It is my belief that every story, page, chapter and verse in the Bible is intended to teach us about the Son of God. Luke 24:27 pretty much spells this out as fact. But it’s not hard to “see” some connection from the Old Testament to the New Testament that, maybe on occasion, perhaps, possibly, hypothetically speaking, of course, … really might not be there.
Then there are those stories from the Old Testament that make it so painfully obvious that it’s illustrating details of the Lord Jesus and His Gospel that it feels just shy of embarrassing that they ever have to be pointed out to us. Take the story of Abraham when he almost offered up Isaac as a sacrifice. As discussed in the post, “Faith without works is dead,” this story can be found in Genesis 22 and the entire chapter is included below. And in case after reading the chapter there is still doubt about God’s intent that this Old Testament story is meant to illustrate the sacrifice and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, just read Hebrews 11:17-19. In this post, I won’t go into the details which lead up to Genesis 22 since they were discussed in a previous post. Instead, I’ll share some of the basic things I can see which illustrate the Lord Jesus in this passage. I have no doubt you will see more.
(1) And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, “Abraham:” (2) and he said, “Behold, here I am.” And he said, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”
(3) And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.
(4) Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. (5) And Abraham said unto his young men, “Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.”
(6) And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. (7) And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, “My father:” and he said, “Here am I, my son.” And he said, “Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (8) And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering:” so they went both of them together.
(9) And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. (10) And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
(11) And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham:” and he said, “Here am I.” (12) And he said, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”
(13) And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.
(14) And Abraham called the name of that place “Jehovah-Jireh:” as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.”
(15) And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, (16) And said, “By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: (17) that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; (18) and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”
(19) So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.
(20) And it came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, “Behold, Milcah, she hath also born children unto thy brother Nahor;” (21) Huz his firstborn, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram, (22) and Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash, and Jidlaph, and Bethuel. (23) And Bethuel begat Rebekah: these eight Milcah did bear to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. (24) And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she bare also Tebah, and Gaham, and Thahash, and Maachah.
At its root, this story is about a father and his only son. The father is Abraham who illustrates to some degree God the Father and Isaac illustrates the Lord Jesus Christ. At the start of the account, Abraham is given a command to sacrifice his only son and although we know Abraham had to choose to obey the command of the Lord, there is no evidence in this account that Abraham had a moment’s hesitation. Abraham “rose up early in the morning” (verse 3) and prepared everything he would need for this journey. He even gathered the wood for the sacrifice – before the journey even began – and carried it with him. There was going to be no gathering of wood on the way. He knew what he would need before he started off and brought it with him. This little detail warms my heart because it reminds me that in the mind of God, there was never any doubt about what He would do: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, …, but with the precious blood of Christ, …, who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world…” (1 Peter 1:18-20, see also Ephesians 1:4). From before I was born – indeed, from before He even created the world and put Adam in it, He knew exactly what would happen and what He would do about it. The sin of man did NOT take Him by surprise and despite the horror of the only possible solution: the sacrifice of His only begotten Son (John 3:16), He didn’t hesitate for even the smallest fraction of a second to set in motion His plan to redeem mankind.
Furthermore, the place God instructed Abraham to go was not nearby. It required a journey and time in which to make that journey. During that time, there is little doubt that although Abraham was prepared to carry out God’s instruction, it must have weighed very heavily on his mind. How could he sacrifice his son, who he had waited so long to have, who he loved profoundly? He knew God would keep his promise and Isaac would live again (Heb 11:17-19) but what pain would he inflict on his beloved son in the process? As a father myself, the presumed anguish of Abraham’s thoughts during that journey seem hard to ignore. How much more so between God the father in knowing what He would have to do to His Son on the cross? We understand love to the degree we’re able. But how infinitly more the love must be between God the father and God the Son, two perfectly linked persons of the eternal Godhead? There aren’t many places in the New Testament which speak directly about the love God the Father has for the Son. One place, though, is Matthew 4:17 where was heard “a voice from heaven saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'” Never was there a man before or since who heard such words from heaven. How many years had elapsed between the time when God had made His redemptive plan and the time of the cross? And in that period, how many times did mankind prove utterly his worthlessness and spiritual poverty? Yet God never altered His plan to sacrifice His Son for mankind! Time may not mean to God what it means to us, so take this for what it’s worth, but I can’t help but imagine those centuries passing, getting closer and closer and closer to the instant when God the Father would sacrifice His beloved Son for the sins of the world, all the while man proving his own depravity and utter faithlessness to God. God the Father always knew what He was going to do and that He and the Son would be reunited afterward – but to know what suffering He would inflict on His beloved Son … and for the likes of us ?? – I just don’t think we begin to grasp what it really means when we so easily say, “He is merciful.” Colossal understatement!
