The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac January 8, 2024

Photo by Kitera Dent on Unsplash

The story of “the binding of Isaac” is a powerful reminder of the cost of obedience. It also reminds us of the cost Jesus paid for us!

Scripture:       

Genesis, chapters 20-22; Luke, chapter 8

Genesis 22:1-14 (CEB):

After these events, God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” Abraham answered, “I’m here.” God said, “Take your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him up as an entirely burned offering there on one of the mountains that I will show you.” Abraham got up early in the morning, harnessed his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, together with his son Isaac. He split the wood for the entirely burned offering, set out, and went to the place God had described to him.

On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place at a distance. Abraham said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will walk up there, worship, and then come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the entirely burned offering and laid it on his son Isaac. He took the fire and the knife in his hand, and the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?” Abraham said, “I’m here, my son.” Isaac said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the entirely burned offering?” Abraham said, “The lamb for the entirely burned offering? God will see to it, my son.” The two of them walked on together.

The Binding of Isaac

They arrived at the place God had described to him. Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He tied up his son Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. Then Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. But the Lord’s messenger called out to Abraham from heaven, “Abraham? Abraham?”

Abraham said, “I’m here.” The messenger said, “Don’t stretch out your hand against the young man, and don’t do anything to him. I now know that you revere God and didn’t hold back your son, your only son, from me.” Abraham looked up and saw a single ram caught by its horns in the dense underbrush. Abraham went over, took the ram, and offered it as an entirely burned offering instead of his son. Abraham named that place “the Lord sees.” That is the reason people today say, “On this mountain the Lord is seen.”

Observations:

The Binding of Isaac

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that Bible scholars refer to this passage as “the binding of Isaac.” In my mind, it was the “Mount Moriah” passage. There was a song a number of years ago. I remember it from the time period when I was preparing for ministry. “Lay it down on Mount Moriah, offer up what you hold best” was one of the lines from the song. I thought of it in terms of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice everything to God.

But the title “the binding of Isaac” changed my focus and understanding of this story. You see, Isaac wasn’t a baby; he was old enough to carry the wood for the sacrifice. He was also old enough to understand what a sacrifice was, and how it worked. When Isaac asked, “Where is the lamb?” he understood that something unusual was happening.

Imagine what Isaac must have thought. Abraham built and altar and prepared the wood. Still no lamb in sight. Then Abraham tied up his son Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. By this time, Isaac understood – yet he did not try to get away. Surely he could have rolled off the top of the altar. He could have run away when Abraham came to try to tie him up. After all, Abraham was over a hundred years old! Yet Isaac stayed there, willing to honor his father even if it meant his death.

Application: The Binding of Isaac

“Your Son, Your Only Son Whom You Love”

The parallels between this passage and the story of Jesus’ crucifixion are striking. I’m not a person who reads too much into symbolism, but there is clearly a connection here. For example, God refers to Isaac as your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac. I don’t believe that’s a slight against Ishmael; it simply recognizes that God had declared that Abraham’s line would be reckoned through Isaac. As far as Abraham’s descendants went, it was as though Ishmael didn’t exist.

In the same way, Jesus is God’s Son, His only Son. God declared this at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love” (Luke 3:22). Jesus understood that He was “God’s only Son” (for example, John 3:16). Isaac was willing to accept his father’s will, even though he didn’t understand it. Jesus was willing to accept His Father’s will, even though He did understand what it meant. Isaac was looking for the lamb; Jesus knew that He was the Lamb.

Other Parallels Between Isaac and Jesus

There are two other phrases that hint at the parallels between Isaac and Jesus. Again, I don’t read too much into symbolism like this; I just find it interesting. First, after God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham set out – and on the third day they arrived at the place of sacrifice. The parallel here is that, when God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, in Abraham’s mind Isaac was “dead.” On the third day, God provided a substitute lamb – thus “bringing Isaac back from the dead.”

The other symbolic phrase comes in verse 6: Abraham took the wood for the entirely burned offering and laid it on his son Isaac. Isaac “carried the wood” that would be used for the sacrifice. In the same way, Jesus “carried the wood” – his cross – for His sacrificial death.  The difference, of course, is that God provided a substitute sacrifice for Isaac. God also provided a substitute sacrifice for us – Jesus.

Prayer:

Father, thank you for reminding us of Isaac’s obedience, even when he didn’t understand fully what was happening, and why. Thank you also for reminding us of Jesus’ obedience, when he did understand. Abraham and Isaac show us, in human terms, what it meant for You to offer Your only Son as a sacrifice – for us. Help us to walk in your way, even when we don’t understand. Help us to be obedient, even when that obedience is costly. Lead us and shape us in the image of Your Son Jesus. We pray in His name, Amen.

 

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