Introduction: Several years have come and gone since Isaac was weaned (Genesis 21) and this encounter. Abraham had made a number of altars and had offered several sacrifices since he had come to Canaan, but this was an offering he didn’t want to make. Even so, he obeyed God and received a reward from God after he obeyed God’s commands.
1 Another Test of Abraham’s Faith
Text, Genesis 22:1 19, KJV: 1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, -and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. 2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. 3 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. 4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. 5 And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.
Abraham had been walking with God for many years but one day he received some shocking news. He heard God say “Abraham!” and he replied, “Behold, here I am”—probably not knowing just what was going to happen. Besides, Abraham had only heard God call him by name once before (Gen. 15:1) even though God had spoken to Abraham many times.
This time, however, was different: when Abraham heard God’s Voice this time, I wonder what he was thinking! Moses wrote that God did “tempt” Abraham but this was not a “temptation” to do anything evil, as the word usually means. The Geneva Bible of the sixteenth century has the words “God did prove Abraham”; in other words, God was about to put Abraham to a test.
And what a test this was going to be! Even though Abraham had offered a number of sacrifices since he arrived in Canaan, this was going to be very different. This time, God told Abraham to take his only genuine son—by his marriage to Sarah—and offer him as a “burnt offering”. This meant, and not to be too graphic, the item to be sacrificed would be killed and the carcass would be totally and completely burned on an altar.
Abraham, as mentioned, knew about this from the previous sacrifices he had offered. But never had he considered offering anything than animal sacrifices; clearly, not his own flesh and blood!
But, obedient, Abraham “rose up early in the morning (probably the next morning)” then saddled his donkey; selected two young men and Isaac, and “clave (split)” wood for the burnt offering. The type of wood is not specified and is not significant at this time. Once this preparation was completed, they started on the journey to the place God had indicated.
The destination wasn’t close; in fact, it was three days away! Abraham was living near Beersheba at this time and the mountain was near Jerusalem. On the third day, Abraham saw the place “afar off,” or in the distance. He told the two young men to stay put; he and Isaac would be back.
2 The New Altar Built by Abraham
Text, Genesis 22:6-11, KJV: 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? 8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. 9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
Abraham knew exactly what God was asking him to do, even before they left Beersheba (Gen. 21:31) and headed north to the place of the sacrifice. How much Isaac, and the two young men, were able to piece together is not certain but each of them must have wondered just what was going on. After all, there was wood, fire, and people—but nothing to offer as a sacrifice.
Eventually Isaac must have sensed something. He asked, in the time-honored way of children who suspect something, “Father, I see the wood and the fire, but where’s the lamb for the burnt offering?” Lambs, by the way, were raised not only for wool but also for sacrifices. One such example would take place about 400 years later, more or less, when God instructed Israel to kill a lamb as part of the first Passover (see Exodus 12). No doubt Isaac had noted the lack of a lamb or some other animal before they had even left their home.
Abraham’s response is vague, at least as translated in the KJV: “My son, God will provide himself (sic) a lamb for a burnt offering.” If I had been there, I would have probably said something like, “Okay, but where is it? Shouldn’t we be hearing some bleats or sensing something related to a lamb by now?” For whatever reason, Isaac seems to have held his peace.
Now notice that again, Moses wrote that “they went both of them together”, this time apparently closer to the site God Himself had chosen. Remember, as far as we can tell, Isaac still had the wood on his back or shoulders after Abraham had laid the wood on him. Some Bible teachers and others see a parallel, by the way, of Jesus bearing the Cross after it was placed on His body. Isaac probably had no such spiritual insight, as of yet, but he was certainly aware that something was about to happen.
They reached the place God had told Abraham and the work began in earnest, it seems. The first thing that Abraham did, once they got there and as recorded in the text, was to build the altar. Nothing is mentioned about the materials, whether dirt, wood, stone, or anything else; nor the dimensions of this altar—the “brazen altar’ used with the Tabernacle was 3 “cubits” high and 5 “cubits” square. Allowing a cubit to be 18 inches or half a yard, this altar would have been about 4 feet 6 inches in height and about 7 feet 6 inches in length and width.
