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Abraham and Isaac: An Ultimate Test of Faith and Foreshadowing of The Lamb of God
How is the story of Abraham and Isaac connected to Jesus Christ of Nazareth? Let us first briefly examine God’s promise of a son to Abram and Sarai (later called Abraham and Sarah) when he was 75 years old and she was 65. Even though a son is not directly mentioned in this text by God, a hint is given. This promise is written about by Moses in Genesis 12:1-4:
“Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him.”
As Good As Dead
God’s plan was always to fulfill His promise to make Abram into a great nation and bless all the families of the earth “in Abraham and his seed,” which Apostle Paul in Galatians expounds as meaning through the person of Christ (Gal. 3:16; Gen. 12:3; 18:18 and 22:18). But to eventually reach the point of blessing all the nations of the globe through God’s only Son, given that Sarai was barren and he was described as “as good as dead” (Rom. 4:19), needed a form of resurrection. The conception and healthy birth of a child to such an elderly couple can almost be compared to the Virgin Birth of Jesus because both of these biblical and historical events were beyond the natural. Some time after Abram and Sarai had left their home, God took him outside and said,”Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.”Then He said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And Abram believed the Lord, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:5-6). Fast forward, God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah was fulfilled after twenty-five years when Sarah was 90 years old and Abraham was 100. It was a lengthy path they traveled before finally holding their baby boy in their arms.
A covenant is between two parties and if we were to really simplify it there are basically two types of covenants: a unilateral/one-sided and a bilateral/two-sided. It’s important to notice that the covenant that God makes with Abram is unilateral and the agreement is only binding on one party for its fulfillment, God. This is uniquely seen in Genesis 15:17-18 “when the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.” Here God did not ask Abram to walk through the cut halves of the animals because this covenant was unilateral, meaning it was initiated and guaranteed by God alone. This means that God was taking upon himself the responsibility to bless and the consequence of the covenant being broken. God was essentially saying, may what happened to these animals happen to me if the covenant is not kept. It emphasized God’s unwavering commitment to fulfilling the covenant.
As the various covenants unfold throughout the Bible, there is a growing tension between God’s unwavering commitment to His promises and our tendency to disobey. We serve a holy God, and obedience is not an optional aspect of our faith and eternal life with Him. Considering Genesis 3:15, God’s promises are linked to the arrival of a perfectly righteous son, whose obedience will rectify the consequences of Adam’s catastrophic decision to rebel and disobey God. Where is such a son? Abraham did not have perfect trust in God, and he could not perfectly obey God. The same applies to his son Isaac and all the subsequent descendants of Abraham. Who could possibly remain absolutely and perfectly faithful in a covenant with God and not sin against Him? This truth is evident from the covenant made with Abraham, and it holds true for any of the other future covenants, demonstrating that only God has the capacity to establish and uphold His covenants. God will act unilaterally to fulfill His own promise through the provision of a faithful covenant partner, which is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). God’s justice prevails, even as He justifies the unjust. This extraordinary act is achieved through the Son of God bearing the weight of our sins, enduring the punishment, and absorbing God’s wrath on the cross. In return, He imputes His righteousness to anyone who places their faith in Him. Our justification is solely by faith through Christ, and it is made possible by the New Covenant He established for us through His blood (Luke 22:20).
Patient and Merciful God
Along this long journey to parenthood, God makes a covenant with them, and their names are changed to Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 15, 17). They make many mistakes. To mention a few instances: Abram lied twice about Sarai being his wife, which jeopardized their marriage and caused disease and havoc to the well-being of others (Genesis 12:10–20; 20:1–18). Additionally, Sarah attempted to assist God by offering her servant, Hagar, to Abram to bear him a child. This resulted in the birth of Ishmael and later led to a significant amount of family drama and the separation of two families. Sarah also irreverently laughed at God when Abraham was told by the Lord that they would finally have a child. Then, when God confronted and questioned Sarah about her laughter, out of fear she lied about it (Gen. 18:9-15). Through many years of traveling, trials, long periods of waiting, various tests and failures, Abraham’s faith was strengthened, and he offered praise to God. He became convinced that God had the ability to fulfill His promises. God remained faithful and fulfilled His beautiful promise to His flawed servants, Abraham and Sarah. Abraham would become a father of a multitude and the nation of Israel, from which, two thousand years later, the Supreme King, Prophet, Priest, and Sacrificial Lamb would emerge.
