1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He 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.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
Let me start by saying that this is a long passage. That means I won’t be addressing every question that it might raise. What I want to do with a passage like this, as uncomfortable as it is, is to try to understand it within the greater context of the book of Genesis and the Bible as a whole.
First, does Abraham believe that he will actually have to sacrifice his son? If you remember a few days ago, we looked at an earlier passage in Genesis when God promises to give Abraham a son and tells him that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars. Abraham knows this promise and knows that his and Sarah’s only son will need to be alive in order for this promise to come to fruition. We know that Abraham is a man who has faith (Romans 4 & Hebrews 11) and believes what God has promised, but to sacrifice his son would be a direct contradiction.
Here is verse 8, Abraham says, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” He very well could be lying to Isaac in order to get him to go up with him, but what if he actually does believe that God will provide a lamb for them instead? The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham believed that if he went through with it, God would be able to raise Isaac from the dead. Either way, Abraham knew that the promises God made to him regarding Isaac would hold true. He knew that God would be faithful to His word. He knew that God would provide.
I mentioned before that this passage was uncomfortable. In some ways, I think that’s the point. When we take a longer view and examine the allusion it provides of Jesus, you’ll see what I mean. For Abraham and Isaac, God provided a way for them to still be obedient without Abraham having to sacrifice his son. Maybe the punch has been taken out of what is actually communicated in John 3:16 because of its popularity, but isn’t it saying the same thing? God sacrificed His son Jesus as a sin offering on our behalf. For some reason, this doesn’t make us as uncomfortable. It’s a powerful display of the love that God actually has for us that He would do that and of the love that Jesus has for us that he would willingly go.
Maybe the passage of Abraham and Isaac is intended to be uncomfortable because it communicates the harsh realities of the cross. In both stories God provides a way for His promises to come to fruition and ultimately a way into relationship with Him. If we want to tie this into our Lenten theme, there is clearly beauty embedded in the discomfort, beauty embedded in the brokenness. We find ourselves broken from any number of things, but God has provided a way for us to be seen as whole, and that is beautiful.
Prayer and Reflection
Pray for God to show you places in your past when he has provided. If you have a hard time coming up with things and feel like God never provides for you, think about how a difficult situation could’ve been worse. Most things could always go worse than they actually do.