READ TODAY’S EXTENDED TEXT: Genesis 22:1-19
None of us can readily identify with the decision Abraham was forced to make when God instructed him to offer his son as a sacrifice. Yet, the gut-wrenching anguish that would normally surround such a decision is nowhere reflected in the biblical account. Abraham simply obeyed; he had learned to trust God.
Abraham and Isaac traveled to the land of Moriah as God instructed; and then, leaving the servants behind, they made their way to the site God had chosen. When Isaac questioned his father about the obvious absence of a sacrifice, in a profound statement of faith, Abraham replied, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8).
Genesis 22:11-14 (emphasis added)
“But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’
So he said, ‘Here I am.’
And He said, ‘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.’
Then 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. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’”
There is nothing in the account specifying Isaac’s age when he and Abraham made a 50-mile journey to Mount Moriah. Most agree, he was likely a teenager which would have made Abraham more than 110 years old.
With a suitable altar constructed and wood properly arranged, Abraham bound Isaac and laid him on the top. Knife in hand, Abraham prepared to offer his covenantal son.
The Angel of the Lord calling out to him twice at the last moment, however, kept him from completing the act. As soon as Abraham heard the voice of the Lord, he saw a ram caught by the horns in dense bushes; so, he took the ram and offered it on the altar instead of Isaac.
The emphasis of the passage is the portrayal of Abraham’s implicit faith demonstrated by his obedience. Living in the 21st century, we look back on this historical event with the full canon of Scripture available to us and can see the unfolding significance. But to be fair, Abraham didn’t have that luxury.
For Abraham, obedience to God’s command was paramount—it was the ultimate test of his faith.
Did he really believe God’s promises?
God had told him, “for in Isaac your seed shall be called” (Gen. 18:12).
Abraham undoubtedly believed that God would either provide a sacrifice as he had told Isaac earlier, or that God would actually raise his much beloved son from the dead. There were no other viable options. Abraham was convinced God would fulfill His promises.
Some focus on the morality of the Lord’s request asking, why would God demand a human sacrifice? But, this is not the crux of the issue. God’s declared purpose at the outset was to test Abraham. The Angel of the Lord, Jehovah Himself, not only intervened to keep Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, but also provided the appropriate substitute (22:1, 11).
God provided a ram in place of Isaac. Abraham appropriately named the place Jehovah Jireh—“The-Lord-Will-Provide” (v.14). From that time on, people referenced the place with the words, “In the Mount of the Lord, it shall be provided” (v. 14). Both the first and second Temples to Jehovah would be built on this very site that is patently identifiable today.
Near the end of the Second Intifada, I took my son to that site. It was a rare opportunity to see the very rock of Mount Moriah that is not accessible to pilgrims today. As we stood within arm’s reach of the bedrock that forms the peak of Mount Moriah, I realized how difficult it would have been to make the decision that Abraham made four millennia ago.
The account closes with God again reiterating and reaffirming the unilateral covenant He had made with Abraham before leaving Haran. God told Abraham,
“By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (22.16-18)
Abraham was an amazing man who had learned faith in a diversity of circumstances. Called to the ultimate test, Abraham’s obedience demonstrated the strength of his faith and God amply rewarded him.
1) Bible opened to Isaiah. By Ken Horn, [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) Overhead view of Rock Moriah, circa 1936. Stereoscopic image from the Matson Collection, Library of Congress, [PD-US], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
3) Mount Moriah as viewed from the interior of the Dome of the Rock. Image from the Matson Collection, Library of Congress, [PD-US], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.