“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” (Genesis 22:2).
God’s call to Abraham to sacrifice his son opens one of the most familiar yet harrowing narratives in the Bible. The reader is told very little about the 72-hour trek to the appointed mountain, but it’s not hard to imagine how agonizing this journey must have been for Abraham.
What about the “new beginning” God had promised and fulfilled in the birth of Isaac? Will he take it all away?
I wonder what it felt like for Abraham to hear his son, ignorant of the true nature of the task before them, ask: “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7).
And yet, the father of Israel responds with a quiet trust in God’s promise: “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son,” (Genesis 22:8). Abraham continues in quiet trust, following the call of God as he binds the son and the promised salvific future he embodies to the altar.
At this point in the story, the narrator holds our feet to the fire, giving no glimpse of such hope as he almost clinically recounts Abraham “reach[ing] out his hand and [taking] the knife to slaughter his son” (Gen 22:10).
Just as I am ready to shift my eyes from the oncoming horror, Abraham’s faith that “God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead,” became sight as “figuratively speaking, he did receive [Isaac] back” (Hebrews 11:19). The patriarch’s hopeful response to his son’s puzzlement was realized by a ram in the thicket, the lamb God provides for Himself.
“Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Genesis 22:12).
Abraham’s fear of God was not an abstract conception but rather the heartbeat of his life. He understood that “life and life with God are the same thing,” even as he journeyed for three agonizing days to seemingly put to death the son whom he loved and the blessing he embodied.1In his testing, Abraham teaches us the deep vulnerability of faith in the God whose character is sure yet acts in mysterious, even occasionally mystifying ways.
The trek of Abraham to Moriah with the giving of his son to a figurative death is redeemed by the very son of God who traveled to Golgotha to become a mystifying yet obedient sacrifice. The God who called Abraham to give his son is the God who gave Himself fully and finally in His son. The God who gave Isaac back to Abraham where death was certain, gives Himself to us in the midst of our death.
Ellen Davis writes about the story of Abraham and Isaac saying, “The astonishing truth this story reveals is that God chooses to relate to the world not by compulsion but by trust. Yet trust is inherently a condition of vulnerability…This is what we see in Jesus’ cross, death and resurrection: trusting love that suffers on both sides, and working through that love, God’s boundless power to save.”2
Jesus is given as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God'' for the sake of many, who descended to the dead, was raised to new life, and now is seated at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 5:2). The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world offers us an irrevocable new beginning as we will stand clothed in the righteousness of Christ before God forever and ever. Amen.
1. Ellen Davis, “RADICAL TRUST: A Sermon Preached by Ellen Davis at Duke Chapel,” June 26, 2011. https://chapel-archives.oit.duke.edu/documents/EllenDavis--Gen22.pdf
The greatest human need, Erwin Lutzer explains, is not to have gurus or prophets to tell you how to live. What we need is someone who can actually forgive our sins, introduce us to God, and declare us righteous before God. In Part 1 of this series, Dr. Lutzer will explain why Jesus—and no other religious leader—is able to fulfill that greatest need.