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.’”
While we’ll get to the specifics of what God was asking of Abraham momentarily, I want to begin by discussing this line, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.”
For a measure of context it’s important you know it’s been 45 to 50 years since God had promised to provide Abraham and Sarah a male child and roughly 25 to 30 years since God had made good on this promise by providing them a little boy they named Isaac. As you turn to chapter 22, their “only son Isaac” is pushing 30 with Abraham a spry 130.
For a moment I want you to imagine what this particular season of life for Abraham and Sarah had been like. 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 departed (that’s a crazy story for another day)… But Abraham and Sarah are savoring the son they’d 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 boy. 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. Isaac’s spiritual heritage was profoundly rich.
For Abraham and Sarah life is grand! For the first time they’re experiencing the fullness of life God had promised them so many years before… The life they’d originally left Ur to inherit! While it’s true all of these things had taken much longer than they anticipated to come to fruition — family planning hadn’t worked out like they’d hoped, Abraham and Sarah wouldn’t have traded these years with Isaac for anything. They truly loved their son!
It’s not an accident Genesis 22:2 is the first time in the entire Bible we find the word “love.” In your study of Scripture there is what’s called The Law of First Mention. What this means is that the first time a word or idea is presented in the Bible that instance establishes a baseline for how that idea should be understood moving forward.
What make this so fascinating is that instead of establishing the concept of “love” within the context of a marital relationship between husband and wife — which God could have easily done in Genesis 2 with Adam and Eve, God instead decided to intentionally frame our understanding of love within the context of a father’s love for his son!
Let me explain why this is the case… Though a husband and wife no doubt enter into a love relationship through the free-willed decision each party initially makes and then chooses to remain committed to, a father’s love for his son is a totally unique human experience.
I have two sons Quincy and Theodore and I can say from personal experience no father chooses to love a son! Instead, it’s that very moment when a son is born into this world that an unexplainable, indescribable kind of love immediately floods his being. In an instance a bond is forged that’s magical and unbreakable. I’d lay down my life for my boys.
As a fact of life a father’s love for a son is fundamentally one of nature, not will. Loving a son is never something a father is forced into doing! Sure, a dad might grow frustrated with a son and even be disappointed at times, but nothing ever changes his love!
Aside from being distinct from a husband—wife love, it should also be noted a father—son love is also unique to a father—daughter or a mother—son love. While the nature of love is the same (my love for Mabel is identical to the love I have for Q and Theo), it’s a truth that when a daughter marries another man or a son takes a wife the way a parent’s love manifests towards the child of the opposite sex automatically has to change.
For example… When my daughter Mabel marries the luckiest man on the face of the earth my role in her life will be force to change. My love will not change, but the way I love must. Not to get overly sappy, but this is something I think about every time I hold her little hand.
There will come a day — Lord willing in the far distant future — that I’m no longer going to be Mae’s protector, defender, provider, and source of love, affection, safety and security. What’s brutal about it all is that I’m literally going to have to pay tons of money for the privilege of giving away my little angel to another man who’ll take over my role in her life!
While different the same situation applies to mothers when their sons marry. Mom, when your son says, “I do” that gal in white will supplant your place as the most significant woman in his life. When he scrapes his knee he should run to his wife and not his mommy!
And yet, what’s really interesting is the 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 ever has to change. A great way to illustrate this point is that a son will bear the name of his father his entire life.
I hope you know the first member of the Trinity isn’t actually the Father of the second. When the Scriptures refer to Jesus as being the “Son of God” the idea is that He’s of the same nature of God making Him equally God. What makes the first mention of love in this story so noteworthy is that of all human relationships God could have picked to illustrate the love experienced within His triune nature He singled out the love a Father has for His Son!
Within the Godhead there exists an eternal love most similar to this father—son dynamic. It’s not a love of will or choice, but one of nature! As God is immutable or unchanging so is His love. When you read in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love” this idea is best understood by humanity as though God was a Father who had an “only son” named Jesus.
It’s within the context of Abraham’s love for his son Isaac we read, “God tested Abraham!” For starters, I should explain 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.
You see God isn’t testing Abraham so that He can ascertain some greater insight into the man’s faith — as if God was seeking to learn something He doesn’t already know. Additionally, the test wasn’t even designed to reveal something to Abraham about himself.
