Then God said, “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.”
Genesis 22:2 (NIV)
Today’s chapter is one of the most profound and mysterious events in the Great Story. Scholars explain that there is nothing like it in other ancient cultures or religions with regard to their stories, texts, or religious rituals. Even within the Great Story it is unique. God tells Abraham to make another journey of faith “to a mountain I will show you” where he will sacrifice his own beloved son, Isaac.
I know. It’s a head scratcher.
As I meditated on the story this morning, I had three observations.
First, this is the climax of Abraham’s story. From this point on, Abraham is making preparations for he and Sarah’s burials, getting Isaac marries, and settling his inheritance. This climactic event bookends the beginning of Abraham’s story.
When we first meet Abraham God tells him to pick-up leave his family, tribe, and home and follow God to a “land I will show you.” In a sense, God told Abraham “leave that which you know and love (e.g. your home and tribe), have faith to follow me.” The faith journey results in the promised son, Isaac. Isaac is the object of Abraham’s love. Now God calls Abraham to leave once more “to a mountain I will show you,” to bring with him what he loves (e.g. his son) and sacrifice him to God. It is an ultimate test of faith.
I couldn’t help but think about Peter and John on the shores of Galilee in the final chapter of John’s biography of Jesus. There is a parallel “bookending” of their faith journeys. It was on this shore that Jesus first said, “Follow me.” Now, the resurrected Christ once again calls them to follow, this time informing Peter that it will ultimately lead to suffering and death.
A faith journey doesn’t end in this earthbound lifetime. One doesn’t retire, nor do things get easier before the journey’s end. In Abraham’s case, in Peter’s case, you find yourself circling back to the beginning and the challenges of faith only get harder.
Second, Abraham’s statement to Isaac (“God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”) proves to be both a statement of faith and a prophetic foreshadowing of the climactic end to this event. It springs from everything Abraham has experienced in his relationship with God through the years. God has made the covenant with Abraham, God has led Abraham to the land as promised. God has given Abraham a son as promised. As crazy and extreme as God’s request sounds, Abraham draws on all that God has done to make this ultimate faith journey.
We don’t like to talk about it much in our culture, but Jesus regularly told His followers that the faith journey required giving everything. Like Abraham, it might mean leaving family behind. Like Abraham, it requires faith to provide an ultimate sacrifice, taking up one’s own cross and following to the crucifixion of self.
Third, the foreshadowing of Jesus’ story in the events of today’s chapter can’t be ignored. In asking Abraham to sacrifice the son he loves, he unwittingly becomes a living metaphor of God himself, who will one day give His beloved Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. God providing Abraham a ram to sacrifice in place of Isaac introduces the notion of substitutionary sacrifice. At the time of Abraham, this was a wholly unique concept.
“God will provide the lamb,” Abraham presciently states to Isaac.
Another bookend. We are in the beginning chapters of the Great Story. Themes are being introduced, foundations laid, as well as foreshadows of what’s to come. In the final chapters of the Great Story, John is given a Revelation of the throne room of heaven.
Those gathered worship singing. Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
The story of Abraham is the seminal event in what will ultimately be God’s act of redemption. Abraham blazes the trail of faith. Abraham foreshadows what God is going to do. Abraham’s faith echoes through history past, it resonates through the crucified Christ, and it is transmitted into the prophesied future.
God will provide the Lamb.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.