Chapter 1: The Lord's Death in Genesis 22
by Jack Palmer, N. Ireland
The book of Genesis establishes the foundation for the complete canon of Scripture. It sets out the historical account of the creation, and of the formation of man. It is the story of the early days of mankind. Beginning with the account of the creation of Adam, chapters 1-11 give an overview of the early history of the nations of the world. On the other hand, chapters 12-50 provide a much more detailed and comprehensive history of one nation, the nation of Israel and the setting forth of God’s purpose for that particular people. This nation began with the call of Abraham. It is encouraging to note that the purpose of God will be accomplished regardless of all the opposition of the surrounding nations.
It would be very restrictive and unscriptural to reflect upon Genesis merely as a factual, historical record of events. At the same time, care must be taken to ensure that this aspect of the book is protected and guarded tenaciously, and with conviction, knowing that "whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" Rom.15.4. Nevertheless in these historical chapters the discerning eye can see very precious endorsements of Divine order and a beautiful foreshadowing of the entirety of God’s programme whether in relation to His earthly or heavenly people. The matter of the chosen or spiritual seed is vital to a proper understanding of the book. Distinction must be made between that which is heavenly and that which is earthly and between the first man and the second man. The first man is consistently viewed as the natural man, whereas the second is presented as the spiritual man, for example, as in Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob. The supreme example of this is found in Adam and our Lord Jesus. How precious to read, "The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven" 1Cor.15.47. This principle will be highly significant when we come to consider Isaac as the one presented as a picture of the Lord Jesus.
The scope of Genesis is remarkable. It begins with creation, goes on to the fall, the flood, the emergence of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and concludes with Jacob and his sons in Egypt, where Joseph is introduced as a delightful preview of the Lord Jesus ruling over and dispensing to those in need. All this is a fitting snapshot of God’s programme and His dealing with the affairs of earth and of men. A key thread runs through it all. It is the significance of suffering, sacrifice and the shedding of blood. Echoes of the future cross of our Lord Jesus Christ are heard throughout the book and highlight the central place that His death and suffering have in the accomplishment of the purpose of God. In tracing the death of the Lord Jesus in a general way, we shall draw attention to a number of key ideas, which not only highlight significant pointers to the cross and the death of our Lord Jesus, but are arranged in such a way that they provide a progressive picture of the key stages, as they actually unfold many years later. These key stages are:
In creating the first man and woman there is a very clear indication that God’s ultimate purpose will concentrate on a man and his bride. The formation of the bride and her presentation to the man at the beginning will find its fulfilment when the bride is presented to our Lord Jesus as "a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" Eph.5.27. Before there could be a bride it was necessary for "a deep sleep to fall upon Adam … and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh thereof; and the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the man" Gen.2.21,22. Henry Law 1 comments, "The second Adam sleeps a sleep – e’en the sleep of death; but not in Eden’s innocent delights, but on the hard altar of His ignominious cross. His side is pierced. There flow thence the means to constitute the Church. There is blood to expiate every sin: and water to wash from every stain. The Father presents the bride to Adam. The same Father gives the favoured bride to Christ."
- 1 Law, H. “Christ is All – The Gospel in Genesis”. The Banner of Truth Trust, first published in 1854.
The work of God cannot go unchallenged. Soon the serpent attacked using his wiles and cruel deception, and sin entered. Instead of communion with God, man was expelled from the garden, but before acting in judgment God gave a most beautiful and encouraging promise: "I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel" Gen.3.15. This is another early but clear disclosure that God would bring forth a deliverer and that the promised One would bruise the serpent’s head. We rejoice that this promise has been fulfilled at Calvary.
Again, before God drove out the man and the woman, He established an indispensable principle, that is, a covering cannot be provided without the shedding of blood. In this connection it should be noted that "Unto Adam also, and to his wife, did the LORD God make coats of skins and clothed them" Gen.3.21. It is important to observe that the word is ‘skin’ singular and this indicates that there was only one sacrifice involved. How delightfully accurate is the Word of God in anticipation of the singular, sufficient and supreme sacrifice offered by "this man"! Heb.10.12. While blood must be shed, and this is endorsed again and again throughout the Bible, a further related principle is established in Abel’s "more excellent sacrifice" Heb.11.4. The emphasis is rightly on the blood but there is an equally important emphasis on the fact that the offering must be "of the firstlings of the flock and of the fat thereof" Gen.4.4. On the basis of such an offering Abel found acceptance with God. Our Lord Jesus not only shed His precious blood but "through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot unto God" Heb.9.14.
