“But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I”‘ (Gen. 22:11).
Abraham had experienced what we might say was more than his share testing and trials since leaving Ur of the Chaldees (Gen. 11:31). We can look at the “Why did I do that?” encounter with the journey to Egypt, where he lost Sarai for a time (see Gen. 12); the “Why did he do that?” when Lot left him, going down to Sodom; and the troubles he had with the Philistines in chapters 20 and 21. Abimelech was the king of the Philistines, and Abraham had to let him know about a well of water which the Philistines apparently had seized. Water was and is precious in southern Palestine and to lose an entire well would have been devastating to Abraham and his entire estate.
Abraham Responds to God’s Command
But now comes the biggest test of all. The first several verses of Genesis 22:1-19 read as follows:
“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.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.”
Something that stands out to me is that this is one of the few times when God actually called Abraham by name. There are only a few times when God called someone by name in Scripture, and when God speaks we need to hear what He has to say. Abraham did so.
Another thing, something that probably shook Abraham deeper than anything else, was the command to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. Abram had offered many sacrifices to the Lord during his days on altars he had built to the Lord and knew full well what would be required of any burnt offering. Even worse, it was a long way from Beersheba (Gen. 21:31) to the land of Moriah, which is near Jerusalem. This would give him a lot of time to think about everything God had instructed him to do. Regardless of his personal feelings, he obeyed and went on his way.
Abraham Prepares to Make the Sacrifice
“On the third day, Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.’ Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ And he said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.”
We could spend a lot of time here, thinking about the various pictures of Calvary. The confidence of Abraham speaks to me of the promise Jesus Himself gave to the disciples when He said, “They’re going to kill Me, but I will rise again!” The wood laid on Isaac speaks to me and others about the wood for the cross laid on the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even as Isaac must have struggled beneath the load (it must have taken a lot of wood to properly burn a complete offering), the Lord Jesus went as far as He could go, physically speaking, before Simon of Cyrene was drafted to help carry the cross. Abraham’s knife could be a foreshadowing of the Law, with the commands for the priests to skin and cut animals into various pieces. In a word, the knife meant death for this episode. Abraham knew what he had to do, and Isaac eventually got the message. His question, “Where’s the lamb?” is one of the most touching in Scripture. He knew enough about offerings that a lamb was usually the choice—but no lamb was in sight. We have no record in Genesis that Abraham brought one along.
We also could spend much time thinking of the final words of father to son. Isaac had realized by now what was expected of him. Moses didn’t give the age of Isaac here, but we know he was younger than 40, because Rebekah hadn’t yet been brought home to be his bride. It’s a pretty good guess that Isaac was not only strong enough to bear the wood, but also strong enough to say, “I don’t think so!” when Abraham began to bind him with the ropes. We don’t know if Isaac simply was bound hand and foot or wrapped more or less completely with the ropes or if he was tied directly to the altar. There’s no need to speculate, but only to remember Isaac didn’t rebel. Neither did our Lord Jesus Christ—He was and is God in flesh and knew all the pain He was going to endure, which He did it for us. What a Savior!
Abraham Hears God Speak His Name Twice
“Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 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 stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing 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 a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.’ 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.’ So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.”
This is the first time God called someone by name twice in succession in Scripture. The first time, God called Abraham by name once to inform him of a test, although Abraham didn’t know it was only a test. He felt it a real command really to offer Isaac, the son of promise, as a burnt offering, and was going to carry it out. He went so far as to raise the knife to kill Isaac, but God called Abraham by name twice this time.
What started as a burden later became a blessing. God honored Abraham’s faith and gave him a greater promise than before. For us in these days, we may not be asked to offer one of our children on an altar of stone as a burnt offering. We do know trials will come, and we may never know why; but we can rest assured the God of Abraham is the same God we serve, and He always knows what is best for us.