Genesis 22 – Abraham and Isaac
This is one of the most difficult passages of the whole Bible and so really justifies a much longer unpacking than I can do in a BCP morning communion! However I will do my best….
The reaction of most of us modern people to reading this story in Genesis 22 is to be appalled: How could Abraham take his only son on a three day trip to Mount Moriah with the intent at the end to sacrifice him as a burned offering on a fire to God? How could God possibly instruct him to do this?
It seems totally outrageous that Abraham should do this and perhaps even more so that God should ask him to do so. What does it say about Abraham’s character? What does it say about God’s character?
But let’s look a bit deeper. Firstly, the Bible disapproves of child sacrifice. This is clear from Leviticus 18:21 and 20:1-5 which shows God regarding this as a profanity and instructing Israelites who do such a thing to treat it in the same way as murder which in those days meant applying the death penalty to those involved.
Secondly, we should remember that Isaac was born in exceptional circumstances. Isaac was given as the only child to the childless couple of Abraham and Sarah in their old age after a number of angelic visitations. Some of you will remember the story of Sarah laughing incredulously when the happy event of Isaac’s birth was prophesied by the angel in Genesis 18:12 ‘After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ she says to herself.
Thirdly, God knows that Abraham loves him. We all love our children but for someone to have a child so long after years of infertility when it seemed impossible the love must be all consuming. There would be a danger of making that love the most important thing in your life; a danger almost of worshipping the child and not God.
But God says to Abraham verse 2 ‘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 that I will show you’.
So God knows that Abraham loves Isaac but God also needs to know that Abraham trusts Him.
You see God has also told Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.
So the real issue that Abraham faces as he approaches Mount Moriah with the son that he loves so much is – is God faithful? Will he fulfil his promises? Even though it seems impossible for God to do so; even though God seems to have given two completely contradictory messages:
Firstly, ‘Abraham you will be the ancestor of billions’
Secondly, ‘now go and sacrifice the only child that you and Sarah will ever have’ go and sacrifice him to me burn him as a sacrifice’
How do those two messages stack up?
God will have to introduce a new element into the situation which will make sense of telling Abraham to sacrifice his son but also ensuring that his son survives.
But let’s just step into Abraham’s shoes as he walks toward Mount Moriah….He doesn’t know how he is going to get out of this situation; this terrible dilemma. On the one hand, he has directed his entire life and that of his family towards following what God has said to him. He has moved from his home in Ur and set off for an entirely unknown land when God told him Genesis 12 ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you’. He is to do this with the prospect of being the patriarch of a new nation of billions, even though he was then childless; this is the mission of his life; this is his calling.
So, Abraham is completely used to listening to God’s word. He knows when God is speaking to him and is then used to trusting him with the outcome and indeed God blesses him with a son he loves so much in very improbable circumstances.
And yet, by the same means that God has communicated with him in the past, he is now being told to sacrifice that one son; to sacrifice the point of his life’s work; to sacrifice his calling.
He has no doubt that God has told him to do this, but also that God will act in this impossible situation: he will introduce a new element into the situation.
We get a clue as to Abraham’s state of mind as he takes the final approach to Mount Moriah, when he leaves the servants behind and this is where we see how exceptional Abraham is: exceptional in his faith; exceptional in his trust of God. Verse 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham has no doubt that they both will be coming back; but that he will also have done what God told him to do; even though he desperately doesn’t want to do it…
And, of course, the angel tells him to stop: not to kill Isaac and God introduces a new element into the situation: he produces the ram caught in the thicket
So we see the depth of Abraham’s faith; the depth of his trust that God will act.
When it seems impossible, we need to hold onto what God has promised. If we do this in the small things of everyday life; if we place our cares on Christ and trust God that he will carry the problem for us, even though we don’t know what the outcome will be, then our faith will grow as we see him act.
Abraham was given the ultimate test of faith: ’do you trust me with your one and only son whom you love so much’?
Abraham’s answer, when Isaac asked the question ‘where will is the lamb for the burned offering?’, Abraham’s answer is ‘God will provide the lamb’
We need to know that God will always find the solution to our difficulties if we are following him; if we are trusting him; even though it seems impossible to us…..he will introduce a new element into the situation.
He will always provide a lamb
He will always provide a lamb
As he has provided the lamb for us all….
You see this story is in fact a prequel to the crucifixion, but written 1500 years before the crucifixion took place.
You will note that in verse 6 it says Isaac has the wood for the sacrifice ‘placed upon him’, just as Jesus had to carry the cross to Calvary, but most amazing of all, Mount Moriah, where Isaac was to be sacrificed, is actually the same place as where Solomon built the temple, as we discover in 2 Chronicles 3:1. On the same mountain as Calvary where Jesus was crucified!
When it looks as if it is impossible for us to live the life that God has called us to; when we realise that we are so steeped in sin that we can never escape it; when we think we can never get free, when we think we can never fulfil the calling God has placed on our lives, God provides the solution. God introduces a new element into the situation, God provides our means of escape from the irreconcilable conflict between our calling to be his disciples and our sinfulness from birth; through Jesus Christ being crucified and carrying the responsibility for that sin himself and washing us entirely clean of sin through the sacrifice of his son on the cross, if we will only turn to him.
God provides the lamb
22 After these things God tested Abraham. He 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 that I shall show you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill 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, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ge 22:1–19). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.