As the Genesis record unfolds, attention focuses on Enoch who "was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God" Heb.11.5. The translation of Enoch is an early picture of the pre-tribulation rapture of the church and of the glorious prospect that lies before the people of God presently. It exemplifies the very real possibility of going home to heaven without dying. This is the backdrop to the introduction of Noah and the building of the ark. Those who were safe in the ark clearly represent a remnant that will be saved in days of future tribulation. While this is one of the main messages from the narrative, there is, nonetheless, a very strong suggestion that when the ark is viewed as a type of the Lord Jesus, it speaks decidedly of Him enduring the storm of righteous judgment that broke upon Him when God "made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" 2Cor.5.21. This is a fitting fulfilment of the prediction that "a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" Isa.32.2.
- The tempest’s awful voice was heard;
- O Christ, it broke on Thee!
- Thy open bosom was my ward;
- It braved the storm for me.
- Thy form was scarred, Thy visage marred;
- Now cloudless peace for me.
(Anne Ross Cousin)
It was a great day in the experience of Noah when he emerged from the ark and "builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar" Gen.8.20. What pleasure that offering brought when the Lord "smelled a sweet savour" Gen.8.21. May we be enabled to appreciate in a fuller way the pleasure that the offering of the Lord Jesus brought to God.
We will not deal extensively with Genesis chapter 22 now, but it is essential, for the purpose of our meditation presently, to note that one of the main messages to emerge from the experience of Abraham and Isaac is that God revealed Himself as "Jehovah-jireh" Gen.22.14. It was there that Divine provision in all of its grace and glory was displayed.
The presentation of the death of the Lord Jesus in Genesis is further advanced, and brought to a triumphant conclusion in the extensive account of the life of Joseph. Indeed, the details embrace a pictorial summary of the entire life of the Saviour ranging from Joseph being sent forth by Jacob out of the vale of Hebron, his coming to Shechem, Gen.37.14, his being sold into Egypt, his imprisonment, and to his exaltation as ruler over the Egyptian storehouses. There have been many suggestions and allusions to various aspects of the life of the Lord Jesus, but for the first time in the book attention is drawn to a perspective that will be developed in the prophecy of Isaiah.
When Joseph found himself wrongfully in prison through the unjust accusation of Potiphar’s wife, he was in the company of those who had offended Pharaoh, and it could be said of him, as it was of the Lord Jesus prophetically "He was numbered with the transgressors" Isa.53.12, and "He was taken from prison and from judgment" Isa.53.8. The release of Joseph from prison was the first step on the pathway to exaltation, and his elevation to power and authority over Egypt is a delightful foretelling of the day when the rejected King Who hung on the cross of Calvary will rule the world where He was "despised and rejected of men" Isa.53.3.
Having reflected upon the death of the Lord Jesus in a panoramic way, and having noted its centrality in the overall plan of the outworking of Divine purpose, it is also important and instructive to observe how the theme of sacrifice is emphasised and developed around the main personalities of the book. The eight outstanding individuals found in Genesis are worthy of consideration. They form four interesting couplets. Two of these appear in the opening section that deals with the history of the nations, and the remaining two, in the section which describes the formation of the nation of Israel. Adam and Abel, the first couple speak of sin and sacrifice; the second, Enoch and Noah, speak of rapture and subsequent days of tribulation. In the section regarding the birth of the nation of Israel, the first couple is Abraham and Isaac, presenting the delights of a father and son relationship, but with a very precious and clear focus on the altar experience of chapter 22. The final couple, Jacob and Joseph, speak of earthly experience and exaltation, with particular focus on all that will yet unfold in the purpose of God in relation to the nation of Israel.
While many lessons can be drawn from the presentation and pairing of these couples, the one lesson of paramount relevance to the theme of this chapter is the priority that is given to the significance of sacrifice. Whether the focus is on the blessing of the nations of the world, or the blessing of God’s chosen people, the basis of the blessing of each and every nation is firmly rooted in the indispensable ground of sacrifice.
