Is God so insecure that He has to put us through agonizing tests to prove that we love Him?
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about” (Genesis 22:1-2)
This is perhaps the most misunderstood of all the children’s stories, but the clues that will lead us to a correct understanding are hidden in plain sight right in the passage. Some interpretations of this story would have us believe that God is so insecure as to force us to make such an agonizing choice as the one with which He confronted Abraham, just to prove we really love him. Is that the case, or was there more going on than meets the eye? Let’s find out.
The first clue is in God’s use of Abraham’s covenant name. This tells us that He had already agreed to bless and protect Abraham, and make him the father of many nations. The covenant was unilateral (He had put Abraham to sleep) and required no behavioral standards to remain in force. Also by calling Isaac Abraham’s only son it’s clear God didn’t think Isaac expendable in the matter, that He intended Isaac as the child of the promise. Surely Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn would also be blessed, but it was through Isaac that the covenant would be established (Gen. 17:19-22). Already an interesting parallel is emerging between what God was asking Abraham to do and what He would later do Himself.
Your Only Beloved Son
In John 3:16 Jesus is called God’s only son, but is he? Luke 3:37-38 refers to Adam as the son of God. Adam preceded Jesus in birth order, but Jesus occupies the ceremonial position of firstborn, inheriting all its rights and privileges. He is always referred to as the only Son of God. Ishmael was born to Abraham and Hagar 19 years before Sarah gave birth to Isaac, and according to human law was the legitimate firstborn, but God didn’t recognize him as such. Isaac is called Abraham’s only son.
And then there’s the location; the region of Moriah. Mt. Moriah is the place where Solomon later built the temple (2 Chron. 3:1). Just north of the Temple area Jesus would be sacrificed as an offering for the sins of the world, on the same spot where Abraham was being asked to offer Isaac. Be sure to notice that God didn’t say He would show Abraham the place but would tell him about it, probably during the 3 days it took for Abraham and Isaac to get there.
Three Days And Three Nights
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.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife (Gen. 22:4-6). Did God really intend for Abraham to bind Isaac, slit his throat, place him upon the altar and burn him there? In Deut. 18:9-13 God expressly forbade such an act. Would He ask Abraham to do something against His own law? As the two of them went on together Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes my son,” Abraham replied. “The fire and the wood are here but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together (Gen. 22:6-8).
Grace Through Faith
Hebrews 11:17-19 explains that Abraham did this by faith, knowing all along that God, who cannot lie, had promised him a long line of descendants through Isaac, and yet at this time Isaac had no children. He reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking he did receive Isaac back from the death. This was not just an act of blind faith. Being in a covenant relationship with God and knowing His nature and character, Abraham trusted God, placing the outcome in His hands. I believe that along the way God revealed the details to Abraham enabling him to tell the servants that “we will worship and then we will come back to you” and to tell Isaac that “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” The Lord subsequently did this (Gen. 22:13) and the innocent lamb of God died in Isaac’s place.
It fascinates me that this entire drama unfolded over 3 days and 3 nights. By the way, the word that’s translated boy in v.6 means a young man of military age (18-30), and in v.8 the word for together means united and comes from a root meaning to become as one. Apparently Isaac was an adult in on the plan all along and participating by agreement.
Shades Of The Everlasting Covenant
Based on these clues, it seems clear that Abraham and Isaac were acting out a prophecy wherein another Father would later give His only Son as an offering for sin on the very same spot. As with Abraham and Isaac this Father and Son would be doing so by prior agreement, in this case one made before the foundation of the world was laid where the innocent Lamb of God would die in our place. It makes sense that Abraham named the location “Jehovah Jireh” meaning on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.
And now you know the adult version.