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God Will Provide the Lamb

Genesis

Genesis 22

In this event we find a great, perhaps the greatest, test of a man’s faith in God’s word and his quickness to obey. The tension of heart and spirit evoked by God’s call in this case also presses the reader forward in sensing the intensity of love exhibited in the triune God in his “purpose and grace given us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9 NKJV). Also, in light of the “test” which showed that Abraham’s faith was indeed proven as genuine (1 Peter 1:6–9), we find that God by effectual grace will confirm his people to the end, even in the face of death (1 Corinthians 1:8, 9; 2 Corinthians 1:6, 7; Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14).

 

I. God Tested Abraham – This immediately presents us with a dilemma that calls for theological reflection.

A. “God cannot be tempted by evil nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13 NKJV).

      1. One kind of “temptation” is a trial for the purpose of revealing and purifying an approved faith. Clearly God brings various trials to our lives in order to wean us from the world and its false pleasure and peace in order that we might rest in Christ alone and find our delight in him.
      2. Temptation to evil comes from Satan’s activities combined with the evil propensity of our nature. God does not prompt us to that which is evil, but we are tempted to evil when, according to Satan’s devices (Ephesians 6:11, 12), our lusts drive us to disobedience to God (James 1:14, 15).
      3. God, however, by his providence overrules our evil and Satan’s activities for his glory and often accomplishes his purpose of present judgments through our intrinsic bias toward sin and rebellion (2 Thessalonians 2:9–11; Revelation 17:16, 17; Genesis 50:19, 20; Acts 2:23). In this life, the wicked often suffer “wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing” (2 Peter 2:13). The evil often suffer calamity and crime that in themselves are wrong and unlawful, but their susceptibility to such wrong arises from their own course of vice, evil, and lawlessness (Isaiah 5:11–30). God will use the lawless and brutal to punish the morally perverse.

B. Did God’s requirement of a human sacrifice intrinsically involve evil?

God strictly forbids the sacrifice of humans to Molech (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2–5). Some commentators, therefore have concluded that Abraham misunderstood God, or dreamed this up himself. Any doubt about the veracity of the passage or the genuine historicity of the event should be put away immediately, because:

  1. The event is clearly asserted in Scripture and its presence in the text is not dependent on an overly-energized imagination of Abraham, but had been vetted in the oral narrative of Israel until it made its way into the text through the instrumentality of Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Moses was thoroughly aware of the law for Israel but had no difficulty in recording this event as God’s own command which brought about God’s own commendation of Abraham and an extension of covenantal revelation. This was seen and embraced clearly as a pivotal event in the revelation of God’s purpose to adopt the descendants of Abraham as his people and to pursue his purpose of redemption for the nations.
  2. Abraham’s response, “Here am I” indicates that Abraham was not unclear about who was speaking to him. His experience with God and the covenantal promises had been given now for more than twenty years; no possibility existed, therefore, that he would have mistaken the person who spoke to him. Nor would he be disposed to question the necessity of immediate acquiescence to the revelation. He does not intercede for the life of his own son as he interceded for the life of the city of Sodom and the cities of the plain.
  3. From the time of Adam, knowledge that uprightness before God depended on sacrifice had been present. From Adam to all his descendants, and from Noah through all his descendants, the reality had been passed from generation to generation (Genesis 3:15, 21; 4:4–6; 8:20, 21; 15:9–21). As all aspects of godliness and redemptive revelation, it had been greatly corrupted, especially in the idolatrous worship of Molech. That eventually sin could be removed, however, only through the sacrifice, not of an animal, but of one from the race of imago dei was a truth that God was teaching in this event.
  4. That it would be a descendant of Abraham also was set forth. That one who still had to answer for his own sin could not bear the sin of another was equally the outcome of this test. The one from our race, from Abraham’s seed, would also have to be sinless and owe no debt for his own sin and be of infinite worth in himself in order fully to honor the offended majesty and righteous honor of God. That God himself was in control of this event and would reveal his faithfulness, as well as the true character of saving faith, gives a stamp of authenticity to the entire affair so central to the whole biblical witness that it cannot be removed without creating a nightmare of incoherence throughout the canon of Scripture.