Instead, this bizarre 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 vitally important about Himself! You see the fundamental purpose behind this difficult command was to create the perfect set of 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 God somehow sanctioning human sacrifices. Look again… God’s appeal was for Abraham to be willing to “offer him as a burnt offering.” God wasn’t asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, but to “offer” Isaac!
In the Old Testament a “burnt offering” signified a full and complete consecration. Because the sacrifice was totally consumed by fire leaving nothing left or remaining, a burnt offering demonstrated a total surrender to the Lord by the offerer.
In a sense there was a reason God was asking Abraham to offer the most precious thing in his life. In Isaac rested more than Abraham’s offspring or lineage… Isaac was more than just the sole heir… More than his hopes and dreams. As his “only son” Isaac represented Abraham’s entire assurance and complete confidence that God was going to provide a Savior for his sins as He’d promised!
It’s within this context of Abraham’s love for his only son Isaac that God asks him to make the ultimate offering. In order for Abraham to relate to an aspect of God 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.
Back to our story… You will notice the only specific instruction God provides Abraham is that he and Isaac pack up and “go to the land of Moriah” to “one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” In the Hebrew this word “Moriah” 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 evident there was a very specific place God was wanting this important 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 was 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 waists 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.” Then he recruits “two young men” to travel with he and Isaac, “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!” Abraham is the only one in this caravan who knows why they are heading to Moriah.
And yet, it’s this statement Abraham makes to “his young men” that reveals so 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!” Again, what makes this significant is 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.
Please don’t miss the implications of this first mention of 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. Worship is the pursuit of God! Worship is 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 doubt Isaac was the son of promise! Abraham was confident God would create through Isaac a nation through 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!
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.”
As they’re making their way up the mountain you can imagine Isaac — who’s 30 years old — is beginning to notice something amiss. While he rightly understood they were going to “worship” (Abraham has said as much) and as part of their worship they were going to 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 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 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. If you remove the word “for” Abraham is actually answering Isaac’s question (“where is the lamb?”) by saying, “God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”
Please take note of what happens following Abraham’s reply to Isaac’s question. While in verse 6 we read, “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 change from “and” to “so” is that after Abraham explained what they were heading to Moriah to accomplish 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 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’s 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 submits by laying down upon the altar itself!
Genesis 22:10-19, “And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son (Abraham and Isaac are completely committed). 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.’
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.”
For starters, this reference to “the Angel of the Lord” presents for us what is known as a Christophany. The voice calling out to Abraham stopping him in the act was none other than Jesus! Thankfully, there was no need for Abraham to slay Isaac. To their great relief they discover a “ram caught in a thicket by its horns” they end up sacrificing to the Lord.
So what was the whole point behind this exercise? It’s simple… In asking this old man to offer his only son Isaac whom he loved with his whole heart God was revealing to Abraham what his salvation would require and in turn how deeply God loved him!
Notice Abraham eventually calls the location where all of these things had taken place “The-Lord-Will-Provide” or Jehovahjireh in the Hebrew. What this tells us is that Abraham understood it would be in this very location on a mountain in the land of Moriah that God would provide His only Son to atone for the sins of the world!
Writing some 600 years after this event, in verse 14 Moses even confirms this belief that “in the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided” or literally the Son of God would be “seen!”
I’m convinced Abraham fully understood what God was revealing to him 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, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’”
To this point think back to Ab’s answer to Isaac’s question — “Where is the lamb?” He replies, “God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” In addition to love and worship, this is also the first time in the Scriptures we have the word “lamb” being used!
What makes this so incredible is the first time the word “lamb” is found in the New Testament isn’t until John 1:29. The word lamb is oddly absent in the Gospel’s of Matthew, Mark, or Luke! In this passage John the Baptist sees Jesus approaching and he makes this bold declaration, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
Isaac asks his father Abraham, “Where is the lamb?” In response Abraham says, “God will provide Himself the lamb.” Then John declares of Jesus, “Behold the lamb of God!” In all three instances we have “the lamb” a definite article. While millions of lambs would be sacrificed throughout Jewish history, 2500 years after the fact John the Baptist answers Isaac’s question and confirms Abraham’s reply. In Jesus God was providing the lamb!