This underpinning principle of the necessity for blood shedding is further endorsed by the detailed record of the life of Abraham. This includes details of him building altars on four specific occasions; each of these marks key milestones in his spiritual progress and maturity. The first was the altar of revelation at Sichem where he built "an altar unto the LORD, Who appeared unto him" Gen.12.7. The second, the altar of communion is reflective of his pilgrim character, and was built when "he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD" Gen.12.8. At that time he was "going on still toward the south" Gen.12.9, and having spent some time in Egypt, where he was graciously preserved in the goodness of God, he returned to "the place where his tent had been at the beginning … unto the place of the altar which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD" Gen.13.3,4. Egypt represented moral and worldly pitfalls to Abraham but equally dangerous was the reality that there were no (nor could there ever be) any altar experiences in such a location. Communion with Egypt is the death knell to communion with God.
Having returned to the land, Abraham is confronted with a potential conflict between himself and Lot, Gen.13.5. Abraham, anxious to avoid strife, willingly gave the younger man his choice and Lot "lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere" and "chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed eastward" Gen.13.10,11. When Lot had departed Abraham received fresh communication from the Lord and was promised, "all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever" Gen.13.15. The response of Abraham was to "build there an altar unto the LORD" Gen.13.18. This, the third, is the altar of estimation. Abraham demonstrated that his appreciation of true values was not governed by earthly and physical considerations but "he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" Heb.11.10.
The concluding altar was by far the most demanding and came in the context of Abraham’s greatest test. His faith had been tested, but it wavered, in regard to the granting of the promised seed. Despite his premature action, and the consequent birth of Ishmael, God fulfilled His promise to him when "Sarah conceived and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him" Gen.21.2. By far the greatest crisis in his life came when he was called of God to make a tremendously demanding sacrifice. Take "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" Gen.22.2. With unhesitating obedience and confidence in his God "they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood" Gen.22.9. The altar represented death for the one he loved so dearly, but with total conformity to the command of God he built it, and clearly displayed his absolute willingness to go all the way in doing everything that God had asked of him. How precious and yet so challenging to note the altar of submission.
Perhaps few would disagree that Genesis chapter 22 reveals Abraham’s finest hour in which he responded to the greatest test that could come from God to an individual. The example that Abraham left is full of searching instruction and encouragement. The circumstances and the detail also provide a most accurate and appropriate foreshadowing of what took place at Calvary in the outworking of Divine purpose. The atmosphere of Moriah carries forward to the cross. The wonder of Moriah translates into worship as we ponder what the cross meant to God and the Lord Jesus. As we approach such a sight it would be appropriate to "put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" Ex.3.5.
In our consideration of the historical details, the purpose of this study is not to focus on the practical, or indeed, so much on the dispensational aspects of the presentation, but rather to draw out the pictorial significance, in a manner that would touch our affections and draw us out in fresh devotion to Himself. With this approach in view let us note:
An initial overview of Genesis chapter 22 reveals that the two prominent figures are: Abraham, the father who willingly gave, and Isaac, the son who so readily surrendered to his father’s will. Both speak in an unmistakable way of God the Father and the Lord Jesus, the Son.
The costliness of the Father’s gift and the conformity of the Son find beautiful fulfilment at the cross. Such detail, introduced at this early stage in the Bible, confirms that the death of our Lord Jesus had ever been central to Divine purpose. It has often been noted that when Jacob sent Joseph out of the vale of Hebron to come to his brethren it was most unlikely that he would have done so, had he known what the future held. God, with full and perfect knowledge of all that lay before, "sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him" 1Jn.4.9. How precious to note that God "spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all" Rom.8.32. The fact that Abraham responded to the demand of God so promptly, and without hesitation, is another manifestation of the love displayed in the gift of the Son.
- The Father in His willing love,
- Could spare Thee from His side;
- And Thou couldst stoop to bear above,
- At such a cost Thy bride.
- (Mary Peters)
The co-operation and submissiveness of the Son should be contemplated with equal wonder. It is recorded "that they went both of them together" Gen.22.6. This highlights the unity of purpose that marked the movement of Divine persons. When the moment came for Abraham to take Isaac, bind him and lay him on the altar upon the wood, there is not the slightest hint of resistance or opposition. At this time Isaac would have been a young man of sufficient physical strength to have easily overcome his old father, but in total surrender to his father’s will, he allowed himself to be laid in the place of death. Our hearts bow in adoration as we remember the willingness of our heavenly Isaac, not only to come from heaven but to go all the way to the cross. He Himself could say "then said I, Lo, I come (In the volume of the book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will O God" Heb.10.7, and "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me and to finish His work" Jn.4.34. In the garden the Lord declared, "The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" Jn.18.11.
