"The Lamb God Has Provided"
(Delivered Sunday, June 11, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
God—who has made us, and who knows us perfectly—knew that we need stories. Stories teach us in ways that mere lectures never could. If you think about it, you may not be able to remember a strictly doctrinal exposition that you heard just a day or two ago; but chances are you are still living in the light of Bible stories you heard when you were a little child.
God gave us stories in the Bible in order to help us understand divine truth. And so, He has graciously scattered them throughout His written revelation to us. The Bible tells us that the things that happened to the people of Old Testament times were “written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). These stories teach us through the experiences of people that we can relate to—experiences that take hold of us by all our senses.
This morning, we’re going to hear a story. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that it's one of the greatest stories that has ever been told. And God gave it to help us understand the greatest theological truth that we could ever think about. It teaches us about the sacrifice that God made for us in the person of His wonderful Son Jesus Christ on the cross—a truth that, when genuinely grasped by us, saves us from our sins and leads us to eternal life.
It’s the story of Abraham’s obedience to God’s call to offer up his beloved son Isaac.
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Before we look at the story itself, let’s stop and think about this great man Abraham. He is one of the Bible’s great heroes of faith. In fact, he is held up to us as the great example of what it means to have saving faith. The Bible commends him to us as “believing Abraham” (Gal. 3:9); or, as he's called in the New American Standard translation, “Abraham, the believer.”
If you follow the story of Abraham along in the book of Genesis, you see that God brought him through a series of crises that developed that faith in Him. Each crisis required that Abraham give up something that was dear to him, and surrender himself to God in a deeper way. The first of these tests came when Abraham was seventy-five years old, and was still living in a pagan land—in the land of Ur of the Chaldeans. We're told, in Genesis 12, that God called Abraham to leave the security of his father's land, and to sever the ties that held him to his relatives and to his father's house. God called him to venture into a land that he hadn't seen, and worship a God that his people didn't know. But God promised that, if He obeyed, He would be blessed in a truly remarkable way. God told Abraham,
God made several great promises to Abraham at once. First, even though he was childless at the time, God promised to make him into a great nation of people. And of course, if you know your Bible at all, you know that it was from Abraham that the nation of Israel was born. There was also, behind those words, the promise that this great nation would occupy the land that God was going to show Abraham; and we now know that as the land of Israel—the promised land. The name (that is, the reputation and honor) of poor old, wandering, countryless Abraham was going to be great; because he was going to be the father of the chosen people of God. God was promising that all other nations would either be blessed or cursed on the basis of whether they blessed or cursed the people what would come from Abraham.
And what’s more, God promised that it was through Abraham—that is, from his own body—that the blessing of all the world would come. This was a reference to the promise God had made after Adam and Eve had fallen into sin in the garden: that the Seed of the woman would one day be born into the world, and that He would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). And this, of course, is speaking of none other than the Lord Jesus Christ—our Savior—who was born of the family of Abraham.
But can you imagine what a great test of faith that was—to leave his homeland and family relations, and to travel to a place he didn't know? And yet, Abraham obeyed God's call. He took his wife Sarah, and his nephew Lot, and went by faith to the land God called him to—to the land that God promised to give him. Even though poor old Abraham was childless, he nevertheless trusted that God would keep His promise and make him into a great nation. This was the first great test of Abraham's faith.
In time, other tests came. We read of the next one in Chapter 13. Abraham and Lot settled in to this new land—then called Canaan; and God blessed them both with prosperity in flocks and herds. And we find that Abraham eventually had to separate himself from his nephew Lot. Their flocks were growing so great that their herdsmen were fighting with one another. It was becoming too crowded for them. And so, in order to keep the peace, Abraham proposed that they divide from one another; and he graciously gave Lot the privilege of choosing the place he would go to. If Lot chose to go east, Abraham would go west. If Lot chose to go west, Abraham would go east.
Now; what if Lot chose the land that God had promised to Abraham? What then would happen to God's promise? Once again, Abraham had to step out in faith—to trust that God would sovereignly guide the outcome, and keep His promise of giving the land of Canaan to him and to his offspring. And as it turned out, Lot chose the much more attractive plain of Jordan—a land to the east, toward the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham and Lot separated in peace; leaving Abraham to live in the land that God had promised him. And once that happened, God told him,
Another great test came some years later. Abraham was still childless; and he began to wonder if—perhaps—God was intending to keep His promise through Abraham's servant Eliezer. We read about this test in Chapter 15. But it was not God's plan to keep His promise in any other way than through Abraham himself. And so, one night, God called Abraham to go outside. He told him, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And, of course, Abraham could not because their number was so great. So, God told him, “So shall your descendents be.” (Gen. 15:5). And we're told that Abraham “believed the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” (v. 6). Abraham passed this third test; and God, once again, confirmed His promise to him (vv. 13-21).
