Much has been written about Genesis 22:1-19 at great length in numerous commentaries and from many perspectives. God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac on the altar at Moriah. It is astounding that Abraham complied considering the enormity of what was asked of him. In that context and at that time, how would you or I have responded? It is vital to consider not just the measure to which Abraham loved God but to explore the reasons why he was willing to obey God’s command. That will help us to unlock the greatest meaning in this chapter and how we should respond to that in faith.
Firstly, for Abraham to do this, it not only meant the sacrifice of his only son Isaac, but the immediate termination of the Abrahamic covenant. Ishmael had been blessed and would be the father of twelve princes (Genesis 17:20), yet God would establish the everlasting covenant through Isaac (Genesis 17:19). To make matters even more difficult, at Sarah’s request and after hearing from God, Abraham sanctioned Sarah’s request, so Hagar and Ishmael departed from them in the previous chapter. Abraham knew that God was faithful, and God keeps His covenants so therefore God would somehow maintain that covenant.
If God did not honour His covenants, then He would not be the God who is faithful to keep His covenants. How could Abraham trust God and how could we then trust Him? Hebrews 11:17-19 comments on this passage and explains what Abraham understood and deduced before he bound Isaac.
‘By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense (Hebrews 11:17-19).’
Therefore God recognised that Abraham was able to resurrect Isaac since God is faithful to honour His promises. Nonetheless consider Abraham’s faith in that there were no cases of people being resurrected at that time in world history.[i]
Isaac is a Type of Yeshua
This momentous event is a foreshadowing of another even more pivotal event that occurred around two thousand years later. Abraham was told to go with Isaac to Moriah. It was remarkable that Isaac went willingly and did not struggle or remonstrate. Isaac carried the wood which would be placed on the altar and he was to be made an offering. Isaac was a young man whilst Abraham was of a great age. Discerning and thoughtful commentators recognise that Isaac was most probably in the prime of his youth and note that he could have fled though he did not.
Two thousand years later Yeshua, the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1) would go up to Moriah in Jerusalem and He went willingly, though He knew the awful suffering He would have to endure and that He would be temporarily separated from His father who He had enjoyed uninterrupted fellowship with from eternity past. That is something we struggle to comprehend considering we are finite beings. Moriah means ‘seen by God’.[ii] The Lord foresaw the binding of Isaac and the sacrifice of His only begotten Son. Yeshua bore his own cross on that dreadful journey until He was helped by Simon of Cyrene to carry it the final distance since he had been fatigued, whipped, and beaten so horrendously before He was nailed to it. Our Lord was around thirty- three years of age-a young man like Isaac. He gave Himself as a sin offering to atone for the sins of the world.
Though He had done no wrong and was perfect in every way and sinless, Jesus died so that those who repent and trust in Him may be made righteous and be reconciled to God.
‘For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).’
The Lamb of God who Takes Away the Sin of the World
Abraham stretched his hand and took the knife to slay his son but then the Angel of the Lord called him not to lay a hand on the lad or do anything to him. He knew that Abraham feared God and a ram was caught in a thicket by its horns and was offered instead of his son.
Isaiah foretold the suffering Servant who was silent before His accusers and who was led as a lamb to the slaughter and cut off for the transgressions of God’s people. What wrong had the suffering Servant ever done? What lies had He ever spoken? Like the ram He was offered as a substitute for many. Truly we are the sheep that have wondered astray in need of a Shepherd.
‘All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.9 And they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth (Isaiah 53:6-9).’
Who is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world? John 1:29 tells us clearly that it is Yeshua. Who is the Good Shepherd that lays down His life for the sheep? John again shows us that it is Yeshua (John 10:11). Who is the Chief Shepherd? Peter again explains that it is Yeshua (1 Peter 5:4).
The Angel of the Lord was Messiah in Preincarnate Form
The Angel of the Lord was the One who called out to Abraham instructing him to spare his son Isaac and who reaffirmed the Abrahamic covenant. At other times, The Angel of the Lord fought with Jacob and blessed him (Hosea 12:2-4; Genesis 32:22-32) and appeared to Moses (Exodus 3:1-22) and met with Gideon (Judges 6:11-27 and Samson’s parents (Judges 13:1-25). Who was the Angel of the Lord? Some say that the Angel of the Lord was just an angel, or an emanation, or ‘Great Angel’ or Metatron. Nonetheless if studied carefully we note that ‘the Angel of the Lord’ and ‘the Lord’ are terms used interchangeably, that the person encountered are often amazed they have seen God and survived, and He is also the recipient of worship.
Some people struggle with the concept of God becoming a man. Yet throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament) there is a considerable number of occasions when individuals met Jesus in preincarnate form. Yeshua is fully God and fully man who dwelt (tabernacled) among us (John 1:14). He makes it possible for us to approach the Father through His once for all sacrifice to reconcile us to God.
God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac is therefore a picture foreshadowing the love of God and the immensity of the sacrifice of giving His Son in our place. The Lord Jesus is our substitutionary atonement to expiate our sin and also the propitiation (enabled God’s wrath to be satisfied) to atone for our sin.
The Abrahamic Covenant Confirmed
At the start of the narrative, the Abrahamic covenant was brought to our attention since if Isaac were to be sacrificed and not resurrected then God would have hypothetically broken His everlasting covenant with Abraham. Abraham journeyed for three days to Moriah and his son Isaac was effectively given his son back the third day.[iii] Jesus said “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it and was glad (John 8:56)”. Jesus rose again the third day.
But the Angel of the Lord spoke to Abraham a second time. This is vital since it gives us great confidence in the character and ways of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham’s descendants would be blessed and would multiply; and they would possess the gate of their enemies (possess the Promised Land).
In Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. How would that happen and who would that be? That was none other than through the Lord Jesus, the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1). Abraham named the place ‘The Lord will provide’ and God has made provision saving us from hell and provided the promise of heaven and eternal life through His glorious Son. Are you trusting in Him? Are you willing to take up the cross and follow Him?
Jesus is the first and the last who knows the end from the beginning. He sees everything and has a perfect plan throughout the ages. He is the Lamb of God, the Messiah, the perfect substitute and keeps His covenants and remembers His promises. The questions remain; are you trusting in the lamb that was slain? Do you know the Good Shepherd? Is He the Chief Shepherd of your soul?
[i] William MacDonald Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1995; Nashville), p59
[ii] George Williams Williams’ Complete Bible Commentary (Kregel, 1994; Grand Rapids), p27
[iii] J. Vernon McGee Genesis 16-33 Thru the Bible Commentary Series (Thomas Nelson, 1991; Nashville), p75