Any reflection on the giving of the Son would be incomplete without an appreciation of the unique place that the Son occupied in the affections of the Father. Abraham had other sons but they were born as a result of the natural process. On the other hand, Isaac was born outside the normal sphere of procreation altogether and at a time when Abraham "considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb" Rom.4.19. Isaac was not only a spiritual seed; he was the son of promise and a delightful picture of the coming into the world of the Lord Jesus as the "child … born" and the "Son … given" Isa.9.6. In every sense Isaac was unique and it is against this background that we must contemplate and measure the magnitude of the trial that Abraham faced when God said, "Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and there offer him up for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of" Gen.22.1,2, J.N.D.
The response of Abraham to such a demanding challenge is remarkable and is an abiding confirmation of his spiritual stature and dependence upon his God. The record of Scripture is unmistakably clear and reveals that "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son" Heb.11.17. The title used to describe Isaac instinctively turns our minds to that employed by John, in his writings, to magnify the distinctive Sonship of our Lord Jesus Christ. On five occasions John employs the title "the only begotten Son of God", Jn.1.14,18; 3.16,18; 1Jn.4.9. This endorses the fact that the relationship between Abraham and Isaac is typical of the unique relationship that exists eternally between God, as the Father and the Lord Jesus, as the Son.
While it is fitting to focus on the special and singular relationship of the Son to the Father, it is equally important to note and to dwell on the love of Abraham for his son Isaac. Such love is so suggestive of the love of God for His Son. On eighteen occasions John in his Gospel speaks of the Lord Jesus as "the Son" and he emphasises that the "Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand" Jn.3.35. It causes us to bow with worship and wonder when we remember that God "spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" Rom.8.32. Understanding and appreciating the love of God for His Son is relatively easy, but the giving of the One, Who is so infinitely precious, rises above the realm of human or rational thinking, and would cause every person brought into the sphere of Divine love to freely acknowledge, "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift" 2Cor.9.15.
The Two Young Men
It is only proper that the primary focus of our meditation should rest on the father and the son. At the same time it would be totally remiss to disregard the "two of his young men" that Abraham took with him as he and Isaac set out on the journey to "the place of which God had told him" Gen.22.3. The swift responsiveness of Abraham to the call from God, and his thorough preparation, carry important lessons for us in the school of obedience. He also saw a practical need to support the two young men for much of the journey, but on the third day, when the place of sacrifice was coming into view, he instructed: "abide ye here with the ass and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you" Gen.22.5. From this we learn that the young men could only come so far; they could not go all the way to the appointed place, neither could they have any part in what took place between the father and the son on the "mount of the LORD" Gen.22.14. Some have seen a parallel between the two young men and the two thieves that occupied the crosses on either side of the middle cross at Calvary, but it would appear that the main lesson to be taken from their experience is that it is totally impossible for men to fully enter into, or have any proper understanding of what the sufferings of the cross entailed, for both the Father and the Son. A further endorsement of this can be drawn from the experience of the Lord Jesus and His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane. There it is recorded of Him that "He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, If Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless, not My will, be Thine be done" Lk.22.41. The disciples could only accompany Him so far; no human mind could grasp the intensity of the Saviour’s agony as He was alone in intercession with His Father. We have every encouragement to attempt to delve into and come to a deeper understanding of what the cross and its suffering meant for God and the Lord Jesus, but regardless of how far our understanding can be enlarged, it will never be possible for the mind of man to fully grasp all that Calvary entailed.
- But none of the ransomed ever knew
- How deep were the waters crossed;
- Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through
- Ere He found the sheep that was lost.
- (Elizabeth C. Clephane)
When the call of God reached Abraham he must have been surprised and confounded, but not knowing or understanding how it would all work out, he responded with refreshing promptness and obedience. The fact that "Abraham rose up early in the morning" Gen.22.3, indicated very clearly that nothing else really mattered to him, nor was he going to allow anything to hinder him in responding to the command of God. In this there is a most precious suggestion that the cross and Calvary occupied the central place in the purpose of God. The earliness of the morning would cast our thoughts back to the timeless purposes of God, His anticipation of the incarnation and death of our Lord Jesus Christ: "Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you" 1Pet.1.20. With such an attitude Abraham set about making all the necessary preparations and commenced their journey. His faith and obedience offer a beautiful example for every believer to follow. We can also learn much from his meticulous planning and the items he took:
Not leaving anything to chance and covering the eventuality of wood not being available at God’s chosen location, he "clave the wood for the burnt offering" Gen.22.3. The wood was specifically for the burnt offering and the size of the altar would accommodate Isaac in accord with his stature as a fully-grown young man. It is remarkable that on the journey to the place "Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it upon Isaac his son" Gen.22.6. The wood and Isaac are inseparable. Without the wood there could be no sacrifice. This foretells the essential nature of the Lord Jesus becoming flesh. The One Who was "in the form of God … was made in the likeness of sinful flesh: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" Phil.2.6-8. Again it should be noted that "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil: and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" Heb.2.14,15. It was in His body that He walked in this world, and it was in that same body that He was lifted up upon the cross.