Regarding God’s plan for salvation it’s important you realize this story illustrates the reality the task could only be accomplished with a Father and Son working in concert. If you look back at our text you will notice how Abraham leaves the two young men behind so that only he and Isaac went forward alone. The truth is Abraham and Isaac — Father and Son were going to a place no other servant could follow! What would happen on that mountain in Moriah was a work that necessitated only their involvement and obedience!
The application for you and I as servants of the Most High God is profound and challenging. In much the same way as Abraham and Isaac, as it pertains to the atoning of your sin and mine — our salvation, there is equally nothing any of us can contribute! There is nothing we can add. Your salvation is a work of only the Father and the Son!
As I consider this story I have to tell you Isaac’s faith is radical! It’s astonishing that, under the circumstances, he so completely trusted his father. Isaac wasn’t just a participant — he was a willing participant! Isaac had fully surrendered his life into the hands of his father.
Not only does he allow his father to bind him… Not only does he allow himself to be laid upon the altar even as his father raises up a blade to offer him as a sacrifice, but it’s actually Isaac who ends up carrying the wood up the mountain for his own execution!
Consider the picture we have of Jesus… In John 19:16-17 we read, “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.” In John 10:18 Jesus affirms, “No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.”
It’s not an accident Jesus stopped Abraham from offering Isaac. As much as Isaac presents for us a picture of Christ and Abraham God the Father, as sinful men Isaac’s death would not have been an acceptable sacrifice. The truth is there is only one human sacrifice God would accept for the atonement of sin… The one He would offer — the Son He would slay! The “Lamb of God!” It would only be through the sacrifice of His own Son Jesus — the perfect “lamb — who would take away the sins of the world.”
One of the tragic misconceptions of this story is the notion our willingness to sacrifice the things we care deeply about in some way brings us closer to God. You’ll hear pastors even exhort congregations, “Are you willing to place the Isaac’s in your life upon the altar?”
What a bastardization of such an amazing passage! You see in contrast this story intends 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!”
Friend, this story isn’t about our sacrifices, but HIS! To this point, after the events of the day, we read that Jesus comes a second time and says to Abraham, “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!” In the end it wasn’t Abraham’s obedience that brought about about the blessings of God in his life. Instead, his obedience only served to demonstrate his faith in a Savior which would be the cause of God’s blessings!
In asking Abraham to offer his only son on a mountain in Moriah, God was allowing him to experience what He would encounter when He offered “His only begotten Son” to be the sacrifice to die for the sins of the world! Amazingly, it would be on the same mountain of Moriah named Calvary that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
The truth is that, through this exercise of offering Isaac, Abraham came to understand first hand what it would personally cost God when He offered Jesus to be the Savior for man’s sin. Because Ab had been obedient and willing to offer his only son, he now knew God’s incredible love for him. Abraham could relate to the depth of God’s love!
What blows my mind about this story is that it illustrates the truth of God’s love for you! My friend, God loves you enough to sacrifice His own Son! His willingness to sacrifice such a beloved thing implies His love for you knows no bounds! As a Father God made the ultimate sacrifice and as the Son Jesus submitted to this destiny. And the reason — You! 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.”
One of the strange components of this story is a detail found in verse 19. Originally, Abraham instructed his servants to lag behind with the donkey saying, “The lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” And yet, as the story closes we read, “Abraham returned to his young men and they arose and went together to Beersheba.”
Did you notice Isaac is completely missing? Abraham says he had Isaac would return, but only Abraham comes back from the mountain top. If you were one of these servants this situation would have been highly suspect. If fact, you’d likely conclude Isaac was dead.
And yet, you would have been completely wrong! While it’s true Isaac walks off the scene, we know he was very much alive. What’s interesting about this development is the next time Isaac resurfaces is towards the end of Genesis 24 when he walks out into a field to receive the bride a man named Eliezer was bringing back to him. Note: Eliezer means spirit.
What’s astounding about the story of both Isaac and Jesus is that what may have appeared at first to be their demise proved to be a false assumption. While it may be true Jesus’ journey necessitated His death, His death was followed by resurrection and life!
As we close out our time I want you to know the implications of a risen Jesus… When Jesus rose from that tomb three days later we could know His sacrifice for sin as the “Lamb of God” had been accepted. You see a Risen Jesus means there exists an Active Savior!
In John 15 Jesus would say, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Then He proceeds to define what true love looks like — “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.” Friend, if you want to know what true love really looks like — look no further a Father willing to give up His only Son for you!
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