Our reading today is Genesis 22:1-19. Being a parent is a great joy (most of the time). It’s hard to describe the feeling when you hold your own child for the first time; it’s an experience that reduces many to tears. Today people can usually choose whether or not to have children; the cultural pressure is still present but it is much reduced. Of course there are many who desperately want children but are unable to have them and it can be heart-breaking.
Abraham and Sarah had been through the agony of childlessness. To make matters worse, Abraham’s name meant ‘father of many’, people must have laughed at this not so funny joke. Their body clocks had been ticking but had long since stopped and when finally all human hope had died, God had delivered on his promise. We can only imagine the way they must have felt about this miracle child and the sheer turmoil when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son.
Let me begin by saying that God was testing Abraham here (22:1). God does not require human sacrifices, in fact he describes the process as detestable and something he hates (Deuteronomy 12:31). As we shall see, God had plans for Isaac and his life was not going to end on an altar.
Abraham knew that all of the promises God had given to him were centred on Isaac so he knew whatever happened on the mountain, they would both return;
“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.’” (22:5)
We have this clearly explained in the New Testament;
“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Hebrews 11:17-19)
So this was a test of Abraham’s faith. He held on to the promises of God and knew that God would keep his word. ‘God himself will provide the lamb’ Abraham invested everything and was totally reliant on the Lord. ‘Abraham reasoned’, if only we thought about the promises of the word of God in the same way; we would probably live very differently.
If this passage was just about Abraham’s great faith we could leave it there but it is actually about God’s love. There is a clear picture of Christ in these verses. Isaac was born as a result of a miracle, so was Jesus. Isaac is described as ‘your only son’ Jesus is described as God’s ‘one and only son’ (John 3:16). Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice, Jesus carried his cross. All of Abraham’s promises depended on Isaac, all of our promises depend on Jesus. Abraham was told to go to one of the mountains of Moriah (22:2), God told him the exact place (22:9). Later we read;
“Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David.” (1 Chronicles 3:1)
So we can see that the place where Isaac was laid on the altar was Jerusalem where Jesus would one day die.
There is however, a major difference that stands out in the accounts of Jesus. When Jesus was about to be crucified, there was no voice to call a halt, there was no substitute to be offered in his place. In fact he was our substitute and the voice is not one from heaven, it’s as if heaven couldn’t watch; the voice came from the cross; ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Abraham named the place ‘The Lord Will Provide’. It was a word fulfilled when God provided a way for us to be saved at the cross. Hallelujah!
By grace alone somehow I stand where even angels fear to tread
Invited by redeeming love before the throne of God above.
He pulls me close with nail-scarred hands into His everlasting arms.
When condemnation grips my heart and Satan tempts me to despair,
I hear the voice that scatters fear; the Great I Am, The Lord is here.
O praise the One who fights for me, and shields my soul eternally!
Boldly I approach your throne, blameless now I’m running home.
By your blood I come, welcomed as your own into the arms of majesty (Rend Collective)