How might Isaac have explained to his young sons, Jacob and Esau, why God had commanded his father, Abraham, to offer him as a burnt offering (Genesis 22)?
Eight year-old Esau sat on his bed-mat firing imaginary arrows in the dark at his younger twin, Jacob, who could hear him making his “pheoo” sound with each shot. They were hitting the target.
“Esau, stop!” pheoo. “I said, stop!” pheoo. “Stoooooop!” Jacob’s protests were aimed at his Father’s ears. They were hitting the target. Soon the familiar scraping footsteps approached the tent. Esau lay down quickly, pretending to sleep. Father Isaac swept the flap aside, “Sons of mine, that’s enough. You’re disturbing the whole camp. It’s late. Go to sleep.”
“Father, tell Esau to stop shooting at me!”
“You have a shield, Jacob. It’s called ignoring him. Use it.”
“He’s just doing it to make me mad!”
“Yes, and you’re rewarding his effort. Esau,” Isaac said. Silence. “Don’t pretend you’re sleeping, Son. Answer me.”
“Stop,” Isaac couldn’t help letting a chuckle slip, “stop shooting your brother.”
There was a giggle in the darkness. “Yes, Father.”
“Father?” Jacob asked.
“Yes, my Son.”
“Was Grandfather Abraham really going to stab you with the knife?” The boy had been pondering the strange, disturbing story his father had told them the previous night.
Isaac walked in and knelt between the boys. “He would have if God had wanted him to.”
“Did God really want him to?”
“That’s a good question. What God really wanted was for Father Abraham to trust him, even if it meant sacrificing me.”
“Did you know Grandfather Abraham was going to sacrifice you?”
“No. I noticed we didn’t have a lamb. But when I asked him about it he said, ‘God will provide for himself a lamb.’”
“Did that mean you were the lamb?”
“Well, it looked like I was the lamb. But the main thing is that Father Abraham trusted that God would provide the lamb and was willing for me to be the lamb if that’s what God required.”
“But if you had died, Esau and I wouldn’t have been born.”
Isaac paused thoughtfully. “I don’t think that’s true, Jacob. Because God had made a promise to Father Abraham. Do you remember? He said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named’ (Genesis 21:12). When God makes a promise, he never breaks it. That means he knew I would grow up and have offspring and that you two scoundrels would be my offspring.”
“But if you died, you couldn’t have offspring!”
“I know it sounds strange. Here’s how Father Abraham explained it to me: he believed so strongly that God would keep his promise that even if God was asking him to sacrifice me, then God must have planned to bring me back to life from the dead.”
Esau interjected, “Like a ghost?”
“No, not like a ghost. God would have healed me and made me alive again, just like I am now.”
Jacob continued, “But he didn’t do that. God made a ram get caught in the bushes.”
“That’s right. God provided a sacrifice just like he promised. And it wasn’t me, God be praised!”
“But why did God tell Grandfather Abraham to make you the sacrifice if he knew he was going to provide the ram?”
“Well, I don’t know all of God’s reasons, Son. He always has more than he tells us. But remember what I told you last night. After Grandfather Abraham had offered me, God said to him: ‘By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 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, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.’ (Genesis 22:16-18) So, Jacob, you tell me: why did God tell Father Abraham to offer me as the sacrifice?"
Jacob thought for a moment. “To see if Grandfather would obey him?”
“Yes. Good. But it was also to show us — me and you and Esau and your children someday and their children — what it means to trust God. Father Abraham trusted God so much that he was willing to even sacrifice the fulfillment of God’s promise — me — because he believed that God would still fulfill his promise. That’s important to understand because the promise God made to Father Abraham he’s also making to you: 'in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.' Someday you’re going to have to trust that God will keep his promise even when it looks like he won’t. When that happens, remember Father Abraham and say with him, “The Lᴏʀᴅ will provide” (Genesis 22:14). Does that make sense?"
“Yes, Father,” said Jacob.
“Now, what the Lᴏʀᴅ wants to provide for you tonight is sleep. So let’s have it quiet.”
Two tired voices responded, “Yes, Father.”
As soon as Isaac’s footsteps faded away Jacob heard a sound in the dark: pheoo.
As he walked toward Moriah with Isaac, Abraham must have felt conflicted and heartbroken beyond words. He didn’t understand all that God was doing. He didn’t know he was illustrating for God’s people for all time what justifying faith looked like (James 2:21–23). He didn’t know this act would foreshadow the sacrifice of God’s only Son — a Son who would not be spared because he was the provided Lamb (John 1:29).
He only knew that God knew what he was doing and that God could be trusted to keep his promise even if it appeared like the promise was going to die (Hebrews 11:19). And God proved himself faithful to Abraham.
He will prove himself faithful to you as well. If it doesn’t look like it right now, God has his reasons and they are more than you know. Trust him.
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