There seems to be a stigma attached to OT preaching today that seems more & more prevalent. Christians today don’t see the connection or the need to delve into Jewish history except as an aside or proof text for a gospel sermon or to establish the wording of an OT prophecy. However, mature believers who love God’s word must realise that the OT is God’s word every bit as much as the NT is. In fact, when Jesus taught the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus in LK 24:27 about all that God’s word said about Him, and Hebrews 10:7 (quoting Psalm 40) talks of “the scroll of the book it is written of Me” ( meaning Jesus ), these passages are referring to the OT, not the NT, which had not yet been written.
Obviously, the NT can easily be understood and obeyed apart from the OT, but it is in the OT that the groundwork is laid for the big picture, and therein all the major doctrines of the faith are presented in seed form, ready to be built upon. I love the OT, and I hope that if you are presently not so keen on the OT, that by the time 2011 is done, and I’ve had a few more opportunities to preach to you from the OT, you’ll begin to see and appreciate the grandeur of God and the sweeping displays of His character, the prophecies of our Lord & Saviour alongside the basis for so many of our beliefs in black & white!
Obviously, our time to delve into the OT is limited, so let’s begin by looking at a passage that has long been a favourite of mine, and it is found in Genesis 22.1. The Test vv. 1-2
As chapter 21 ends, Abraham, at Sarah’s insistence has sadly sent the servant Hagar and Abraham’s son, Ishmael away. Jealousy had arisen between Sarah and Hagar since the birth of Isaac and it finally comes to a head in Gen. 21:10. Abraham was distraught because he loved Ishmael his son as much as he loved Isaac, the son of God’s promise ( vv. 11-13 ), so God graciously informs Abraham that great nations would come from both of his sons, yet through Isaac alone would Abraham’s descendants be known.
So Abraham made provision for Hagar and Ishmael ( Gen. 21:15-19 ) and sent them away where God took care of them, and Ishmael grew until we are told in v. 21 that his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt. So, by v. 21, this boy is a young man and v. 22 sets the stage for what follows as it updates our scene by saying, “Now it came about at that time…”, and the text then describes Abraham’s covenant with Abimalech over the well which Abraham had dug and which Abimalech’s men had seized. The matter is resolved and the text (21:34) tells us that Abraham stayed in land of the Philistines many days.
“After these things” sets the timing for us – all the things just recorded in Gen. 21 precede this account. The first thing we come across is a test for Abraham from God. The test begins with God speaking directly to Abraham ( remember – no written word yet ), and Abraham’s obedient reply – “Here I am.”
The first question we must address at this point is, “What purpose will this test have?” Is the test because God does not know how Abraham will respond? No. Scripture is clear that God knows the end from the beginning, “declaring from ancient times what would come to pass in the future”. It may appear that God does not know by what we read in Gen. 22:12 however. We will look at this verse when we get to it.
God does test His people. It is part of our sanctification process, as we are being made more like Christ by the things that come up in our lives – trials, temptations, suffering, grief, tears – all orchestrated so that God can reveal our hearts to us. Do you know that the most well known passage to show this is the one we all love so much – Rom. 8:28 – but look at the context of it – Rom. 8:18-30. What is the good that God brings out of all these things that befall us? Rom. 8:29 – “that we would be conformed to the image of Christ so that He will have the pre-eminence”.
It is possible that by this time Isaac had become a sort of idol to Abraham. Abraham is here being tested so that God might be glorified in Abraham’s response to the test, and so that Abraham might know the depth of his own trust in God. Would Abraham fold and balk at test involving something so precious to him as his ( now ) only son? Or would he follow through and carry out God’s will?
The test God has in mind is a heart wrenching one – v. 2 – think about what must have raced through Abraham’s mind as he is presented with this horrifying test. He had sent his other son Ishmael away, never to see him again, trusting God to care for him and to prosper him, but now the very son of promise, his only son left to him in his old age is going to be offered up as a human sacrifice?!
Abraham has no other children and since Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 ( Gen. 21:5 ), the prospect of more sons was pretty slim, but God had promised him a progeny that would amount to the number of the stars ( Gen. 15:4-6 ) and Abraham believed God. This passage in fact, is the one Paul refers back to in Rom. 4:13-25 to show how Abraham was saved by grace through his faith in God’s promise / not by works.
