Genesis 22:1-18 (1st Sunday in Lent—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
February 26, 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament lesson appointed for the day, Genesis 22:1-18.
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 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.” 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. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 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.” 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. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. 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. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 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.” 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. 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.” And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
My son and I have a special verbal exchange based on God’s command to Abraham in our Old Testament lesson this morning. Since Aaron was little we have had this dialog between us. I say to Aaron, “You are my son, my only son,” to which Aaron responds, “whom you love.” It is a small thing, but a very special and wonderful thing that I share with my only son, whom I do love. Knowing how much I love my only son, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Abraham to have God command him, “Take you 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.”
Certainly something must be amiss. God promised Abraham when he was yet childless, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3) Abraham struggled with this promise and so God repeated it, strengthening Abraham’s faith, “But Abram said, ‘O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’ And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought 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 he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:2-6)
According to God’s Word, Abraham and his wife Sarah, even though they were both very old and Sarah was considered unable to have children, were blessed with a son, Isaac. And the Lord told Abraham, “through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” (Genesis 21:12) So Isaac is the child of promise. He is the one through whom Abraham’s line of descent would continue. Through Isaac and his children, and his children’s children, God would bless all the nations of the earth through One of these descendents.
But here in Genesis 22 it seems that God has gone off the deep end. At the child’s birth God says that “through Isaac shall your descendants be named,” and now God says, “Take your son and sacrifice him.” Is God repenting of His promise? Had Abraham committed some extra-ordinary sin and deeply offended God so that He was withdrawing the promise? No, and no. The promise is still as valid and sure as the day God first spoke it. There is no indication that Abraham had done anything that would make God renege on a promise. In fact, Abraham still believed the promise to be true and in effect even as he carried out God’s command! We read in Hebrews 11, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” (Hebrews 11:17-19) Martin Luther tried to bring Abraham’s thoughts to light when he wrote, “These were [Abraham’s] thoughts: ‘Today I have a son; tomorrow I shall have nothing but ashes. I do not know how long they will lie scattered; but they will be brought to life again, whether this happens while I am still alive or a thousand years after my death. For the Word declares that I shall have descendents through this Isaac, even though he has been reduced to ashes.’”
If God could be considered to be off His divine rocker here, what about Abraham? How could Abraham believe that even though his only son is killed that God could still bless him and all the nations through this offspring, this son Isaac? Can God really bless all the nations of the earth through the death of the son of promise?
Yes, He can. . . and He did, but not through the death of Isaac. This test of Abraham was not only conducted by the Lord for Abraham’s sake, but for I believe also for ours. The events of the near sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham along with the specifics within the narrative itself are a type. T-y-p-e. A type is a person, institution, or an event like this one in the Old Testament that foreshadows or prefigures a greater, better person, institution, or event in the New Testament. This is why I believe that this account in God’s Word isn’t just for Abraham, but for us, because God was planning something like this event, on a greater scale, that would truly, really, actually bless all the nations of the earth.
In our narrative today, we have Abraham, a father, taking his only son to offer him as a burnt offering, as a sacrifice. The wood for the sacrifice was laid on Isaac. He carried it to the place where Abraham built an altar. The wood was laid on the altar and Isaac was bound and laid on the wood. Does this not bring to mind the picture of another only Son who was to be a sacrifice? Isaac is a type, a foreshadowing, of THE descendent of Abraham, Jesus Christ, Son of Man and Son of God. Matthew begins his Gospel with these very words, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, . . . the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1) Jesus is the greater son of Abraham. And did not God the Father have His only Son, whom He loved, taken to one of the mountains in the land of Moriah to have Him offered as a sacrifice? It’s interesting to note that Moriah seems to have been an area near Mt. Zion on which Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem. Where was Jesus taken to be sacrificed? On a hill outside that Jerusalem temple, named Golgotha, very near to where Abraham led his only son. And what did Jesus carry to that hill? The wood for His cross, even as Isaac carried the wood for the burnt offering.
This isn’t an accident. This is God setting us up way back in Genesis 22 for what He would do through THE descendent of Abraham, Jesus, God’s only Son, who would bless all the nations of the earth. But where the Lord stopped Abraham from using the knife in his hand to slay his son, God the Father did not stop the nails in the hands of the Romans from killing His. God was going to bless Abraham and Isaac and all the nations through the death of the Son of Promise. And God provided His own Son, His only Son, for this once-for-all sacrifice.
It was Isaac who first pointed us in this direction by asking his father, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” Truly these were words inspired by God the Holy Spirit. For Isaac would not be the sacrifice. God provided a ram, caught by its horns in a thicket. Yet this ram could not bring about blessing for the nations of the earth. This ram could not be a once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world. No, God would have to provide another—a lamb without spot or blemish. God would provide this lamb in the person of His only beloved Son, Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
It is this Son of God, the Lamb of God, whom the Father gave up for us all on the cross. Whereas He stopped Abraham from offering his only son, Isaac, God the Father willingly sacrificed His only Son on the altar of the cross. Crowned with thorns, pierced through with nail and spear, Jesus bled and died, shedding His holy, innocent blood to cleanse the nations from their sin.
It is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross that wins the blessing of forgiveness for all the nations of the earth. It is the sacrificial death of God’s Son that wins your forgiveness and mine. In Jesus, God has fulfilled His promise to Abraham and Isaac. He has fulfilled His promise to us, that through THE descendent of Abraham, you and I and all the people of the earth, receive the blessings of Jesus’ sacrificial death—forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to sacrifice my son, my only son, whom I love. Abraham could imagine, but ultimately didn’t have to carry out the sacrifice of his only son, Isaac. But God the Father knows personally what it is like to offer up His only Son into death. He knows what it is like to provide the Lamb of price for the sins of the people. Truly, God’s promise to Abraham stands fulfilled and the nations of the earth are blessed through the death of Jesus, the Son of Promise. And for the Father’s sacrifice of His Son on the cross we give Him all glory, thanks, and praise. For through the offering of Christ our Savior, we are blessed with forgiveness and everlasting life. Amen.