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Genesis 22 is an amazing chapter of the Bible. It is amazing in many ways: dramatically, inspirationally, typologically, prophetically. This chapter can be studied on many different levels to great profit. In this chapter, a great man of God is given by God a great test of his faith; the acting out of this test of faith is exemplary and inspirational, worthy of imitation; the acting out of this test of faith is a vivid parallel of the offering by God of His Son, Jesus Christ; the resolution of the test is prophetic of the gift by God of His Son, Jesus Christ. We will do our best in this study (D.V.) to touch on many aspects concerning all of these levels. May the Lord speak to you in a special way as you study this very important chapter of the Bible.
1Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!"
"Here I am," he replied.
2Then 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."
3Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5He 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."
6Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7Isaac 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?"
8Abraham answered, "God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.
9When 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. 10Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11But 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."
13Abraham 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. 14So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."
15The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."
In this chapter, the Lord once again appears to Abraham. This is the seventh and last recorded appearance of God to Abraham. Moses begins: "Some time later God tested Abraham." This is the tenth great test of Abraham. As all of us, in some of his tests and trials, Abraham fared well, but in some of them, he failed miserably. The following table enumerates the trials of Abraham, and grades how well he handled the trial:
|Gen. 12:1||God's Call||He eventually obeyed.||C|
|Gen. 12:10||The Famine||He went to Egypt and stumbled.||F|
|Gen. 13:8||Quarrel with Lot||He trusted in God's providence||A|
|Gen. 14:1-16||The War||He trusted in God's protection.||A|
|Gen. 14:23||The Offer of Sodom's Booty||He valued God's riches.||A|
|Gen. 16||The Waiting on the Promise||He tried his own means to fulfill the promise||F|
|Gen. 17||The Covenant of Circumcision||He obeyed, not concerned with its impact on the promise||A|
|Gen. 20||Sojourn in the World||He went back to his worldly ways.||F|
|Gen. 21||Separation from Ishmael||He forewent his work of the flesh.||A|
|Gen. 22||The Sacrifice of Isaac||He demonstrated great faith.||A+|
Clearly, Abraham's life was full of tests and trials. Indeed, life for the beloved of God is full trials and tests, tests from God Himself, for "suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope" (Rom. 5:3-4). God tests us because He loves us. He tests us to bring out the good: to make us stronger, to build our character, to engender hope in the future. He tests us with trials as gold is tested by fire: to prove our worth. In this chapter, Abraham's faith is tested. Indeed, faith is an attribute that has no value unless it is tested. Untested faith does not count for anything. We pat ourselves on the back for our faith, but in many cases, it is an easy, untested faith. And most of us go out of our way to see that our faith remains untested. We make every effort not to step out on a limb for God's sake. This is why God Himself must throw us into the fire of testing.
Because of the difficulty of the test, God appeared directly to Abraham, so that there would be no question that the test was from God: "He said to him, `Abraham!' `Here I am,' he replied." (vs. 1). Abraham knew well the voice of God, being God's friend. As has been mentioned, God appeared directly to Abraham at least six times previously. Abraham must certainly have treasured these appearances, especially when He received declarations of God's promises. We can sense here Abraham's excitement at hearing from God once again in his reply: "Here I am."
This time, though, God did not come to Abraham with a promise, but with a great test of faith: "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." (vs. 2). Each phrase in this command is very significant:
Despite the difficulty of the test, Abraham wasted no time in obeying the Lord: "Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey" (vs. 3). It is best to obey God quickly (just ask Jonah). It seems that Abraham did not consult with anyone concerning the test. There was no reason to. The sacrifice was the clear command of God; Abraham had no doubt of that. Abraham knew that to consult with others would just weaken his faith. They would undoubtedly try to talk him out of obedience to God, try to convince him that somehow he misunderstood the command of God. It is best not to give opposition a chance. "It is vile for us to consult with men when we have the plain command of God. Fancy an inferior officer in an army, when ordered in the hour of battle to lead an attack, turning round to a fellow soldier to ask his opinion of the orders he has received from the commander-in-chief!"[Footnote #1]
"He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about." Abraham made sure that he was well-prepared for his service of God. He made sure that he brought everything he would need. Many of us who serve God enter service hastily and unprepared. We set out to teach without proper study; we set out to worship without a clean heart, cleansed through confession of sin before God; we enter into works of charity begrudgingly, without the proper attitude of joy in serving the Lord. In doing so, we compromise our service. Abraham, even in performing this unpleasant work of service, prepared himself, and made sure that he had everything he needed to successfully complete his service.
"On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance." Mystically, typologically, the "third day" may be significant. Christ was raised on the "third day", and here, for Abraham, Isaac was (effectively) dead to him until the "third day".
Abraham did not bring anyone except Isaac to the place of sacrifice: "He said to his servants, `Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there.'" This work of service was strictly between Abraham, Isaac, and God. Abraham continued: "We will worship and then we will come back to you." This verse contains the first mention of the word "worship" in the Bible. The highest form of worship is obedience, especially obedience through faith in carrying out the commands of God that are unpleasant to us. Note also that in this verse, we see evidence of the contention that Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac (see Heb. 11:17-19). Abraham told his servants: "We will come back to you."
"Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife." In an amazing foreshadowing of the antitype, Isaac carried on his back "the wood for the burnt offering", just as Christ carried the cross.