In addition to suggesting the true and perfect humanity of the Lord Jesus, the taking of the wood reflects the thoroughness and prudence of Abraham in leaving nothing to chance. Everything was pre-planned, and so too was the death of the Lord Jesus. It was both pre-determined and foretold in accurate detail long before actually taking place. It is remarkable that crucifixion, as a means of death, should be described long before its conception by man or use as a means of execution. How confirming it is to note that the words spoken by the Saviour on the cross should be found in Holy Scripture long before they were actually spoken, for example, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? Why art Thou so far from helping Me, and from the words of My roaring" Ps.22.1. Just as details of His death have been recorded prophetically so were the arrangements for His burial, "And He made His grave with the wicked, And with the rich in His death; Because He had done no violence, Neither was any deceit in His mouth" Isa.53.9. These are only selective illustrations but they, nonetheless, more than adequately reveal that, although men must accept full responsibility for their own evil actions, they were implementing in full the mind of God in everything that they did.
There is no mention of the fire or the knife until after the parting from the young men. Both become prominent as father and son journeyed together to the place. The first reference in the Bible to fire is in the context of judgment when "the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; and He overthrew those cities" Gen.19.24. According to Strong (0784), fire indicates the additional ideas of burning, fiery, flaming and hot, all indicative of the righteous, irresistible character of Divine judgment. It is of deep significance that the fire was never in the hand of Isaac; it was in the hand of Abraham, pointing to the time when God would act towards His Son judicially and in keeping with His inflexible righteousness. Words will never describe what was involved when "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: The chastisement of our peace was upon Him; And with His stripes we are healed" Isa.53.5. How blessed to know that "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" Rom.8.1.
Before a savour of a sweet smell could ascend Godward, the life of the victim must be slain. Abraham carried the instrument of death and demonstrated, beyond all possible doubt, that he was willing to take the life of the one who was so precious to him. We have noted that Isaac showed no resistance, and he too proved his willingness to die. The Lord Jesus instructed His disciples, "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself" Jn.10.17,18. There are depths associated with the death of the Lord Jesus that the human mind cannot grasp. It is truly beyond human intellect to begin to understand how One Who is immortal could deliberately enter into death:
- ‘Tis mystery all! the Immortal dies:
- Who can explore His strange design?
- In vain the first-born seraph tries
- To sound the depths of love divine;
- ‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
- Let angel minds inquire no more.
- (Charles Wesley)
With all of the preparations in place and the young men left and instructed to wait, the final stage of the journey lay before them. Isaac, as a mature and highly observant young man, detects that something is missing and he is prompted to enquire: "Behold the fire and the wood but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Gen.22.7. Marked with unwavering obedience and total dependence Abraham affirms, "My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering" Gen.22.8. Seemingly this response satisfied the enquiring mind of Isaac, and they proceeded together along the appointed pathway. This little interruption created an early, but timely, opportunity to establish that the time would come, in keeping with Divine purpose, when God would send "forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" Gal.4.4,5. The prediction of Abraham also found a clear and precious fulfilment on the banks of the Jordan when John, the forerunner, identified the One Who approached as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" Jn.1.29.
In any meditation on Genesis chapter 22 it is neither possible nor prudent to separate the main persons from the place where this remarkable drama unfolded. There are three particular references to "the place" vv.3,4,9, and two others that identify it as "one of the mountains which I will tell thee of" v.2 and "that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen" v.14. These are all very suggestive, and there is a degree of inevitability, that they carry our thoughts to "the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him" Lk.23.33. A careful consideration will reveal that the place was:
Abraham had no say in relation to where he should offer up his son; that place was predetermined and chosen of God. Just as the place of sacrifice in the trial of Abraham was one of Divine choice so too was the place where the Lord Jesus was lifted up; He was "delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" Acts 2.23.
