God’s Plan for Abraham (Genesis 22:1-14)
Rev. Peter Heckert
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation for today comes from our Old Testament text, especially where we hear, “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.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …
Last week, we saw the first humans, Adam and Eve, ruin God’s perfect creation by eating the fruit He had forbidden them to eat. That rebellious act set in motion a devastation that would impact all of creation. Disease, famine, pestilence, death, and extinction were unleashed. Hatred, mistrust, war, crime, and death came upon Adam and Eve and their descendants—our whole human race. They were separated from God and each other by their sin. They and all of us—their children—are now, by nature, hostile to God and to one another. God certainly would have been within His rights as Creator to tear it all down and start over, but He didn’t. He did not abandon His creation or His human creatures. Instead, He promised that one of their descendants would crush Satan’s head, freeing humanity and all creation from the curse of sin and death.
That was the promise. In the meantime, however, sinful humanity sunk to ever-lower depths of debauchery, violence, vanity, and sin. They abused one another and the creatures God had entrusted to their care. So indulgent were they in their depravity, so widespread was their faithlessness, that eventually there was only one faithful, believing family left in creation. The rest … needed to be scoured from the face of the earth. Those few faithful of Noah’s family were preserved through the flood by God’s merciful hand; when the floodwaters subsided, the time came to begin again.
God blessed Noah’s descendants, sending them out to multiply and refill the earth. But even among the descendants of that faithful family, a similar pattern took shape. The people rejected God and forgot His gracious promise of a Savior. One may think that God would do the same thing as before. However, instead of another worldwide flood (one which He had promised to never send again), He chose from among those faithless pagan peoples … an elderly couple from whom He would raise a brand-new nation.
Abram and Sarai lived roughly two thousand years before Jesus was born. God called him to leave his fatherland and go to a place the Almighty would reveal. The father of nations travelled with his family southwest to a land that joined the three continents—what we know today as Africa, Europe, and Asia. Abram and Sarai obeyed God and wandered through an unfamiliar land which their descendants would possess. They raised their herds and flocks and lived in tents. They became rich in all ways contending … except one.
Abram was seventy-five and Sarai sixty-five when they left Ur of the Chaldeans; she was childless and too old to bear children anymore. After waiting another twenty-five years, after mistakes and name changes, God gave the elderly couple the child of promise. They named him Isaac, meaning “He laughs.” What happened years later, however … was no laughing matter. After all that they’d been through, all the ups and downs, finally seeing YHWH’s promise come to fruition, the same God Who gave the elderly couple their son gives Abraham a startling command: “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.”
Isaac was Abraham’s beloved son—the son from whom God had promised to raise a nation—a son through whom the promised Seed of woman would come! He was the child of promise! How could God command him to burn him as a sacrifice?
Innumerable theologians have pondered this thought throughout the ages, but the truly startling thing is that, unlike Eve, Abraham did not question or disobey or try and figure out the meaning. In simple trust and obedience, he took Isaac and the wood and the knife, and they set out for Mount Moriah. When they arrived, Abraham bound Isaac, laid him on the wood, and raised the knife to kill him. Suddenly he heard a voice calling out, “Abraham, Abraham! . . . 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.” Abraham stayed his hand. He did not slay the boy, but looked up and saw a ram that was caught by its horns in a thorny thicket. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering instead of his son. “He named that mountain ‘The LORD will provide,’ saying, ‘On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’”
While it’s easy to be astounded by Abraham’s faithfulness, frankly, he’s not the focus here. The focus is more on how God spared Isaac, providing a ram to be offered in his place. The sacrifice of the ram in Isaac’s stead foreshadows a time when God would again spare His people by providing a Sacrifice to be offered in their place. That Sacrifice … would be the promised Seed of woman, born to crush the serpent’s head, even as He Himself would be fatally struck on His heel. He wouldn’t be described as a ram, but rather a Lamb, the Lamb of God, born to take away the sin of world, suffer and die, sacrificed in our place for our sins so we could live in God’s presence eternally.
But the sacrifice in Isaac’s stead doesn’t only point us to Jesus’ great sacrifice on the cross. It speaks also of that Last Day when we will all stand before Jesus Christ for judgment. Abraham could have sacrificed the one thing he loved most in this world, his dear son, Isaac, but that sacrifice would not save him from the wrath of God for his sins on Judgment Day. God had to provide the sacrifice for Abraham too.
The same is true for us. No amount of obedience and good works or suffering and sacrifice will be enough to satisfy God’s justified wrath. He must provide the sacrifice: in this case, His own dear Son. God led Him to the same mountain as Abraham and Isaac, wrapped His head in thorns, and offered Him as a burnt sacrifice on the cross. Burnt not by fire, but by the pangs of hell and the blazing sun that made Him cry aloud, “I thirst.” Jesus died and rose to life again on the third day … all for you.
God has provided the one and only sacrifice that could pay the penalty for every one of our sins. In Christ Jesus, you have complete pardon and peace. And when He comes again on the Last Day, He will restore your heart, soul, mind, and body, and gather all of us, His believers, to live with Him, the Lamb of God, in His glorious presence for all eternity in His perfectly restored heaven and earth.
+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.