(Gen 22:1-18 ESV) After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!”
And he said, “Here I am.”
2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.
7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8
Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
So they went both of them together. 9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”
And he said, “Here I am.”
12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide“; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
This is an astonishing story, and it’s astonishing at several levels.
First, God obviously tested Abraham’s faith and rewarded his willingness to obey a truly dreadful command. Abraham didn’t father Isaac until he was 100 years old, and he’d waited decades for God to fulfill his promise to give Abraham a son.
In the ancient world, the birth of a son was essential to a man’s honor. The family name and wealth would all pass to the eldest son. We all know families today who’ve struggle to bear children — and it’s tough. Imagine living in a world where bearing a son was essential to your honor and manhood, indeed, to your faith in God — because God had very plainly promised not only a son, but that the world would be blessed through your son’s descendants.
When God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, he not only asked Abraham to give up his son — an unthinkable thought — but to surrender all the promises that God had made to him. And to give up his honored status as the father of an heir. He very nearly asked Abraham to surrender everything. In fact, in Abraham’s mind, I’m sure that it seemed that he was giving up everything he had, every hope, every aspiration, every joy remaining in his life — just because God asked.
Second, Abraham lived surrounded by pagan cultures where the false gods demanded the sacrifice of the oldest son of each household. Some of the same cultures existed in Carthage — destroyed by the Romans in the famous Punic Wars. The Romans were disgusted by the practices of the Carthaginians, who would sacrifice infants to be burned alive.
As a result, the Law of Moses insists that the oldest child belongs to God.
(Num 8:17a ESV) 17 For all the firstborn among the people of Israel are mine, both of man and of beast.
This command is repeated several times in the Law, because God placed the oldest under his special protection, to protect the oldest from the idolatrous practices of Israel’s neighbors — and that Israel eventually came to adopt, resulting in God allowing Babylon to take Judea into captivity.
Therefore, we should read the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac as a lesson in God’s unwillingness to accept child sacrifice. God wants both our hearts and our children — alive.
But there’s more. You see, Abraham climbed up Mt. Moriah to sacrifice Isaac. Moriah is the mountain on which the Temple was built. Abraham’s sacrifice was thus the first of countless thousands of animals sacrificed to God on Mt. Moriah. This became the center of Jewish worship for centuries — indeed, the very place where God dwelled among his people, on the Mercy Seat, above the Ark of the Covenant, in the Holy of Holies.
This is where God granted grace, first to Abraham, and then to his descendants.
And this is almost certainly where Jesus died. You see, crucifixions normally took place outside the city walls but in a location where the dead criminal would be seen by many — as an object lesson of the power of Rome.
Roman law required executions to be in public places. The Damascus Gate or Northern Gate was a very large, public gate, and it is likely the gate through which Jesus left the city to be crucified.
Friday of the crucifixion would have been crowded, as it was market day. The Jews had to buy food for the Sabbath meal on Friday night and couldn’t shop on Saturday, the Sabbath. It would have been crowded and smelled of food and spices.
The crucifixion would have been on a busy street. And that places the crucifixion just outside the gate, on the slope of Mt. Moriah.
Why did God choose Mt. Moriah? I don’t know. But I know God enjoys moving through history in a way that leaves a mark — that shows that God himself has been active here. The scriptures are filled with subtle but significant “coincidences” such as this one.
You see, while God would not allow faithful Abraham to kill his own son — the son of promise, God was willing to let the pagan Romans kill God’s own son on the same mountain.
The words from thousands of years earlier were still ringing in the air: “God will provide.” And he did exactly that.