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)?
“Father, tell Esau to stop shooting at me!” Isaac knelt down between his eight-year-old twins who were supposed to be sleeping. Esau had been firing imaginary arrows in the dark at Jacob, who could hear Esau’s “pheoo” with every shot.
“You have a shield, Jacob. It’s called ignoring him. Use it. Esau,” Isaac said.
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.
“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.”
“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 God and was willing to obey him even if he didn’t fully understand.”
“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 would be my offspring.”
“But if you died, how could you have offspring?”
“I asked Father Abraham the same question. And he told me that he believed that God would keep his promise and 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 the 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. God told Grandfather Abraham: ‘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. 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 is 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 Lord will provide’ (Genesis 22:14). Does that make sense?”
“Yes, Father,” said Jacob.
“Now, what the Lord 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 confused 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.
That’s why for June we are featuring John Piper’s message, “The Purpose and Perseverance of Faith,” where John explains from Romans 4:22-25 why God chose faith as the means of our being counted righteous and encourages us that God promises to help us persevere in faith “through many dangers, toils, and snares.”
Following with you in the faithful footsteps of Abraham,