Before we dive into Genesis 22 I want you to know I haven’t forgotten about the final few verses of Genesis 21 dealing with Abraham and this interesting man Abimelech. That said…Because of the importance of what occurs in the first 19 verses of chapter 22, I didn’t want to end up rushing through that story (which I do believe warrants our attention) just so we could have the time necessary to effectively cover this critical passage.
So here’s our strategy for the next two Sundays… This morning we’re going to look exclusively at Genesis 22:1-19 and then next Sunday we’ll go back to finish out Genesis 21, cover the last few verses of chapter 22, before covering all of Genesis 23.
Genesis 22:1-2, “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’”
For context it’s important to point out it’s been approximately 25 to 30 years since God had given Abraham and Sarah a little boy they named Isaac - Meaning as you turn to chapter 22 Abraham is now around 130 and Isaac is pushing 30 years old.
Imagine this incredible season Abraham and Sarah have been enjoying. Not only have they settled into the land God had given them… Not only are they enjoying peace with their neighbors… Not only has there been calm in the home since Hagar and Ishmael had left, but Abraham and Sarah are savoring the son they waited all those years to have.
After 90 long years Sarah is relishing the opportunity to be a mom… To be needed… To selflessly care and love her miracle baby. As Isaac grows up Abraham is thrilled for the opportunity to teach his son about the Lord. There is no doubt Isaac understands the significance of his birth (he’s the only toddler in Sunday school who’s parents are card carrying members of the AARP). Regardless, Isaac’s spiritual heritage is profoundly rich.
Life is grand. For the first time they’re experiencing the full-life God had promised them so many years before… The life they’d originally left Ur to inherit. And while all of these things had taken longer than they anticipated to come to fruition (family planning hadn’t worked out like they’d hoped), Ad and Sarah wouldn’t have traded these years with Isaac for anything.
It’s with this context in mind that “after these things” we’re told “God tested Abraham…” For starters, please understand what this doesn’t mean. Though some of your translations (i.e. KJV) might use the word “tempt” there is a reason the NKJV and ESV use the word “test.”
While the idea of tempting carries with it the negative connotation of enticing someone into disobedience, this word “test” indicated God wanted to reveal something to Abraham. Note: God isn’t testing Abraham so that He can ascertain some greater insight into his faith… As if God is seeking to learn something He doesn’t already know. Additionally, the test wasn’t even designed to reveal something to Abraham about himself. Rather the test was designed to reveal something to Abraham about God!
And it’s this point that is crucial to your understanding of what’s actually happening in this passage… This command to “take your only son Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering” intended to be the mechanism by which God was going to reveal to Abraham something that was of critical importance about Himself.
You see the fundamental purpose behind this command was to create the conditions by which God was going to connect with Abraham in a deeper, more intimate way.
Contrary to the cynical accusation… God did not want Abraham to actually sacrifice his son. He wasn’t asking him to commit murder nor was He sanctioning human sacrifices. Instead, God’s appeal was for Abraham to be willing to “offer him as a burnt offering.” God was asking Abraham to “offer” Isaac not actually sacrifice him!
In the O.T. (and we can assume Abraham understood the implications of this phrase) a “burnt offering” signified the full consecration of an offering. Because the sacrifice was fully consumed with nothing left or remaining, a burnt offering demonstrated a complete and total surrender to the Lord by the offerer. In a sense there was a reason God was asking Abraham to completely surrender the most precious thing in his life - Isaac.
In Isaac rested more than just Abraham’s offspring or his heir - he represented more than just his hopes and dreams. As his “only son” (unlike Ishmael) Isaac represented Abraham’s assurance and confidence that God was going to provide a Savior for his sins!
It’s with this in mind it isn’t an accident this is the first time in the Bible we find the word “love.” Whereas the love that exists between a husband and wife is in and of itself profound, the Law of First Mention establishes the idea that God decided to intentionally frame our understanding of love in the context of a father’s love for his son.
While a husband and wife enter into a love relationship mainly through the free-willed decision each party initially makes and then chooses to remain in, a father’s love for his son is a totally different and radically unique experience.
No father chooses to love his son. Instead, it’s that very moment his son comes into existence that an explainable love instantly floods his being. A father’s love for his son is one of nature, not will. Loving a son is never something a father has to choose to do.
Aside from being distinct from a husband/wife love, it should also be noted that a father/son love is also unique to a father/daughter or a mother/son love. While the nature of the love is the same, it’s a truth that when a daughter marries another man or a man takes a wife the context for how the father or mother’s love manifests automatically changes.
And yet, that same dynamic isn’t applicable to a father when his son marries. Unique to all other human interactions a father’s relationship with his son and the way his love manifests towards his son never changes. Which is significant for of all human relationships for God to illustrate the love experienced in His triune nature, He specifically chose to present it to mankind as the love of a Father for His Son.