Moving onto verse 5, the time had come. “And Abraham said unto his young men, ‘Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.'” What Abraham had to do, he had to do alone with Isaac. Maybe there were practical reasons to leave the young men behind. Maybe Abraham was afraid they might interfere. I don’t know. What I do know is that Abraham knew he and Isaac would both come back down that mountain! He said to the young men, “I and the lad will go … and come again to you.” According to Hebrews 11:17-19, this is key as it shows Abraham expected Isaac would be raised from the dead. And though it turns out there is no need for Isaac to be raised from the dead, the story as a whole, works to figuratively illustrate the actual resurrection of the Lord Jesus. … And that Abraham and Isaac went up the mountain alone highlights something else about the events of the cross that we sometimes overlook. You see, what happened as the Lord Jesus hung on that cross was between Father and Son alone – not us (Acts 2:23). Certainly men were used. It was men who drove the nails into the hands and feet of the Lord Jesus and who stood the cross up, dropping it into place while He hung on it. It was men who earlier platted the crown of thorns on His head and beat Him and mocked Him (Mat 27, John 19, etc). But none of these things had anything to do with what was really happening. The Lord Jesus once said, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh 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 commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18). Metaphorically speaking, God the father and God the Son climbed Calvary’s hill that day completely alone. There were no Roman soldiers or donkeys. There were no servants or disciples or mockers or thieves. There were no women showing compassion or Pharisees and Scribes practicing their politics. … And there were no angels to stay the hand of God Almighty as he plunged the metaphorical knife of His judgment into His son to pay the life-debt of our sin. It’s really sobering to think through the implications of this: like just how helpless we really are. God did it ALL!
While I let that sink in a little, allow me to take a little detour. Another thing about verse 5 is that what Abraham was doing was called, “worship.” So often in our day and age, worship is equated with singing and music and excitement. But I’ll tell you. Abraham wasn’t feeling all “worshippy” as he climbed that hill that day, preparing to sacrifice his son. Yet to God it was worship. You see, while we often evaluate what we do based on how it makes us feel, God values our obedience to Him regardless of what emotions are generated. Abraham was obedient to the Word of God and this should be a lesson for us as we gather together for our meetings. Do we gather in obedience to Him? Or do we gather to satisfy something in ourselves?
Now back to the topic at hand. It’s important to note that Isaac wasn’t a little child when these events occurred. He was old enough to carry the wood up the hill and old enough to ask the question, “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (verse 7). Isaac was likely a teen at this point, and by some accounts, perhaps even in his early 20’s. Isaac didn’t know from the beginning of the journey that he was to be the sacrifice. And when he found out, he could easily have overpowered Abraham who by now was well over 100 years old. But he didn’t. Even when “they came to the place … and [Abraham] bound Isaac … and laid him on the altar …” (verse 9), Isaac was obedient, submitting himself to his father’s will, even when it meant his own death.
When Abraham answered Isaac’s question in verse 8 saying, “God will provide Himself a lamb,” I wonder if he really understood his own answer. In our hindsight, we know that God did provide the ultimate Lamb for the sacrifice. In fact, He provided Himself to be the lamb for the sacrifice. John the baptiser pointed to the Lord Jesus one day some three and a half years before the cross, saying, “behold the lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Isaac was kept in the dark about what role he was to play until almost the moment he was bound to the altar. But the Lord Jesus knew from the beginning. He never had to ask, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” He knew from before the foundations of the earth that He was the lamb for the burnt offering. And willingly He carried the wood up Calvary’s hill and “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8). He said, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me.” (John 6:38). I know we often say things like, “even if I were the only one who ever believed, He still would have gone to the cross.” True enough. But first and foremost, He did what He did in obedience to His Father so even if nobody in all the ages ever trusted in Him for salvation, He still would have gone to that cross to please His Father (Heb 10:5-10).
At this point, many of the details between Genesis 22 and what happened at the cross start to diverge. Most notably, an angel stopped the hand of Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. At the cross, there was nothing to come between God’s fury over sin and His beloved Son. The Lord Jesus endured God’s full wrath for sin so completely that 2 Corinthians 5:21 says of the Lord Jesus, “For He hath made Him to be sin for us…” And sin was indeed judged on the cross that day – our sin.
And although much of what remains in the chapter may not correlate directly with the events of the cross (at least as far as I see), there are still things remaining in the account with Abraham which remind me of the Lord. For example, the “ram caught in a thicket by his horns” (verse 13) reminds me of the Lord with the crown of thorns. Also note that it was a ram and not a lamb that Abraham ended up sacrificing that day. The lamb God would provide, as already discussed, would be the Lord Jesus Himself many years later. Also, I love the name Abraham gave the place: “Jehovah-Jireh” which is interpreted for us: “In the mount of the Lord it will be seen” or as some have translated, “God, my provider.” God has, indeed, seen to our every need in providing Himself a Lamb for the burnt offering. Another example of the divergence, is the statement from the angel of the Lord in verse 18, “and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” Abraham, the father, was obedient and was therefore given this promise. When we consider the Gospel, it is Christ, the Son, which demonstrates obedience. And there are many others, I’m sure, too.
…. But the similarities aren’t quite over just yet. There’s one beautiful similarity I still want to bring up. It’s an oddity, really, that the story doesn’t seem to end with verse 19, where one might expect. Rather, there seems to be this genealogy tacked onto the end. Only after the “sacrifice” and “resurrection” of Isaac (Heb 11:19 explains that Isaac is a “figure” of resurrection) do we read about the birth of Rebekah in verse 23. Rebekah will become Isaac’s bride in Genesis 24:67. In the New Testament, there is a bride described for the Lord Jesus Christ called “the church” (see Eph 5:32, Rev 19:6-8). And guess when the church is “born?” Yup. Right after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus as chronicled in the early chapters of the book of The Acts. (Some more details on this may also be found here).
When I read these stories which were written so long before the Lord Jesus came to Earth as a man and see that God had arranged the whole thing for us (1 Cor 10:11), I realize just how important it is to Him that we be convinced beyond doubt that He is the true author of what we call “God’s Word.” I can’t help but have my own faith built up as a result. And I hope that you have the same experience when you read it. God’s Word is not only trustworthy, it is beautiful.