Hebrews 9:22 reads, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” For us to be made clean and begin a relationship with the Father, Jesus’s blood had to wash us clean of our transgressions.
Sin came with the fall and separated us from God. While redemptive history proves God had a plan to save His people from the beginning, the lives of believers in the Old Testament and the New Testament were quite different. Before Jesus paid our debt and atoned for our sins, believers appeased God’s wrath toward sin through offerings and sacrifices. And this is the context we find ourselves in when reading Genesis 22.
God often tests us with hardship and adversity to prove the depth of one’s faith and obedience. Genesis 22 is a prime example of this, as God tests Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Not only is Isaac the son of the promise, but since Ishmael was disinherited, he is also Abraham’s only son.
In Genesis 21:12, God said to Abraham, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” Abraham had faith in that promise and knew a dead Isaac wouldn’t fulfill it. But even if Isaac did die, Abraham had faith God was powerful enough to raise him from the dead, and that God was faithful to fulfill His promises.
They approached the altar and Isaac, unaware of the Lord’s command to Abraham, said, “My Father! … Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:7-8). The following verse shows that Abraham not only bound his son to the altar but also, as the text states, “reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son” (v. 10).
Pause for a moment.
Isn’t that crazy? Abraham raised the knife to “slaughter his son.” Who does that? And what sort of “loving” God commands a father to kill his own son? Well, I’d argue this passage, as hard as it can be to digest, demonstrates faith, obedience, and fulfillment. Not to mention it’s an example of God’s love for us as His adopted sons and daughters.
In faith, Abraham would have sacrificed his own son because he knew God was sovereign over the outcome. And in verses 11 and on, the Lord’s faithfulness becomes clear. The angel of the Lord stopped and said, “Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (v. 12). This event concludes with the blessing of Abraham. The angel of the Lord said Abraham’s offspring would multiply and be as the “stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore” (v. 17).
In obedience, rather than questioning or disputing with the Lord, Abraham, a man of proven faith, nearly killed his son. This is a blatant testament to the trust Abraham had in God — trust that allowed him to move forward in obedience. Whether Isaac was spared or offered, Abraham knew God was in control. Should Isaac be offered up, Abraham knew God could raise him from the dead. Abraham said multiple times in Genesis 22, “The Lord will provide.” In this statement, we see his faith, but we also see that he knew the only thing he could do after trusting the Lord was to obey the Lord.
In fulfillment, we read Genesis 22 and see that “Christ is the better Isaac” or “a type of Christ.” In other words, we can see this through the interpretive lens of typology. This form of biblical interpretation functions on the assumption that God foreshadows Christ in the Old Testament’s laws, events, and figures. Or, simply put, it’s based on the understanding that Christ is the center of the entire Bible, including the Old Testament. Here are the typological connections between Christ and Isaac:
- Both were one and only sons.
- Both were sent to be sacrificed.
- Both were loved by their fathers.
So why is Christ the better Isaac? Because Isaac was oblivious to what his father was doing, but Christ knew why His Father sent Him. Isaac asked his father where the sacrifice was, but Christ knew He was the sacrifice. Isaac was not sacrificed, but Christ was. And unlike Isaac, Christ suffered tremendously.
On Calvary, He was beaten and mocked, bloodied and scorned. Jesus was nailed to the cross wearing a crown of thorns. He was thirsty and was given vinegar to drink. From His pierced side flowed blood and water, revealing His humanity and consummating His death. Jesus was the only Son of God and the only sacrifice worthy before the Lord to atone for our sins. The spotless lamb, Christ is the better Isaac.
In Genesis 22, it may not seem loving that God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. But that command was a test of Abraham’s faith and obedience, not the roar of a bloodthirsty tyrant. Also, given that Isaac was not sacrificed, God never planned for him to be. Jesus, on the other hand, was sent by God specifically to be the sacrifice that paved the way for our salvation.
Genesis 22 shows how Isaac was spared, but for our sake, Jesus was not. What greater love is there? Genesis 22 shows how God tests those He loves, and that His tests will lead us not to ruin but to life. Abraham didn’t have to sacrifice his son, and even Christ, who was sacrificed, did not stay dead! Far from revealing that God is not loving, Genesis 22 is a defining moment of true faith and how deeply God loves us. After all, He spared Isaac, but He didn’t spare His own Son, Jesus, because He wanted us to be a part of His eternal kingdom.
Believers today have the privilege of learning all of this as we read this account in sacred Scripture. Abraham’s faith and obedience certainly serve as examples of how we should respond when under test or trial. Hebrews 12:6a says, “For the Lord disciplines the one He loves.” Some hardships are a result of sin, while others are tests from God. Either way, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Ultimately, Genesis 22 helps us understand that acknowledging God’s sovereignty directly affects our responses to trial and affliction. No molecule is outside God’s control, and although there’s a lot we don’t know in the moment, the Lord proclaimed in Isaiah 55:8-9 that His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.
And when we remember that God said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” we can truly rest in His steadfast love no matter our circumstances. Or as Corrie ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
Trust Him. He is worthy.
Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.
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