God Always Provides the Sacrifice.
Abraham’s test and Isaac’s narrow escape in Genesis 22 is one of those stories that loses something with familiarity. You can become so assured about the end that you become blasé about the beginning. Returning to it now as a father makes it much more painful reading than before, as I can now identify powerfully with what Abraham was asked to give up.
The real impact of the story lies in getting alongside Abraham’s character. You can’t appreciate the difficulty of a sacrifice if you don’t recognise the value of the thing being given up. To start getting towards that for Abraham, you have to read back a few chapters and remember just how badly he had longed for a son, just how long he had to wait until Isaac finally came along, and just how crucial a part of God’s promises Isaac was. Then fast forward back again to chapter 22, and imagine just how devastated Abraham would be to lose his God-given miracle child.
I think the gap between verses 2 and 3 is one of the most poignant pauses in the Bible. After God finished speaking His unexpected demand, and before Abraham got up early with such extraordinary obedience, how long a night of agonised soul-searching was there? It takes nothing away from Abraham’s faith and obedience to suggest that before he resolved to set off there were some incredibly painful questions, no little anger and a lot of confusion. We’re all allowed our moments of doubt; the dark nights of the soul will come.
But the truth is that Abraham’s faith really comes across in this passage. He got up early, and set off before second thoughts could creep in (v. 3). He told his servants that ‘we will come back’ (v.5), that is, both him and Isaac, despite knowing that he was being asked to kill his child, which I think suggests that he trusted God to bring Isaac back somehow. And he confidently tells Isaac that ‘God Himself will provide’ the sacrifice (v.8). There’s a reason this guy is the godfather of faith.
Would he have been willing to sacrifice Isaac if he didn’t believe that God would give him back? For that matter, would God have been willing to sacrifice Jesus if He hadn’t known that He would come back to life? These are questions I hesitate to answer hastily, but I encourage you to consider them for yourselves. Yet just because a happy ending is known, or hoped for, doesn’t detract from the very real pain of the sacrifice that comes before.
As the story goes on to tell, Abraham’s faith was vindicated. God did provide a sacrifice – a ram caught in a nearby thicket (v.13). God always provides. He provided a much better sacrifice two thousand later when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus, like Isaac, was a cherished son and undeserving of death, and they both confronted death on the same hilltop (the Moriah mentioned in verse 2 by God became Golgotha by the time of the Gospels). Also, just like the ram died so Isaac didn’t have to, Jesus’ death means that we are delivered from the curse of death and gain access to eternal life. But unlike Isaac and the ram, Jesus’s sacrifice had ultimate value and universal validity: it was for everyone, and once and for all (Hebrews 9-10). Isaac’s deliverance, although amazing in itself, was just a dress rehearsal for something much greater.
All the familiar lessons from this story still apply: we should manage our priorities so that God is always no. 1, and we shouldn’t cling on to any worldly thing at the expense of being right with God, but the point I really want to draw out is how God provides. He provides for Abraham, and He has provided for me and you. Not just in the big Biblical headlines either, but in the little everyday things as well. We can rely on God’s provision in every aspect and at every stage of our lives. So how does that change how you approach tomorrow?