Why did God ask Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac?

A Beautiful Foreshadowing: From Isaac to Jesus

I have this vivid memory from childhood: Sunday mornings. Century old church. The smell of incense combined with old furniture (that somehow made for an oddly pleasant scent). Heaven high ceiling filled with mural paintings.

But there was one painting that stood out. I could still picture it in my mind before I found this photo.

“Why is God trying to kill that poor boy?” I’d pull back from my seat, almost feeling the cut from that perfectly painted knife. After my eyes had wandered throughout that huge canvas with a series of imagery that seemed to scream so much story, my neck feeling sore from looking up, I would always go back to this painting with the same question.

Now, I think to myself, ‘If any church would display such imagery, I pray that they would have the wisdom to preach about it.

20 years later and my question had faded into a forgotten mystery. Until the moment finally came when I heard the untold story of Abraham, Isaac, and God. Oh the wonder of mystery revealed! I have no words to describe how I felt. My heart leaped! My soul lit up. My spirit rejoiced, as if bursting with light! It sounds dramatic, yet words still fail to describe that moment.

Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?

This question calls for parallels hinged on one Truth – the Truth that sets us free from the shackles of religion.

On the surface: It was a test of obedience and faith.

The Bible states this. God tested Abraham if he was willing to surrender what God gave him in the first place.

  • On obedience. Child sacrifice was a common pagan practice during the time of Abraham. It is important to note that God spoke to Abraham tangibly during his time, so there would have been no doubt in his mind that the instruction came from God. But would he obey?
  • On faith. The amazing thing for me is how Abraham knew God’s heart through it all. He knew—or had the faith to believe—that he is not leaving that mountain without Isaac. Abraham told his servants to wait for him AND Isaac to come back (“We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Gen: 22:5 NIV, emphasis mine). He also had the faith to believe that he will not be sacrificing Isaac (“Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.'” Gen 22:6-8 NIV). Indeed, Abraham was a friend of God (Isaiah 41:8) because he knew God’s heart.

As the story tells, Abraham really did attempt to kill Isaac. I wonder what it would have been like for us. What would we do? I’m glad it didn’t have to be me! But I also know that every day, we are being put to a test of obedience and faith in different forms and varying degrees.

Now we go deeper: It was a beautiful foreshadowing of what’s to come—Jesus Christ, the ultimate sacrifice.

The parallels between Isaac and Jesus screams:
“Do not miss the Salvation of the LORD, the Provider, the Great I AM!”

“Take your son, your only son, whom you love–Isaac–and go to region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Gen 22:2)We all know Isaac is not Abraham’s only son. But Isaac is his only son of promise. In the Bible, angels are called ‘sons of God’ (Gen 6:1) — these are beings that came directly from God, including Adam (we are adopted sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ). But Jesus is God’s only begotten Son — He is one with the Father, and He came down as a man.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17)
“Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife.” (Gen 22:6)Jesus carried the cross on the way to Calvary (Matt 27:31-33, Mark 15:20-22, Luke 23:26-32, John 19:16-18).
“He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.” (Gen 22:9)The crucifixion of Christ was God’s divine plan! If God had not permitted it, no one would have been able to lay a finger on our Lord Jesus! It was the LORD’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and the LORD’s life was made as an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10).

I used to wonder why bad things happen to good people. I realized that this question only applies to Jesus and no one else. Because only He is good. We have all fallen short of the glorious standards of God. Jesus received the bad we deserved, so that we can receive the good He deserved. The crucifixion of Christ was necessary for us!
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” He said. “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. (Gen 22:12-13)Abraham did not have to sacrifice his son, because 2000 years later, in that same mountain range,1 God would sacrifice His own Son. We no longer have to sacrifice anything to be forgiven for our sins. Jesus has done the ultimate sacrifice for us.

Now we know that God loves us because He did not withhold from us His only Son. His beloved One.

If in the Old Testament, priests would offer sacrifices day after day, the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins. But we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:1-18)
What a heartbreaking scene – how Isaac felt as the scene unfolded. What went through his mind? Didn’t he have anything to say? Scripture says nothing about it. But how Jesus reacted during his passion and crucifixion gives me an idea. The prophesy in Isaiah 53:7-10 says it all:
He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.

In all 4 gospel accounts, Jesus was mocked, challenged, spat on, and scoffed at. Yet they heard nothing back from Him. Luke 23:35-37 says, “And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!'”

Oh the holy meekness of our LORD!
Scriptures based on NIV, emphasis mine

1In addition, scholars suggest that Golgotha (where Jesus was crucified) and Mount Moriah are on the same mountain range.

The cross is a beautiful culmination of God’s love and justice.
God’s love for us. And His wholly wrath against sin.
Through the cross of Jesus Christ, both love and justice were fulfilled without compromise!
Yet, only One suffered for all.
The sinless One suffered to save the sinful.
Our sins imputed unto Him at the cross. Conversely, His righteousness imputed unto us as we behold Him and accept Him as our Lord and Savior.

He was wounded for our transgressions
He was bruised for our inequities
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him
And by His stripes, we are healed!

Isaiah 53:5

When I go back to my hometown, I will take a peek at this church, and I know I will never look at that painting the same way again. For I will be looking at it through a different lens. The lens of Grace. The Person of my LORD Jesus Christ.

Photo by Project Kisame
Image source: Expedia

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