Test of a Lifetime
Isaac is miraculously conceived and born in God’s perfect timing. Finally, God’s promise to make Abraham into a great nation becomes tangible and a potential reality. One star among many is born. Isaac grows up, and when he is probably in his teens or twenties, “God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he replied, ‘Here I am.’ God said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:1-2). This is truly an astonishing and jaw-dropping request from God, offering a profound insight into Abraham’s unwavering faith. Notably, this verse marks the first occurrence of the word “love” in the Bible. Significantly, it describes a father’s relationship with his son. This would prove to be Abraham’s most important test, designed to determine whether he would demonstrate unwavering faith and trust in God’s character and divine plan. It was a test of his belief in God’s goodness, justice, faithfulness, provision, and even the power to raise the dead (Heb. 11:19). As the Genesis text reveals, Abraham remained faithful as “he rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, took two of his young men, and his son Isaac. He cut the wood for the burnt offering and set out for the place that God had specified” (Gen. 22:3).
Faith Without Action is Dead
Abraham trusted God and obeyed His command. He didn’t hesitate or consider a backup plan. He believed that even if he went through with the act of sacrificing his only son, God would raise him from the dead, and they would return home with Isaac alive (Heb. 11:9). This could explain why, “on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar… [and] said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there to worship and will come back to you’” (Gen. 22:4-5). When Isaac sees the wood and knife in his father’s hand but no animal for the sacrifice, he questions Abraham. Abraham assures him that God Himself will provide the lamb for the offering. Isaac, choosing to trust his father, accompanies him up the mountain to the designated spot where Abraham constructs an altar and lays him, bound, on top of the wood. This is the moment when Abraham takes the knife and is about to slay his son Isaac. Suddenly, the angel of the Lord urgently calls out from heaven and stops him. Abraham successfully passes the test of his lifetime and is told, “Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen. 22:12). It is at this point that Abraham looks up and sees a ram caught in a thicket, put there by God to serve as the burnt offering to take Isaac’s place on the altar. In response, Abraham names that place “The Lord Will Provide” or the literal rendering could be “The Lord will see to it” (Gen. 22:14).
Some might argue that this scene on Mount Moriah reveals more about God’s character than it does about Abraham. It demonstrates that God is the great Jehovah-jireh. Two thousand years later, God the Father provided the way, the truth, and the life through His only Son, Jesus, as the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed on the cross in place of sinners. As Apostle Paul reminds us regarding Abraham and justification by faith, “the words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:23-25). In this profound narrative, we find a timeless message of faith, sacrifice, obedience and redemption. God has been planning for our salvation long before the time of Abraham and Isaac, even before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4). God knew that He alone could establish and uphold the covenant, and our sole path to redemption would be through the incarnation, sinless life, and the precious bloodshed of His only Son, Jesus Christ, described as ‘a lamb without blemish or defect’ (1 Peter 1:18-20). Regardless of your sins and failures, Christ wants to forgive you and credit you with His righteousness. Do you trust Him? Salvation comes by God’s grace alone and through faith alone. However, the faith that saves us doesn’t remain alone; it is followed by a life of obedience. Wholehearted love for God will always be followed by corresponding actions. To be a true follower of Jesus, you must be willing to renounce your own desires, carry your cross, and follow Him. Those who seek to preserve their own lives will ultimately forfeit them, but those who are ready to surrender their lives for His sake will discover true life—an abundant life that enables you to live for God’s glory and be a blessing to the world around you.