The Ultimate Sacrifice
In Genesis 22, Abraham enters upon the supreme test of his faith, his love and his obedience. The Scripture simply records that “God tried Abraham” (v1), but this was the trial that exceeded all others. “And he said, Take now thy son, thine only [son], whom thou lovest, Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and there offer him up for a burnt–offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” (v2). Yet despite the severity of the trial, Abraham is not unprepared. God does not present us with trials that we are not able to bear. Abraham is ready because divine timing is exact. Spiritually he has grown considerably through God’s patient leading and discipline over the years, and is much versed in the experience of the Lord’s tender mercy. He is a vessel prepared and ready for God’s greatest trial. We see this when God speaks to him. He in peace and communion, promptly replies “Here am I”. Indeed it would seem as if throughout this long and painful trial that the soul of Abraham was preserved in perfect peace. Thus in verse 1 as already noted, we have this brief and ready answer to the call of God; we meet it again in verse 7 in answer to the searching question of Isaac; and again in verse 11 in response to the angel. In each case the words are the same in Hebrew. Tranquillity of heart marks him throughout.
In the divine command given to Abraham are five particulars, one after another leading towards a purposed climax in order that the full force of the trial might be felt, and thus the faith, by obedience, be found genuine. “Take now thy son … thine only [son] … whom thou lovest … Isaac … and get thee into the land of Moriah, and there offer him up for a burnt offering …”. Now the obedience rendered by the man of God was unquestioning, uncomplaining and exactly according to the Word. It was prompt, it was deliberate. At the call of God, Abraham is prepared to surrender everything he possessed––yes, even to slay the son he loved.
What of Isaac? As the truth of the Lord’s will gradually dawns on his mind, he appears to have bowed his head in hearty acquiescence to that divine will. At this time he was not less than twenty four years of age––old enough to have opposed his father with resolution had he been so minded. Trained, as God had declared that Abraham would train his family, in God’s fear, he is conscious that for true worship there must be a sheep for a burnt–offering. When to his question “where is the sheep” he has received the suggestive reply, “My son, God will provide himself with the sheep for a burnt–offering”, Silence follows on either side, a silence which appears to have remained unbroken by either till they reach the place of sacrifice––as if each knew more about the intended victim than they liked to tell the one to the other. Each had time for reflection and for drawing back, had either been so disposed––instead each remained steadfast in heart. Doubtless Abraham knew that God would somehow or other give him back his son. His language in verse 5 implies as much: “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (my emphasis). Yet in what manner this would come to pass he did not know. He left that to God.
So when at last the crisis came, each continued firm. No hesitation was there in the one, and no resistance by the other. He “took the knife to slaughter his son” (v10). Here I admire, not so much the unfaltering obedience of Abraham, nor yet the perfect concurrence of Isaac in that obedience to the divine will, but rather the grace of God that could take up a wretched idolater as Abraham had been, and teach him love, and train him to this entire self–abnegation and self–consecration to God. A descendant of rebellious Adam, as each of these was by nature, had been so won over by sovereign grace, that to do or to endure the will of God was preferred by them before everything. Yet even from this example, bright as it surely is, we must turn our eyes to one whose path was infinitely more arduous and painful still.
God is behind all the scenes of Scripture and so here. This offering up by Abraham of his son is designed to be a picture and a lesson to us to what it cost Him who “has not spared his own Son, but delivered him up for us all” (Rom. 8: 32). Thus not only is Isaac termed Abraham’s “only [son]” (Gen. 22: 2), which clearly links on with God giving “his only–begotten Son” (John 3: 16), but he is said to have been actually “offered up” (Heb. 11: 17, see also James 2: 21). In “a figure” (Heb. 11: 19), too, Abraham received him from the dead, and what is remarkable, after that he must have been accounted by him as good as dead for three days––I mean from the moment when he heard God’s command, till the time that God provided a substitute. Twice in the account in Genesis 22 it says of Abraham and Isaac that “they went both of them together” (vs6, 8) on the solemn journey––surely an early picture of the holy communion between the Father and the Son as they “journeyed” towards the cross. The place of sacrifice too, was “the land of Moriah”, wherein David at a subsequent period built an altar, and where Solomon reared the temple, and in which Calvary itself was situated. The lessons are too obvious to be avoided. Again, if we look at Isaac, we see depicted in his carrying the wood on which he himself was to be slain, the voluntary character of the sacrifice of Christ. He delighted to do the will of God: “not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22: 42). That the world might know that he loved the Father, and as the Father gave Him commandment, so He went onward to the cross. In fact, not a single feature of importance in the history is there that does not find its counterpart in some precious feature of God’s and Christ’s love. The shadow may, in many respects, be faint, compared with the great sacrifice itself, but it is there. May we dig deep into the meaning of these precious Old Testament Scriptures that were written for our instruction and blessing!