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.
Evidently Abraham had concluded that if he was going to follow through with this sacrifice, then he was going to do it fully and properly. Notice that he took the time to erect an altar, lay out the wood “in order,” and lay his son upon that altar, just as he would do for any other sacrifice. This was an offering to the almighty God, and he was going to do it with the same reverence and meticulous detail that he gave to all other such sacrifices.
It also stands out to me that the famous depiction of Abraham standing over his son, knife raised toward heaven, about to plunge it down may not be accurate. That, of course, is the most dramatic way to depict things, but all the record actually says is that Abraham had picked the knife up. Perhaps he did, in fact, step to the altar and raise his hand before the angel appeared, or perhaps not. In any case, it seems to be the grabbing of the knife that was the line Abraham had to cross before God was satisfied with his commitment.
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.
I wonder if Abraham understood the significance of his phrase “God will provide himself a lab for a burnt offering.” Was he aware that he was foreshadowing the coming savior? I would assume not, as otherwise he would have had a reason to assume that God would prevent him from actually slaying his son.
And, of course, there is another foreshadowing of the savior here as well. Abraham taking the wood and laying it on his son is a type for Jesus bearing his own cross to the slaughter. It seems as though Abraham and Isaac are putting on a highly elaborate pageant of Jesus’ sacrifice, all while being totally oblivious to the fact that that is what they are doing!
How many times do we recreate these legendary stories in our own lives without realizing it either? I believe we many times point back to key events in the past, or key events in the future, totally ignorant of the significance of what it is we do, just as how the Roman guards who crucified the savior “knew not what they did.” We rehearse these gospel keystones because we, like Abraham and Isaac, are guided into them by the great, all-knowing storyteller.
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.
It is hard to fathom what those three days must have been like for Abraham, traveling to the place where he is meant to sacrifice his son! That is a very long time for his thoughts to dwell on what is about to transpire.
We do get some insight into Abraham’s frame of mind from the passage in Hebrews 11:17-19. Here we learn that Abraham expected God to just raise Isaac from the dead after he had made the sacrifice. This would allow for both Abraham to keep God’s commandment and God to keep His own covenant that Isaac would become a righteous nation. After all, Isaac’s birth had been a miracle, so why not his rebirth?
Of course that solution would still require Abraham to go through the ordeal of slaying his own son, and God was going to spare Abraham from that as well. But while Abraham may have been mistaken in exactly what God’s methods would be, he was correct in his belief that God would somehow intervene to keep His promises. And that faith was enough to see him through what he had to do. So it is for us. We don’t need to know exactly how God will prevail in our lives, only that He will. If we accept that He will preserve good for us somehow, then that is enough for us to do what we have been called to.
1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
2 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.
The most famous of Abraham’s stories is this, the sacrifice of his son, Isaac. This can be a difficult story to grapple with. Yes, God doesn’t actually have Abraham go through with it, but even the suggestion to kill one’s own child seems torturous. God even stresses “thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest,” as if to make this even harder on Abraham.
Killing is wrong, after all, especially killing one’s own flesh and blood. Destroying a child goes against every natural and paternal bond. When I hear this story it agitates me deeply, and I think the reason why is due to a key different between me and Abraham.
I just wouldn’t do it.
If I’m being totally frank and honest, I don’t love God more than my children. I don’t trust Him implicitly. I don’t assume that what He says will work itself out for good even if I don’t see how. My discomfort in this story is based around the incongruity of “I want to follow God, but I wouldn’t follow Him in this.” And that challenges and vexes me. He is a God that I am not ready to fully follow.
And honestly just acknowledging that helps me to surrender it. I’m not at that same level of trust and devotion, so I don’t get how to properly process this. I don’t have the answers, but I think for today I don’t need to. I’m still a work in progress. One day I hope to understand all, but I won’t get there by constantly agitating over things that are beyond me for now.
8 And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.
9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.
10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.
11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.
We learn a new detail in verse 9, that Hagar was an Egyptian. Presumably she was recruited during their visit to Egypt at the time of the famine. There is an interesting foreshadowing in this moment that Ishmael, a son of Egypt, afflicts Isaac, a son of Abraham. This same pattern will play out on a much larger scale when the entire nation of Israel is made slaves to the Egyptians, awaiting deliverance at the hand of Moses.
Now comes a difficult situation for Abraham. His two sons are divided against each other, and Sarah is filled with indignation for the offense to her son. Naturally Abraham cleaves to both of his sons, they are each his own blood. But Sarah is only tied to Isaac and her concern is strictly for him.
Now we do not know exactly what she saw in Ishmael’s mockery. “Mockery” is a very wide term. It might mean anything from harmless teasing to hateful tormenting. It is possible that Sarah something that made her fear a terrible violence when she and Abraham, Isaac’s already-old parents, went to the grave and were no longer around to protect him.
4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him.
5 And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him.
6 And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.
7 And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age.
The record once again makes abundantly clear that Abraham immediately followed all of the instructions God had given him, and circumcised his son when he was eight days old, the exact age that the Lord had specified in His commandments. By this he welcomed his son into the covenant that God had established, making Isaac ready to receive all the promised blessings.
As for Sarah, she recalled the moment when God said she would have a son in her old age and she laughed in incredulity. The Hebrew word used here for “laugh” is the exact same as the one used in that earlier passage, which means to make sport or play. Sarah was observing that all the world would be in on the joke now that the promise had been fulfilled. A joke that she was happy to have at her own expense!
And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,
And said, 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;
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
And the Lord appeared unto Isaac, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of:
Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father;
And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him,
God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people;
And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham.
I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven
I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father; And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven
God Almighty bless thee…and multiply thee…and give thee the blessing of Abraham
When God promised Abraham that his descendants would become as numerous as the stars in heaven, it was already implied that the same promise would apply to his son Isaac. How could Abraham’s descendants increase unless Isaac’s did as well?
And again, it was implicit that Jacob would have the same blessing as well by the same logic. In short, Isaac and Jacob might have thought to themselves “well, that was the promise of my fathers…so I guess by default it is also my promise.”
But that’s not how God works. He does want us to infer His involvement in our lives, or just assume that He is blessing us. He does not want us to receive anything by default. The pattern we see from these patriarchs is that He instead comes to each one of His covenant children and makes His promises to them directly. “Never mind that I made similar promises to others, this is a new promise and I am making it with you.”
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.
And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:
And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
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.
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.
And he gave him tithes of all
Lay not thine hand upon the lad…for now I know that thou fearest God
We commonly say that God required Abraham to sacrifice his son, but that is not true. What God required was for Abraham to be willing to sacrifice his son. It might seem a subtle distinction, but I believe it is significant.
- In the end, Abraham did sacrifice his tithes to Melchizedek, the priest of the most high God. Nothing was held back.
- In the end, Abraham did not sacrifice his son. He was held back from actually following through.
Now I don’t mean to discount the mental anguish that Abraham must have faced just by preparing to sacrifice his son. It surely was immense. Even so, it would seem that Abraham was able to recover from it. His life went on, and he continued faithful to the Lord.
I believe that much of the fear I have had in regards to sacrifice is that I don’t want God to break me by mistake. We have all manner of people who ask things of us: parents, teachers, friends, spouses; and even the ones that mean well sometimes ask more than they know, sometimes they hurt us in ways that they shouldn’t.
When we see this failing in those around us it can be easy to project the same fear onto God. What if he asks more of us than He should and accidentally damages us in irreparable ways? It is a misplaced fear, though, for He knows our own limits better than even we do! He knows what He should ask of us, and He knows what He should not. He will test us and He will bend us, but through it all He will maintain utmost respect for our tender hearts.