Old Testament stories: “Where is the lamb?” (Genesis 22)

The Bible contains many genres, different types or styles of literature that communicate the Bible’s essential truths. “Narrative” is one of those genres. Narrative is simply a way of saying “a story.” The Bible, both Old and New Testament, is full of stories that are inspired and written so that they convey spiritual truth through the dialog and the events of the characters in these narratives. This is the first of a series of articles on stories from the Old Testament which foreshadow the coming of Jesus the Messiah.

GENESIS 22:1-14 – ABRAHAM AND ISAAC GO TO MORIAH TO SACRIFICE

Our story for this article will come from Genesis 22, when Abraham is an old man and his son, Isaac, the son of promise, is probably in his late teens. Abraham is called by God to go to the land of Moriah to make an unusual sacrifice.

The format for these Old Testament studies will be to go through the narrative once, pointing out what is going on in the story and highlighting some features of the narrative that are particularly significant and that will be explored later. Then we will go through the passage a second time pointing out how the story gives us a foreshadow of the Messiah who is promised in the Old Testament. I will be using the New American Standard Bible.

THE STORY WITH SOME COMMENTS

The story in Genesis 22 begins with God calling Abraham by name. Our God is a God who knows His people by name, so He calls Abraham by name.

Then God 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 (22:2).” Isaac was the son of promise. Abraham had waited twenty-five years for this son. Isaac was his only son, the only way that Abraham could have any descendants. And now God is asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. But Abraham, the father, is willing to offer up his only son, the son he loves, out of a greater love for God.

When Abraham has prepared everything for the sacrifice, he and Isaac and the two servants set out. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance (22:4). Abraham then “took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son (22:6).” The picture is of Abraham, the father, placing the wood on Isaac, his son, his only son, as they get ready to climb the hill to the place of sacrifice. We also see that Isaac is old enough and strong enough to carry whatever wood was necessary for the sacrifice. Certainly, then, Isaac is much stronger than his aged father and able to resist his father’s will if he wanted to.

As “the two of them walked on together,” Isaac ventures a question with his father. “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb” for the sacrifice (22:7)? Isaac probably had seen his father offer animals for sacrifice before, so he asks, “Where is the lamb?” As will be seen, this becomes one of the most important questions in the Old Testament.

Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb (22:8).” There is so much meaning in this simple response! Does Abraham believe that God will provide a substitute so that he does not need to sacrifice Isaac or is he merely denying the horror of the real answer? Maybe he is asking himself the same question, “Where is the lamb?” So, the two of them walked on together.

Now the awful moment has arrived as the two of them have come to the place of the sacrifice (22:9). The father carefully, precisely, painstakingly prepares the altar where his son, his only son, the son he loves, will be put to death as a sacrifice. If he believes that all of this is “just pretend,” it is impossible to detect it. Remarkably, although he could easily stop his father’s preparations and refuse to be bound and then laid on the altar, Isaac willingly submits to his father, and obediently takes his place on the altar to be sacrificed. Abraham raises his knife to slay his son.

But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven (22:11) and said, “Abraham! Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” The angel of the LORD tells Abraham (22:12) that he has passed the test and that Isaac his son, his only son, does not need to be sacrificed.

Observe, however, that although Isaac will not be sacrificed, a sacrifice is still required, and a sacrifice must still be made. Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns (22:13). God has provided a substitute to be offered up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. This is the first instance in the Bible of a substitutionary sacrifice, as the ram is offered in place of Isaac.

Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide (22:14).

HOW DOES THIS STORY FORESHADOW JESUS THE MESSIAH?

Having gone through the passage once, noting some of the features of the story, we will now go through it a second time to discern the meaning of the story. From the introduction of this series (posted February 9, 2021), we know that the Hebrews Scriptures were written to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah, and that some passages in those Scriptures vividly foreshadow the Messiah’s ministry on earth. This story is one of those passages.

