Genesis 22:1 - 24:6
Two episodes in the life of Abraham stand out with special prominence. The first, when against all natural hopes, he "believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" (Rom. 4: 3). In the second he was, "justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar" (Jas. 2: 21). To this second great event we come in Genesis 22.
"After these things," we read, God put Abraham to the test, and this is ever His way. Peter speaks of "the trial of your faith," and declares that it is "much more, precious than of gold that perisheth" (1 Pet. 1: 7). At the outset Abraham's faith laid hold of God as One who was able to raise the dead. Under test he was now to demonstrate that such was his faith, in a way that would be apparent to any thoughtful observer. He showed his faith by his works.
If considered typically the chapter has remarkable significance. Here we get father and son both going up together to the sacrifice. In a figure the son is sacrificed and raised from the dead. We have already seen the death of Christ typified (1) as atonement, covering the guilty sinner, in the coats of skins (Genesis 3); (2) as the basis of approach to God, in Abel's sacrifice (Genesis 4); (3) as the ground of acceptance, in Noah's burnt offering (Genesis 8). Now we find a fourth and fuller type in the offering up of the son, and this brings in not only death but resurrection also. Consequently we find in this story details of very striking significance.
In verse 2 Isaac is mentioned as Abraham's "only" son, which is rendered in Hebrews as, "his only begotten son" (11: 17) . 'This makes it abundantly clear that Isaac was a type of our Lord, and further, it sheds light on the meaning of the words "Only begotten" as applied to Him. Ishmael indeed sprang from Abraham but being after the flesh he did not count in the Divine reckoning, and Isaac was quite unique. So our Lord Jesus Christ was Son of God in a perfectly unique sense.
It was God who declared Isaac to be Abraham's "only" son, and He also added, "whom thou lovest." Now this is the first time that love is mentioned in the Bible, which is remarkable, seeing it prefigures the love in the Godhead of the Father for the Son. Not until we reach the New Testament and such a statement as, "Thou lovest Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17: 24), do we get that love fully revealed; but now that it is revealed, we can better understand the great statement that, "God is love." How fitting that the first mention of love should be typical of that supreme love, which is the fountain from which flows all true love of which we have any knowledge.
The command of God was that this only son of Abraham's love should be offered by him as a sacrifice upon a mountain, chosen of God in the land of Moriah. He was to deliver to death the son, in whom all the promises were vested. This, was indeed a tremendous test of faith, as is made so plain in Hebrews 11: 17-19. That he did not fail under it was due to the fact that he believed that God was able and prepared to raise him from the dead.
The spot chosen for the sacrifice was that whereon, centuries after, the temple was built, and where Jewish sacrifices were made at the altar of burnt offering. Though Abraham cannot have known it the circumstances were divinely arranged to complete the typical picture. What we do see in Abraham is the energy with which he responded, rising up early in the morning, and' the preparation he made to act in obedience. He departed with son, servants and wood for sacrifice.
On the third day Abraham saw the chosen spot; this was significant, for in after days he would look back to it not so much as the place of sacrifice as the place where in figure he received him as from the dead—the place of resurrection, in fact. That the faith of Abraham embraced resurrection is borne witness to by the closing words of verse 5. The sacrifice of Isaac was contemplated as "worship," and the lad as well as his father was to "come again." Abraham's confidence as to this coming again is the more striking as he carried both a knife and the fire, as the next verse records. The wood was laid on Isaac. We may see in this a foreshadowing of that which is recorded in John's Gospel—"He, bearing His cross, went forth into a place called . . . Golgotha."
The sacrifice commanded was to be a burnt offering, hence to the eyes of Isaac the fire and the wood were perfectly natural, and the only question raised in his mind was, "Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham's answer, though he may not have known it, was prophetic of something far beyond his own days: "God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering." No lamb that ever died on any altar, patriarchal or Jewish, was other than provisional, and in view of that which was to come. The question, "Where is THE lamb?" was unanswered until John the Baptist was able to declare, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." Abraham, however, was fully persuaded that God would provide the lamb for this occasion, and in that faith both father and son went together.
