The promise had finally been fulfilled. God came through on His covenant! With Genesis 21, Abraham and Sarah joyfully welcomed their son into the world. Their son was named Isaac – laughter. Abraham and Sarah had once laughed in disbelief at God’s promise. Now, God required that they name their son Laughter, almost as if to flip the whole thing around and say, “Joke’s on you!” Their laughter of disbelief had been turned into laughter of joy.
But Abraham isn’t laughing for joy when we get to Genesis 22. In verse 2, we find perhaps the most terrifying words in all of scripture: “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you” (NLT). We often look at this story and we think, “What a test of faith!” But is that all that’s going on here? Certainly, God wanted to see Abraham demonstrate his complete trust, but I think God was also reaching for something much, much deeper as well. We must remember that Abraham had come out of a culture of idolatry in which child sacrifice was not uncommon. When God called for Isaac’s sacrifice, we can image that Abraham would have believed that his God Yahweh, much like the gods of the surrounding nations, was calling in the family’s debt of ransom. “Perhaps Yahweh isn’t that much different than all the other gods after all,” Abraham might have thought.
But I absolutely love the point that author and speaker Ty Gibson brings out in his book A God Named Desire. Ty pinpoints the radical paradigm shift that God wanted to take his faithful friend through:
God was on a mission to destroy the false image of Himself so prevalent in Abraham’s day (and in our own day as well, though in the more subtle form of merit-based approaches to salvation) in order to replace it with the true knowledge of His character. This Yahweh God, who had newly introduced Himself to Abraham as distinct from the gods of his upbringing in the Babylonian worship cult, was on a quest to extract from Abraham’s thinking… every vestige of the salvation by works theology with which he had been educated. (p. 111)
Therefore, God would use Abraham to play out the most dramatic object lesson in all of biblical history:
Master psychologist that He is, God required of Abraham what the guilty and deceived human hearts inclines us all to believe God might ultimately require of us. Then, at Abraham’s most committed point, God intervened. He shattered the ugly image and constructed within Abraham’s heart an entirely new image – of a God who would Himself suffer and die for human redemption. (p. 113)
Lifting his eyes in a daze, Abraham finally saw the answer to God’s test. A ram stood caught in the nearby thicket – a divine sacrificial substitution! Through his experience, Abraham learned that God, rather than being a demanding deity who required sacrifice from us, was, instead, a God of unfathomable love who would provide Himself as the sacrifice. “Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means ‘the Lord will provide’). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided’” (v. 14). And on the mountain of the LORD, it was provided – fully, completely, forever. We learn in Scripture that Mount Moriah turned out to be future site of the temple. Over 2000 years later, just outside those temple walls – in what, I believe, was that exact same spot as Abraham’s sacrifice – Jesus Christ would hang from a cross and scream with His dying breath, “It is finished!” Paid in full! The sacrifice was provided!