Abraham Sacrifices Isaac as Burnt Offering
After much ordeal, Abraham finally received God’s promise of a descendant through Sarah at the age of 100. The son’s name was Isaac. But what was about to happen proved to be the greatest test of his life. God tested Abraham by giving him a command, “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 of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2).
This echoes the first time God called Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you” (12:1).
In the first call, God requested that Abraham give up his old identity and culture so that he would embrace a new identity and promise. Fast forward 25 years to our present story, God wanted Abraham to give up that very promise. Abraham was now being asked to give up his blessed future.
How can Abraham be the father of many nations if he sacrifices Isaac? In the past, Abraham experienced God as just, loving, and faithful. Has God changed? The pagans of Canaan did sacrifice their sons to the gods. Could Abraham’s devotion to the LORD match the pagan’s devotion to the gods? Would Abraham let go of his God-given precious son?
God do tests people so that the depth of their reverence and obedience to Him can be shown (Exod. 16:4; Deut. 8:2). Scripture does not indicate whether Abraham had an internal struggle. It only documented his actions. Abraham “rose early in the morning” (Exod. 22:3). This shows that Abraham was determined to act promptly.
But, at the same time, his past hurt was brought back to mind, because he also “rose early in the morning” previously to send Ishmael away into the wilderness (21:14).
What should Abraham tell his wife and son regarding this unreasonable request from God? Abraham was all alone as he faced such a sad and tragic moment!
Abraham cut the wood for sacrifice, gathered two servants and his son, saddled his donkey and set out on the journey. They travelled for three days. What kind of conversations did Abraham have with his son? En route, did Abraham waver and thought of turning back? This was a desperate journey!
Abraham placed the wood of the burnt offering upon Isaac and held the fire and the knife in his own hands. Isaac carrying the wood up the mountain as the sacrifice typifies Jesus carrying the cross up the hills of Golgotha. The difference is that Jesus knew his mission but Isaac was ignorant of it.
“Behold, the fire and the wood,” said Isaac to his father. “But where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Abraham could not tell Isaac what he was told by God but he showed great faith. He said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (v. 8). The word “provide” means “see” in the Hebrew original. On the dark road toward sacrificing his own son, Abraham used the eyes of faith to “see” that God will “see” him.
When Abraham reached atop Mount Moriah, he built an altar, set the wood in place, tied up Isaac, and placed him on the wood of the altar. Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife. He raised his arm, ready to plunge the knife into his son…
At that instant, an angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Do not harm your own son!”
Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. He took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of Isaac.
Abraham’s action of taking up the knife to plunge into Isaac shows that he was ready to offer the sacrifice. In fact, the sacrifice was already made and God had accepted it. The reader also understands that God was not at all interested in the practice of child sacrifice of the Canaanites.
God said to Abraham, “Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (v. 12). This echoes verse two, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.”
Romans 8:32 alludes to this story, “God who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
First, God unreservedly sacrificed His Son on the cross for us to bear the penalty for our sins so that He may rescue us from sin and death. In response to God’s love, we ought to offer ourselves up to be used by God.
Pay Any Price, Offer Up our Future, so as to Cling on God
The story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac tells us that the greatest test in life does not come from difficulties in life, adversities, loss, and pain. The greatest test comes from paying a great price in order to carry out the word of God although all that we can see is a gloomy and grim future.
One who passes such a test is worthy to be called a “God fearer” and meets the requirement of loving the LORD with all his or her heart, mind, soul, and strength. Trusting in God and giving Him thanks amidst adversity and pain are ordinary feats of faith. A more positive manifestation of faith is one who is willing to obey His command and pay the price to offer up his or her future to God.
Abraham’s sacrificing of Isaac is akin to sacrificing himself and his own future because Isaac was his only legacy. When we offer up our time and money to God, it is akin to offering up ourselves because we exchange our time and energy for money. Thus, time and money are actually our lives! Abraham was actually offering up his own volition, his rights, and his hope of the future.
Actually, if we truly believe that God is love, just, and dependable, we will resolutely obey his command. Abraham told his servants, “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you” (v. 5).
Abraham believed that Isaac might not necessarily be killed. Or, perhaps, God might raise Isaac from the dead. He believed that God had a way to honor His promises, which was that Abraham would have many descendants through Isaac.
“We will come again to you” reveals his extraordinary faith – a faith that believes to the end, a faith that is unafraid of death, and a faith that even transcends over death.
The instructions that God gave to Abraham may seem unreasonable and appear to contradict His promises. How could Abraham become the father of many nations through Isaac if he dies?
Abraham must now decide between God’s promises and God Himself. The LORD is both hidden and majestic. Abraham did not try to solve the mystery. Instead, he strove to accomplish God’s command, because allegiance to God is the highest manifestation of faith.
Abraham was loyal to God and decided that offering everything up to God was more important than insisting upon God’s promises. Being loyal to God by offering everything up to Him is out of “reverence”, but insisting upon God’s promises is out of “fear.” For example, one may be fearful of losing the much treasured career, beauty, health, wealth, property, cars, family, and loved ones. Abraham reveres God and is therefore not fearful of losing his most beloved Isaac.
Today, God is also calling us to obey His command. He wants us to worship and serve Him reverentially and sacrificially. Are we willing even if what He wants us to give up includes money, ambitions, the things we love, and our direction in life? Are you willing to pay the cost of faith? Let us cling on to God, revere Him, and be unafraid to lose our beloved “Isaacs.”
Let Go and then Experience Jehovah-Jireh
Abraham saw a ram caught in a thicket and took it to replace Isaac as the burnt offering. He named that place “Jehovah-Jireh” as a memorial to a God who “sees” humanity so that humanity may see Him, experience Him, and truly know Him (v. 14).
When Abraham once again dived into the deep ocean of faith, he experienced the marvelous grace of God – he “saw” the substitutionary burnt offering ram. Not only did God prepare for him a ram, He also proclaimed blessings upon Abraham, so that his descendants too would be greatly blessed and through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (vv. 17-18).
“Jehovah-Jireh” shifts the focus from Abraham’s obedience to God’s action. The emphasis is, first of all, God blesses those who obey Him by preparing for them and providing their needs, so that they may regain what was lost. Abraham was blessed because he obeyed God’s word. Secondly, through what God has prepared, He reveals Himself so that human beings may meet Him, experience Him, and know how true He is.
2 Chronicle 3:1, records that the Temple was built on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. For God’s people, the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac was the prototype of Temple offerings. This story reminds the people that they should come to offer to God, to serve Him, and to worship Him. The lives of those who come to worship and serve God are characterized by continual obedience to God to overcome unreasonable encounters in life. They believe that God will certainly “see” them through the adversaries and finally reveal Himself to them.
Faith and obedience are inseparable. James 2:21-23 says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’ —and he was called a friend of God.”
Let us “obey, let go, and be committed” in worshipping and serving the Lord, thereby, we will certainly experience God’s doing and providence. Today, what binds many believers the most is the insistence that everything must be according to their timing and will. This is being self-centered rather than God-centered.
Let us obey God’s guidance by offering up to God our beloved “Isaacs,” including our time, our energy, our money, and our plans for the future. This way we will be released from the chains and burdens in our lives, and experience Jehovah-Jireh! This is the promise given by God to every worshiper: you will see God’s work manifested in your lives.