It has to be one of the most difficult stories in all of the Bible for us moderns to deal with and yet it’s one of the most important stories in all the Bible for understanding our redemption. The Lord has blessed Abraham and Sarah in their old age and given them Laughter, (that’s the translation of the Hebrew name Isaac.) What joy, what amazement they must have experienced watching little Laughter grow up, a daily reminder of the Lord’s kindness and faithfulness. Then comes the moment that assaults our modern sensibilities. The Lord comes to Abraham in Gen. 22:2 and says, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love-Isaac-and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
“What! How can this be! Why would God ask such a thing!” It’s a truly unsettling narrative but don’t let that lead you to believe that God is cruel, callous or arbitrary. We must always be careful not to read the Old Testament through the lens of 21st century western culture. While the atheists among us would deny it, our culture has been largely shaped and influenced by the full revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His teachings. It is that full revelation of the Gospel that should influence how we read the OT. In addition to that we must always read the scripture in light of the whole scripture. When we do that we see clearly that the Lord does not advocate human sacrifice. In fact, He is very much opposed to it, so we must conclude that something else is going on here.
Remember that Abraham has been brought into the unfolding process of the Lord’s plan to rescue mankind from sin and death. Abraham has been promised that it is through his linage that the Seed of the woman will come to crush the head of the Serpent and rescue us from our sin. In Abraham’s culture, the first born son became the representative for all the family. All the family’s hopes and aspirations were invested in him but he also would bear the responsibility for the family’s failures and shortcomings. So Abraham is not surprised that it is Isaac who is called to be the sacrifice for the family rather than Abraham himself. Yet there is a bigger reason for the test. On the one hand it was to help Abraham understand that Isaac was not the Seed but simply another vessel in the process of bringing the Seed into the world. On the other, there was the issue of idolatry. As the commentaries make clear, the Lord was testing Abraham to make sure his love for Isaac didn’t get in the way of his love for the Lord. Would he view Isaac as his hope and greatest joy and thereby resist the Lord’s plans or would the Lord be his greatest hope and joy and his son Isaac a gift of grace entrusted to his care? It’s the same issue Jesus is driving at when He says, “If you would be my disciple you must hate father, mother, son and daughter.” He doesn’t mean for us to treat our family with anger and contempt, but rather that He must have first place in our hearts and minds. To give any created thing, even family, a higher priority than the Lord is to break the first commandment. It is idolatry.
It’s noted earlier that this is one of the most important stories in all of scripture for understanding our redemption and the key phrase comes in the interchange between Isaac and his father as they’re walking up the mountain. Isaac says, “Hey Dad, we’ve got the wood and the fire, but what about the lamb for the sacrifice?” Through all the turmoil and agony of soul, Abraham answers, “God Himself will provide the lamb.” (v.8) Abraham put one foot in front of the other by trusting that the Lord would provide a substitute for his son and if not that He was big enough to raise his son from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19).
So one day, thousands of years later, Jesus would walk along the banks of the Jordan and John the Baptizer would cry out, “Look, the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! On that day John was declaring that the Seed had indeed arrived! Jesus had come in order that He might be our substitute, that He might give His life as a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28.) As Isaiah would prophesy, “He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities…” (53:5) God has provided the Lamb who can take away our sin, and even more, just as Isaac was raised from the dead, figuratively speaking, so Jesus was literally raised from the dead in order that we, by faith, might be raised into a new life!