By Jordan Seth
Ah, yes. The classic story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham hears from God. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son on a mountain. Abraham follows through without question. The journey is trekked. The altar is built. Isaac is bound and placed on the altar. Abraham’s arm lifts to plunge the knife deep into Isaac’s chest. And at the very last second, the angel of the Lord sweeps down and brings everything to a screeching halt. And…scene.
There is so much at work in this story that I am increasingly intrigued every time I read it. I just want to begin to dissect what is going on here.
Let’s start here: Genesis 17:19-22
19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 BUT MY COVENANT I WILL ESTABLISH WITH ISAAC, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22 When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.
Okay. Here we are with God promising Abraham that Isaac will be the one to establish the covenant, not Ishmael. A blessing will be on Ishmael, but the covenant (the promise) will be through Isaac. “But what is the covenant?” Let’s take a quick look back.
3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”
So, the covenant is promised. And it’s promised specifically to Abraham through Isaac alone. Now, fast forward to the dramatic scene on Mt. Moriah.
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
What in the world is going on here? Why is Abraham so willing to immediately follow through with the sacrifice? Why would God even request such a thing from Abraham?
Let’s think about this for a second. When we take it from the context of the covenant and how it hasn’t yet been fulfilled through Isaac at the point of the sacrifice on Mt. Moriah, then we read between the lines a little bit.
There are a few things going on many different levels.
1. Abraham Was Found Testing Faithful— I believe that Abraham was being tested (not tempted—God does not tempt), and doing what God had asked of him. In my view, the point of this test was to show Abrahams obedience of God to us and for Abraham to find out what Abraham was made of. He was following through with the request by God to remain “blameless and faithful” which the Lord told him to do in Genesis 17:1-2.
2. The LORD Was Setting Himself Apart From the Other Gods— When I think of Jesus in the New Testament, I always think about what a great teacher he was. Always using parables and stories. Some simple and straightforward. Others very dramatic and symbolic with deep parallels. And we definitely see the drama and parallels in this particular story.
During Abrahams day, there were many gods that were being worshiped. And most of the gods in Abrahams time period and culture were asking for child sacrifices (i.e. Baal, Moloch). What better way for the Lord to set himself apart by using Mt. Moriah and this dramatic experience to teach a lesson, tell a story, and to get the ball rolling to set Himself apart from all of the other gods that were being worshipped at that time. For God to call out to Abraham and tell him to stop the sacrifice of his firstborn child was an unheard of thing that no other god would do. And many people believe that at that specific moment Judaism is born. This is God setting the scene to say “Look! Look at what these other gods require from you! On this day and everyday henceforth I WILL PROVIDE a spotless lamb to take your place as the sacrifice! Serve me and you no longer need to offer sacrifices like this again!”
3. The First Introduction of Resurrection—(This is my favorite part, which I so easily missed growing up) If Abraham truly believed that God was going to follow through with the covenant, then Abraham must have believed that if the knife plunged into Isaacs chest and he died, then surely the Lord would bring him back to life to fulfill the covenant that had been promised back in Genesis 17:21.
Look at how Abraham worded his sentence in Genesis 22:4-5
4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. WE WILL WORSHIP and then WE WILL COME BACK to you.”
I believe the second use of the word “WE” speaks volumes here. Let’s remember that the Lord was requiring a burnt offering. That means, first, Abraham would kill Isaac with a knife (probably by cutting his jugular to have him bleed out) and then burn his body on the altar. There would not be anything left but ashes and a few bone remnants. If Abraham believed Isaac was going to die and not be supernaturally resurrected, wouldn’t he say, rather, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. WE WILL WORSHIP and then I WILL COME BACK to you.” This single line had to be spoken out of utter faith. WE WILL GO, WE WILL COME BACK TO YOU!
4. A Foreshadowing of Christ—There are so many parallels that I keep finding new ones as I read. The similarities seem endless; both big and small.
- The announcements of births to Sarah and Mary both seemed impossible.
- Both Jesus and Isaac carried the tools that would ultimately kill them (Jesus carried the cross on his back and Isaac carried all the wood on his back for the altar. He also carried the knife that would be used)
- The sacrifice of a fathers’ only son. —Genesis 22:2
- Both Jesus and Isaac took a donkey to the place where they were to be sacrificed.
- Isaac and Jesus were named before they were born.
…and the list goes on. Such a wonderful, mysterious, dramatic story.