There is a moment in the Old Testament that has always been fascinating to me. It so often passes us by in Church life that we can read it and not think too much about the oddness and the horror of it. Many people outside of the church point at this story and say to us – “well there you go! Your God
is bloodthirsty”. But, when we stop and look deeper we see love, agony, sacrifice, pain and a story which points forward to the perfect one to come.
Isaac must have wondered often what was going on. I think that’s why Moses gives us the insight that Isaac asks his father where the animal is for the sacrifice. Abraham must have said very little about their act of worship on the way. It wouldn’t have been strange for him to carry the wood up Mount Moriah – his father after all was around 100 by this stage. Yet, the silent agony of his father must have been noticeable which might have prompted the question as to where the sacrifice was.
Maybe, in reality, the question which pressed on the heart of Isaac was “what or…who, is going to be sacrificed”.
From Abraham’s point of view this would be horrific. All his life he has longed for a son and after such a long wait from God’s promise he now had the promised one. A son with his wife Sarah (who I’d have to guess from Abraham’s past behaviour knew nothing of this little camping trip) promised by God and now delivered. What is striking about this passage is that God speaks to Abraham telling him to take his son whom he loves and offer him as a sacrifice. This is the first time in the bible that the word love has appeared. It has taken 22 chapters to get there and here it is. God is pointing out the devotion and near adoration that Abraham has for his son.
Yet, Abraham is the man of faith. Off they go on their journey, Abraham’s heart churning within him and Isaac blissfully unaware (perhaps at the start anyway), as they travel to the high place to sacrifice. Human sacrifice was the norm for other deities in the world at this time. Abraham would have been surrounded by those who offered up family members and fellow-villagers to appease the gods around them. It would have perhaps even been something he knew growing u in Ur of the Chaldeans before God called him. Perhaps, he never questioned it but the book of Hebrews gives us a wonderful insight to his thinking. Abraham had reasoned out who our God is. That our God is powerful and mighty. He thought through the ramifications of all God had promised. He had said that it would be through Isaac’s line that the nations would be blessed. Abraham couldn’t have a massive family numbering the stars in the sky or the sand on the shore if the promised son was dead. Abraham wouldn’t inherit the promised land if he had no one to bestow it upon after he died.
All of God’s promises hinged on the boy living. So Abraham reasoned in his heart that even if Isaac were to die this day that God would be able to raise him from the dead.
Isaac slogged up the hill carrying the wood that would be his own execution equipment. He lay down on top of it willingly as Abraham tied him to it. His father raised the knife and before he plunged it into the son whom he loved an angel from heaven cries out. Abraham’s faith in God is proved to be
true, that he trusted God not just with the promises so far but with his own son’s life, death and resurrection.
Jesus slogged up the hill carrying the cross of wood that would be his own execution equipment. Many have thought for a long time that Mount Moriah is the old name for Calvary. He lay down on top of it willingly as they nailed him to it. Jesus died in the place of Isaac, in the place of you and of me. The voice of the angel was silent that day. The voice at the baptism and transfiguration was silent – that voice which had said “This is my son, whom I love”. Jesus died but Abraham’s reasoning still stands. The promises of God do not work with a dead Messiah, with a dead son, with Jesus in the tomb. They promises of God are true and so the Son must live – and he does! Three days later, Abraham’s thinking about God is true. He can and did rise from the dead!
This Old Testament story is an echo of all that was to come in Jesus. His sacrifice, his death and even hints towards his resurrection. There isn’t much tinsel, turkey or trees in this story but it is a reminder that the Scriptures God has given to us – each and an every bit – point to Jesus, his coming to be with us, his death in our place, and the resurrection which guarantees our own.