 

II. Verse 2 -Note the great contrast between God’s description of Abraham’s affection for Isaac and God’s requirement of death.

As he calls Abraham to make the sacrifice, he intensifies the internal impression for Abraham by referring to Isaac as “Your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac.”

A. The language is reminiscent of the language God uses for his Son.

“You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). This story of Abraham helps us focus on the reality that the death of Jesus involved not only Christ’s giving himself for our sins, but the Father’s giving his beloved Son. The Son sacrificed his life; the Father sacrificed his Son. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9, 10).”

B. The requirement, on the surface, seemed to contradict, not only the general character of God, but the specific promise given to Abraham (15:4; 17:19).

If the promise of seed and inheritance and universal blessing was to be accomplished through Isaac, how could it be done if Isaac died before he fathered children?

C. This was not to be done quickly or thoughtlessly, but only at a place that God would point out to him some distance away.

“Offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (2). Mount Moriah was the place that Solomon built the temple and that David previously had offered sacrifice (2 Chronicles 3:1; 1 Chronicles 21:18).

 

III. Verse 3–5 – A Journey that involved three days

A. Abraham rose early in the morning.

    1. The means of travel, the servants to help with carrying necessary provisions for a three days’ journey, and Isaac all were ready for this journey with only Abraham knowing its purpose. He also cut and carried the wood for the burnt offering.
    2. “He went to the place which God had told him.” This would give Abraham time to think. An element of distrust could arise and make him cut short the journey, conclude that he had been mistaken, or that God really wanted a response of a different nature. Thoughts could have entered his mind that set forth alternatives such as that suggested by Satan to Eve. “Has God said? . . . Thou shalt not surely die [Isaac certainly is not to be slain]. . . . For God knows when … [God expects independent autonomous thinking on your part, for that surely is to be like God!”]. Some alternative would have been presented.

B. On the third day of the journey (a type of Jesus’ death and resurrection on the third day?), they reached the destination.

No matter what alternative might have entered Abraham’s mind, the text focused only on the steady resolve of Abraham to obey. On the third day he “lifted up his eyes and saw the place.” From there, only he, the accoutrements of sacrifice, and Isaac proceeded.

C. We have the first verbal indication that Abraham had a deep sense that God must do something extraordinary in light of all the implications attending this command.

“I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you” (22:5). Perhaps Paul has this event and these words in mind when he exhorts Christians to worship in the offering of ourselves: “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable to God which is your reasonable service {or spiritual service of worship]” (Romans 12:1). True worship can be attained only in light of an effectual perfection of divine justice: “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

 

IV. Verses 6–8 – Abraham and Isaac alone

A. In considering both the promise of God and the command of God, Abraham had taken the apparent contradiction and inferred an omnipotent intervention from God.

He would raise the dead. In the spirit of full faith as well as full obedience, Abraham proceeded with wood, knife, and material to kindle the fire (Hebrews 11:17–19).

B. The absence of a sacrificial animal was obvious.

Isaac naturally was curious at that absence and asked his father “Where is the Lamb?” (7). The text offers no evidence that Isaac suspected that he himself was the offering.

C. Abraham’s answer contains no deceit.

It is an answer that indicates full faith in divine sovereignty, faithfulness, and mercy. Abraham knew, by the far-reaching vision of divine illumination that the drama in which he and Isaac were participating concerned the character of God’s blessing the world through his seed. If sacrifice were necessary for proper worship, then the blessing that would come must involve an ultimate sacrifice. God would provide it. He knew, therefore, that no final catastrophe awaited either Isaac or himself in this event for there must yet be a greater sacrifice. “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day.” Jesus said, “He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Perhaps in this moment, Abraham saw it, and so told Isaac by prophecy, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (8).