Perhaps the most moving verse in the whole chapter is when Isaac realizes that something is missing: "As the two of them went on together, 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?'" How this question must have penetrated Abraham's heart! How should he answer? Abraham chooses an obscure answer that is truer than even he knew: "God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." Most likely unwittingly, Abraham here speaks as a prophet. God Himself would indeed provide "the lamb": His Son Jesus Christ was to be the fulfillment of this prophecy. Though unknown to Abraham at that time, Isaac would not have to die as a sacrifice. The only man to be asked by God to do such a thing and to carry it out was His own Son, Jesus Christ.
"And the two of them went on together." Perhaps at this time, Isaac understood that it was he who would be offered. He certainly understood when Abraham "bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood." Note that Isaac did not resist. We tend to concentrate on Abraham's faith and obedience, but Isaac's was also great. Isaac silently, submissively let himself be bound for the sacrifice. Again, the foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ, who "laid down His life for us" (I John 3:16), is clear. Christ, who could have called down twelve legions of angels (Matt. 26:53), submissively offered Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf. Isaac certainly could have resisted his aged father Abraham; after all, Isaac was strong enough to carry the wood up the mountain.[Footnote #2] So, Isaac was Christ-like in his quiet submission; and he was Christ-like in his obedience to his father.
The moment of truth finally came: "Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son." Here, Abraham's obedience is complete. Abraham turned his faith into actions, and submitted to God completely in obedience. Abraham showed no hesitation or vacillation in his faith. All of Abraham's failings in faith (as enumerated at the beginning of this study) are overshadowed by this one great act of faith. From here on out, Abraham is known as the man of faith; his failings in faith are largely ignored. Abraham is redeemed in the eyes of posterity by this one great act of faith.
Before the knife could come down, "the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, `Abraham! Abraham!'" Perhaps no words in history were as welcome as these. The "angel of the LORD" Himself stopped the sacrifice. Many (including this writer) consider the appellation "the angel of the LORD" to designate an Old Testament appearance of Christ.[Footnote #3] Here, it is appropriate that Christ Himself stopped Abraham; for Christ's sacrifice is the fulfillment of this prophetic episode. Christ is the only one whom God asked to consummate a human sacrifice to the death. Christ's sacrifice is sufficient for all of mankind. God shows in this episode that He does not want dead human sacrifices (like pagan religions), but rather wants living sacrifices. As Paul exhorts: "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" (Rom. 12:1).
The angel of the Lord stopped the sacrifice when it was clear that Abraham would carry it out. He gives the reason He stopped it at that time: "Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." James comments on this: "You see that [Abraham's] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did" (James 2:22). Our faith can only be proven by actions, and such actions that only can come through trials. For Abraham, this certainly was an excruciating trial. Any parent would be devastated by it. Any parent would agree that Abraham suffered as much (or more) than Isaac. This leads us to ponder: did not the Father suffer as much as Christ? Certainly Christ suffered; but God gave (for our sakes) His only Son to be scorned, scourged, and crucified. Most assuredly, this shows God's great love for us.
"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." Abraham here is taught a vivid lesson in substitutionary sacrifice. He appreciates more than any of us the grace of God in accepting substitutionary sacrifice. Isaac was spared, just as we are. We all in God's eyes deserve to die because of our sin. By God's grace, He provided a way for those in Old Testament times to atone for their sins through the substitutionary sacrifice of animals. These sacrifices foreshadowed the ultimate substitutionary sacrifice, that of Jesus Christ. In both cases, God Himself provided the means of atonement, just as He did for Isaac: "So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide." By calling the place "The LORD Will Provide" rather than "The LORD Did Provide", it is suggested that the ram is not a sufficient substitutionary sacrifice. As the writer of Hebrews says: "[I]t is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb. 10:4). For human sin, human life is required. So clearly, God's provision of the ram for Abraham foreshadows God's provision of Christ for us: "And to this day it is said, `On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.'" This verse supports the contention that Isaac was offered on the same mountain that Christ was.
The Lord rewards Abraham with a restatement of His promise: "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me." He begins the statement of the promise with the oath "I swear by myself." This phrase indicates a particularly solemn oath by God. As the writer of Hebrews teaches us: "When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no-one greater for Him to swear by, He swore by Himself, saying, `I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.' . . . Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath" (Heb. 6:14,17). This restatement of the promise must surely have been precious to Abraham, because through the trial, the fulfillment of the promise was held in some doubt.
This restatement of the promise was a blessing that resulted from Abraham's trial. Many would consider God cruel for testing Abraham in this way; however, in addition to the statement of the promise, Abraham received many blessings from this trial. Among them: confidence in his own faith; approval from God; a view of the mystery of God's great plan in the sacrifice of Christ; a deeper knowledge of the ways of God; confidence that obedience is best.
Lord, give us the faith to be obedient to You. Give us the will to get rid of anything that gets in the way of our obedience to You. We thank You for this great example in Abraham of faith and obedience. We also thank You for the foreshadowing in this chapter of Christ's sacrifice, showing us that Your great plan of salvation was established from the foundation of the world. We pray these things in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, whom You sacrificed for our sakes, Amen.
(We will continue our study in Genesis next month.)
1. C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. XV, pg. 245.
2. Isaac at this time must have at least been in his teens, and he could have been up to 37 at the time (he was 37 at the time of the next event recounted in Genesis). Some even speculate (to make perfect the type) that he was 33 at the time of the sacrifice.
3. For other such appearances, see Gen. 16:7; Ex. 3:2; Num. 22:22; Judges 2:1; Judges 6:11; Judges 13:3; II Sam. 24:16; I Kings 19:7; II Kings 1:3; II Kings 19:35.
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