HEROES OF THE FAITH
ABRAHAM SACRIFICES ISAAC
Let us first of all ask this question:
Why is our forefather Abraham so important to us? His name occurs at least 208 times in Scripture, in 27 different books. That’s a lot of mentions!
Even the Pharisees acknowledged the importance of Abraham. When confronting Jesus, they claimed to be of Abraham’s children. Not children of Moses, or Isaac or Jacob, but Abraham. John 8:33: The Pharisees answered him, “We are Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how come you say: Ye shall be made free?”
In Luke 1, Mary said in her Magnificat ‘As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.’
Rom 4:13 ‘For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through obeying the law, but through the righteousness of faith.’
Ro 1:17 ‘The just shall live by faith.’
Abraham is a vivid and vital example to us of what faith means.
Hebrew 11:1 ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’
So let’s have a look into Genesis 22. When God asks a lot…
Genesis 22:1-14, Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. (2) 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.” (3)
Now what would you be feeling, in Abraham’s sandals? What ‘clicks in’, reason or faith and trust? What kind of a night was Abraham going to have? Look, Abraham was a human being like us. He had feelings. His reason would click in all too easily. He had to resolve to trust God, his friend. He needed strength to follow through. He needed a good night’s rest.
Abraham is going to get on with the job without delay, without dallying; In fact he rises early the very next morning. God had not told him to go the very next day. Had Abraham waited awhile, the task would have become much harder. He is not going to wait, hoping maybe God will change his mind. He is not going to let himself spend time pondering ‘all the ins and outs’.
What has he share with his lovely wife Sarah? She is Isaac’s mother. Isaac is her only child. Should he not tell her what God has said?
Wisely, Abraham does not risk a family show of hysterics.
Early the next morning Abraham gets up and saddles his donkey. (Horses are a lot more bother. Donkeys tend to look after themselves) He takes with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he has cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he sets out for the place God has told him about.
(4) On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. The Mountains of Moriah. So is this place Moriah significant? It just happens to be one of the most hotly contested pieces of property today on earth. You would know it by another name – the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is also known as Mount Zion in the Bible. It is where the Muslims’ blasphemous Dome of the Rock now stands. But long before that, it was land purchased by David for the Jewish temple and its sacrifices, which David’s son Solomon would build.
5) He says to his servants, “Settle down and stay here. I and the boy (not the man) will go over there. “We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Let me tell you a very true life-story of what happened to me with our son Jonathan.
Back in 1965, ‘Jonathan’ was in Jill’s womb in Penetanguishene, Ontario, Canada. God gave a promise that Jonathan would become His servant.
Jonathan, aged eight. Mixed Christian scout camp in Entrepierres. He was knocked unconscious and it lasted maybe ten minutes.
Back to Abraham:
(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. How old was Isaac? I have always pictured Isaac as about thirteen in this narrative. 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) “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.”
(13) ‘Abraham looked up and there in the 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. (Jehovah Jireh).
Gen 22:17 “I will surely bless you, and I will multiply your descendants like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will possess the gates of their enemies. 18 And through your offspring all nations of the earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” 19 Abraham went back to his servants, and they got up and set out together for Beersheba.
This is an amazing passage. It contains a seemingly unbelievable test as a prophetic preview of what was still to come. . And what a test it is. Abraham has had to walk through many trials already but none like this. Abraham had no Bible.Jer. 20:12 ‘O Lord of hosts, You who test the righteous and see the mind and heart…’
James 1:12-13 ‘Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (13) When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.’
Abraham is asked to kill his own son, knowing that human sacrifice is an abomination.
It is strictly forbidden in the Bible and God hates it. And yet we read here of a test where God asks that very thing of Abraham. Why? There are several reasons, but one is to do with a title Abraham had, that connects him with God.
Three times in Scripture Abraham is called the ‘friend of God’. Abraham was close to God. They were friends. When God was going to do something big, like destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, God came and told Abraham about it. So in this chapter God is, on the one hand, testing Abraham’s faith, while on the other, he is allowing Abraham to see a glimpse of what God Himself would experience.
Abraham, as father of the Israelite nation, would be asked to sacrifice his beloved son, so that he could experience just a small part of the coming day when God the Father would give His only beloved Son to be sacrificed for the sins of the whole world.
There is something profoundly deep and prophetic going on here.
Secondly, this is the first time that love is mentioned, which Scripture says is greater than even hope and faith. It took 22 chapters of Genesis before love is mentioned and at first glance we would say ‘Why so long?’ ‘Love’s important! It’s critical. Surely love should have been mentioned somewhere before now!’ But then in its context it speaks of the love of a father towards his son.
Many of us will understand this love. But at the deeper level this speaks of the love that existed even before the foundation of the world between God the Father and His Son Jesus.
Yet God the Father’s love wasn’t exclusively towards His Son, as if others didn’t matter. No, every single human being, damaged by sin, matters. It was a love so great for the whole world that He, because of love, gave His Only Begotten Son to be offered up for our sins and for those of the whole world. That is the love pictured here.
