And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. (Genesis 22:12-13)
We come today to a figure in the Old Testament of the sacrifice of Christ. Abraham is asked to bring his son to the mountain and sacrifice him. Isaac, his only son with Sarah, is the child of the promise given by God. At this point in his life, Abraham had endured many trials: being a pilgrim amongst the nations, having his wife taken from him twice, having to defend his nephew’s life in war, amongst others. Having now had his son he likely felt that his promise had come and he may now pass his days in peace.
God had another plan.
How easy it is for us to think that we will have comfort in this life. We think we will not have to face trials since we are now secured in our salvation. Not so; for as Peter tells us, we are strangers and pilgrims on this earth (1 Pet 2:11) and will have the trials of circumstance, wars against the flesh, and conflicts with others. These trials are put before us to test the sincerity of our faith just as this trial was put in front of Abraham. We see in v.2 that God tempted Abraham and think this may be a contradiction with what James 1:13 that God tempts no one. The difference here is that – for James – he is speaking against those who think that their sins and wickedness are to be blamed on God and not themselves. In Abraham’s case, God is testing the sincerity of his faith. God is growing him in the process of sanctification just as we are put to the test by the trials of this life.
Abraham obeys and brings his son to the mountain. At the moment when he is about to sacrifice Isaac, an angel appears and stops him. The angels tells Abraham that God now knows he is righteous. Calvin comments that this is falsely used by Roman commentators to demonstrate the necessity of works in our salvation. Yet, how can that which is graciously given be then due by a just reward on the basis of our works? No, indeed, God knew that Abraham would succeed in this trial and put the trial to him to grow him in holiness and hope of what was to come. This is what Paul reveals in Hebrews 11 when he says: “accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” (v.19). Abraham had faith that even though he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, that God had the power to raise him from the dead and to fulfill the promise made. He therefore received a figure of the sacrifice of the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was the perfect sacrifice provided by God
Matthew Poole offers a fascinating commentary on Abraham’s interaction with Isaac up the mountain, which I’ll provide below. We may think that Isaac was ignorant of what was being done on the mountain; however, Poole suggests otherwise:
And that Isaac might be the more exact type of Christ, he was bound by his own consent, otherwise his age and strength seem sufficient to have made an effectual resistance. It is therefore highly reasonable to think that Abraham, having in the whole journey prepared Isaac for such a work by general but pertinent discourses, did upon the mount particularly instruct him concerning the plain and peremptory command of God, the absolute necessity of complying with it, the glorious reward of his obedience, and the dismal consequences of his disobedience; the power and faithfulness of God either to prevent the fatal blow, or to restore his life lost with infinite advantage. Upon these, and such-like reasons, doubtless he readily laid himself down at his father’s feet, and yielded up himself to the Divine will.