Abraham’s faith was strong and growing. He trusted God to do what He promised. But if Abraham follows through here and sacrifices Isaac as a burnt offering – and this is the son of promise! – how would all these nations and kings and descendants come from Abraham’s loins, more specifically, from Isaac’s loins if he’s dead? Fortunately, the bible does not leave us without an answer to this question, which we will see shortly.
In Heb. 11:17-19, we are shown that Abraham’s thinking led him to believe that God would raise Isaac from the dead once he’d been killed. Just a simple resurrection, that’s all, even when there was no example of one for Abraham to base that hope on. This is a display of amazing faith in God’s promises and abilities. Yet, he does not envision what really occurs and is such a pivotal and theologically instructive portion of the story – a substitute will be provided at the last possible moment. God had promised, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.”
Even the lengthy period of time between the promise of a son when Abraham is 75 and the fulfillment of it when he is 100 ) means 25 years of patiently waiting on God while his body and Sarah’s slowly deteriorate from old age and the likelihood of producing offspring slips into the category of lousy odds. This period of 25 years was also a test for both Abraham & Sarah.
God’s command in Gen. 22: 2 is the first passage since Gen. 3:15 which points directly to God’s love and provision for guilty sinners through Jesus’ crucifixion. Although this verse tends to appear very cruel and heartless, what will arise in this account is a picture of the love and grace of God for those He loves. A time will come when He will face the same dilemma, and He will not spare His own Son.
As God expounds, “take your Son, your only Son, whom you love, Isaac…”, He is leaving no doubt in Abraham’s mind that this is the son of God’s promise…not the servant Eliezer…not his son by Hagar – Ishmael…but Isaac, the miracle son, the promised son of God’s plan, his only beloved son. This command could not possibly be met with indifference by Abraham and God was fully aware of the conflict within Abraham such a command would inflame.
The problem this command posed for Abraham was two–fold …1.) he did love Isaac more than his own life; and 2. ) Isaac was the son out of whom God had promised to bring forth multitudes and nations ( Gen. 17:19 ). This was a spiritual test for Abraham, involving and exposing Abraham’s perception of who God was, and whether or not God could be trusted, even with a command that appeared to go against everything Abraham had been promised by God!
The long 2 ½ decades spent waiting for the birth of Isaac had prepared Abraham to see that God works within His own time frame, but this request brought up a real problem. Was God schizophrenic and wavering in His purpose or could He truly be trusted to resolve what to Abraham must have seemed like an insurmountable conundrum? It was Abraham’s trust and faith in God that made him see the latter as the only possible solution which took into account the problem to be solved and the character of God that Abraham knew. God had demonstrated that He was not Abraham’s enemy, so how could Abraham not trust Him, even when the request seemed to go against everything Abraham had come to know about God.
The 2nd part of v. 2 directs Abraham to the spot on which he is to travel to and offer up Isaac – not here where Abraham was, but what turned out to be a 3 day journey. There is a parallel here to Gen. 12:1 – 3 – where at that time Abraham obeyed God and this time is no exception. Jesus taught His disciples that the OT was about Him, and sometimes, the evidence of this is obscure, hidden or tough to discern. This passage is quite clear in its’ prefigurement of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in numerous ways. The 3 days journey is one clue.
The next clue is that the land of Moriah is the destination and we know from other accounts that Moriah is Jerusalem, which sits on Mt. Moriah – cf. II Chron. 3:1. It is the place referred to when David purchased the land on which the temple would be built – I Chron. 21:22-28. It was here that the Temple of Solomon would be built / knocked down by the Babylonians / restored by Zerubabbel – then rebuilt by Herod the Great and the site on which now stands the Dome of the Rock Mosque since 1192. This mosque is reported to be built directly over the rock on which Abraham sacrificed Isaac, and the Muslims claim that it is from this rock that Mohamed ascended to heaven.
It is to this very mountain – Mt. Moriah - future Jerusalem, that Abraham & Isaac would arrive at, and I believe this sacrifice took place in the very city where Jesus Christ, the beloved, only Son of God Almighty would be offered up some 1,500 years later. There are no coincidences with God – only providential planning & purpose. When Abraham arrived there with Isaac, it was a barren and lonely place, an untamed wilderness but it was the very place where God would unveil that sacrifice that would one day bind the powers of sin and Hell and pay the price of our sin.2. The 3 Day Journey vv. 3-4
Notice Abraham’s quick, obedient response in v. 3, “early in the morning” – there is no delay of a month or a year to think about it, but rather immediate obedience – the obedience of pure faith. Abraham rises early, saddles a donkey, cuts firewood for the burnt offering , takes Isaac and two of his young men ( servants or slaves ), and immediately sets out to the place God has directed him to go.
