‘Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’’ Genesis 22:8
Brothers and sisters, when I was 11 years old I went on a camp near Windermere where they taught kids to sail. I had been reading ‘Swallows & Amazons’ and fancied giving it a go! I loved it, and by the end of the week I was ready not just for taking Level 1 but Level 2 as well. However, as we sailed back into harbour on the day before the tests, I really wasn’t sure I was ready. My instructor kept reassuring me, but I didn’t quite believe that I could do it. All of a sudden the boat caught a big gust of wind, and my instructor fell off backwards into the water. Everyone froze, except for me, who calmly grabbed the rudder, jibbed the boat, and brought it round neatly to pick up the stranded instructor. As the instructor pulled herself back on to the boat she smiled at me and said ‘See, I told you you were ready’! She had fallen in on purpose, she had tested me, not for her benefit but for mine. Now I knew I was ready!
Something like that is happening in Genesis 22. We’re told in verse 1: ‘Some time later God tested Abraham’. Don’t think of this as God testing Abraham so that God can find out whether or not Abraham trusts Him, God knows everything—He knows Abraham’s heart, as He knows everyone’s heart. God doesn’t test Abraham for God’s benefit, no, rather like my sailing instructor, God tests Abraham for Abraham’s benefit! However, to put it mildly, the test is awful, verse 2:
‘God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love–Isaac–and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will show you.’’
This is a horrible test, and yet, Abraham amazingly complies. For three days Abraham & Isaac travelled to Mount Moriah. What must have been going though Abraham’s mind? This is his only son! This is the one they have spent 25 years waiting for, and through whom God has promised that He will bless the whole world. And now God wants Abraham to do what? Sacrifice him! Kill him! It doesn’t make any sense! And though it doesn’t make any sense, Abraham keeps walking to the place of sacrifice. Well, after three days, they arrive at the mountain and Abraham and Isaac start walking up; and not surprisingly Isaac has questions, verse 7:
‘Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham ‘Father?’ ‘Yes, my son?’ Abraham replied. ‘The fire and wood are here,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’’
Isaac has clocked the missing ingredient. There is no lamb. So where is the offering? Who or what is going to die? In verse 8, we get the key to this whole strange and terrible story: ‘Abraham answered, ‘God Himself will provide’. Abraham doesn’t know how this will resolve itself. He doesn’t know what God’s plan is. He only knows that God has always taken care of him, that God has always kept His promises, and Abraham trusts God to keep them now and to provide whatever is needed. After 22 chapters in Genesis we now have a man who fully and completely trusts God. And though Abraham didn’t know it, his words to Isaac are born out, for at the moment of sacrifice, God stays Abraham’s hand, protects the boy, and provides instead a lamb as the sacrifice. We have reached the end of our studies in Genesis just as we reach the climax of the story of Abraham, when Abraham shows himself as the man who trusts, as the ‘Father of Faith’.
However, before we finish completely we must not miss the amazing way in which this true story looks forward to, and anticipates, the final rescue of all God’s people. See if you can join the dots. See if these details remind you of anyone? Clue 1 is in verse 2: ‘Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah.’ Moriah is the place which is later named Jerusalem. Clue 2 is in verse 6: ‘Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac’ Isaac carries the wood on which he will be sacrificed himself. Finally, Clue 3 is in verse 8: ‘Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb’. Do you see? Going to Jerusalem; carrying the wood; and the lamb which God will provide all point forwards to the greatest sacrifice of all, of Jesus on the Cross. Jesus’ death takes place in Jerusalem; Jesus carries the wood of His cross to the place of His death; and Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God’ who is sacrificed on behalf of others. In our Genesis story we see a father willing to sacrifice his son as an introduction to what God the Father chose to do for us! This story is meant to be pointing us forward to Good Friday; but with one crucial difference. Father Abraham, trusted God and was willing to give up his son, Isaac, but didn’t have to go through with it. God the Father, was willing to give up His Son, Jesus, just the same, only for our sake He actually went through with it. Jesus is sacrificed so no one else needs to be. God provides what is necessary, not just for Abraham, but for anyone who trusts and believes in Him. The story of the sacrifice of Isaac is not the story of a cruel god, but a story which points towards the God who loved the world so much, that He would sacrifice His only Son, in order to rescue us all. Here in Genesis 2, at the climax of the story of the Father of Faith, we have a blueprint of how God was planning to redeem the world. A world which God loved so much, that He would sacrifice His only Son, providing for anyone and everyone who trusts Him the way to get to heaven.
We come to the end of our studies in Genesis, and the spiritual end of Abraham’s journey. A journey which has ended with Abraham trusting that God would provide and calling on us to do the same. We are to say as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane ‘not what I will, but what you will.’ And then to follow God wherever He calls. Amen. (from Fr Mike).