Verses 9 and 10 relate how full was the measure of Abraham's obedience. Nothing was lacking up to the point where the death stroke would have taken place. At the last possible moment the Angel of the Lord intervened. His obedience had been tested to the full and had stood the test. He had not withheld his only son. This not only proved beyond question that he believed in God as the God of resurrection, but also furnished a foreshadowing of the infinitely greater moment when God "spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all."
Though not stated in the narrative, we must not fail to notice the submission of Isaac. No word of remonstrance on his part is mentioned. He typifies the One of whom the prophet testified, "As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth" (Isa. 53: 7). His experience must have typified that which our Lord passed through, in infinitely greater measure, in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The voice from heaven arrested the death stroke that was to have fallen on Isaac, and now Abraham's eyes were directed to God's immediate provision; not a lamb merely but a ram. If we desired to have the strongest and most vigorous specimen from among the sheep, we should have to select a ram. This one moreover was caught in the thicket by its horns, symbolic of its strength, and it was offered as a burnt offering "in the stead of his son." Though the actual words, substitute, or substitution, do not occur in our English Bible, here we have exactly that which the words mean. A substitute is one who stands in the stead of another.
So in this incident, which presents to us the fourth type of the death of our Saviour, we have before us salvation by a substitutionary sacrifice. And further, since the ram was detained to be the sacrifice by its horns, the strongest part of its frame, we may see how our blessed Lord was held to His sacrificial work by the strength of His love. No nail that ever was forged could have detained him on the cross. What held Him there was love to the Father, and love to us. (See John 14: 31; 13: 1).
Abraham recognized the wonderful way in which God had provided the lamb for a burnt offering, and signalized it by naming the place Jehovah-jireh, meaning, ''The Lord will provide." And out of that sprang a saying which was still current when some four centuries later Moses wrote these things: "In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen," or "shall be provided." That was the language of faith, for another four centuries, or so, after Moses, there stood on Moriah the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite, and years after that Solomon's temple was built there, and so it became the place for Jewish sacrifices. That to which all these sacrifices pointed took place "without the gate," for the Lord Jesus was the rejected One.
The first call out of heaven had acknowledged the completeness of Abraham's obedience: the second call pronounced great blessing, confirmed by an oath. This is the occasion referred to in Hebrews 6 when God, "because He could sware by no greater," "sware by Himself." The extent of the blessing might well have staggered Abraham. His seed was to be multiplied (1) "as the stars of the heaven," (2) "as the sand which is upon the sea shore;" it was (3) to "possess the gate of his enemies," and in it (4) "shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." It is not surprising, therefore, that God reinforced His bare word by His oath, that there might be "two immutable things" on which to rest.
The ancients knew but the stars that are visible to the naked eye. Only in our day has it been discovered that they are literally as numerous as the grains of sand on the sea shore. But we think we may see in (1) his spiritual seed, whose destiny is heaven (see, Galatians 3: 7); in (2) and (3) his earthly seed who, born again and redeemed, will enjoy millennial blessing and victory; and in (4) a prediction to be fulfilled in Christ, who is the Seed—in the singular, as Galatians 3: 16 points out—in whom all nations shall be blessed. All this blessing is guaranteed by the mighty oath of God.
All this accomplished, Abraham returned to Beer-sheba, and there he dwelt. That was the place of the oath between Abraham and Abimelech. Was it now to be connected in Abraham's mind with the vastly greater oath to which he had listened at Moriah?
The closing verses of our chapter give us a little further genealogy, and that evidently for the purpose of introducing Rebekah, of whom we are to hear in Genesis 24 as the bride of Isaac, who is now in type the risen seed. Before we reach that point, however, we have to see Sarah disappear from the picture.
When we start Genesis 23 we are carried on about twenty years from the events of Genesis 22. Abraham was at Hebron when Sarah died, an event which also has typical significance. In the next chapter Isaac, the risen seed, is to find his bride, typical of the church, who is to be united to the risen Christ. But before Christ takes His church, Israel, out of whom He sprang according to the flesh, is set aside. The death of Sarah is a type of this severing of the earthly links for a time. This severance is expounded for us in Romans 11, as also the fact that a redeemed and renewed Israel will come into blessing when the church period is over.