I hope you know the first member of the Trinity isn’t the actual Father of the second - Jesus the Son. Instead, these two present themselves to humanity as Father and Son so that we can understand the true essence of their relationship. Within the Godhead exists an eternal love most similar to a father/son dynamic. As though God the Father had an “only son.”
So it’s within this context of Abraham’s love for his only son Isaac that God asks him to make the ultimate offering. You see in order for Abraham to relate to this aspect of Himself that the Lord wanted to reveal, Ab had to first be willing to trust the future and well-being of his son (the one thing he loved more than everything else) to the will and purposes of God.
Before we continue I want to go ahead and explain what aspect of His person God wanted Abraham to experience so that their communion would deepen. In asking Abraham to offer his only son on a mountain in Moriah, God was illustrating the experience He’d encounter when He’d also choose to offer “His only begotten Son” to die for the sins of the world.
The truth is that through this exercise of offering Isaac Abraham would come to understand first hand what it personally cost God when He offered Jesus to be the Savior for man’s sin. As a Father-type, God would therefore make the ultimate sacrifice. And as the Son Jesus would submit to this destiny (in Isaac we’ll find a wonderful picture of Christ).
It’s so important you keep in mind as we work through this text that it would be through this experience of offering his only son that Abraham would end up connecting with the heart of God and in doing so come to realize how deeply God loved Him.
Well the only specific instruction God provides Abraham is that he “go to the land of Moriah” to “one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” This word “Moriah” literally means “Chosen by Jehovah.” In essence God is saying, “Go to the land I’ve chosen and to a mountain I’ll show you.” It’s clear there was a specific place God is wanting this lesson to take place.
Genesis 22:3-5, “So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. 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.’”
“Abraham rose early in the morning…” I think it’s important to give credit where credit is due - Abraham has been given a set of impossible instructions - to offer His only son Isaac; and yet, we shouldn’t forget Abraham has also been given the promise that God is going to reveal an aspect of His person to him through his obedience to these instructions.
So, it’s with this understanding, the old man wastes no time being obedient. He rises early. Personally prepares all the necessary items for the journey - even going so far as to “split the wood for the burnt offering.” He recruits “two young men” to travel with he and Isaac. He “saddled his donkey” and they all head north to the “land of Moriah.”
Because Abraham is in Beersheba (in the far south), it takes them “three days” to make the journey. We’re told, “On the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off.” Imagine what that trip must have been like… His reaction when he finally “saw the place.”
And yet, it’s this statement Abraham makes to “his young men” that reveals much more is happening in his heart than what we’ve been able to see. He tells the young men to hang back explaining that he and Isaac were going alone in order to “worship.” What makes this fascinating is that it’s also the first mention of “worship” in the Scriptures.
In the Hebrew the word we find for “worship” is “shachah” which means “to bow down” or “prostrate oneself in homage.” The context for this first mention is revealing. Abraham and Isaac were not going to Moriah to sing songs nor does he say their intention was to make an offering. Instead, he tells these young men they were going to the mountain to worship.
Abraham viewed his decision to obey God so that he could connect with God on a deeper level as being “worship.” As such we know worship is more than an action before God it’s the pursuit of God. It’s the desire to commune with God is a real and tangible way.
Also notice what else Abraham said to the young men, “We will come back to you…” This reveals quite a bit about Abraham’s internal thought process. On one hand, he knew he was going to offer Isaac as a burnt offering which might very well result in the death of his son.
On the other hand, Abraham had no doubts Isaac was the son of promise. Abraham was confident God would create through Isaac a nation by which He’d send the Messiah. As a result Abraham knew that whatever happened on this mountain Isaac would return.
So if Abraham understood Isaac might die, but was confident he would live… How do you reconcile the two? For the answer to this question we turn to Hebrews 11:17-19, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” Abraham expected Isaac would be resurrected!
It should also be pointed out that Abraham’s decision to leave these two young men behind so that only he and Isaac went forward alone is also symbolic. The reality is Abraham and Isaac / Father and Son were going to a place no servant could follow. What would happen on that mountain was a work that necessitated only their involvement and obedience.
And in much the same way, as it pertains to the atoning of sin, there is equally nothing we can contribute… Nothing we can add. Salvation is a work of only the Father and the Son!
Genesis 22:6-8, “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. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ Then he said, ‘Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ And Abraham said, ‘My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.’ So the two of them went together.”
What a picture! As they make their way up this mountain, who’s carrying the wood for the sacrifice? Isaac! How fascinating that Isaac (the son) willingly chose to carry the wood to his own place of execution. In John 19:16-17 we read of Jesus, “Then Pilate delivered Him to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus and led Him away. And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.”
As they’re making their way up the mountain Isaac is beginning to notice something was clearly awry. While he rightly understood they were going to “worship” and obviously make an offering to the Lord (why else would he be carrying so much wood?) it was odd that the offering itself was missing. Isaac simply asks, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Notice Abraham’s reply… “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” Tragically, the English translators once again butcher the radical nature of what Abraham is saying because they add the word “for” into the text for clarity. Sadly, this has the contrary result. Consider… If you remove “for” Abraham is actually answering Isaac’s question (“where is the lamb?”) by saying, “God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”
Furthermore, it should also be pointed out that this is the first time in the Scriptures we have the word “lamb” being used… Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb?” Beyond this the first time the word “lamb” is found in the N.T. isn’t until John 1:29 (never used in Matthew, Mark or Luke).
