I was reading Genesis 22 in my devotions yesterday. More than any other passage of Genesis, the story of Abraham and Isaac resounds the gospel in almost deafening tones. God says, “Abraham, take your only son whom you love and offer him up as a sacrifice.” And dutifully, without question, this man who used to call his wife his sister out of fear for his life sets out with his son and two servants to the place of sacrifice. He leaves the servants behind saying, “We’ll be back.” Not “I’ll be back” but “WE’ll be back.” Then he sets on his son’s back the wood on which he is to be sacrificed and makes him carry it to the place of sacrifice. Isaac knows a thing or two about sacrifices by this age and says, “Wood: check. Fire: check. But what about the offering?” And it’s here that Abraham speaks the words that nearly explode off the page of the Old Testament with the power of the gospel: “God will provide for himself the lamb to be sacrificed.”
There is a John Newton hymn, eight verses that end with the refrain, “The LORD will provide.” We often remember the name Jehovah Jireh (or better transliterated Yahweh Yireh, the LORD will provide) in times of financial need or some other lack of resources, but John Newton draws closer to the original context of this phrase in his last verse: “When life sinks apace and death is in view, this word of his grace shall comfort us through: no fearing or doubting, with Christ on our side, we hope to die shouting, ‘The LORD will provide.’” What can cause a person to face death without fearing or doubting? What allowed Abraham to say to his servants, “We’ll be back”? It’s this very truth that God provided for himself the Lamb to be sacrificed. Because after Abraham, there was another Father who led his only Son whom he loved to the place of sacrifice, making him carry on his back the wood on which he was to die. And for Jesus there was no intervening angel to say, “Stop! That’s far enough.” His blood ran down, and the blade pierced his flesh.
We breathe a sigh of relief when the story of Abraham and Isaac is over, because Isaac didn’t really have to die. But the only reason is that God had another sacrifice prepared in advance, and it wasn’t the ram caught in the thicket. The only reason my son doesn’t have to die, that I don’t have to die for my sins, is that God was willing to give what we shudder to think of Abraham giving. That is what “The LORD will provide” means.
But the story doesn’t end there. Abraham didn’t have the Cross to look back on like we do, just the assurance that “The LORD will provide,” and it was enough for him to be willing to lay down everything at God’s feet. We see at the end of the story God commending Abraham for his faith—but this is more than a commendation. Abraham gave what was most valuable to him, his child, and God blessed Abraham and his children so that they would be multiplied. And through them, all nations on earth will be blessed. The earthly lineage of Jesus, the Savior of the world, is of course traced through Abraham’s offspring, so that the world really is saved through Abraham’s offspring. This is part of Abraham’s blessing for his obedient faith. But the New Testament also calls all “those of faith” sons of Abraham and says they “are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:7-9)—Abraham’s children now include all who put their faith in Christ. And those who have faith like Abraham are blessed like Abraham.
When we look at Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22, who is ready to step up and be counted among his children? We breathe easy when the story is over because we think that was his story, he got his medal, thank God we don’t have to go through that. But the story ends with God blessing Abraham as the father of those of faith like him, those who would trust firmly enough in the promise “The LORD will provide” to be willing to lay down everything at God’s feet. We Christians in our part of the world tend to think we’re off the hook, others like Abraham have done the hard stuff of faith for us so we can enjoy the comforts of their work. We’re not like our brothers and sisters in the world today who are still alienated, imprisoned, shot, and blown up for their faith. Yet to be the offspring of Abraham, we also need to have the faith that “The LORD will provide”—that the LORD HAS provided, as we see at the Cross—and be willing to lay everything at his feet, trusting him to enrich and multiply the things we surrender to him, not for our personal gain but for his world-saving, God-glorifying purpose.