Test of faith

Genesis 22:1-19

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What is the Bible?

Sometimes Christians are the worst at answering that question.  Many will reply: “The Maker’s Instruction Manual.”  Or “God’s Road Map.”  Most often religious folk will see it as, essentially, a moral guidebook for right living.  But if ever there was a story to explode that misconception it’s this one.  Abraham has his faith tested:

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. 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.  (Genesis 22:1-2)

How on earth are we meant to understand this story?  Written in a holy book no less?  What’s the moral supposed to be, Go thou and do likewise?

No.  Genesis 22 is meant to be read the way the whole Bible is meant to be read – first and foremost as a witness to Jesus Christ.  And when we read it this way, the whole thing becomes clear.

You see Isaac is a promised seed of Abraham and described as the only beloved son.  Most literally this is not true – Abraham has another son – Ishmael.  But in the terms of this story Isaac is a prototype of Christ – the seed of Abraham.  And he is to be slain as a sacrifice of atonement on a mountain in the region of Moriah.  Mount Moriah is the temple mount of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 3:1).

So here is the only beloved son to be offered by the father on a hill outside Jerusalem to make atonement.  Genesis 22:6 tells us of the father carrying the tools of judgement – the fire and knife.  The son carries the wood as they trudge up the hill.  Isaac asks his father about the sacrifice.  Abraham replies prophetically: “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (v8).

On this day the Angel of the LORD intercepts the judgement (v11ff). The name of this divine figure means “the Sent One of the LORD”.  He is the pre-incarnate Jesus Himself.  And here He prevents the sacrifice He would embrace two millennia later.

On this day, a ram is provided as a substitute for Isaac (v13).  But of course, Abraham had prophesied that a lamb would be provided (v8).  That’s what he and all the generations were waiting for in the centuries following – the Lamb of God, the Beloved Son, the Seed of Abraham.  God’s provision of atonement was yet future.  And so,

Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh [meaning “The LORD will provide”]: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen [or ‘provided’].  (Genesis 22:14)

For future generations God’s people would look forward to the Lamb, even knowing the mountain on which He’d be provided.

When the Bible is read primarily as a rule-book it disintegrates between our fingers.  With such a mindset, Genesis 22 is a scandal and a barrier to faith.  Yet when the Bible is read as intended we see it as a testimony to Christ.  At that point Genesis 22 becomes not a barrier but a boost to faith.  Suddenly we realise that all the Scriptures and all the saints in every age are fixed on the one truth that towers above all others:

Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

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