In this passage John the Baptist boldly declares upon seeing Jesus, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” In a profound way John the Baptist is answering Isaac’s original question and confirming Abraham’s reply some 2500 years later!
While millions of lambs would be sacrificed throughout Hebrew history, the ultimate sacrifice for man’s sins wouldn’t come until “God provided Himself the lamb!” Understand, Jesus was not “a lamb,” but was instead “the lamb” - a definite article fulling this specific promise.
Also notice something interesting happens following Abraham’s reply to Isaac’s question. While in verse 6 we’re told “and the two of them went together” in verse 8 we now read “so the two of them went together.” The implications of this subtle but significant detail is that Isaac has now willingly surrendered himself to the will of his father.
Genesis 22:9, “Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood.”
Remember, Isaac is not a little boy. He’s a 30 year old man and his father is 130 - making him far from a spring chicken. I mean seriously at what point does Isaac take a step back and say to himself, “Enough is enough!” Carrying the wood and seeing the fire without an offering warranted the question “where was the offering?” Ab’s response seemed to suffice.
And yet, now that they’ve reached “the place” on the mountain and Abraham has “built an altar” - the request for Isaac to keep his feet together and arms behind his back would have been a clear cause for concern. Amazingly, not only is Isaac obedient all the way up until this point, but he even chooses to submit by laying down upon the altar!
Sure, Abraham’s faith is admirable, but I have to tell you Isaac’s faith is much more radical. It really is astonishing that, under the circumstances, he so completely trusted his father. Isaac isn’t simply a participant - he’s a willing participant. He has surrendered his life into the hands of his father. With that in mind, once again consider the picture of Jesus. In John 10:18 Jesus said, “No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.”
Genesis 22:10-12, “And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ So he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’”
For starters, please keep in mind this reference to “the Angel of the Lord” presents for us another Christophany - the voice calling out to Abraham was none other than Jesus.
There was no need for Abraham to slay Isaac. His obedience and willingness to offer his only son was all that was needed for him to personally understand God’s incredible love for him. Abraham personal knew what it would mean for God to willingly offer His only Son to atone for his sin. Abraham could now relate to the depth of God’s love for him!
It’s not an accident that Jesus stopped Abraham from offering Isaac as a human sacrifice, because, as much as he was a picture of Christ, as a sinful man Isaac’s death would not have proven to be an acceptable or successful sacrifice before the Lord.
The truth is that there is only one human sacrifice that God would not only sanction, but would accept for the atonement of sin… One death that God would find pleasing… The death of His own Son Jesus - the perfect man who takes away the sins of the world.
I am convinced this was a point Abraham completely understood which explains why Jesus would say in John 8:56-58, “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’”
Genesis 22:13-19, “Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’
Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: ‘By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son - blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.
In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.’ So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.”
Notice Abraham called the location where all of these things had taken place literally in the Hebrew “Jehovahjireh” or “The Lord Will Provide.” Abraham understood that it would be in that very location on a mountain in the land of Moriah known as “Calvary” or “Golgotha” that God would provide His only Son Jesus to atone for the sins of the world!
In writing some 600 years after the fact, Moses even confirms this national belief that “in the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided” or literally the Son of God would be “seen.” Though we know the Temple was constructed on Mt. Moriah, we don’t know if this is the same location of “Golgotha” or “Calvary.” All we know for sure is that God commanded Abraham to “go to the land of Moriah” to “one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
In conclusion… I want to make three simple points from this story:
First… Though in the life of the Christian tests are inevitable and are designed to be revealing, never forget they intend to reveal God is a more real and intimate way.
For Abraham the purpose in offering Isaac was so that he could understand the depth of what would be required for the atonement of sin and therefore experience the radicle nature of God’s love. In your life tests do the same thing. Recount my personal story in college.
Secondly… There is only one human offering, one human sacrifice God accepts - His Son Jesus! The point of this entire story was not to illustrate the offerings and sacrifices you need to make to grow closer to God. Instead, the point of the story was to illustrate that our relationship with God is completely based on the one offering God would make on our behalf… That “God would provide Himself the sacrifice.”
Jesus makes this interesting comment to Abraham… He says, “By Myself I have sworn, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son - blessing I will bless you…” Note: Abraham’s obedience wasn’t the cause of God’s blessings. His obedience demonstrated his faith in a Savior which was the cause of God’s blessings.
Lastly… God loves you more than He even loves Jesus! In John 3:16 we’re told, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Under the weight of such an incredible reality Charles Spurgeon wrote, “So strange, so boundless was the love, Which pitied dying men; The Father sent His equal Son, To give them life again.”
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