This morning we will explore a passage of Scripture that is very familiar to most long-time Christians. For me as a parent, this is one of the most disturbing chapters in the entire Bible. Abraham finds himself caught between his faithful devotion to God and his deeply held love for his young son. What will he do? Let’s find out together...
I. GOD TESTS ABRAHAM (v1-8)
Some years after his birth, while Isaac was still young, the LORD tested Abraham. He told Abraham to take his son to the land of Moriah and to offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains “of which I will tell you.” This command bears some resemblance to God’s original calling to Abram 30 years earlier to leave his home in Haran and go to “the land which I will show you.” In both instances Abraham was being challenged to follow the LORD in faithful obedience without fully knowing what lay ahead.
So Abraham rose up early, split wood for the burnt offering, and set out for Moriah with his son and 2 servants. After 3 days of traveling, they drew near to their destination. Abraham asked his servants to stay with the donkey while he and Isaac went on a bit further (presumably up the mountain that God had shown him) to make their offering. None of them, except for Abraham, knew that Isaac was the sacrifice to be offered. Even still, Abraham expressed confidence that both he and his son would “return”.
Isaac couldn’t have been a small child, because his father put the wood on him. Many respected commentators believe that he was already a teenager or perhaps in his early 20’s at this point. As they walked on together, young Isaac noticed that they had brought items to start a fire but no animal to sacrifice. He asked Abraham where the lamb was for the burnt offering. Though I am sure that he cringed at the question and the horrible thought of sacrificing his own son, Abraham again answered with the assurance that God would provide.
Imagine for a moment how difficult this must have been for Abraham. He had waited for 25 years, all the while learning to trust in the promises of God, until finally Isaac was born. Wrapped up in this special child was the future of Hebrew people and the continuation of the LORD’s covenant. How painful it must have been to think that God would require Isaac as a burnt offering, yet Abraham remained resolute and his faith didn’t waver.
II. A SACRIFICE IS MADE (v9-14)
When they reached the mountain top, Abraham bound his son and laid him on the wood atop the altar he’d constructed. Then Abraham raised up his knife to kill Isaac prior to setting the body aflame. At the last moment, just seconds before the blade came fatally down, the angel of the LORD cried out from heaven telling Abraham to stop. Because he’d been obedient even to the point of almost killing his own beloved son, the LORD was absolutely certain that Abraham’s faith was genuine and that he truly feared God.
Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. Greatly relieved, he untied his son and placed the ram on the altar instead. He then offered it as the burnt offering in place of Isaac. In recognition of and to memorialize what had happened there, Abraham named the mountain “The LORD Will Provide”. About 1,000 years later on this exact site, Mount Moriah, King Solomon would build the Jewish Temple. This location, in the Old City of Jerusalem, is widely considered to be one of the most holy places in the entire world.
Fortunately, God doesn’t often literally call His followers to sacrifice their relatives. In fact, the LORD is strongly opposed to child sacrifice. Though Abraham didn’t know it at the time, all of this was an elaborate test and God never actually intended for Isaac to be killed. That said, God does call His disciples to love Him even more than their own biological families and to leave them behind, if necessary, for the cause of Christ.
III. THE COVENANT RESTATED (v15-19)
Because he acted in faith, Abraham passed God’s test. The angel of the LORD again spoke to him from heaven and swore to bless Abraham, to multiply his seed, and to give them power over their enemies. He further promised that all of the nations of the earth would be blessed by Abraham’s posterity. With the sacrifice now complete, Abraham and Isaac went back to their servants, and together the 4 of them returned to their home in Beersheba.
When we consider this story from Isaac’s perspective, it takes on a new significance. Abraham was over 110 years old when these events took place. Surely Isaac could have escaped or at least made an attempt to do so once he realized what his father planned to do. But there is no indication that he tried to run, or gave any objection at all, when his father tied him up and prepared to sacrifice him. It is obvious that Isaac trusted and respected his aged father. Furthermore, through this episode Isaac saw and experienced Abraham’s amazing faith and would share in it for the rest of his life.
IV. ABRAHAM’S NEPHEWS (v20-24)
While living in Beersheba, Abraham received news that his surviving brother Nahor had produced a family of his own. Most likely, Nahor was still living in Ur of the Chaldeans - Abraham’s ancestral homeland. Nahor now had 12 sons - 8 by his wife and 4 by his concubine. Each of them was Abraham’s nephew. While this might seem like a trivial detail, it isn’t. One of Nahor’s sons would grow up to have a daughter named Rebekah, who would eventually become an important part of Isaac’s life.
Just as the birth of Isaac pointed in many ways to the birth of Christ, so also the story of Isaac’s offering foreshadows the cross of Calvary. Let me explain…
Abraham represents God the Father. Isaac represents all of the LORD’s children, including you and I. Because of our sin, we are guilty before God and deserving of death. The Father is obligated by His just nature to hold us accountable for our evil deeds and to punish us for our rebellion. As Scripture says, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Therefore, we as sinners have been placed on the altar of God’s justice and are destined to face His wrath at any moment. The knife is in His hand and, though it grieves Him desperately, He is prepared to strike. The wood is dry and ready to be lit, engulfing us in eternal and unquenchable flames. God’s judgment is imminent.
But wait! There in the thicket of His mercy the LORD has provided a Substitute. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world has come to take our place. Jesus is the ram who has voluntarily laid down His life on the altar of God that we might live. His shed blood has paid the full price of sin and appeased the terrible wrath of God. By turning to Him in repentance and faith, we as sinners are loosed from the sin that binds us and freed from the sentence of death. His sacrifice is applied to our account, His righteousness reckoned to us.
It’s not too late. If you’ve not yet done so, cry out to Jesus today for the forgiveness of your sins. In Him you will find freedom, hope, and eternal life! He will save everyone who places their faith and trust in Him.