD directed to Abraham. After this event, Abraham would live some fifty years longer. He would have to make arrangements for purchasing a burial plot for Sarah his beloved wife which would become Abraham and Sarah’s only deed to the Promised Land He would arrange for Isaac’s marriage to a believing wife. Strangely enough, he would marry a foreigner and have six more children. And finally he would die as the LORD had promised at a ripe old age and was buried. After the events of the chapter, the scene slowly turns from Abraham to Isaac.
Things had been quite ordinary for Abraham for some time. He had settled in the land for several years, long enough for Isaac to grow up. We don’t know how old Isaac was at this point other than he was mature enough to carry a substantial load of wood up a steep hill and less than 37 which he was when his mother died. But he must have been a pretty strong lad. My best guess is that it was closer to the end of Sarah’s life which would have made Isaac in his early thirties or about the age Jesus was when he was crucified. At a minimum, it had been at least ten years since the LORD had last spoken to Abraham.
So out of the blue, the LORD calls out to Abraham who had been enjoying seeing his promised son Isaac grow up into sturdy manhood. Everything was going well. The words of the LORD must have been most disturbing. The LORD told Abraham to take his unique son, the son of the promise, and offer him as a burnt offering in the land of Moriah. The LORD would show Abraham exactly what mountain when he got there.
The land of Moriah was in the general area which included what is now Jerusalem. It must have been a confusing night for Abraham. We do know that the Phoenicians in the time of Moses and later sacrificed children by fire as a means of inducing their God Baal (or Molech) as a means of trying to bring fertility and rain to the land and to have many children. We do not know if this happened in the time of Abraham, but we do know what the LORD thought about burning of children as a sacrifice. Abraham loved the boy, and this news must have been troubling.
But Abraham knew the voice of the LORD and that he must trust and obey the LORD He saddles the donkey, took Isaac and servants, and the wood and other things he would need to offer the sacrifice. On the third day he became aware of the mountain upon which he was to offer his son, He leaves his servants at the bottom of the hill with the donkey and tells them that he and the young man went up to worship and to return,
Abraham fastened the wood for the sacrifice on the back of his son Isaac who carried it to the top of the mountain. He himself carried the knife and the wood. Together they walked to the place the sacrifice was to be made. Isaac was a bright child and knew something was wrong. They brought up everything except the sacrifice. He did not know at this point that he was the sacrifice. Abraham then tells the boy that God would provide himself as a lamb for the offering. Abraham built an altar there, perhaps with the help of Isaac and put the wood on the altar.
Now he tied up his son and put him on the altar and raided the knife to slay him. It was at this point the Angel of the LORD called out from heaven for Abraham to stop. “Do not harm the lad”. The LORD then knew of Abraham’s absolute covenant loyalty in that he did not even withhold his special son from the LORD. The LORD then provided a ram caught in the thicket to offer in the place of Isaac. Abraham called the place Yahweh-Yireh which means “In the mountain of the LORD provision will be made,
So far I have simply related the story in a historical matter. But if we will look at the details carefully we will see amazing parallels to the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary. Let us take a look. The first parallel is that the place of sacrifice was reached on the third day. This of itself is probably by itself not significant, but it does remind us of resurrection on the third day. On the third day, so to speak Isaac was saved from death. Then the next clue was a mountain in the land of Moriah which included Jerusalem. The question to be asked is “Where did Jesus die in our place?”—at Golgotha in Jerusalem near the Temple mount. Then there is Abraham’s statement to the servants that the two of them would return which is another resurrection theme. Then it says that Abraham the father tied the wood on the back of his unique son of promise and had him carry it up the mount. We can think of Jesus, the Father’s unique son carrying the cross tied to his back up the mount. We remember that Isaac was a strong young man who was 100 years younger than his father. If he was going to be tied to the altar, he would have to offer himself willingly. In allowing himself to be bound, he was absolutely obedient even to the point of death to his father. As Jesus in the garden was aware of his upcoming sacrificed questioned his having to drink the cup, Isaac had questioned Abraham about the offering.
Isaac was not the special promised seed who would willingly offer himself in sacrifice to the LORD. Abraham’s promised seed was far off. The LORD did indeed provide Himself as the sacrificial Lamb. The ram in the story which was the substitute for Isaac pointed forward to a far greater sacrifice which would be made at Calvary some 1800 years later.
We can see by comparing accounts of Calvary and this passage that the LORD announces His work in advance. When it later happens, it is a proof. The Old Testament is full of clues of God’s intention to bring Christ into the world as a sacrifice for sin. Some of them like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 are more obvious as would a careful reading of this text in Genesis. But these are not the only ones by a long shot. The New Testament reveals many other Old Testament texts as pointing to the coming of Jesus. Micah predicted the place of Jesus’ birth as being Bethlehem is just one example of this.
Jesus after his resurrection opened the eyes of His disciples to all of the Old Testament Scriptures which pointed to Him. Once we see the events of Jesus’ life and His and the apostle’s teaching, the texts stand out. It does require in a sense that our eyes and understanding be opened. Without faith in Jesus and the resurrection, many “scholars” today claim they can hardly find any evidence about the coming of Jesus and his work in the Old Testament. In other words they fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah which says that they would claim sight but truly be blind and thinking that they can hear are deaf to the Spirit.
Jesus told the unbelieving Pharisees that they vainly searched the Scripture for evidence for eternal life. He told them they could only find eternal life on the Old Testament if they understood that the Old Testament spoke about Him. Jesus on the Emmaus Road spent a couple of hours relating the Old Testament scriptures that prophesied the resurrection. Their eyes were opened. If we will only open the eyes of faith, we too will see Jesus in the Old Testament as well as the new.
As we are in the last days before the advent of Jesus Christ, that is the second coming, we must realize that there is plenty of Scripture which points forward to this event. We may not understand this fully, but we should understand enough to be ready for that day. The LORD does not do anything without first revealing it to His prophets. We do know the day of the complete possession of the promise is at hand. Let us continue to walk as Abraham did. Many days may seem mundane like the work of servants whose master is on a long journey. In these things we must remain faithful. At some times the Lord’s voice will be heard by the ears of faith, either in prayer, or preaching, or Bible study, or other means. But the true test of faith is to be found faithful to our assigned tasks when the Lord appears.