Genesis 22. The Sacrifice.
Key Notes: God tries the heart. The ethical dilemma. The First-born. Would God ask His servant to do something He would not do? A demonstration project.
The sacrifice of Isaac has always been a focal point for Old Testament discussion. It raises extremely difficult ethical and spiritual questions. If the critical question comes to light, an answer will follow.
22:1–2 God called Abraham. He responded "Here am I".
"Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love and go the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I will tell you ."
That was an unbelievable command. Three times in the chapter Isaac is called “your son, your only son”.
22:3 Abraham did not argue or hesitate. He did not challenge the origin of the voice: he knew Who called him from previous acquaintance. The story is told solemnly, slowly and more slowly as it approaches the climax.
He got up early the next morning.
He saddled his donkey, recruited two servants, cut fire-wood and set out.
On the third day, he saw the place and told his servants to stay back. He said they would return again.
He laid the wood on Isaac, carrying the fire (in a censer) and the knife himself.
Isaac asked about the lamb for sacrifice; Abraham replied that God would provide.
When he came to the right place, he built and altar and laid the wood on it.
Then he tied up Isaac and laid him on the wood.
He positioned the knife to slit Isaac's throat.
God called from Heaven. He replied "Here am I."
22:4–9 What did Abraham think for three days while he and Isaac journeyed toward death? Isaac was evidently unaware. He wanted to know where the lamb for the offering was. Abraham prophesied:
"God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering...." ("Himself")
22:9–10 We wonder how Isaac could allow himself to be bound without protest. Did Abraham tell him that all would be well? Was Isaac too young or too weak to resist?
22:11–14 At the moment before Isaac's death, the Angel of JHWH called from Heaven and stopped Abraham's hand. Then a ram was found at hand for an offering in place of Isaac.
22:15–19 The Angel of God swore by His Own Name that because Abraham had obeyed, showing great faith, he would be blessed enormously. (The oath is repeated in Heb.6:13)
22:20 On returning home, they got news from Paddan Aram. Nahor and Milcah were also having children, one was a girl named Rebekah. This news forms the basis of a further episode.
God tried Abraham. Does God tempt his children? Yes and no.
"Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted with evil and He Himself tempts no one, but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire". (James 1:13)
God does not tempt us to do evil but tests His children to make them stronger. Satan seduces them to make them weaker. In school we were trained to take tests whether they were necessary or not, so that we would improve our skill. A good teacher knows that a difficult test makes the student better able to handle future problems.
“God tested you to know what was in your heart.” (Deut.8:2–6)
“The righteous God tests the hearts and minds.” (Psa.7:9)
“The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked.” (Psa.11:5)
“O Lord of Hosts, who judges righteously, who tries the heart and the mind.” (Jer.11:20)
“We speak...to please God who tests our hearts." (I Thes.2:4)
God said “…offer your son as a burnt offering.” ? Who was speaking, you might ask. The command is unthinkable. How could anyone do that? There was no question in Abraham's mind. This is the God whom he knew so well that he did not argue. But we are to try the spirits.
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God". (I Jn.4:1)
What was demanded? A sacrifice of the firstborn. Who owns the firstborn?
"...sanctify to me all the firstborn." (Ex.13:2)
"The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me." (Ex.22:29)
"All that opens the womb is mine, all your male cattle, the firstlings of cow and sheep. The firstling of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem." (Ex.34:19–20)
"I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn that opens the womb." (Num.3:11–13)
Answer: God owns the firstborn but humans were to be redeemed with money rather than sacrificed.
What was Abraham's response? No hesitation, no questioning. In his mind, Isaac would be brought back from the dead. God had promised that He would establish His covenant with Isaac (Gen.17:21) and so He must.
“He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” (Heb.11:19)
From God's side, would Abraham see Isaac as part of God's plan (and therefore subject to God's plan), or would he see Isaac, his precious only son, an end in himself?
If I obey, I frustrate my hopes and plans for Isaac.
If I disobey, I frustrate God's plan for me.
If I kill Isaac, I sin.
If I do not kill Isaac, I sin.
Why would God put any human being through such a trial? It seems that the trial was only to confirm Abraham’s faith. (Gen.22;16–18). But was such a trial necessary? Had Isaac become an idol in his parents’ eyes, an end in himself rather than a means of future blessing? We are not told that exactly but it is likely: “Your son, your only son, whom you love….”
Would God ask his servant to do something He would not do Himself?
"He who did not spare His own son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him?" (Rom.8:32)
"The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isa.53:6)
"It was the will of Lord to bruise Him: He has put Him to grief." (Isa.53:10)
"Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many...." (Heb.9:28)
He did not ask Abraham to do something that He would not do. God never asks a human being to do something He would not do. He carried out the sacrifice of Christ, His Only Son whom He loved (Matt.3:17), making Him an offering for us. (Rom.3:25). Hence we see in the sacrifice of Isaac a preview of the Cross.
God made a demonstration project for our instruction, almost allegorical in its detail.
*Christ is the Father's One and Only Son whom He loves. Matt.3:17
*God put Christ to grief for our salvation. Isa.53:10
*Christ carried the wood to His own place of sacrifice. Jn.19:17
*Christ was offered up at or near the place of Abraham's sacrifice--and David's. I Chron. 21:28–22:1.
*Christ willingly put Himself on the altar. “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” Jn.10:17–18
*God provided a Lamb as a substitute for us so that we did not have to die for our own sin. Jn.1:29
What is the practical application?
Warning: know that this trial was never to be repeated.
*Obey God even when it is very difficult.
*Do not hug your children to yourself. They belong to God. Hopefully they were dedicated to God. If they are called to dangerous service, let them go.
*The Lord will provide. Jehovah Jireh. Trust Him for your daily provision, your salvation and all else.
No matter what happens.