The Sacrifice of Isaac

Isaac was born to Abraham at a very old age.  Abraham was 100 years old at his birth while his wife Sarah was just a young 90 years old.  Isaac was the child that God had promised Abraham 25 years beforehand when he called him to leave the land of Ur and to go to a place that he would be shown.  God promised to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation and they would possess a tremendous amount of land.

Abraham’s positive response to God by picking up everything and going to a place he had never been didn’t mean that there weren’t bumps along the way.  After about ten years of waiting on the Lord, Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands.  Sarah gave her maidservant Hagar to Abraham to conceive a child for her and Ishmael was born when Abraham was 86 years old.

Another 13 years pass and God speaks to Abraham and essentially tells him that the time has arrived for Him to begin fulfilling the covenant.  While I believe most people would understand considering the circumstances, Abraham had jumped the gun by 14 years.  Even though Ishmael is not the son that God had promised, God promises to make him into a great nation as well.  But Isaac would be the son of promise and the covenant that God had made to Abraham would be fulfilled through him and not Ishmael.

This sets the stage for Genesis 22 where God speaks to Abraham and asks for a sacrifice to be made.  God doesn’t ask for just any sacrifice but he asks that Abraham sacrifice his only son.  There is an obvious parallel here between the sacrifice of Isaac and God sacrificing His only Son.  One can imagine the great difficulty Abraham must have had when he was asked to give up his only son.  But God the Father must have had the same difficulty in giving up His only Son.

One might try to argue that God knew what would happen to Jesus and the decision to sacrifice His Son was easier for this reason.  There was obviously no faith required on God’s part.  But this also meant that God sent His Son into the world knowing exactly what Jesus would endure in life and in death.

While Abraham was certainly ready to sacrifice his son, he also expected to receive him back from the dead.  Abraham’s faith had grown since the time that he and Sarah had taken matters into their own hands and Ishmael was born.  Abraham knew that God’s promise was fulfilled through Isaac and that even if Isaac was sacrificed he couldn’t remain dead because there was a covenant between him and God.

Hebrews 11:17-19 tells of Abraham’s faith:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

Abraham is told to go to the region of Moriah and he will make an offering on a mountain that God will show him.  As one may expect, this area is not a random selection by God but rather a very important place.  Mt. Moriah is one of several mounts that make up, or rather will make up after Abraham’s time, the city of Jerusalem.  So Abraham is instructed to travel to the site where Jerusalem will be in order to make the sacrifice.

But there is more significance than this.  Mt. Moriah is also where Solomon’s temple will be located and the sacrifices for sin would be performed.  It will be the location of the holy of holies, the most sacred part of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant resides and the presence of God Himself will be.

Through no coincidence I am sure, Mt. Moriah is also likely to be the place that Jesus hung on the cross.  You might wonder how that could possibly be if the temple was there but there are two very easy ways that this could be the case.  The first is that Solomon’s temple was destroyed.  Where Herod’s temple was built centuries later was not necessarily the exact same spot where Solomon’s temple had been.  The other easy explanation would be that while the temple was big, so are mountains and the temple and the spot of the crucifixion could have been on the same mount.  Realistically though, it is more likely that Herod’s temple was not in the same location as Solomon’s.

When the time comes for the sacrifice Isaac asks where the lamb for the sacrifice was.  I can only imagine that Abraham had to look away with tears in his eyes when he told his son that God would provide the sacrifice.  Of course Abraham is prevented from actually sacrificing his son and God provides a ram to sacrifice in place of Isaac.

If Mt. Moriah is where Jesus would also hang on the cross, then Genesis 22:14 provides a bit of prophetic foreshadowing.  So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Quite literally on that mountain it was provided, Jesus being the once for all sacrifice.  Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son as an offering to God but instead a ram was provided as a substitute.  While Solomon’s temple stood on Mt. Moriah sacrifices were made year after year as an atonement for sin, in order to cover up the sins of the people.  And then finally Jesus was provided as the once for all sacrifice for sin.  No more sacrifices were needed.  The blood of Jesus didn’t just cover up sin like the previous sacrifices did.  Instead it washed it away completely.  God provided it all on Mt. Moriah.

Promises to the Patriarchs

The intent of this writing is not to discuss the life and major events of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but rather to track the promises, blessings, and covenants that were made with the three patriarchs.

Out of all the people on earth, God chose to bless Abraham and his descendants.  Unlike in Noah’s day where Noah was apparently the only righteous person left, there is nothing spectacular about Abraham.  We can assume that he worshipped the Lord before God spoke to Him but he is not the only follower of God at the time.  God may have chosen Abraham because he was a man of great faith or there may be some other reason that Abraham is chosen.  The truth is that we don’t really know why Abraham was chosen by God as opposed to anyone else.  What we do know is that Abraham responded to God’s calling.

In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham to leave his country and family and to go to a place that God will show him.  At that time God makes several promises to Abraham which are found in Genesis 12:2-3:

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

After Abraham picks up his possessions and his family and goes, God makes another promise as they arrive near Shechem in Canaan.  Genesis 12:7 says, “The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

Of course there is a small problem with God’s promises because Abraham is 75 years old, his wife is ten years younger at 65, and they have no children.  If Abraham had any doubts about God’s plan early on, they aren’t stated.

