Well thank you for checking out the Podcast, this is a verse by verse Bible study. I am your host Randy Duncan, and we are making our way through the book of Genesis, taking a look in this episode at chapter 22.
In the last episode we discussed the long-awaited birth of Isaac, and how Isaac’s birth was miraculous. Remember, Abraham was 100 years old, Sarah was 90. Sarah was unable to have children her whole life, she was also well past menopause. So there was going to be no natural birth. But there was a supernatural birth. God promised, and then God delivered.
We also pointed out several ways in which the birth of Isaac foreshadowed the birth of Jesus, including the fact that they were both supernatural in nature.
Which brings us now to chapter 22, which is one of my favorte chapters in all the Bible. But before I begin, I just want to dedicate this episode to Jimmy, a relative of mine who unexpectedly passed away last week. Jimmy was always special to me, even when I was young and growing up. And over the last year, his messages of support and encouragement have really meant a lot to me. And I hate that he did not get a chance to hear this episode covering this material. But I am comforted in knowing that Jimmy now has insight that we can only dream about and hope for. To Carrie, Rocky, and the rest of the family, I love you guys, and my prayers are still with you all.
Now, as I mentioned, this is one of my favorite chapters in all of scripture. It is one that so many people are familiar with, but so few truly understand what is going on and being communicated. Like so many other familiar stories, we are sometimes so familiar, that we don’t slow down and read them afresh, and truly grasp what God is teaching us. So, with that, let’s take a fresh look at this story, and hopefully learn something, and see something that we have never seen before.
Chapter 22 is commonly referred to as ‘The sacrifice of Isaac”, and there is nothing majorly wrong with calling it that. However, in Hebrew, this story is known as the Akedah Yitzak, which means “the binding of Isaac”. Now this chapter is sort of the climactic event in Abraham’s spiritual journey. And so with that, let us dive in and take a look at one of the most remarkable chapters in all of scripture.
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take 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.”
Well, as you can see, this chapter wastes no time getting interesting! This chapter is the climactic event in Abraham’s spiritual journey that began when God called Abraham to leave his home. And it will require his most agonizing decision yet, as God tells him to take his son Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice.
Well, many non-believers point to this story as God approving of human or child sacrifice. But that is a comment spoken of in ignorance of what is actually going on here,. and so nothing could be further from the truth. For starters, notice how V1 begins. By saying that God did what? He tested Abraham. This was a test. God never intended that Isaac would actually be sacrificed.
The Hebrew word for tested here “nasa” (nah-sah’), does not mean to “entice to do wrong”. With a personal object, it means to “test another to see whether the other is worthy”. Satan “tempts” us to destroy us, but God “tests” us to strengthen us. And because this command is so shocking, so ungodly, that as readers, we are given that insight in the very first verse. We are informed in advance that this is only a test. But Abraham didn’t have that luxury. This was happening to him in real time.
Here, Abraham has a decision to make. He has to choose between his faith in God’s promises of blessings and descendents through Isaac, and God’s command here that would nullify those promises. IOW, Abraham has to choose between his love for God’s gift, Isaac, and God himself. Can you imagine??
But one of the obvious questions here is “Why would God command such a thing?” I mean, we already know that it is not at all in God’s perfect nature, and we have already established that it was a test, but still, why?
Consider this possibility. Perhaps God is teaching Abraham something here. What if Abraham is more attached to the promised blessings than he is attached to God himself? Perhaps God wants to see what Abraham is willing to give up. I mean, Abraham here is being asked to demonstrate a faith that goes way beyond anything he has demonstrated up to this point. Up until now, every sacrifice Abraham has made was balanced out by a promise or some blessing. IOW, Abraham was giving up something, but what he was gaining was more than making up for his sacrifice. But here, with this, there is nothing for Abraham to gain.
In Luke chapter 18, Jesus challenges the rich young ruler to give up his worldly possessions and to follow him. Jesus is asking him if he is willing to give up all that he holds dear to follow him. Of course, he was not. But Abraham was. And how about you? What are you willing to give up to truly follow Christ? Because make no mistake, there is a worldly cost to following Christ. And this is no secret, Jesus told us several times, in advance, there would be a price to pay. In Matthew 10:22, he says that “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake”.
So this is a test of Abraham’s relationship with God. It is a test of obedience and trust. Specifically, it tests whether Abraham’s trust is really in God, or only what God has promised. IOW, do you love God, or only what God can do for you?
So the question we can ask is, “Has Abraham’s faith been motivated by his love for God, or by his love of personal gain of what God has promised”? Maybe even Abraham can’t be certain of that. And so this is a test that will demonstrate to Abraham himself, and to Isaac, to God, and to the rest of the world that his faith is not motivated by his love for what God can provide him, but simply by his love of God. IOW, God, and God alone motivates his faith, and he is willing to give up what he most loves.
