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  • Mary Lynn Tolar

Where is the Lamb for the offering?

“Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, ‘Father?’ ‘Yes, my son?’ Abraham replied. ‘The fire and the wood are here,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’” Genesis 22:7


“But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not reach out your hand against the boy, and do not do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’’ Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by its horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in the place of his son.” Genesis 22:11-13


 

When read from a modern perspective, this story of Abraham taking Isaac as a sacrifice is confusing to us. Surely, like us, Isaac and Abraham both wondered how this could possibly be what the Lord wanted. But it was exactly what God required, and Abraham’s faith cleared the way for our redemption through the sacrifice of another promised Son.


We find the story of Abraham’s life journey starting in Genesis 12. Abram, a Chaldean, is worshipping a false God, possibly praying for an heir, when the Lord commands him to go from his family and country to a faraway land where God promises to make him a great nation and a blessing. He gathers his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and his family and all their belongings and heads toward Egypt. We can follow his story of blessings, trials, missteps, and glorious encounters further through Genesis 25, and we find Genesis 15-17 holds the key to our questions.


 Just as God promised Abram that he would be the father of many nations in Genesis 12, we find the Lord reassuring him of the promise and cutting a blood covenant with Him. The point of a covenant is an unbreakable agreement, like a contract that’s more powerful than a promise, basically declaring that “What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine.” If I go to war, and ask for your help, calling upon our covenant, you join me with your warriors and supplies. If you need livestock, I give you mine, and so forth.


 A covenant is “cut” by bloody sacrifices that cannot be undone, and the parties will walk between the sacrificed animals, proclaiming that they agree that the covenant is forever. If one breaks the covenant, the message is, “May it be done to me as it was done to the sacrifice.” The Lord made such a covenant with Abram in Genesis 15.


Although he had received the Lord’s promise that he would have a great lineage, Abram was getting very old, and Sarai, his wife, was still barren. He questioned the Lord how he would be assured that the promise would be fulfilled and that his descendants would fill the promised land. The Lord had Abram prepare to cut a blood covenant with a 3-year-old heifer, a 3-year-old female goat, a 3-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. He cut all in half except the birds and laid them apart. Abram fell into a deep sleep, and the Lord completed the covenant pact with a smoking oven and a flaming torch that passed between the sacrificed pieces. He recited that Abram’s descendants would receive the land from the Nile to the Euphrates River.


Unfortunately, Abram and Sarai took a big misstep in trying to help the promise come to pass. Sarai gave her maid, Hagar, to Abram to give birth to a child, Ishmael. This was not God’s plan, and he intervened in the trouble.


In Genesis 17:1-2 (NASB), the Lord came to Abram and proclaimed, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish my covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.”  He then commanded Abram to gather all the males in his household and circumcise them. This practice was to be continued for all generations, and the promises God had covenanted before continued. God did not break His covenant with Abram. God renamed Abram as Abraham, father of many nations, and Sarai as Sarah, mother of multitudes. God assured Abraham that He would make a covenant with Isaac, the one who would be born the following year, and that he would bless Ishmael.


“Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’’ He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.’” Genesis 22:1-2 (NASB)


Isaac was about thirteen when God commanded Abraham to take Isaac, his son of the promise, to offer him as a sacrifice. He packed up Isaac and traveled for three days to Moriah as his covenant partner, God, had required him to do. He and Isaac left the servants behind and headed up Mt. Moriah. Isaac asked where the sacrificial lamb was as Abraham tied Isaac to the altar. Surely, in grief, he raised the knife above his son, but the angel of the Lord called from heaven and stopped him. A ram was caught nearby in a thicket. Provided by the Lord, it would fulfill the sacrifice God required.


“Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” Genesis 22:15-18 (NASB)


Abraham’s covenant faithfulness to sacrifice his promised son set in motion a requirement of the covenant partner, God, to provide His only Son of the Promise, too. Abraham and his great nations had a promise and a great need for a redeeming sacrifice. The Lord Who Provides (Genesis 22:14), a covenant-keeper, gave His only Son to be that slain “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” John 1:29 (NASB)


That’s the covenant-keeping God we celebrate with awe and joy on Easter!


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