Summary: The call to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22:1-14 shows us that God provided a sacrificial lamb so that his people may live.
When Abraham was seventy-five years old, God called him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and promised that he would make him into a great nation. That promise was repeated and enlarged a number of times during the next twenty-four years. But in all these years, Abraham only had one son, Ishmael, by his wife’s Egyptian servant girl, and his family grew smaller, not larger. His father, Terah, died, and his nephew, Lot, abandoned him to live in Sodom.
When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, God appeared again and promised Abraham a son by his wife, Sarah, the following year. By now Abraham was long past the age of producing children, as was Sarah, who had also been barren all her life. However, Abraham believed God, and a son was born to Sarah and Abraham. They named their son Isaac (which means “laughter”), and he was born when Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah was ninety years old.
God specifically confirmed Isaac as the son of his promise in Genesis 17:19b, “I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” Abraham loved Isaac but, more importantly, all of Abraham’s hope of God fulfilling his promise to make him a great nation were centered in his son, Isaac.
All went well for many years, perhaps as many as three decades. Then, suddenly, one day Abraham’s peaceful world was shattered. God appeared to Abraham again, and put him to a great test, “probably the greatest test any of God’s servants have ever endured.” God called Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
Today’s text is very meaningful to me, as I shall explain later. Let’s read about the call to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22:1-14:
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 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.” 3 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. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 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.” 6 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. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 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. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 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.” 13 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. 14 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.” (Genesis 22:1-14)
The account of God calling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is widely known in world literature. It is one of those stories that is so unique that it captures the imagination of all people in all ages. As one Bible commentator wrote, “So long as men live in the world, they will turn to this story with unwaning interest.”
The questions that many people ask are these: “How could God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? What kind of God would ask anyone to sacrifice his son? What could possibly be achieved by God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son?”