Initially when God communicated with Abraham He called upon him to offer Isaac "for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of" Gen.22.2. It would seem that when Abraham displayed a readiness to respond, God revealed the precise location of the place. Another vital stage in the making known of the place came on the third day of his journey, "when he saw the place afar off" Gen.22.4. This is a very apt illustration of how God reveals His mind, and in His Word, truth is disclosed incrementally, "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; Line upon line; line upon line: Here a little, and there a little" Isa.28.10. Linked to this is the principle that future revelation of the mind of God is very dependent on obedience to the light already received.
The mountain chosen by God was the land of Moriah and later referred to as "the mount of the LORD" Gen.22.14. Apart from Genesis chapter 22 the only other reference in the Bible to Moriah is found in 2Chr.2.1, where it is introduced as the chosen site for the building of the temple. The location of the temple is also confirmed as "the place that David had prepared in the threshing floor on Ornan the Jebusite" 2Chr.3.1. It is widely accepted that the place where the Lord Jesus was crucified, although not on the exact spot, was not far from where Abraham placed his son upon the altar. It is therefore very precious to link Moriah with God dwelling amongst His people Israel, and to see in this a future fulfilment of the death of Christ, and the blessedness of Him dwelling amongst His own in local assembly capacity. As Paul instructed the believers at Corinth, each assembly is, "the temple of God" 1Cor.3.16. The threshing floor aspect places emphasis on the hidden side of Calvary and the great work that was accomplished when the just claims of God were fully satisfied so that fruit could be gathered for His glory.
It is difficult to imagine just how Abraham felt when God presented him with the ultimate challenge to place the one who was so dear to him upon an altar of sacrifice. In responding, he showed that he appreciated that in which he was going to engage was an act of worship. He made it clear to the accompanying young men that he and "the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you" Gen.22.5. This is the first use of the word "worship" in the K.J.V. (also as ‘bowed’ in 18.2; 19.1), and it is in the context of a beloved son being offered in sacrifice to God. What a telling preview of the One "Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot unto God" Heb.9.14.
Genesis is the book of the burnt offering. Such offerings were presented long before they became part of the Levitical offerings. In the New Testament John is the Gospel of the burnt offering. The truth introduced in type in Genesis has a lovely fulfilment in John’s presentation of the Lord Jesus in the glory of His person as the unique Son of God. Developing the burnt offering aspect of the death of the Lord Jesus as first introduced in Genesis chapter 22, it is important to appreciate that the primary outcome of the sacrifice of Christ was to bring pleasure to God.
Someone might argue that Isaac did not die, and question how God could therefore be satisfied. Once Isaac was bound and laid on the altar he was as good as dead. At that point Abraham had demonstrated that he was willing to give his son to death and was persuaded "that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in figure" Heb.11.19. The reference to the third day on the journey to the place of sacrifice, and the commentary in Hebrews chapter 11 suggest the associated and victorious theme of resurrection. Such a theme not only proves the power of God in the narrative, it confirms that God is fully satisfied with the death of His Son. How pleasing to note that the One "whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed Him openly" Acts 10.39,40, and that "when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" Heb.1.3.
The fact that there is no record of Isaac ever descending the mountain is also suggestive of exaltation and is a pointer to "Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him" 1Pet.3.21,22.
The arrival at the place identified by God was an outstanding milestone in the journey, and "Abraham built an altar, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son" Gen.22.9,10. From a human point of view the heart of Abraham must have been breaking but his devotion to God and His will took precedence over everything and, in lifting the knife, he demonstrated that he was willing to slay his son, and present him sacrificially to God. It was at that point, not before or after, when it became unmistakably clear that Abraham was prepared to take Isaac’s life that God intervened, "And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven and said … Lay not Thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from Me" Gen.22.11,12. Once God saw that Abraham loved Him and was not prepared to withhold anything from Him, there was nothing further to prove; hence the timely intervention.
At the moment of intervention "Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son" Gen.22.13. While types are very helpful in enabling us to picture what will ultimately happen regarding the main event in view, the associated details invariably fall short. No shadow could fully represent the substance and Genesis chapter 22 is no different. When the time came in the purpose of God for His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to be uplifted upon the cross there was no intervening voice from heaven and He could say prophetically, "I looked for some to take pity, but there was none: and for comforters, but found none. They gave me also gall for My meat: and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink" Ps.69.20,21. The exposure of the Lord in His solitude and sufferings without mercy or mitigation is foretold when He is described as "a pelican of the wilderness … an owl of the desert … and a sparrow alone upon the house top" Ps.102.6,7. In this context we recall again His prophetic cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? Why art Thou so far from helping Me, And from the words of My roaring" Ps.22.1.
