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THE OFFERING OF ISAAC
(SERMON #70 ON THE BOOK OF GENESIS)
A sermon written by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr., Pastor Emeritus
This is the seventieth sermon I have preached from the Book of Genesis in the last few months. I hope it is a blessing to each of you this afternoon! Please turn to Genesis 22:1 in your Bible.
“And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” (Genesis 22:1-2; p. 32 Scofield).
The account is simple enough, but it has a very profound message, so deep that I have hesitated to preach on it for many years. I will explain that in a few minutes. But first I will give you the story. Abraham was a very old man when his son Isaac was born. He was seventy-five when God promised to give him a son. He had waited for twenty-five years, and he was one hundred years old when his only son was born. As we come to this chapter, Isaac is about 26 or 27 years old. Now God tested Abraham. He told him to take his only son Isaac, whom he loved, and go into the land of Moriah, “and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains” (Genesis 22:2). They traveled to that place. Abraham took the wood he had brought, built an altar, and laid out the wood for a fire. Then he tied up Isaac and laid him upon the wood.
“And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son” (Genesis 22:10-13; p. 33).
That is the account of what happened. As I said, it is simple enough. But there are so many parts to the story that I have hesitated to preach on it until now. Then I read Dr. H. C. Leupold’s comment on the passage. He said, “In the homiletical use of the passage at least two approaches are possible” (H. C. Leupold, D.D., Exposition of Genesis, volume II, Baker Book House, 1985 edition, p. 637).
The thought that there are “at least” two approaches when preaching on this passage freed my mind. Therefore I am going to give you four applications of this great passage.
I. First, the passage speaks of faith being tested.
Verse one says, “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham” (Genesis 22:1). The primary root of the Hebrew word for “tempt” means to “test” (Strong). Dr. McGee said, “The word tempt is a little too strong. James makes it very clear in his epistle that God never tempts anyone with evil. God tempts folks in the sense that He tests their faith. God did test Abraham” (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1981, volume I, p. 90).
Our text describes the fourth great test that God gave Abraham. Each test involved a surrender of something that he loved. First, he was called to leave his family and his native land (Genesis 12:1). Second, he was told to separate from his nephew Lot (Genesis 13:1-18). Third, he was told to give up his plans for Ishmael (Genesis 17:17, 18). Fourth, here he was told to offer his beloved son Isaac as a burned offering. Arthur W. Pink said,
The life of the believer is a series of tests, for only by discipline can Christian character be developed. Frequently there is one supreme test, in view of which all others were preparatory. So it was with Abraham. He had been tested again and again, but never as here. God’s demand is, “Son, give me thine heart” (Proverbs 23:26). It is not our intellect, our talents, or our money, but our hearts, God asks for first. When we have responded to God’s requirement, He lays His hand on something especially near and dear to us, to prove the genuineness of our response, for God requires truth in the inward parts and not merely our lips. Thus he dealt with Abraham (Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in Genesis, Moody Press, 1981 edition, p. 226).
There is always a big test right at the beginning, when a person first hears the Gospel. Jesus said, “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). That means you have to want Christ more than anything else. Sins that you love must go. Earthly possessions must take second place. Secret indulgences must be given up. You cannot serve these things and become a Christian at the same time! Someone says, “But this might hurt my career.” Jesus said, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself...” (Luke 9:23). This is where many people stumble. They want to become Christians without giving up anything. They want to be saved without changing anything in their lives. They want to hold onto some sin and be converted at the same time! That is impossible! That cannot be! That is inconceivable, out of the question, and an absurd contradiction! “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
Wasn’t that exactly what Abraham was faced with on Mount Moriah? God tested Abraham. Was he willing to give up the thing he loved most in this world – his only son? God said, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest...and offer him for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2). And that is the test you face as well. Take now thy beloved sin and offer it up for a burnt offering. Will you do it? If you won’t you are not going to become a real Christian. Hold on to it and you will never be converted – never! never! never! Oh, may your prayer echo that old song!
Lord Jesus, look down from Thy throne in the skies,
And help me to make a complete sacrifice;
I give up myself, and whatever I know,
Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow…
...Break down every idol, cast out every foe;
Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow...
(“Whiter Than Snow” by James Nicholson, 1828-1896).
II. Second, the passage speaks of God’s love.
Think of the heartache Abraham felt as he took his beloved son Isaac to be sacrificed to God!
“Take now thy son, thine only son...whom thou lovest... and offer him there...” (Genesis 22:2; p. 32).
Arthur W. Pink said, “This is one of the very few Old Testament types that brings before us not only God the Son but also God the Father. Here [more than anywhere else in the Old Testament] we are shown the Father’s heart. Here it is that we get such a wonderful foreshadowment of the Divine side of Calvary” (Pink, ibid., p. 222).
In the twenty-second chapter of Genesis we learn something of how God felt when
“He...spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all”
(Romans 8:32; p. 1202).
