Could you kill your own son if God asked you to? That’s the question Abraham wrestled with as he climbed a mountain with his son.
In most of the Old Testament God speaks with two meaning. On one level he talks to the people of the time. He’s literally giving a specific message to Abraham or Adam and Eve. He is literally saying that Abraham will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3) or that Adam and Eve’s son will kill the snakes they find near their homes (Genesis 3: 14-16).
However, on another level God is speaking to future generations. He’s preparing us to recognize Jesus when he comes. To understand who he is, and why he is important. For instance, the family blessing in Genesis doesn’t just mean Abraham’s family. It also means the blessings that will come from Jesus (who was a descendent of Abraham). And it’s not Adam and Eve’s immediate family that will be at war with the snake. Jesus will also crush the serpent under his heel by dying on the cross.
Wherever you look in the Old Testament God is planting the seeds of Jesus’ arrival.
That’s what’s so remarkable about the story of Abraham and Isaac. To us this is so scandalous, so offensive, that we don’t even want to believe that it’s a true story. But back in Abraham’s time, child sacrifice was common. Children weren’t seen as something to be treasured. And if a god required a sacrifice? So be it.
But as we read into the story we see that duality of meaning.
We first see it as Abraham is heading up the mountain; he places “the wood for the burnt offering” on his son. What other son carried wood on his back? Jesus, in the form of the cross.
Next we see it as Isaac, while carrying the wood, asks one question, “Father?…The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22: 7)
Where is the lamb?
That’s a good question. In fact it’s the only thing Isaac says on that journey. To the reader, it seems as if Isaac has foreshadowed his own death. But Isaac is not the lamb. God spares Isaac from being sacrificed (God provides a ram.)
Although Isaac’s life is spared, his question is never answered. In fact, his question lingers for the next few thousand years until Jesus comes onto the scene. Jesus is that lamb that God would provide. Jesus takes the hit that you and I (and Isaac and Abraham) deserve. God saved us, just as he saved a boy from being sacrificed. But it came at a great cost…