In Genesis 13 Abraham and his nephew Lot decide that they can’t stay in the same place because their herds are too large.  Lot moves to the lush land to the east.  After they part ways, God speaks to Abraham again and expands upon the original promise that he was given.  Genesis 13:14-17 says:

14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”

Genesis 15 moves from simple promises of God to an actual covenant.  We can trust God to keep His promises but in Genesis 15 a covenant is made which would be the equivalent of a contract today.  This is a guarantee that what God has promised will be fulfilled.

Genesis 15 is the first time that the elephant in the room issue of offspring is addressed.  God promises Abraham that the promises will be passed on to his own flesh and blood and that the inheritance would not just go to a trusted servant as Abraham had apparently believed.  Genesis 15:6 is one of the more important verses of the Bible in that it explains the simplicity of faith to us.

Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.

In short, God said it, Abraham believed it, and that faith was rewarded.  This chapter doesn’t just address the issue of offspring however.  It once again renews the promise of land.  This is where God makes a covenant with Abraham and the promise of land is expanded.  Genesis 15 ends with verses 18-21.

On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—  the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites,  Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

If you look carefully, this land stretches down to Egypt and over to the Euphrates river in modern day Iraq.  The nation of Israel has never occupied all of this land.  There are three things that we can do with this promise then.  The first would be to dismiss it; God got it wrong and Israel just never became as great as was promised.

The second option is to spiritualize it.  There are many who believe that God is through working with Israel because they rejected their Messiah.  Therefore all of the promises that were given to Israel are being fulfilled or will be fulfilled within the church.  I personally believe that there are some problems with this view but that is a whole other topic.

The third option is to maintain that this is a literal promise that has yet to be fulfilled.  It’s much easier to see this being fulfilled since 1948 when Israel became a nation again.  If I had to guess, this won’t be fulfilled literally until the Millennial Kingdom but I could be wrong.  In the 1930’s or even the early 1940’s I’m sure that no one saw a way in which Israel would become a nation again so anything could happen.  Just know that this covenant has not been completely fulfilled if you take it literally.

Genesis 17 has another covenant given.  The covenant of circumcision is instituted.  God’s promise is expanded once again when Abram and Sarai are given new names, Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham is told that nations would come from him as well as kings.  He is also told that the covenant would be an everlasting covenant and his possession of the land would be an everlasting one.

Genesis 17 also tells us that God will bless Ishmael even though he is not the child that God had promised Abraham.  He and Sarah would yet have their own son at their old age.  Ishmael would be made great and would be blessed but God’s covenant would be with Isaac who would be born within a year.

In Genesis 22 Abraham is tested and called upon to sacrifice his son Isaac.  God spares Isaac and blesses Abraham once again by saying that his descendants would capture the cities of their enemies and that all nations on earth will be blessed through his offspring.  Originally God told Abraham that all people would be blessed through him, now they will be blessed through his offspring.  There is a present day blessing that surrounds Abraham and his descendants but ultimately this is a prophecy that Jesus would be a descendant of Abraham.

Not much is said about Isaac.  Only a few chapters of Genesis focus on him compared to Abraham and Jacob.  God renews His covenant with Isaac in Genesis 26 while there is a famine in the land and Isaac contemplated leaving for Egypt.  Instead God tells him to remain in the land where he will be blessed.

Isaac has two sons, Jacob and Esau.  God says that there are two great nations within Rebekah’s womb but one would be greater than the other.  It is Jacob who would be the greater nation.  We know that he bought the birthright from his brother Esau for a bowl of soup and that he deceitfully stole his father’s blessing.  More importantly though, Jacob is the one whom God will bless and to whom the covenant will be passed on.

Jacob must flee from his brother’s wrath over the stolen blessing and as he does so, God speaks to him in a dream at Bethel.  Genesis 28:13-15 records God’s words to Jacob.

13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

God is with Jacob over the next 20 years as he marries Leah and Rachel and fathers 11 of his 12 sons in that time.  After Jacob leaves Laban to return to his homeland he receives word that his brother Esau is coming to meet him.  Fearing the worst he sends his family away and cries out to the Lord for help.  Genesis 32 doesn’t record another confirmation of God’s covenant but is still significant because Jacob wrestles with God on that night.  Jacob will not let go until he is blessed.  His blessing was a new name.  Instead of being called Jacob, he would be called Israel which means “he struggles with God.”

Finally in Genesis 35, God speaks to Jacob once again at Bethel and blesses him and reconfirms the covenant one more time.  Assuming that this is written chronologically this last blessing is important because Genesis 35 also tells of Israel’s final son Benjamin being born.  But with joy also comes sorrow because Rachel dies while giving birth.  Israel’s family is now complete but at the cost of beloved wife.

The chapter then closes with the death of Isaac.  While Isaac thought that he was dying many years before as he called his sons to him, he has hung on for at least another 20 years.  But finally at the age of 180 he dies.  Thus the blessings and covenant are officially passed on to Israel where they will be fulfilled in his twelve sons.