In time, yet another test came. We're told about it in Chapter 17. Abraham was still childless; and so, his wife Sarah suggested that he have a child through her handmaiden Hagar. This child's name was Ishmael; but this plan was an attempt on Abraham's and Sarah's part to fulfill God's promise before its time. It wasn't God's plan to fulfill this promise through the child of the handmaiden Hagar. God came to Abraham, when Abraham was ninety-nine years old—and his wife Sarah was ninety—and said, “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him” (Genesis 17:19).
And within a year's time, God kept His promise. Old, childless Abraham and Sarah had a baby together. Isaac, the miracle baby, was born (21:1-8)—the son through whom the great promises of God to Abraham would be kept.
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So; as you can see, there were several great tests of Abraham's faith. Each time, God challenged Abraham to give up something precious to him, or go someplace unknown to him, or separate himself from others he loved, and enter into a deeper level of trust in God. And now, in Chapter 22, we come to the greatest test of faith that Abraham ever experienced. We wouldn't have been able to understand just how great a test of faith that this next test was unless we saw all the tests that had proceeded it.
God, you see, had made a tremendous and humanly impossible promise to Abraham; and He brought Abraham’s faith along—through various ‘ups’ and ‘down’s’—until, at last, the promise was kept. All of the promises of God rested upon Abraham’s miracle baby, Isaac. In fact, all the future blessing of the world rested upon Isaac. My salvation and your salvation are based on the historic fact that Isaac was born. He was literally, at that time, the most precious child upon the earth.
And the years passed; and Isaac—the miracle son—grew. And one evening, God spoke once again to Abraham. And this time, what God said must have come as a terrible shock. Genesis 22:1 says, “Now it came to pass after these things”—that is, after all the things that God took Abraham through to ratify and clarify His promise of a nation that would come from Abraham’s body—after these things, “God tested Abraham, and said to him,'Abraham!'”
I think that Abraham, by this point, had grown to recognize the voice of God quite easily; don’t you? Abraham said, “Here I am.” Then God told him, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah”—and I also think that, by this point, Abraham had become accustomed to going wherever God had told Him to go; even if it was to a land he didn’t know.
But then came a great shocker. God said to take his son Isaac to this place Moriah, “. . . And offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (v. 2).
It’s hard to express how shocking a command this must have been for Abraham to even consider—let alone fulfill! The law that came through Moses would not be given for several centuries from that time; but if we’re to take what God says in His law regarding burnt offerings and apply it to this case, then we see what a dreadful command this was. To offer his son as a “burnt offering” would mean that Abraham was to take Isaac to the place God was sending him, place his hand on Isaac’s head, cut his throat and drain out his blood, skin him and cut him into pieces, lay the various pieces on the altar, wash his entrails with water, and burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice until there was nothing left (Leviticus 1:4-9).
Can you imagine a father being called by God to do such a thing? All of the natural inclinations of a father would revolt against it! And what’s more, as if all that were not enough, God specifies to Abraham that he was to do this to “your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love”!
I appreciate that, early on in this passage, God lets us know what He was doing to Abraham. It says at the very start that God was “testing” Abraham. God had developed Abraham’s faith over the many years; but faith—even great faith—isn’t really revealed unless it is “tested”. Earlier, we were told that Abraham believed God’s promise of an offspring that would be more in number than the stars of the sky; and that, as a result, God accounted his faith as “righteousness”. Abraham had faith in God’s promise of many children; but that faith had not yet been proven by action—that is, by proving itself in actual works. This was what the apostle James was speaking of when he said,
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Now, we don’t find that Abraham hesitated or deliberated on the matter one bit. He didn’t try to negotiate with God or search for an alternative. We’re simply told, “So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (Gen. 22:3). Apparently, God had given Abraham this command sometime during the night. I suspect that Abraham didn’t sleep very much afterwards. I’m sure he reflected all night long upon God’s command to him, and thought about the dreadful thing God was telling him to do.