 

V. Verses 9–14 – God provided a substitute.

A. Upon arrival, Abraham quickly did all that was necessary to consummate his obedience to God.

As he did so often before, he built an altar. The wood then was laid in order; probably without resistance, Isaac was bound and placed on the wood of the altar. The writer of Hebrews recalled the dramatic scene with all of its attendant tensions: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named’” (Hebrews 11:17, 18).

B. Intervention did not come until the knife was taken into the hand of Abraham.

Had he raised it, it probably would have descended quickly if the action had conformed to the pace set by Abraham up to this point. When, therefore, “Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife,” the “angel of the Lord,” probably God the Son Himself, called him, stopped him, and said; ”Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” This “angel of the Lord,” identified himself as God [“from me”]. Clearly he had in mind a time when in the future, he himself would not be spared but would be offered in order to become the channel of all spiritual blessings to the true offspring of Abraham (Romans 8:32; Hebrews 2:16, 17) “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

C. His faith had been put into the furnace, had been found true, and also had been further purified.

The testing—that is, the test that manifests its approvedness—of our faith is much more precious than gold. This alone is the faith that will be found unto praise and honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).

D. Even as Abraham had seen from afar, so the immediate precursor to that vision of a Lamb now appears before him. God the provider gave him a ram for the required sacrifice.

E. Not only did Abraham know that God would provide a lamb, but he knew that, should that lamb be Isaac on this occasion, God would raise him from the dead.

“He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:20).

 

VI. Verse 15–19 – God reaffirmed the covenant.

A. Nothing about the covenant had ever been unsure, but each step of promise, trial, and fulfillment had brought a renewal of the promise.

This one is particularly impressive because of the extent of obedience to which Abraham’s trust in God called him. At the moment of his initial belief, Abraham was justified (Genesis 15:6). True faith always manifests itself in obedience, for the believer will never doubt either the goodness or the faithfulness of God in anything he requires. While Paul, therefore, argues for justification by faith on the basis of Genesis 15:6, James argues for a faith that works on the basis of Genesis 22:10 applied to Genesis 15:6 as a seamless manifestation of faith. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” (James 2:21–23).

B. Again the language, “Your son, your only son” reminds us that this son was the one through whom God’s faithfulness to covenantal revelation would be established.

The clarity and power of the covenant is expanded somewhat in these words. The overcoming of enemies and the blessing to all the nations is expressed with a bold assurance that sometimes will be challenged in the centuries to come. But the warnings of Psalm 2 and the glory of 1 Corinthians 15:22–28, Ephesians 1:20–23, Philippians 2:10, 11, Colossians 1:27 and other passages will show the glorious fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham.

 

God’s call to Abram flowed with grace
Of land and riches, blessed race.
Beyond the stars, more than sand,
Enemies bow unto your hand.

Though you wander here and yonder,
Nations will rejoice and wonder
At the blessings they inherit
From your Seed and His own merit.

From Sara Isaac has been born.
Her womb no longer rests forlorn.
A laughing child now brings delight,
A promise kept through God’s own might.

This son in whom each promise lives
And by whose Seed the Lord forgives,
A seed whose Son is salvation
Secures the name—Many Nations.

Now God required he be consumed
By bloodshed and a fiery tomb.
Bear the wood and climb the mountain,
Shed the blood—redemption’s fountain.

“Where is the lamb?” Isaac queried.
Abraham, now worn and weary,
Yet by faith deep-seated inside,
Gave his soul’s voice, “God will provide.”

The son is bound, the knife engaged,
Isaac is spared; now God be praised.
Another dies; God’s provision.
Isaac lives; sovereign decision.

To show that sin indeed is done,
The Father spared not His own Son.
Of nations he must be the head,
So God has justly raised the dead.

Look far beyond to finished grace.
His people safe in his embrace.
Their sin dispelled, no death they fear.
God’s righteous love has brought them near.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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