Have you ever chopped wood? If you have, you know that it’s a good time to think things through if you care to. It is a certainty that Abraham was thinking things through as he chopped and split the wood, on which he knew he’d soon be laying his son once they got to the place. His mind likely turned the problem over and over – “How is God going to resolve this? If Isaac dies, how will he have children? He doesn’t even have a wife yet, and he’ll be dead!” yet, he arose and went – his mind having come to the conclusion that Heb. 11:17-19 lays out for us. Resurrection. And he had not even read I Cor. 15!
“On the third day” – for 3 days in Abraham’s mind - Isaac has been as good as dead. When we encounter this time period in Scripture, we must certainly be drawn aside to ponder how it might line up with the most famous 3 days in the Bible – Christ’s time in the tomb. Numerous passages highlight this 3 days concept – Ex. 8:27; Jonah 1:17 ( & cf. Matt. 12:40 ); Acts 9:9…etc. The 3 days is an important aspect of the typology of this passage as a result, of which Jesus’ death, burial & resurrection is the antetype on the same mount. In fact, this account is full of typological parallels which I’ll point out as we get to them.
Abraham raised his eyes on the 3rd day and saw the place in the distance.3. God Will Provide for Himself the Lamb vv. 5-8
From that distant spot, Abraham realises that what will take place next must be between only himself, Isaac and God, so the 2 young men are left behind, and only Abraham & Isaac ascend Mt. Moriah.
Take careful notice of the wording of v. 5 – it is fraught with deep meaning. “I and the lad will go over there and we will worship and return to you.” First, Abraham saw what was about to take place as worship. Do you ever think of your obedience to God as worship? You should. Didn’t Jesus say, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.?” Now, caution – we are not awaiting audible commandments from God in this dispensation – we have His revealed will in His completed Word, and we are to worship Him as we obey what He has revealed to us. Abraham had to count on audible or visual commands, because the bible was not yet written.
Our obedience as believers is not to be sparse or only when it suits us. It is to be lifelong, even when obedience is costly to us. Think of all the NT warnings and admonitions like “He who endures to the end will be saved.”; or “He who overcomes will sit with Jesus on His throne.” The NT knows of no “believer” whose obedience is transient or partial without being followed by repentance. Certainly, we are not without sin even once we are saved but our lives are to be characterized by a directed striving for holiness rather than an initial salvation experience followed by a life that cannot be differentiated from everyone else in our culture!
Eugene Peterson comments, “ Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian discipleship is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its’ novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”
By telling the young men that both he and the lad would return to them after they worshipped, Abraham was revealing to us that he was fully expecting that God would either spare Isaac at the 11th hour or allow him to die, then resurrect him. Otherwise, he’d have said, “And I will return to you.”
The fact that ( v. 6 ) Abraham had Isaac carry the wood for the burnt offering tells us a number of things. At the least, it tells us that, Isaac is old enough to carry what surely must have been more than a few sticks, as Abraham carried the fire and the knife. The wood was likely slung on Isaac’s back in a sort of sling, which is immediately reminiscent of Jesus carrying His cross.
Abraham had called Isaac a lad in v. 5,12, but he is obviously not a toddler or infant here or he could never carry the wood needed for a burnt offering of a human being. While we are not told his age in this account, we can come pretty close to an age by comparing some Scriptures.
Abraham was 75 when God promised him a son ( Gen. 12:2, cf. v. 4 ). In Gen. 16:16, Abraham is 86 when Hagar gives birth to Ishmael. In Gen. 17:1, Abraham is 99 when the Lord repeats the promise of a son, and Ishmael at that time is 13. By Gen. 17:17, as Isaac is born, Abraham is 100, and Sarah is 90 – cf. 18:9-10 + 21:5…Ishmael is now 14.
When Sarah turns against Hagar & Ismael, Isaac has been weaned – which, according to Floyd Nolan Jones, weaning in the middle eastern culture means more than just having completed breast feeding, but is a transition from infancy to boyhood. He would be about 5, and Ishmael now 19. From that point on, we receive no helpful time mark except 22:34 which tells us that Abraham dwelt in the land of the Philistines for many days. Then, chapter 22 begins with, “After these things…”.
