When I read Genesis 22, I am amazed at Abraham’s obedience. It seems like God just tells him to sacrifice Isaac in verse 2, and in verse 3 he is saddling his donkey with wood going! But is it as simple as it looks? I think we may have to scratch the surface and ask questions of the text.
Questions like, what happens that night? What conversation does he have with Sarah, if any? What is Abraham thinking? Did he doubt whether he listened right? Did Sarah try to dissuade him or ask him to consider the possibility that he might have misheard God or rather, that it was the Devil’s voice? Did Abraham sleep at all or did he spend the night battling his doubts, fears? Did he sweat blood in his tent garden?
There are many questions that I as a person who has failed to obey God many times would like to ask. We are told by the writer of Hebrews that Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac. I can understand that if it were me who has read the New Testament. I could take that as a consolation, probably. But how did Abraham come to believe that God will raise Isaac from the dead (Heb 11:17-19) and how long did it take him to accept that? For it is one thing to know God’s ability, and quite another to believe that God’s strength is for your good.
As I think through this, it is no wonder this man is the father of everyone who believes. It is not like he was Superman, without fears and doubts. We know he doubted at times as we read in Gen 17:17-18. And yet his doubts did not delay his obedience to God. He trusted Him even when not everything did make sense. That challenges me. I do not know about you.
Abraham doubted he could have a son at his old age in Gen 17, but I think that the fulfillment of God’s promise (in giving him Isaac) removed his doubt so much so that he is confident in God’s ability to raise Isaac from the dead in Gen 22.
And this gets me thinking about how we often think that the presence of faith means the absence of doubt. But that cannot be true. It appears that our misgivings strengthen our faith if we take them to God in prayer. You recall one man who cried out ‘Lord I believe, help my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24).
There is a lesson for us here. Let us call it lesson one. When we doubt and yet still wait on God, He fulfills His promises, removes our doubts, and strengths our faith. The Abraham who found it hard to believe God’s promise in Gen 17 is now able to obey His hardest test, of giving his only begotten son to God.
But this story has more significance still. When Abraham obeys God, God says in effect: because you have shown the world that you would sacrifice your son for me, I will sacrifice My Son for you and your children. In other words, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only begotten son mirrored God’s eternal redemptive plan through the sacrifice of His Son. Notice that although Abraham has another son (Ishmael), God says that Isaac is Abraham’s ‘only son’ (Gen 22:2, cf John 3:16).
It is true that the death of Isaac would not bring life. And yet, through Isaac’s Seed’s demise, eternal life comes to all who believe (John 3:16).
Also, Isaac may look like a silent lamb led to the slaughter, and that’s because he was, but he was not unwilling. A person who can reason with his father about ‘burnt offering’ is no infant (v7). And neither was Christ an infant, nor unwilling when as a lamb he was led to slaughter. He laid down His life ‘willingly’ (John 10:18).
One last detail that should not escape our attention is the mention of the ‘third day’ (Gen 22:4). It is on the third day that Abraham with sorrow saw the hill on which Isaac would die. It is on the third day still that Abraham’s descendants could see the hill where Christ died, this time with joy because his Seed rose from the grave. As Abraham endured the pain of loss for three days, Christ was in the tomb for three days.
As Abraham comes down the hill after three days with his living or should we say ‘risen’ son, the Son of God, the Seed of Abraham could not see the corruption of death but conquered the grave for you and me, after three days.
That is the power of the Gospel. That is how the scripture preached the Gospel to Abraham (Gal 3:8). Abraham on this hill ‘saw My day’ that is, the death and triumph of Christ on the cross, ‘and he rejoiced’ (John 8:56). This same place (Moriah) where Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac is the same place where Christ died.
And thus, God’s redemption story is written in unalterable detail right from Genesis to Revelation and accomplished through the history of fallen and redeemed men, every day. Only the God of Abraham could bring this world into being, and only He could bring it to a conclusion, through His Son.