John 3:16 ‘God so loved the world…
Obedience prevailing through perplexity
‘Go to the region of Moriah and sacrifice your son at Moriah.’ This is the promised son. This is the one they had waited so long for. This is the one whom God Himself had promised would be the one through whom the fulfilment of the covenant promises was to come. Yes, THAT son! Sacrifice him. Yet it says that early the next morning Abraham got up and got ready. Do you think Abraham slept? Whatever confusion Abraham had it certainly didn’t stop him obeying straight away. The Genesis account doesn’t go into what he was thinking, but the author of Hebrews does shed a little bit of light on this:
Hebrews 11:17-19 ‘By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, ‘ (19) concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
On the one hand Abraham knows God’s promise that this great nation will come through his promised son Isaac. And yet, on the other hand, God is now asking him to kill Isaac as a sacrifice. ‘Somehow, my boy will come back to life. God is good. I don’t understand it all. But I can trust Him.’ Resurrection! It has never been seen before at this stage. No one had ever come back from death.
Yet that is the only conclusion that makes sense to Abraham as he reconciles the previous promise of God with the current command of God. God can be trusted! What remarkable faith!
Briefly, before moving on, notice how all this happens ‘on the third day’. Abraham would, figuratively speaking, receive Isaac back from the dead on the third day. It is often associated with resurrection and new life, as a pointer to Christ when He came forth from the dead. What is worship?
Genesis 22:5-6 ‘And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” (6) So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together.
This verse has another ‘first’ in it with the first mention of ‘worship’ in scripture. The Hebrew word for ‘worship’ is a verb meaning ‘to bow down, to fall down, to humbly beseech, to do reverence’. It is used in the earthly context of a subject bowing before a king. Yet it isn’t just a physical thing. It is more a matter of the heart. Jesus, quoting Isaiah, said Matthew 15:8-9 ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. (9) They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ It is your life not your lips that count Worship begins in the heart and involves laying our lives on the altar. That’s why Paul tell us in Romans ‘ Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.’ (Romans 12:1)
The context of this first ever mention of worship points us in the right direction because it points to the greatest act of worship, when the Lord Jesus said ‘not my will but yours be done’ (bowing down in his heart) and offering himself as a blood sacrifice according to the will of God. That was worship. He declared the worth of His Father by saying that the Father’s will, and not His own, came first and was more important. Are we worshiping God in that manner?
Carrying the cross
Genesis 22:6-8 (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.
Heb. 11:19 Abraham was counting upon God raising up his beloved Isaac from the dead. Even though no such thing had ever before occurred.
As the journey continues, the wood for the offering upon which he was to die was placed upon Isaac to carry. Why? Because Jesus, the real promised Son, would carry the cross to the place where He would offer Himself.
Getting back to this story, Isaac wants to know where the lamb is. He doesn’t at this stage understand. But Abraham says ‘God will provide for Himself the lamb!’ He would provide a ram as an offering. In the long term He provided Himself. That’s why when a very godly man dressed in camel’s hair, first set eyes on Jesus, the first words out of his mouth were these: ‘Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.’ God had provided Himself as an offering. Let’s do our best to never get used to that thought!
Genesis 22:9-10 ‘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.
The Bible doesn’t give his age but I believe that Isaac was a young teenager. He could obviously carry all the wood up the mountain for the sacrifice so he wasn’t a small child. Why bring this up? Well, there is no struggle mentioned. It seems that, fully trusting, he gave himself over to his father’s will just as his father had given himself over to his heavenly Father’s will.
Again, it is another wonderful picture of Christ even through the actions of Isaac. But there is also a challenge here for us. This whole test involves letting go. We like to be in control. It’s hard to let go. Abraham was willing t let go and was poised to use the knife. This was a massive test. I’m not saying that you will be faced with something as radical as this. But whatever it is that we are battling with, whatever it is with which we are fighting in our hearts, we need to learn to let go and die. Die to our ability to control it and trust in the ability of your heavenly Father who cares for us. ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross.’
Genesis 22:11-14 ‘But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. (12) 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.” (13) 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. (14) So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. (Jehovah Jireh) And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”
And a substitute to be sacrificed for Isaac is found. Isaac can go free while another, an innocent ram, takes his place. Someone once rightly said that ”God spared Abraham’s heart a pang He would not spare His own.”
Conclusion and Lessons
To conclude, what shall we take away from this for ourselves?
God provides tests in this life. He tests the heart. This is normal. We shouldn’t fret if we feel we are getting tested. It is a strengthening process. It is preparation for use. It is always for our benefit though it may not seem like it at first!
We’ve seen that the deeper aspect of worship isn’t singing praise. This whole story of Abraham offering Isaac is one of worship. Worship is bowing down in your heart and acknowledging Him to be Lord and offering yourself back to Him to be used.
Our greatest joy and usefulness is found in letting God fully possess us and all that we own. Amen