First, we need to step back from the details for a moment and consider the context and the plot. We see a father and his only son going together to a mountain, to a place where the son will be offered up as a sacrifice. This image unmistakably pictures another Father and His only Son figuratively walking together up another place where the other Son will be offered up as a sacrifice. In other words, the entire scene is carefully constructed to point forward to that day when God the Father led God the Son up to Golgotha to sacrifice Him there on the cross.

In our story, Abraham willingly consents to offer up his son, his only son, the son he loves, because he desires to obey his God, whom he loves more. Therefore, the father is willing to sacrifice his only son. But as we examine the Scriptures, we see that Abraham’s willingness points toward another Father who willingly sacrifices His Son. In Isaiah 53:10, the Word says, “The LORD was please to crush Him, putting Him to grief.” We know that the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is the Messiah, Jesus, the Son whom the Father willingly crushed so that “He (the Son) would bear their iniquities (53:11).”

And consider Isaac’s role in the story. He is his father’s beloved only son, the son of promise. And yet he is the one whom his father is going to sacrifice. But Isaac is stronger than his father and can certainly resist. Yet the son willingly submits to his father’s will, even to the point of being bound and laid on top of the wood. The son does not even open his mouth in protest. This, too, points unerringly to another Son who did not open His mouth and who willingly submitted to His Father’s will “to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).” “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb that is led to slaughter and like a sheep that is silent before his shearers, so He did not open His mouth (Isaiah 53:7).” Jesus the Messiah willingly submitted to His Father’s will to be sacrificed on the cross. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup (His suffering and crucifixion) pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will (Jesus the Messiah in Matthew 26:39).”

Notice also the wood. Abraham himself splits the wood for the offering (Genesis 22:3). Then, near the place of sacrifice, “Abraham took the wood and laid it in his son Isaac (22:6).” Isaac is now carrying the wood that will make possible his sacrifice. The father and the son finally arrive at the place. The father then arranged the wood on the altar and laid his son on top of the wood (22:9). In the narrative, the wood of the sacrifice is prominent, just as in another sacrifice involving another Son the wood is prominent. Like Isaac, Jesus the Messiah, in His crucifixion, went out, bearing His own cross (John 19:17). Thus, Jesus carried the wood that made His sacrifice possible. The Son is then nailed to the wood of the cross to affect the sacrifice.

Did you notice the lamb? Isaac asks Abraham his father, “Where is the lamb (22:7) for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb (Genesis 22:8).” In some sense, Isaac’s question hangs over the entire Old Testament: “Where is the lamb?” In obedience to the Law, the priests in the temple offered many sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people (per Leviticus 4-5), and while thousands and thousands of lambs were slain in the temple and their blood poured out, the essential question remained: “Where is the lamb?” Where is the lamb that God will provide for Himself for the sacrifice? It was for that one unique lamb, the Lamb that God would provide, that the people waited. And then one day, the Lamb of God was identified. A Jewish prophet named John looked at Jesus the Messiah and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36)!” What Abraham and Isaac sought many centuries before was found in Jesus.

Notice, by the way, that the sacrifice God provided in Genesis 22 was a ram, not the lamb. Isaac had asked, “Where is the lamb?” Abraham had spoken prophetically and said that God would provide for Himself the lamb. Because God had not provided the lamb for the sacrifice, the search for the lamb continued.

Finally, the angel of the LORD stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac (22:11), then showed him a ram caught in the thicket (22:13). Because the LORD had provided a substitute, Isaac did not need to die. This introduces the idea of a substitutionary sacrifice, which will loom large not only in the sacrifices of the priests in the temple under the Law, but ultimately in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah, the Lamb of God, when He died on the cross as a substitute for sinners.

CONCLUSION

What we have seen is that the story in Genesis 22:1-14 about Abraham and Isaac offering a sacrifice on Mount Moriah has many features that foreshadow the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In our next article, we will look at the Passover of Exodus 12 and see how that foreshadows Jesus the Messiah.

SDG                 rmb                 2/16/2021

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