Summary: Abraham offers his son, Isaac, as a test of his faith
You want What?!?
Today’s story is recorded in Genesis – the book of beginnings, of firsts. It records the beginning of world, the first man and woman, the first temptation, the first sin, the first offerings, the first sacrifice. And the first Hebrew, Abraham.
So where are we in Abraham’s life? To this point, Abraham has left his homeland and traveled extensively around the region. He’s wandered about the promised land. He’s visited Egypt. No less than 3 different times God has promised Abraham that he will have descendants, and that they will be many in number and a great nation. He’s grown impatient waiting for that promise and had a son through his wife’s servant. He’s witnessed the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and plead for mercy to save the life of his nephew, Lot, who was living in Sodom. He has finally seen God’s promises fulfilled in the birth of Isaac. And he has sent his first son, Ishmael, away to wander in the wilderness with his mother. All of this in just 110 years of life!
Let’s take a look at each verse in our passage.
v. 1 – Abraham was tested, not tempted. Tests come from God to prove faith. They draw us closer to God. Temptations come from Satan and turn us away from God.
v. 2 – Moriah, later to become Jerusalem, and the site of the temple. Today the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim mosque sits on what some believe to be the site of Abraham’s offering.
Sacrifice – perhaps a better translation is “Offer.” With the advantage of seeing the whole passage, we see that God didn’t really want Isaac killed, he wanted Abraham to let go of Isaac and put him into God’s hands.
Burnt Offering – The burnt offering was a complete dedication of the entire offering. Nothing was held back, all was burnt on the altar. Most other offerings were not complete – some were partially burnt, some were just cooked and returned to be eaten in a meal. Some were just presented and returned. Some were given to be eaten by the priests.
v. 3 – Early the next morning – Abraham gave swift obedience to God’s instruction. He was used to hearing God, so he was able to obey quickly.
v. 4 – Third day – Abraham was living in Beersheba, about 50 miles from his destination. 18 - 20 miles a day seems like a reasonable pace for this group to travel. Abraham probably rode the donkey, while the servants and Isaac walked. That would put them at Mount Moriah sometime in the afternoon of the third day. I particularly like that, as that means Abraham would be worshipping at about the time God will later designate to be the evening sacrifice.
v. 5 – boy – The Hebrew word here can be used for everything from an infant to a young man ready to enter the military. Some have suggested that Isaac was 6 or 7, some that he was more like 16 or 17. I don’t think we can really tell much, other than Isaac was old enough to make the journey.
We will worship … we will return – Evidence for the NT statement that Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead. Hebrews 11:19. Abraham was sure that both he and Isaac would return from their worship.
v. 7 – We finally hear from Isaac. He is apparently familiar with burnt offerings, as he recognizes the setting. That tells me that Abraham must have made burnt offerings a common practice in his household, and that Isaac has seen them often enough to recognize one.
v. 8 – To me, this is the key verse of the whole passage. The Hebrew word translated “provide” can also be rendered “see.” Word order is open to interpretation. “God himself will provide” could also be “God will provide himself”. “For” is the past tense sense of the word, like “Jesse James wanted for bank robbery.” Not to do something in the future, but that something has already been done. Substituting “see” for “provide” and rearranging the words slightly, we could also translate this as “God sees himself as the lamb that has been offered as a burnt offering.” That became true literally in Jesus Christ.
v. 9 – There is no mention of Isaac struggling or fighting. Perhaps this is an argument for Isaac being very young and thinking of this exercise as a form of play. Or perhaps it points to an older Isaac, well tuned in to God himself, realizing what is happening, and agreeing to it. And there are other possibilities as well, like the struggle was not recorded.
v. 10 – The offering of Isaac. It’s done in Abraham’s mind. He’s held nothing back from God.