Kill your son !
Abraham had a problem: God’s command contradicted his promise. What was God’s command? ‘Take now your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love … and offer him … as a burnt offering’.
What was God’s promise? ‘It is through your son that I will bless the world. It is from his descendants that the Messiah-Saviour will come into the world’. How can God fulfil his promise if Isaac dies? What does Abraham do? He obeys God!
Here is a problem we often face. God’s promise says, ‘All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28). But everything seems to go wrong!
If God is in control, why is the world in such a mess? What are we do? Obey God!
We read about Abraham offering Isaac in Genesis 22. Why did God command Abraham to offer Isaac? We are told something that Abraham did not know until later. We read in verse 1, ‘God tested Abraham’.
What was this test? Verse 12 explains: ‘Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’. Abraham put obedience to God above his love for his only son. He loved God more than his son. He passed the hardest test of his life. Do we love God like this?
Job was another man whom God tested. He too, like Abraham, did not know that his trials were a test from God. It is often only with hindsight that we realise that some bad patch in our lives was a test from God.
God challenged Satan to a contest: ‘Have you considered my servant God, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?’ (Job 1:8).
‘He only serves you, because you bless him!’ retorts Satan. God allows Satan to destroy Job’s servants, livestock and then kill his ten children all in one day.
Worse was to come: his health breaks down so that he is near death and sinks into deep depression; his wife deserts him and his friends accuse him of sin. ‘You must be a great sinner for God to punish you so severely’, they reasoned.
It is evident from the story of Job that there are no simple answers to the mystery of suffering. Nevertheless, Job passed the test. He lived to write the book that bears his name.
Do we praise God, even when life seems to be going all wrong? In Romans 5, Paul says that we are to ‘rejoice in the hope of the glory of God’, but we are also to ‘glory in tribulations’ (vv.3-4). Is this possible? Yes! Listen to Paul and Silas praising God in the prison in Philippi (Acts 16).
Abraham cannot misunderstand God’s command: ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac whom you love, go … offer him as a burnt offering’ (v.2).
He has waited 25 years for this son, now he must kill him. Each phrase drives home the message — ‘your son’, ‘only son’, ‘whom you love’.
Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Sarah’s maid Hagar, had been sent away (Genesis 21), so now Isaac is the only son of the aged patriarch. He is the only son, through whom God has promised blessing to the world. God’s promises depend on the life of his precious son. But God says, ‘Kill him!’
What is Abraham’s response? He obeys, despite Sarah’s tears. True, the text does not mention her tears, but surely she would be deeply upset when she sees Abraham leaving home with the intention of killing the son of their old age?
Abraham himself must have felt great distress. He gets up ‘early in the morning’ (v.3) and travels for three days (v.4) until he reaches the place chosen by God. He had previously carefully chopped wood and selected a suitable knife.
As they are walking, Isaac’s question breaks the silence and probes into Abraham’s heart: ‘Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ (v.7).
When did Abraham tell Isaac about God’s command? Isaac, now a teenager, willingly allows his father to tie him to the altar.
What thoughts rushed into his mind? Isaac would have known the promises relating to blessing through his descendants. We assume that he shared the confidence of his father in the God who always keeps his Word.
What did Abraham mean when he told his young men, ‘We will come back’ (v.5)? According to the writer to the Hebrews, Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19). He had never seen anyone raised from the dead, but he reasoned that God would have to raise Isaac from the dead to fulfil his promises.
Do we have this same confidence in God? Despite all the bad things that happen in our lives, do we still believe that God is working for our good? And that he will complete the good work which he has begun in us (Philippians1:6)?
Isaac asks, ‘Where is the lamb?’ (v.7). Abraham replies, ‘God will provide the lamb’ (v.8).
And God did! God calls from heaven, ‘Do not kill the lad!’ (v.12). Then Abraham sees a ram caught in a thicket and offers the ram instead of Isaac (v.13). God, who spared Isaac by providing a ram, is ‘Jehovah Jireh’ — the Lord who provides (v.14).
God’s provision of a ram to be killed instead of Isaac is an illustration of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, dying in the place of sinners. Abraham’s offering of Isaac took place at Moriah (v.2), the site many years later of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.
It was in the temple that animals were offered to God. Animals died instead of sinful worshippers. But these offerings could never take away sin. Christ, the Lamb of God, died outside Jerusalem to remove sin once for all.
His death accomplished what the animal sacrifices could never achieve (Hebrews 10:4,11-14,16).
Paul probably had Genesis 22 in mind when he wrote Romans 8:32: ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?’
God spared Abraham’s only, dearly loved son; but God did not spare his own only beloved Son. He, who gave us the greatest gift, will provide whatever we need. He is Jehovah Jireh!
We read in verse 13 that Abraham offered the ram ‘instead of his son’. Christ died instead of sinners. This is the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, which is essential to a right understanding of Christ’s death, and is taught in numerous passages of the Bible (e.g. Isaiah 53:5-6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18).
The Lord responds to Abraham’s obedience and faith by reaffirming his promises (vv.15-18). We ought to notice the word ‘because’ in verse 18. ‘In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice’.
Divine grace and human responsibility come together to fulfil what God has planned.
God, who never lies, commits himself by a solemn oath to bring about his promises — ‘By Myself I have sworn’ — to reassure Abraham (v.16). God did keep his word, and the outcome was Christ’s coming into the world to die for sinners!
So much hinged on Abraham’s obedience. Much more depended on God keeping his promise.
Stan K. Evers