Have you ever laid awake all night thinking about a hard thing that God was telling you to do? I know that I have. What do you do when it’s time to get up? I have to confess that, often after such evenings, I’m still deliberating on it long after the morning is over—still trying to work out the angles. But Abraham didn’t delay. He got up early in the morning and began immediately to prepare for the journey. It took many years for such obedient faith to be developed in Abraham!
Abraham had been living in the land of the Philistines (21:34); and God was calling him to travel from there to one of the mountains of the Land of Moriah. This was a three-day journey. Can you imagine how Abraham spent those three days? He would have thought deeply about God’s command to slay his son as he travelled along the dusty roads on his donkey. And at night, when they’d stop and set up camp, and as he lay down to rest, he would have played over and over in his mind—in all the horrible details—the thing that he was being called upon to do. And yet, even then, we do not find that Abraham hesitated to obey.
The Bible tells us, “Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off” (v. 4). Have you ever been on your way to do something you really didn’t want to do; and then, finally pull up to the place where it would have to be done? Have you ever felt that sinking feeling when that place finally met your eyes? We’re not told how it was that Abraham recognized the place once he got there. Perhaps God identified it to him once he arrived. But I can’t help but think that Abraham felt a very sober feeling once he saw it—the place where his beloved son was to be sacrificed.
But this is where Abraham’s faith once again shines. Even when he looked at the place, he exhibited a great hope in the power of God. We’re told that he said something quite remarkable to his traveling companions. “And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you’” (v. 5). Do you see it? He said that Isaac and he would go up the mountain to worship, and Isaac and he would return! Even though God was calling Abraham to slay the son through whom the promise would be kept, Abraham had no doubt that the promise would still be kept through that son. This was not a problem for Abraham to work out, but one for the God who made the promise to work out.
The writer of Hebrews explained the reason for Abraham’s confident hope to us in this way;
If God called Abraham to slay the one through whom the promise would be kept, Abraham was confident that the same God could also raise him from the dead. This reminds me of someone who was once being ridiculed for their faith in God. The skeptic said, “I suppose if God commanded you to jump through a brick wall, you’d do it!” And the believer replied, “If God commanded me to jump, it would be my job to jump . . . and it would be God’s job to make the hole!” Abraham was going to ‘jump’ by faith—and trust God to ‘make the hole’.
We’re not sure how old Isaac was at this time. Some have suggested that he was thirteen years old, some have suggested that he was much older than that. The Hebrew word translated “lad” can even refer to someone in their adult years1; and so, I take it that, by this time, Isaac was at least a strong, capable young man. The Bible tells us; “So Abraham took the wood of the burn offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ Then he said, ‘Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’” (vv. 6-7). Isaac was not only old enough to carry the wood for the offering up the mountain, but he was also old enough to ask some rather pressing questions.
And look at how Abraham answered: “And Abraham said, ‘My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering.’ So the two of them went together” (v. 8). Clearly, Isaac wasn’t the only one thinking along the way. Whether it was through the provision of Isaac, or some other means, Abraham was confident that God would provide the sacrifice.
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And this is where we see the faith, not only of Abraham, but also of Isaac. As it became clear to Isaac what was about to happen, we don’t read of any resistance on Isaac's part. We’re told, “Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son” (vv. 9-10). Abraham bound his son; but not, it seems, because Isaac was resisting.
Can you imagine how much strength of faith this action of Abraham took? Abraham knew that, once he plunged down the knife, he would be slaying the child through whom all the promises of God were to be kept. And yet, he had no doubt that it was God who was commanding him to do it. In my mind’s eye, I see the hand of Abraham tightly grip the knife and begin to draw his hand back for the plunge. I even see a quiver in his lip; and a tear running down his face. But I don’t imagine Abraham exhibiting any lack of resolve.
And then, as if at the very last minute, we’re told, “But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ So he said, ‘Here I am’” (v. 11). I can’t help but notice that this is almost the same exchange that we read in verse 1—except here, God calls his name twice, as if to say, “Stop, Abraham! Go no further!” I’m sure Abraham did not move a muscle!
God said to him, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (v. 12). What relief it must have been that came over Abraham—and over Isaac! It had been a test of faith all along; and Abraham had passed!
“Then,” we’re told, “Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.” God had—indeed—provided for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering. And Abraham called the name of the place, “The-LORD-Will-Provide”—or, as it is in the Hebrew ‘YHWY Yireh’—“as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided” (v. 13-14).
