Old Testament Pictures of the Cross: The Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-14)

An important note: This is not a normal sermon summary. This is what your humble editor processed from Pastor Matt’s sermon over a few weeks and what I am learning from the text. Hopefully it is helpful to you all to revisit this passage and to consider again our God who provides, who sees and is seen.

Sacrifice_of_Isaac-Caravaggio_(Uffizi)The promised son

Isaac was the long-awaited son of promise. He was the promised seed through whom redemption would come. Abraham had to wait until he was 100, and Sarah was 90. They grew impatient, and there were a few “misdirections” along the way, but God was gracious in holding firm to the promise and in reminding Abraham to wait in faith. God was now asking Abraham to give up the son he cherished most, and Abraham continues to trust God, and he began his journey.

Just as Abraham had to wait for Isaac, so also did God’s people have to wait for the Messiah. As we sing in the Christmas carol, “Late in time behold him come!”  The Israelites looked forward for deliverance, for the restoration of the throne of David, for the eternal King. God’s people had waited with faith for an long time, from the first promise to Eve, for the arrival of the seed who would crush Satan’s head. As Isaac was the promised son, so much more was Jesus the promised Son! As Father Abraham did not hesitate to offer up his only, beloved son, so also our Father in Heaven willingly gave us His Son. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16)

The willing son

When Abraham and Isaac arrived at the mount, the mule could go no further. By this time Isaac knew there was no lamb, and I think he knew what Abraham had in mind. Yet he willingly picked up and carried the wood for the sacrifice, the wood on which he would be slaughtered and burned.

Jesus also took up and carried the wood for his sacrifice — the cross! His was not a quiet climb to the top of the hill. His was a riotous and abusive affair through reviling crowds and cruel soldiers. Yet he carried this cross willingly and without complaint, knowing full well the death to which he was headed. “Like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

Isaac was tied and laid on the altar without a fight. Abraham the old man tied up the young and strong Isaac. How beautiful the picture of our Savior: He who holds all power and authority, with armies of angels at his disposal, would willingly allow himself not only to be bound to the cross, but to be violently nailed there, for our sake, for the salvation of mankind.

The ropes could not hold Isaac, and the nails could not hold Jesus. But love could. They were submitted to the will of their fathers, even to the end.

The greatest sacrifice

But the comparisons come to an end. While Jesus knew with certainty he was headed to the cross, Isaac was not to be sacrificed. He was spared at the last minute when God intervened and provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice. Abraham called this mount Jehovah Jireh, which is translated, “God will provide.” Literally this means “God sees,” but it is assumed, it is certain, that when God sees his people, he will provide for their needs. His sight is comforting, because it assures his provision. God sees us, and he provides for us!

There’s a little twist of phrase Genesis 22:14. ‘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.”’ Literally, “God sees” and “God will be seen.” It was on this mountain, Mt. Moriah, that God met David on the threshing floor. It was on this mount the Temple was built, and God descended in his glory, and where sacrifice after sacrifice reminded God’s people of their sin and their need for God to save them. And it was here where Jesus himself came and taught, and just a short distance away where Jesus Christ, God himself, was crucified at Calvary.

Here’s Matthew Henry’s take on this passage:

A new name is given to the place, to the honour of God, and for the encouragement of all believers, to the end of the world, cheerfully to trust in God in the way of obedience: Jehovah-jireh, The Lord will provide (v. 14), probably alluding to what he had said (v. 8), God will provide himself a lamb. It was not owing to any contrivance of Abraham, nor was it in answer to his prayer, though he was a distinguished intercessor; but it was purely the Lord’s doing. Let it be recorded for the generations to come, 1. That the Lord will see; he will always have his eye upon his people in their straits and distresses, that he may come in with seasonable succour in the critical juncture. 2. That he will be seen, be seen in the mount, in the greatest perplexities of his people. He will not only manifest, but magnify, his wisdom, power, and goodness, in their deliverance. Where God sees and provides, he should be seen and praised. And, perhaps, it may refer to God manifest in the flesh.

To have asked for Isaac’s sacrifice may seem hugely unjust, but in truth, death is what we all deserve, our blood is what is demanded for our sins. A ram was provided by God in Isaac’s place. We rejoice that for all who believe, God has in Jesus provided his Son, the Lamb without blemish, as the ultimate substitute. Abraham had trusted that God would be able to raise Isaac from the dead. Jesus was indeed raised, proclaiming with power that death and sin have been defeated.

In our salvation, God sees and delivers us from our distress; and in our deliverance, God is seen – pointing both to the glory of salvation and to the nature of salvation in seeing God himself in human flesh, crucified, risen, and coming again! “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29)

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