The next time mark is found in Gen. 23:1, where we are told that Sarah has died at 127, which is 37 years after the birth of Isaac. So chapter 22 occurs within the time frame of an age for Isaac from 5 or over to up to 37. Most expositors presume that Isaac is at least a teenager in this account – he’s strong enough to carry the wood and to understand what is going on & to rebel if he chose to, which he did not. J.M. Boice is of the opinion that Isaac is 33 years old here – to parallel the type of Christ more closely who was 33 when He was crucified. I am in careful agreement with him.
Isaac presents ( v. 7 ) a legitimate question here. He is no fool, “We have the fire & the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Notice the interchange too – “My father!”, and “Here I am my son.” There is no hint here that Isaac is the least bit concerned that he is to be the sacrifice and Abraham’s calm demeanour and reply belies the raging battle that must have been going on inside of him.
Abrahams’ reply is worth very careful consideration. ( v. 8 ) “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” The theological truth of that testimony covers not only what is about to happen on Mt. Moriah in approximately 1868 BC, but what will occur in about AD 29 at the same place on earth!
There is something fundamental in Abraham’s statement that 21st century Christendom tends to miss. Most of us have lived in an era where Arminian evangelism has all but taken over most churches – man-centered theology that ultimately leads into liberalism but even at its’ best only focuses on what Jesus’ sacrificial death means to me! That sort of thinking is all too common and as a religious philosophy it has spawned innumerable heresies and oddly out of touch liturgies where Jesus is marketed as a product that can solve your life’s problems rather than being presented as the Lord of the Universe whose sacrificial death on the cross saved those God chose B4TFOTW! In doing so, God is glorified as the primary recipient of the benefit of the death of His Son both in prophecy and in actuality.
The Bible’s emphasis on Christ’s salvific work is on how it glorifies God the Father and displays His righteousness, and propitiates the wrath that our sin generated within God – cf. Rom. 3:21-26. Our salvation is a by-product of this glorious transaction, not the cause of it as if God needed us so badly to be on His side!
“God will provide for Himself the lamb.” This verse is the first use of a “lamb” in the bible as a sin offering. It is used in 21:28, but just in passing as part of an oath Abraham made before Abimalech. The sacrifice of a lamb is developed from here in the OT and in Exodus – the Passover Lamb; lambs figured large in the offerings in Leviticus / Num. / Deut.; and in Isaiah 53 where the image of Messiah as God’s Lamb is unmistakeable as it paints a portrait of One sent to die as a sacrificial, integral component of God’s salvation purpose. This all leads to that point of introduction when John the Baptist – that prophesied forerunner of the Messiah – announces of Jesus in JN 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”, and Paul echoes back in I Cor. 5:7 – “Christ our Passover is slain for us.” Peter tells us that this has been God’s plan since BTFOTW ( I Pet. 1:20 ), and John, in Revelation 5 tells us that the risen and glorified Christ appeared as a Lamb slain.
Abraham and Isaac were, after all, on their way to worship God – it was God who would receive their worship and it was God who would be glorified by it. Keep in mind that, even though Isaac is spared at the last moment, an animal – a Ram – a male sheep – is sacrificed, so God still receives worship in the form of obedience & sacrifice and He is the One who supplies the Ram!
If Christ’s death were not first & foremost to propitiate God’s wrath against man’s sin, then no one could be saved, and Christ could not have been resurrected. Had Abraham decided to bring his own lamb and to spare his son, that would not have been true worship, because it would not have been strictly obedient to God’s command. That would have paralleled the offering of Cain which God despised. God is not pleased by the sacrifice of animals – but this system, begun in Eden when coats of skin were made to cover Adam & Eve’s sin – was a necessary tool to teach God’s people of the need of sacrifice and of the one time sacrifice that would come as God provided His own Lamb for Himself. See Heb. 10:1-10; and Gal. 3:19-24.
Christ, the beloved Son, was not spared by the providential substitution of an animal, because He is the substitute – He is the Lamb! His first objective at the Cross, on that wooden altar of the Cross is to vindicate God – to publicly display His righteousness in eradicating the penalty and guilt of sin, according to Romans 3:21-26.
Upon letting Isaac know that God would provide the lamb – Jehovah-Jireh – the text says, “so the two of them walked on together”, in perfect unity and harmony, and as Amos 3:3 says, “Can two walk together unless they be agreed?”