For the Love of God, Volume 1/January 21
From Gospel Translations
Genesis 22; Matthew 21; Nehemiah 11; Acts 21
THE DRAMATIC POWER of the testing of Abraham by the offering of Isaac (Gen. 22) is well known. The very terseness of the account calls forth our wonder. When he tells his servant that we (22:5—i.e., both Abraham and Isaac) will come back after worshiping on Mount Moriah, was Abraham speculating that God would raise his son back from the grave? Did he hope that God would intervene in some unforeseen way? What conceivable explanation could Abraham give his son when he bound him and laid him on the prepared altar?
A trifle earlier, Abraham’s reply to Isaac’s question about the lamb is a masterstroke: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (22:8). There is no suggestion that Abraham foresaw the cross. Judging by the way he was prepared to go through with the sacrifice (22:10-11), it is not even clear that he expected that God would provide a literal animal. One might even guess that this was a pious answer for the boy until the dreadful truth could no longer be concealed. Yet in the framework of the story, Abraham spoke better than he knew: God did provide the lamb, a substitute for Isaac (22:13-14). In fact, like other biblical figures (e.g., Caiaphas in John 11:49-53), Abraham spoke much better than he knew: God would provide not only the animal that served as a substitute in this case, but the ultimate substitute, the Lamb of God, who alone could bear our sin and bring to pass all of God’s wonderful purposes for redemption and judgment (Rev. 4—5; 21:22).
“The LORD will provide” (22:14): that much Abraham clearly understood. One can only imagine how much the same lesson was embedded in young Isaac’s mind as well, and to his heirs beyond him. God himself connects this episode with the covenantal promise: Abraham’s faith here issues in such stellar obedience that he does not elevate even his own cherished son to the place where he might dethrone God. God reiterates the covenant: “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (22:17-18). On this point, God swears by himself (22:16), not because otherwise he might lie, but because there is no one greater by whom to swear, and the oath itself would be a great stabilizing anchor to Abraham’s faith and to the faith of all who follow in his train (cf. Heb. 6:13-20).