I have to admit, I have thought about this, and asked myself, if I were in the same situation, would I have had the faith and trust to offer up my child. And I am not going to sit here and tell you with any degree of confidence that I would have. I can see giving up almost anything else,or doing anything else, but that is the absolute last thing I would be willing to give up.
Now notice also, that God tells Abraham to “take your son, your only son Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice”. Remember, Isaac is not Abraham’s only son. Ishmael is his other son who we saw sent away in the previous chapter. But Isaac is the son God had promised Abraham and Sarah. Isaac was named before he was born, and it is through Isaac that God will work out his promises and plan.
God also tells Abraham to “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.” This sort of harkens back to and reminds us of God’s original call of Abraham. Remember, Abraham was called to leave his family, and all that he held dear, to go to a place that God would show him later. And now, he has to offer all that he holds dear in a place God would show him later.
God tells Abraham to go to the land of Moriah. Now here is something very interesting. There are some textual difficulties in establishing exactly where Moriah was located, but it was probably located in Jerusalem. In fact, Jewish tradition associates Mount Moriah with the site of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. And 2 Chronicles 3:1 actually tells us “ Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah.
Now, keep that bit of information in mind, as I will come back to it in a minute.
3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.
Well, Abraham doesn’t waste any time in his obedience to God. He rises early the next morning, makes preparations, and then starts his journey to Moriah. Notice that he cuts the wood for the fire that would be necessary for the sacrifice. Since he doesn’t know exactly where he is going, he can’t be sure there would be firewood available. So he takes his own.
And it says on the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place. But why did God have him travel three days, and why this particular spot?
Well, in the biblical world, 3 days was a typical period to prepare for something. But more importantly I think, it is part of the test, in that, when Abraham acts to carry out the command God has given him, it is not done in the heat or the emotion of the moment. It’s not a knee-jerk reaction. For 3 days, along the journey, Abraham has plenty of time to think about and be haunted by what he is going to do. For three days he must live with the confusion of why God is asking him to do this, and how God is then going to be able to keep his promises. For three days, he has every opportunity to rationalize why he shouldn’t go through with it. These three days provide Abraham the time to transform his response into a decision. His initial response may have been impulsive, but now, we know that Abraham has had plenty of time for reflection, and so his decision to obey God is clearly seen as an act of free will.
It also says that Abraham saw the place from afar. We don’t know if it was an existing sacred site, or if God somehow revealed it to him. But can you imagine the dread and the horror and the sickness in your stomach of seeing the spot where you are going to sacrifice your child, knowing that you are very close?? And with every step, you draw closer and closer to the horrifying reality you have been dreading. It must have been similar to the feeling that Jesus had when carrying his cross up the hill at Calvary, where he knew that what awaited him at the top of the hill was the worst kind of execution imaginable, the horrifying death of the cross.
5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
So Abraham tells his servants to stay behind, and then he and Isaac will go and worship and come back. Now, Abraham is telling them this most likely so he doesn’t alarm anyone about what is about to happen.
V6 tells us that Abraham took the wood and laid it on Isaac, and they went off together. First thing to notice here is that Isaac is not a young child. We are often victims of our Sunday school coloring books, and most of them depict Isaac as a very young child. But here we see he is old enough to carry the wood. We are not certain of his age, and there is plenty of speculation. Some commentators believe he was in his 30s, some same he was a teenager. His exact age isn’t the main point here. The main point is that he is not the 3 year-old we saw who was weaned in the last chapter. He is old enough now to carry the wood, and old enough to notice there is no animal for the sacrifice.
But here is where I want you to start picking up on something. In the last episode, I mentioned some of the things the birth of Isaac and the birth of Jesus had in common, and that the miraculous birth of Isaac was a foreshadowing of the miraculous birth of Jesus. So what if the sacrifice of Isaac also foreshadows the sacrifice and death of Jesus? Well pay attention now to the details of these verses. Again, V6 says that Abraham took the wood and laid it on his son. The father takes the wood and lays it on his son. Does that sound at all familiar? It should. Because God the father certainly laid the wooden cross on His son. So here is a spoiler alert! The sacrifice of Isaac is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Jesus made for all of us. It is a foreshadowing of the willingness of the Father to sacrifice his only son. Just like Isaac carried his wood up the hill, Jesus carried his wood up the hill, only, the wood that Jesus carried became part of His cross! But they both walked up the hill carrying wood that would be used in their own sacrifice.
In V7, Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Good question Isaac!! So Isaac recognizes that they have what they need except for one thing, the sacrifice itself. They don’t have a lamb. Again, it also tells us that Isaac is old enough to recognize that and be familiar with the ritual of sacrifice.
