By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back (Hebrews 11:17-19).
Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. Abraham’s wife, who bore Isaac, was 90. Her dead womb was a picture of the virgin womb of Mary so many years later, both sons conceived by the power of God to bring about the salvation of the world. For, without Isaac, there is no line to Jesus (Matthew 1:1-2). With great rejoicing and much laughter, Abraham and Sarah welcomed their very late arrival into the world (Genesis 21:1-7).
And then God commanded Abraham to kill his son.
God’s instructions were specific: “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” (Genesis 22:2). Your son. Your only son. Isaac. The son you love. Burn him. So Abraham, without protest, prepared to do as the LORD had requested of him (Genesis 22:3-10).
It is at this point that we rise up in protest. And, we cannot be sure who we are more angry with, God for asking such a thing of Abraham or Abraham for being ready to obey! And herein lies the power of this chapter of Salvation History. Let us look into the motivation of each.
God’s Motivation. God chose Abraham from among all the people on the earth and promised to bring salvation to humanity through his seed. Abraham is the father of Isaac, the father of Jacob, the father of Judah, the father of David, the father of Christ Jesus. Jesus is both the eternal Son of God and the seed of Abraham promised in Genesis 12:7. Therefore, God is asking Abraham to do what He Himself will do to His own Son two thousand years later. God would take His Son, His only Son, Jesus, whom He loves, and sacrifice Him on the very mountain that Abraham and his son, Isaac, ascended generations before. Therefore, God’s motivation was to communicate the Gospel to the whole world. Abraham and Isaac are a picture of the sacrifice of Jesus, the only Son of God, for the sins of the world.
When Isaac asked his father about the sacrifice, Abraham prophesied, “God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). When Abraham raised his knife to slaughter his son, God offered a ram in the thickets to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place (Genesis 22:10-13). God had provided Himself with a ram for a burnt offering, not a lamb. Close enough, right? No, this ram was but a picture of the Lamb that God would provide for Himself. But, it was not the Lamb. Abraham’s prophesy remained unfulfilled until John the Baptist beheld Jesus and announced to the world, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The ram was a substitute for Isaac, a partial fulfillment of Abraham’s prophecy. But it is Jesus who is the Lamb that God provided for Himself for a burnt offering, a substitute for Isaac and all of rebellious humanity, the ultimate fulfillment of Abraham’s prophecy.
Abraham’s Motivation. Abraham was into the second century of his life. For decades he had walked with the LORD and been shown many wonders. He also made a slew of mistakes. In that time, he came to realise that God is God, and He is able to do whatever he wants. He can give land to whomever He wants. He can bless whomever He wants. He can bring life out of an old and barren womb if He wants. And, according to the writer of Hebrews, Abraham came to believe, that He can raise the dead if He wants (Hebrews 11:19). Abraham trusted God when He promised, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named” (Genesis 21:12, Hebrews 11:18). Therefore, the descendents that God had promised Abraham would be born through Isaac. Not even death could annul a promise from God. Therefore, Abraham prepared to be obedient, trusting God to, once again, do the impossible. Now that is faith.
Of course, child sacrifice is contrary to God’s nature. So, having tested Abraham’s faith and having communicated the Gospel through the near sacrifice of Isaac, God halted Abraham’s swooning knife.
When we think about the horror of sacrificing Isaac, we only begin to approach the agony of the Cross. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son [to be sacrificed like a burnt offering for the sins of the world], that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the Name of the only Son of God (John 3:16-18).