"The fire and wood are here, " Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb..."
"By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' (Hebrews 11:17-18) Can you imagine the raw emotions of this elderly man as he took his beloved young Isaac to the alter?
Not much is mentioned about what the sacrifice of Isaac might have been like, when Abraham reached out his hand for the knife. Abraham would have surely given hundreds of burnt offerings of sheep or goats in his lifetime. The sacrificial animals had to be year-old males and without defect. (Exodus 12:5) More than likely, an animal was placed on an alter, and with a sharp knife, the neck would have been slit quickly, so that death would have been sudden. Afterwards, the fire would have been lit. A burnt offering represented the total dedication of the offering unto God.
Burnt offerings bore witness of the great sacrifice God was going to make for the sins of mankind. In Genesis, after eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from the Lord God, because of their sin. God knew from the fall of man, all of mankind would spend the rest of its existence hiding in shame because of sin. In His loving kindness, God sacrificed an animal and made garments of skin for Adam and Eve and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21) The ultimate Sacrifice was to come, not just for Adam and Eve, but for all. For our depravity and nakedness, with this Sacrifice, God would clothe us, too; in righteousness.
We choose sin, just as Adam and Eve did. We choose to hide our sin and hide from God. His deep and unfathomable love for us is so great that He gave his 'one and only son' as a sacrifice to pay for our sins and to clothe us in righteousness. The sacrifice of the Lamb of God; however, would not prove to be sudden or without pain.
Two thousand years after Adam and Eve, another sacrifice took place, which would offer a glimpse into the ultimate Sacrifice to come. Certainly death was imminent for Isaac the moment God commanded to Abraham, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love..., and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering..."( Genesis 22:2) He trusted God and knowing that God abhorred human sacrifice, a pagan ritual, Abraham must have believed whole-heartedly that the Lord would spare his promised son Isaac from slaughter. Early the next morning, Abraham and Isaac set out for the three day journey. On the third day, Abraham with an obedient heart, built the alter just as God had commanded. "Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death." (Hebrews 11:19)
As Abraham built the alter and prepared for the sacrifice of his favored child, I can envision Jesus standing in their midst observing the obedience of the son to the father; Isaac to his father Abraham and Abraham to his Father God. The young Isaac would have been fully capable of resisting his elderly father or fleeing from him, as he was bound and prepared for the alter. Like Abraham, Isaac trusted his father. I cannot imagine the pain this act of sacrifice was surely inflicting on the heart of Abraham, and yet, Abraham never questioned God. "Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son." (Genesis 22:10) This act would have been quick and without delay, as Abraham would not have wanted his son to suffer. The angel of the Lord called out to Abraham and said, "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him." (Genesis 22:12)
I can picture Jesus standing near watching the child get up from the alter, knowing that the day would come when he would be given as a sacrifice by his Father. He, too would rise, but only after a long and painful death, accompanied with ridicule and mockery. A few minutes earlier, innocent Isaac had asked, "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" (Genesis 22:7) I picture Jesus with the knowledge of what was to come, transforming into a ram to be sacrificed in Isaac's place; just as He was sacrificed in our place. However, as fully man and fully God, Jesus would die on the cross at Calvary in the full knowledge and pain that the human flesh experiences. "Abraham looked up and there in a thicket was a ram caught by its horns." (Genesis 22:13) Abraham had answered Isaac, "God himself will provide the lamb," because God himself is the Lamb.
Human sacrifice was not a part of the Jewish religion, as it was with other religions. Abraham by faith, obeyed God's command, although it was completely foreign to anything he had known or ever done. As I attempt to understand Abraham's position in offering his son as a sacrifice, I can barely
comprehend it or fathom how a Father can love all of his children so much that He would give his "only begotten son." (John 3:16) The thought is so unbearable, and even more so to think of the extended pain and agony Jesus went through in order to redeem us and to restore us to our Father. We are all deserving of the death on the cross, but in His love He gave the Sacrificial Lamb, Jesus in our place. As horrible as His death was on that cross, it was and is, the only act that could atone for the impoverished state of mankind.
There are some significant similarities of the two sacrifices. Isaac, like Jesus bore his own wood, the means of sacrifice, upon his back. Both men were strong and capable of resisting, but neither fought or thrashed about. Like innocent lambs taken for slaughter, Isaac and Jesus both accepted their lots trustingly and quietly following the voice of their Shepherd. On the third day, Isaac was received back from the dead. After the crucifixion, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. Isaac was taken to Mt. Moriah to be sacrificed. This is the site where the temple of Jerusalem was built many years later and is near the location where two thousand years after Abraham and Isaac went to Mt. Moriah, Jesus would be sacrificed. Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. This grown male sheep with its horns represented power and represented the grown Lamb of God that would be sacrificed for all of mankind.
At Christmastime, one can only celebrate the birth of Jesus with the perspective of why He was born. He was born to die. Without his death and resurrection, his birth is insignificant. When you visit a Nativity, look at the little baby in the arms of 'Mary' and imagine him as a sacrifice for you and me. Look past the pleasant scene with sweet animals and a clean barn that modernity has purported and reflect deeply on what the birth of Jesus was really like. The environment in which He was born and the condition in which He died are more than our modern minds can absolve. Jesus was born and passed through poverty, because it is the natural state of mankind. Thirty-three years later, he bore the impoverished condition of our hearts full of sin and depravity and hung on the cross at Calvary for one reason.
He loves you and me more than we could ever imagine.
Sources: The NIV Bible; HG Taylor; Lenet H. Read; All About Jesus Christ; Jesus Walk; The Old Testament Offerings; Biblegateway