When I read this story, I have to wonder how many times I have disobeyed God when He has clearly called me to do a hard thing; and the whole time long, He was really only administering a test of my faith. I hate to think of how many such tests of faith I have failed.
But that's what this was. It was a test of Abraham's faith—the greatest test of all. And Abraham passed the test! We go on to read,
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Dear brothers and sisters; God intends for this wonderful story to help us appreciate the atoning sacrifice of Jesus our Savior. It is a picture of what God has done in giving His Son for us. Stop and think about it with me; and I’m sure you’ll agree that there are some remarkable things in this story that point us to God's gracious gift of His own Son for us.
First of all, Abraham was called upon to sacrifice a son—specifically his only son, whom he loved. Three times in this passage, God emphasized to Abraham that Isaac was his unique, only beloved son. And similarly, we’re told in the Bible that God the Father looked down upon Jesus at the time of His baptism and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). We’re told that God so loved the world, “that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). Just as God called Abraham to sacrifice that which was most precious to him, God also offered up what was most precious to His own heart—His beloved, only begotten Son Jesus.
I also can’t help but observe that Abraham’s son rode to the place of sacrifice on a donkey; just as, of our Savior, it’s written, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). Nor can I help but notice that it took three days journey before Isaac would experience his figurative “resurrection”; just as it is written of our Savior that He would be “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40), awaiting His literal resurrection.
Isaac was sacrificed at a place called Moriah, and on one of the mountains of Moriah. And do you know what this place Moriah is? Moriah was the place that King David would later purchase from Ornan the Jebusite in order to make a sacrifice unto God (1 Chron. 21:18); and it was at that very same place that King Solomon would later built the temple of the LORD (2 Chron. 3:1). Abraham took Isaac to what would one day be known as Jerusalem! In fact, many Jewish scholars believe that the altar of burnt offering in the temple was situated in the exact spot at which Abraham had offered up his beloved son Isaac. In any case, it means that Isaac was offered in the same place at which God offered His own beloved Son for us! Abraham offered up his son on a hill at Moriah of old . . . and so did God the Father!
Before He was taken to the cross, our Savior was bound (John 18:12); just as Isaac also was bound. Abraham led Isaac to Moriah accompanied by two others; and as he went up the hill, he bore the wood on his own back on which he would be sacrificed. Likewise, the Bible tells us this of Jesus; “And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of the Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side and Jesus in the center” (John 19:17-18).
Abraham’s son was very submissive to the will of his father. From all that we can see, he was prepared to lay down his own life willingly in obedience to his father's call. And so was God’s own Son. Jesus said, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17-18).
And then, there was that lamb! Abraham told Isaac, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering”; and, of course, He did. And Jesus is clearly presented to us in the Bible as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He’s the one that Isaiah wrote about when he said, “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). He is the one the Book of Revelation calls “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). When Abraham saw the lamb that God provided in the place of Isaac, he rejoiced; because what he had said was true—God DID provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering. And perhaps that may have something to do with what Jesus said about him; “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
I’m not sure how far to take this. I certainly don’t want to over-spiritualize this marvelous story. But I must make the observation that the lamb that became Isaac’s substitute was found caught in the thicket by its horns. This reminds me of our Savior; who went to His place of sacrifice for us with a crown of thorns platted on His head!
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One of the great things about stories is that they help us to enter into the feelings and experiences of another. And it is a very goo thing that we have entered today into the story that God has given us of Abraham and the offering-up of his own son Isaac. Clearly, God has given this story to us in order to point us to point our attention to Jesus.
But before we close, I'd like to point out one very great difference between the story of Isaac and the story of Jesus. Abraham was stopped from offering his son; but God the Father did not stop. He went on to fully do what He stopped Abraham from doing. God did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all (Rom. 8:39). He faithfully made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
And I suggest that you have not yet responded to the story of the cross of Jesus until you have truly made it your own. You have not responded to it unless you are first moved to a sense of deep sorrow over your own sins; because it was your sins that made the dreadful sacrifice of God's Son on the cross necessary. And you will not have made that story your own until you embrace the deep love that God the Father has shown in willingly making such a sacrifice for you. You truly embrace the story of the cross, and make it your own, when you pray something like this:
I hope that you will pray that prayer today. And I hope that, together, we will always keep our eyes fixed on Golgotha; where it can truly be said that, “in the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided” (Gen. 22:14).
1See Genesis 4:23; also 21:14, where the word us used for Ishmael at the age of 13.
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