The details as to the burial of Sarah take up the whole of this chapter, and we may be inclined to wonder why the story should be given us at such length. We believe it to be with the object of impressing us with the fact that Abraham was truly a stranger and a sojourner in this land which was to be his according to the promise of God. In verse 4 Abraham claims to be this, and makes it his plea, supporting his request for a burying-place in the land.
This was indeed a remarkable fact. It was stated in very concise fashion by Stephen, as recorded in Acts 7, when he said that God "gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on," and that, though God had "promised that He would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him." But though this chapter makes the fact so clear, what is not divulged here, nor anywhere else in the Old Testament, is the spiritual understanding given of God, which enabled him to take such a course.
We have to travel on to Hebrews 11: 9-16, to get light on that point. There we discover that he had expectations connected with a scene which lay, not only outside the land of promise, but outside the earth altogether. "He sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country," but that was because '' he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." We further read that he desired "a better country, that is, an heavenly." These facts, which only come to light in the New Testament, disclose to us that these patriarchal men of faith received from God the knowledge of heavenly things, which in their day were not the subject of public revelation.
In Old Testament times, and up to the cross of Christ, man was under probation, and that trial was in its earlier stages in patriarchal days. The test was as to whether any man could prove himself to be exempt, from death as the wages of sin, and thus establish his title to live on the earth. The test reached its conclusion in the rejection and death of Christ, when all men were proved to be lost. The Lord Jesus had come, speaking of "heavenly things" as well as "earthly things " (John 3: 12), and it was when "His life was taken from the earth" (Acts 8: 33), that the heavenly things came into full revelation. To have made public disclosure of the heavenly things before the earthly test was completed would not have been according to the Divine order.
Abraham had left a city of no mean standard of civilization, when he turned his back on Ur of the Chaldees. He was now but a stranger and a sojourner in the very good earthly country that had been promised to him. This was possible because he was looking for a city that God would build and a country that, being heavenly, was better than any earthly country could be.
The contrast between verses 4 and 6 is very striking. The man who confessed himself to be a stranger and sojourner is acknowledged by the children of Heth as "a mighty prince." Notice too, that they said "among us," and not "over us." Abraham moved among them but as a stranger he did not meddle in their concerns or interfere with their politics. Just because he did not, his moral greatness was fully apparent to them. As the friend of God he possessed something to which they were strangers.
Having so favourable a reputation, he was able without difficulty to negotiate the purchase of the burying-place for Sarah. All was concluded in the presence of witnesses according to the customs of that land at that time: and subsequent history shows that the transaction was respected and made sure. In all this Abraham may well be an example to us, as is indicated in 1 Peter 2: 11, 12. If we, as "strangers and pilgrims" have our "conversation honest among the Gentiles," we may, by reason of the reproach of Christ, be spoken against. Yet beholding good works, they will eventually "glorify God" in the day of visitation. There is clearly an analogy between this passage in Peter and this incident as to Abraham.
Sarah died when Isaac was thirty-seven, predeceasing Abraham by thirty-eight years; and since Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah (Gen. 25: 20), only about three years can have elapsed between the incidents recorded in Genesis 23 and Genesis 24. At the age of 140 Abraham was old. Also he was "a mighty prince," for the Lord had blessed him in all things. It was a day when His blessing was largely expressed in earthly things, and thus it was with Abraham, though he had been given some knowledge of things lying outside the earth. Isaac was his heir in whom the promise was vested, and it was most important that his marriage should be rightly arranged.
Genesis 24: 1-6 show that two things were stipulated: first, that the wife should not be taken from among the Canaanites, then in the land; second, that though she should be of his own kindred, the union should not be allowed to lure Isaac back to the land whence he had come out. The chosen woman must be willing to share the stranger position which Isaac occupied, and come to him. He was not to go to her.
If in our day every Christian contemplating marriage were to observe carefully the principles underlying these two things it would make for spiritual prosperity. The breach of them has brought about untold disaster, as is too often painfully manifest.
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