Mr. Pink said, “Oh! how the Spirit of God lingers on the offering and the offerer, as if there must be a thorough [similarity between] the type [Abraham] and the Antitype [God the Father] – ‘thy son’ – ‘thine only son’ – ‘whom thou lovest’! ...Really this is central in Genesis 22. In this chapter Abraham figures much more prominently than Isaac...It is the [love] of the Father’s heart which [is] here displayed most conspicuously” (Pink, ibid.). The sadness and sorrow that God the Father felt when Jesus was crucified are shown to us in Abraham, the type of God the Father.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16; p. 1117).
The passage shows us the test of faith, and the love of God the Father. But there is more, because this is a very rich chapter in the Word of God.
III. Third, the passage speaks of Christ’s obedience unto death.
“And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son” (Genesis 22:7-10; p. 33).
See how meekly and obediently Isaac went to the slaughter? Isaac is the type. Jesus is the antitype, the fulfillment of the type. Isaac went obediently to his death, even as Christ did. The prophet said that Christ, “Is brought as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). Isaac did not defend himself when his father bound him “and laid him on the altar upon the wood” (Genesis 22:9). And when Pilate questioned Jesus, “He answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly” (Matthew 27:14). And Isaiah said, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
Notice also Isaac bearing the wood. The passage says, “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son” (Genesis 22:6). What a picture of Christ carrying His cross to the place of crucifixion! Here we are reminded that Christ, “Humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).
“Man of Sorrows,” what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!”
(“Hallelujah! What a Saviour!” by Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876).
But there is one more point.
IV. Fourth, the passages speaks of Christ’s substitutionary death in the place of sinners.
Abraham reached out and took a knife to kill his son, Isaac. This seemed as strange to Abraham as it does to you and me, when we read about it. Abraham believed that human sacrifice was wrong. Up until now it had never entered his mind to sacrifice a human being. This presented a real crisis in Abraham’s mind. Abraham had gone through three tests already. First, he was called to leave all his relatives in Ur of the Chaldees. He had to leave his whole family. That was a real test for Abraham. I know how it feels to have a non-Christian family that thinks you have gone crazy when you become a Christian. So I know the sorrow Abraham felt over leaving them behind. Then there was the test that came with his nephew Lot. He was the last member of his family to be with him. But the time came when he had to separate, and Lot went to live in the city of Sodom. Then there was the test of his son by Hagar. He loved young Ishmael, and hated to separate from him. Abraham cried out to God, “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (Genesis 17:18). Now Abraham came to this supreme test, which was the fourth great crisis in his life – God told him to sacrifice Isaac! Abraham did not understand this at all, because God had told him, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Genesis 21:12). Abraham did not understand why he had to kill the son that he had been promised for many years. But Abraham’s faith was so strong, that now he believed that “God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” (Hebrews 11:19).
You see, each time you pass a test that God gives you, you receive more faith, and your faith becomes stronger. There have been a few times in my life when I thought I couldn’t go on as a Christian. These were times of great disappointment and very heavy testing, very heavy indeed. But looking back I can now see that God was testing me for a reason. I would not be the person I am today if God had not given me grace to go through those awful tests. And that’s the way it was with Abraham.
But now, when Abraham took the knife to slay his son, God suddenly called to him,
“Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:12; p. 33).
God knew that Abraham feared Him before this, but his family and Isaac himself would not be sure – until they saw that he was willing to make this supreme sacrifice. That’s why the Apostle James said Abraham was “justified by works” (James 2:21). His faith produced his good works. That’s the reason James said, “Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17). Abraham proved his faith by his works, by his willingness to obey God by sacrificing Isaac.
But wait! This is where I got confused when I read this chapter in the past. I wondered how the type could change from Isaac to the ram, because we read,
“Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son” (Genesis 22:13; p. 33).
The type of Christ as our substitute sacrifice switched from Isaac to that ram. This is where Dr. Leupold helped me when he said, “At least two approaches are possible” when preaching on this passage. I actually found that there are at least four approaches.
The type switched here, and Isaac became a type of the sinner, condemned by the law of God, which condemns the sinner to death. Yes, Isaac was a sinner, as all men are. And yes, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And what a wonderful type this is! Isaac the sinner was spared from the judgment of God’s law by that ram, that Abraham took and “offered…for a burnt offering in the stead of his son” (Genesis 22:13). The New Testament says, “Christ died for our sins” (I Corinthians 15:3). And the Apostle Peter said,
“Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:18; p. 1314).
Notice Genesis 22:14. “Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh,” which means, “The Lord will provide.” God has provided Jesus, to take your place as a sin-bearer, just as He provided that ram to take the place of Isaac! Trust Jesus and He takes your place, and pays the penalty for your sin on the Cross! It is my prayer that you will turn from your sins and trust Jesus now. He died in your place, to pardon your sins, and bring you to God!
You may fear that you will have to change too much when you trust Christ. If you fail that test you will never be saved! You must stand against your fears and come to Christ boldly. Do not hesitate! Throw yourself upon the Saviour by faith. He will save you from the wrath of God, and judgment for sin. The Blood of Jesus will cleanse you from all sin. His death in your place on the Cross will pay the price for your sin, and you will never be punished. Amen.