The following walks through Genesis 22:1-18. The account of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Issac. I pray it will help bring some clarity to an account that is often misunderstood!
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
Can you imagine being asked to do this? And it’s not like some random stranger made this request. The God who created and sustains all things has just asked you to sacrifice your son. And as if YOU needed the reminder that he’s your ONLY son. As if YOU needed the reminder that you LOVE him! What a horrid request. Who would ask such a thing!?
If someone has made it their mission in life to discredit the Bible, there’s a good chance they’ll point to an account like this—maybe even to this particular account—in an attempt to sway you against the God of the Bible. Even if you haven’t heard someone take this approach, you can imagine how it would go. Instead of trying convince you that the Bible is a waste of your time, they’ll play to your emotions and say, “Why would anyone want to worship a God like that? Why would YOU want to worship a God who asks a man to kill his own son?”
You know what’s scary, though? While I have no doubt many of you may know a real, live human being who has attacked you with this type of rhetoric, you certainly don’t need to know one. This is one of Satan’s favorite tactics. As you sit in your easy chair and, for the first time in weeks, crack your Bible open, you get no further than verse 2. “What!? God asked Abraham to do what!? How could God—MY God!—make such an impossible request!?” The next thing you know, you’re sitting in that same easy chair feeling not so easy. In fact, you’re kind of mad as your mind begins to run wild and you replace Abraham with yourself and Isaac with your son or Abraham with your father and Isaac with yourself. “What would I have done if God asked something so unthinkable of... ME? What would my father have done if God asked him to sacrifice... ME?” I wonder how Abraham handled this awful request? ...and you get the courage to keep reading.
Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled 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. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 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.”
If you were Abraham, would you have gotten up “early the next morning” to leave on this journey? I don’t think I would have been in much of a hurry to leave. You then travel for 3 days! Those 3 days wouldn’t have been a big deal for Isaac and the two servants. Those 3 were probably enjoying themselves quite a bit, actually. Think about it! The servants get to get out of the house for a while—a nice little break from the day to day monotony. Isaac, get’s to spend some quality time with his dad—gets to show the ole man what he’s made of as he helps chop wood and haul the heavy stuff. Neither the two servants nor Isaac would have had a problem with this little get away. But Abraham!? What an agonizing 3 day journey this must have been! Every time he looks at Isaac a wave of horror rushes over him as he considers the awful task that lies before him. It really makes you feel for Abraham, doesn’t it?
But then you read what Abraham says to the servants as they reach the destination. “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. WE will worship and then WE will come back to you.” WE will come back to you! We WILL come back to you! Not I will come back. Not we MIGHT come back. WE WILL come back to you. Where does this confidence come from? Considering the immediate context you might be thinking to yourself, how in the world could Abraham be so confident!? The answer lies in the previous chapter—and in the story of Abraham’s life I suppose.
In Genesis 21:12 God says to Abraham, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” That short verse tells us so much. Abraham’s story is a long one, but for our purposes this morning, remember Abraham and his wife Sarah were 100 and 90 years old respectively when Isaac was born. Isaac’s birth alone was miraculous. Add to this the fact that God promised Abraham his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the sea shore! Now God specifically promises Abraham once again just to make sure there is no misunderstanding, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” You won’t be having some other son. Isaac is the one. Your family will continue to grow through HIM.
It’s on these promises that Abraham stood. God promised his descendants would become a HUGE nation of people. God also promised, that this promise would continue through his son Isaac. Every other promise God had ever made to Abraham had come true. For crying out loud, when he was 99 and his barren wife, Sarah, was 89 God promised they’d have a son the next year. They did!! Abraham had no reason to doubt God—and had every reason to believe God would keep his promises—even if he didn’t understand how.
You see, Abraham reasoned that God would either provide some way out from this awful scenario, or raise his son from the dead (see Hebrews 11:17-19). Either way, Abraham knew God couldn’t allow the “worst case scenario” because then God would be a liar. And he’s certainly not a liar. Abraham had no problem saying the words, “WE will worship and then WE will come back to you.”
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, 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?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
Now, for the first time, we see Isaac start to get a little uneasy. As Abraham and his son head up the mountain of God’s choosing, Isaac starts to pick up on the one detail that is different from all the other sacrifices he had offered up to God with his father. There was no animal. The question is not, “Am I the sacrifice?” The question is simply “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham’s answer is honest and innocent. “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” “And the two of them went on together.”
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. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
There’s a part of me that wishes we had more insight into exactly what was going through Isaac’s mind as his father bound him “and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.” I mean, when he asked his father where the lamb was, his father could have said, “you’re the lamb.” But he didn’t! He said, “God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” If my father then began to tie me up and tossed me on top of the altar I’d want to yell out, “It sure seems like I’m the lamb! Are you sure God’s going to provide a lamb!?”
It’s clear Abraham trusted the Lord would work this all out one way or another, but ultimately he had to raise the knife. That’s when God called out to Abraham and stops him from going any further. The test was over. Abraham passed. Both father and son can take a breath.
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Jesus is a descendant of Abraham. His mother Mary was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and King David. So was his step-father Joseph. And through Jesus, all nations on earth ARE blessed! After all, he won the gift of full and free forgiveness for everyone! But think about how that happened! Think about this from God’s perspective!
“Like Abraham, I knew my Son wouldn’t stay dead. I knew he would rise from the dead and I would have him back again. But unlike Abraham, I did sacrifice my Son. I DID sacrifice my Son—my ONLY Son—whom I LOVE. He suffered. I suffered. So you wouldn’t have to suffer. But now he’s alive again—ruling by my side—waiting for my command to raise all the dead—waiting for my command to bring you to be with me—to be with us.”
When God used Moses to write down these words, it was common for the people of that day to say, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” Because, on the mountain of the LORD it WAS provided. A sacrifice WAS provided to spare Abraham the agony of sacrificing his son. A sacrifice WAS provided to spare Isaac the agony of being that sacrifice. But on another mountain—some 2000 years later—it was provided once and for all. Not another ram or goat to remind God’s people that they needed forgiveness, but the Son of God himself to win forgiveness—for you—for me—for all!
Lord’s blessings to you all as we continue our march to see the empty tomb, because Jesus not only died for our sins, he is risen! He is risen indeed!