If this altar was made of earth, Abraham would have had to do a lot of digging and earthmoving, or if made of stone, he would still have had a lot of work to build the altar. Regardless of size, the created altar had to have be large enough to allow for any kind of animal to be placed on it.
Especially if that animal had the same or similar dimensions as a human being.
And soon Isaac guessed the plan. Abraham finished building the altar (did Isaac help?), arranged the wood (now removed from Isaac), then bound him and placed him on the altar. So much could be said, and has been said, by so many that there is no need to repeat. The one thing for certain is that A, since Isaac could and did carry the wood—for his own execution!—he could have overpowered his father and run away (but where would he go?); B, Abraham must have dreaded every step of the journey, and now it had come to this point; C, Isaac submitted to his father’s will even as our Lord Jesus Christ submitted to His Father’s will many years later; and D, Abraham still had faith, no matter how weak or strong, that Isaac would somehow be alive. Remember, he had told the two young men that he—AND ISAAC—would return to them after they had worshiped God!
But at this point Abraham was about to do the unthinkable. He had bound his own son and placed him on the altar of sacrifice. He had been told to offer his own and only true son as a burnt offering, even though he had faith he and Isaac would return home. Now he raised his knife and was about ready to use it in order to kill his own child.
What happened next was nothing short of a miracle!
3 The Offering Which God Provided
Text, Genesis 22:11-14, KJV: 11 And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. 12 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. 13 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. 14 And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen. 15 And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, 16 And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: 17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. 19 So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.
Before Abraham could use his knife to kill his son, Isaac, he heard a familiar Voice! This was the Angel of the LORD, speaking directly to him, and the Angel had good news for Abraham and Isaac, too, as it turned out.
The Angel of the LORD said, “Abraham, Abraham” and this is the first time God used a person’s name twice in the Bible. When Abraham (gratefully?) replied “Here I am”, the Angel basically told him to stop what he was doing because “I know that you fear God, and proved it by not withholding your son from Me”. Many years later, James would use this event to show his readers that Abraham’s faith, which he had received from God and used in obedience to God, was justified in the eyes of others by the deeds just described. It seems obvious that Abraham fully intended to put Isaac to death but, incredibly, had faith that, somehow, both he and Isaac would return to their home. Even the writer of Hebrews took note of this in Hebrews 11:17-18!
Then the next part of the miraculous took place—Abraham “lifted up his eyes (v.13) and saw a ram! This ram was “caught in a thicket by his horns” but how Abraham or Isaac had ever missed this animal is not explained. One possible idea is that Abraham and Isaac were both so caught up in the moment that they literally could not see anything. A favorite expression in some parts of the USA is “I couldn’t see it for looking!” Maybe that happened to them.
But no matter when Abraham found that ram, he promptly used it, instead of Isaac as the burnt offering! And soon after that, Abraham gave the location a new name, “Jehovah-jireh”, which means “Jehovah (the LORD) will provide”. He certainly did provide for Abraham that day.
And that wasn’t all the Angel of the LORD had to say at that moment. He “swore by Himself” that Abraham would receive various promises as listed in the text. These were partially fulfilled when Israel returned to the land of Canaan after the Exodus, and in the days before the Exile to Babylon, but there remains a future for Abraham, his children, and for these promises. When that conversation was finished, Abraham and the others (including Isaac!) packed up for the journey and they returned home to Beersheba.
Conclusion: You and I may never be asked to sacrifice something as dear as a child, especially for something as radical as giving them as a burnt offering. We can, however, trust God in every situation. Abraham “put his money where his mouth was”, so to speak, and received God’s blessings. We can also trust our Lord that when He commands, He rewards. It worked for Abraham, and it will work for us, when we obey what our Lord wants us to do.
What could the Lord be asking each one of us to do?
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).