Some precious aspects of the death of the Lord Jesus would be lost without a brief reflection on the ram that took the place of Isaac on the altar. Our chapter has mentioned the provision of the Lamb; which speaks of gentleness, tenderness and freedom from sin whereas the ram will represent masculinity and strength. How important to note that it was caught in the thicket by its horns, that is, the symbol of its strength. It should also be noted that having been caught by its horns, its flesh would not have been bruised or disfigured and in this way the fitting picture of the sinless perfection of the Lord Himself is preserved. The ram also is the animal in Scripture that is linked with consecration and devotion, and when all these aspects are brought together, we find in the Saviour One Who was held to the cross, not by the nails or spikes of man’s selection, but by the immeasurable strength of His love. When Abraham took the ram, there is no mention of any struggle or resistance, again confirming the willingness of the Lord Jesus as "the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me" Gal.2.20.
Following the remarkable intervention of "the angel of the LORD" Gen.22.11, and the offering of the ram in the stead of Isaac it is highly significant that "Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen" Gen.22.14. The place may have been known historically as Moriah, and to so many it would never be anything else, but to Abraham, from that day onward, it would always be the place where the Lord made a wondrous provision and where it was revealed for all to see. Reflecting on such a provision inevitably casts our minds forward to Calvary, and to Him Who "suffered without the gate" Heb.13.12. It shall be an eternal wonder that God "spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all" Rom.8.32.
The name used by Abraham not only magnifies the wonder and greatness of the provision, but also appropriately stresses the fact that such provision has been openly displayed. While much of the life of the Lord Jesus was cloaked in privacy, His later years, trial, sentence and crucifixion, as far as the man-ward side was concerned, were in the public domain and open for all to see. In his address before Festus the apostle Paul, having spoken of the suffering of Christ, could testify of his persuasion "that none of these things are hidden … for this thing was not done in a corner" Acts 26.26. At the same time we must point out that only Abraham and Isaac witnessed the events of that memorable day. No matter how spiritual we become in our appreciation of what took place during those deep and dark experiences of the cross, there are depths and dimensions that no human mind could ever comprehend.
In meditating on Genesis chapter 22 it is quite easy to concentrate only on the first occasion when the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham and to overlook the second occasion and fail to discern its significance. A review of the experiences of Abraham will show that after each major test he received fresh and enlarged promises from God and after this, his greatest test of all, " the angel of the LORD called … the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore: and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice" Gen.22.15-18. In this communication it is revealed that Abraham would one day have an earthly and a heavenly seed and that his seed would enjoy supremacy over his enemies. All of these promises are very clearly linked to his not withholding the son that he loved. It is with worship and gratitude in our souls that we trace every future blessing in relation to Israel, and those of the present dispensation in relation to the church, to the death of our heavenly Isaac, the blessed and only Son of God.
The record shows that "Abraham returned unto his young men" Gen.22.19. There is no mention of Isaac ever coming down the mountain; this is a very fitting picture of Christ in exaltation Who has "gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him" 1Pet.3.22. While it is not the purpose of this chapter to deal with Isaac from a dispensational aspect it would be remiss not to note, that following his death figuratively, his mother Sarah died and that following her death Abraham commissioned his servant to seek a bride for his son. This speaks of the nation of Israel being set aside in the purpose of God after the death of the Lord Jesus and of the present period when God has turned to the Gentiles and has sent His servant (the Holy Spirit) into the world to take out of it a bride for His Son. Let us ever remember that "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it" Eph.5.25.
The beauty and accuracy of Genesis chapter 22 never fades. The presentation of the father and son and the experiences of mount Moriah continue to delight the soul of every attentive reader, and to stimulate fresh devotion to One Who "endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" Heb.12.2. It is our sincere prayer that this meditation will stimulate appreciation of the Divine purpose, of the Lord Jesus and of all that He accomplished through His suffering on the tree.
- Near the cross, O Lamb of God,
- Bring its scenes before me:
- Help me walk from day to day,
- With its shadow o’er me.
- (Fanny J. Crosby)