But notice how Abraham answers Isaac… “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering”. Again, God will provide himself a lamb for the offering. Now is this starting to ring familiar to you? The Father, the son, the sacrifice, the lamb that God would provide….
So let’s cut to the chase here. The sacrifice of Isaac is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus. The father, Abraham, sacrificing his son, is a foreshadowing of God the Father sacrificing His son. In John 1:29, John the Baptist sees Jesus for the first time, and what does he say? The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! Jesus is the lamb that God provided. Revelation 13:8 tells us that Jesus was the lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world. This was no accidnet, no tragedy, it wasn’t some knee-jerk reaction from God trying to figure out what to do next! This was the plan from the beginning!
So to bring all of this together, we have to go back, all the way back to the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve. Remember, when Adam and Eve fell, they tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. But what did God do with their attempts to cover themselves? He dismissed it. And he made for them coats of animal skin. God began teaching them right there in the Garden that it would only be through the shedding of innocent blood that they would be covered. That their sins would be forgiven.
All of the Levitical sacrifices in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, were designed to anticipate and point towards the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the only sacrifice that can truly cover our sins, and reconcile us to God.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided, or, “It shall be seen”.
So here we are , the moment of truth, the moment I’m sure Abraham has been dreading since he first heard God’s instructions. Can you even imagine how Abraham must have felt during these moments? But he is determined to go through with it, as he reaches for his knife to slaughter Isaac, the voice calls out to him and tells him to not lay a hand on Isaac. The repetition of calling Abraham’s name twice here just denotes the urgency of the matter.
From the moment God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, in Abraham’s eyes, Isaac is dead. The journey took three days, and since God stepped in and stopped Abraham, Isaac was spared, symbolically resurrected in a sense. Just like Jesus was in the tomb for three days before he was resurrected. So this is a picture of both the death and resurrection of Jesus
It also says “for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” But when it says that “Now I know…”, it’s not that God didn’t already know. Of course God knew. God exists outside of time. There is no surprising God. This is meant for Abraham’s sake, and the reader’s sake, and it is also said in an anthropomorphic sense, meaning this is simply a way to communicate how Abraham’s actions have now been played out in real time in history. Now Abraham has moved beyond God just knowing his heart and his faith, but he has now acted upon what God already knew was there. It has now been demonstrated in an experiential sense. And so now we have actual, visible, tangible proof of where Abraham’s heart lies. He did not withhold his only son Isaac, whom he loved. Just as God did not withhold His only son.
Abraham then looks up, sees a ram caught in the thickets, and then sacrifices the ram instead of his son, Isaac.
In 14 it says that Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be seen”. Now I mentioned earlier that the land of Moriah where this is taking place is believed to be Jerusalem. And it says here that “to this day it is said “On the mount of the Lord it shall be seen”. After King David takes Jerusalem, the “mountain of the Lord” refers to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Why is that important? I mention it because the point is that Abraham walked up a hill to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. His son was not sacrificed, because God stopped him. But 2000 years later, on that very spot, a son would be sacrificed by a Father, and this time God would not stop it. Jesus even prayed in the Garden of Gethsamane, we are told in Matthew 26 “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
The will of God was never to have Abraham sacrifice Isaac. This was an exercise of faith for Abraham, and it was a foreshadowing of a Father who would one day, in that very place, sacrifice His son.
In wrapping up these verses of chapter 22, V15- read, 15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.
Again, Abraham was prepared to offer up his son, that which he loved more than anything else in the world. And although God stopped Abraham from doing so, that is exactly what God has done for us. God offered up Jesus, his only son, as a sacrifice for us. I asked earlier if you could even begin to imagine how Abraham was feeling in that moment. Well, how do you think God felt, watching how Jesus was brutalized, tortured, beaten, whipped, spat upon, mocked, having his beard plucked out, and then ultimately crucified.
V18 says that “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” What offspring is God referring to here? He is referring to Jesus
But notice something interesting, something subtle in V19. It says, “So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba”. It says “Abraham” arose and returned. It doesn’t mention Isaac. Where is Isaac? We assume he returned also, but that is not what the text says. It doesn’t mention Isaac. It’s like Isaac has been edited out of the text. In fact, and here is the payoff, Isaac is not seen again in scripture until he is united with Rebekkah, who would be his wife. From the time Isaac is “offered up for sacrifice”, he is not seen again until he comes for his bride.
Likewise, since Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and ascended, he will not be seen again, until he comes for his bride, the church..believers like you and I.
The story of the sacrifice of Isaac, the Akedah Yitzak, is a foreshadowing of God the Father sacrificing his only begotten son, Jesus. Perhaps the most popular verse in all of scripture, John 3:16, tells us why. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.