Genesis 22:1-2 Some time later God tested Abraham. . . . Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.
Abraham must have wondered what kind of God would give him a child, and then demand the child be killed. The God of the Bible is not who we expect, and this was a problem for Abraham. Furthermore, anyone who kills his son because he thinks God told him to is mentally unstable. This story is off to a terrible start.
Genesis 22:3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded 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.
As Abraham cut the wood that morning he must have wondered, What kind of God would ask me to do this? How can I explain this to my wife? What will people think of me? Should I trust God or run away from him?
The Bible had not been written yet, but Abraham personified a biblical truth. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6), says Proverbs.
Genesis 22:4-5 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He 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.
Over the course of their journey, Abraham worked through the question, How could a good God tell me to kill my son? He concluded that God would raise him from the dead. This is why he said, We will worship and then we will come back to you (Hebrews 11:19). Abraham was so convinced that God is good, if he told him to sacrifice his son, it would result in a resurrection.
Genesis 22:6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife.
But Isaac grew suspicious. The fire and wood are here . . . but where is the lamb for the burnt offering? (Genesis 22:7), he asked. God himself will provide the lamb (Genesis 22:8), said Abraham. In fact, Abraham spoke better than he knew. Two thousand years later God provided the perfect lamb . . . who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). That is where the Bible is going, and this story foreshadows it.
We should not miss the parallel between Isaac carrying the wood to his sacrifice, and Jesus carrying the wood to his sacrifice. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Colossians 2:17), wrote Paul.
If you stand outside on a sunny afternoon, you will cast a shadow that portrays your likeness. And if you read the Old Testament carefully, you will see the shadow of Christ in many places. Abraham and Isaac had no idea this event had a greater significance. But here we see the shadow of Christ in Isaac, and to some degree, the heavenly Father in Abraham.
This is a mark of inspiration. The Bible has many human authors, but only one divine author. It has many little stories, but only one big story that binds them all together. If the Bible was a puzzle, there would be many pieces, but only one picture. And the crucifixion of the Son of God would be right in the center.
Genesis 22:9 When 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.
Isaac was at least an adolescent by this time, since he was able to carry the wood (Genesis 22:6). We might expect a struggle as Abraham tied him up, but Isaac trusted his father even in death. Jesus could have fought for his life as well, but he also trusted his Father in death. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me (John 5:39), he said.
Genesis 22:10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
Abraham’s son was lying on the altar, and the knife was now unsheathed. From Abraham’s perspective his son was as good as dead. Many parents will testify that nothing is harder than the death of a child. Abraham may have regretted the day he decided to follow God.
Genesis 22:11-12 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, Abraham! Abraham! Here I am, he replied. 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.
Because he was willing to sacrifice his son, Abraham’s loyalty could never be questioned again. Likewise, because God was willing to sacrifice his Son, his loyalty can never be questioned again. Commitment can only be proven through sacrifice.
Genesis 22:13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.
Abraham sacrificed the ram instead of his son, and called that place The Lord Will Provide. Five hundred years later, when Moses wrote this story down, they were still saying, On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided (Genesis 22:14). That mountain was located in the region of Moriah (Genesis 22:2).
Moriah is only mentioned twice in the Bible. Take your son . . . to the region of Moriah (Genesis 22:2), and the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem [was built] on Mount Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1).
It was just a hilltop when Abraham arrived, but centuries later, it is where the temple of God was built. It is where God provided the ram for Isaac, and where thousands of sheep would be sacrificed. Then came Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who also died in the region of Moriah. So on the mountain of the Lord, it really was provided.
The people in this story had no idea they were foreshadowing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son seemed morally repugnant at first. But when we see that God provided a substitute (first the ram, then his Son) we perceive the glory of God, and his purpose in this story.
Notice again the many parallels between the shadow in Isaac, and the reality in Christ. Isaac was the dearly loved son of Abraham, and Jesus is the dearly loved Son of God. Isaac went to the region of Moriah, and Jesus went to the region of Moriah. Isaac went willingly for his father, and Jesus went willingly for his Father.
Isaac carried the wood for his sacrifice, and Jesus carried the wood for his sacrifice. Isaac trusted his father unto death, and Jesus trusted his Father unto death. Isaac rose from the dead figuratively, and Jesus rose from the dead literally. Isaac was the son promised to Abraham, and Jesus was the Son promised to world.
But there is also an important difference. Isaac did not have to die since God provided a substitute, but Jesus did have to die because he was the substitute. [God] did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all (Romans 8:32), wrote Paul. Jesus died in our place so we could live forever. He is our substitute.
Reflection and Review
What is disturbing about this story?
What is significant about the region of Moriah?
How does Isaac remind us of Christ?