Was the story of Abraham and Isaac a sordid tale about child sacrifice, as some skeptics allege? Not a chance. Abraham’s faith was not only being proven, but he and Isaac were in fact acting out prophecy. First of all, the choice of Hebrew words shows that God did not demand, but request of Isaac that he trust God enough to be willing to sacrifice the possession he most loved, the son of promise, Isaac. And Abraham had come to such a level of trust in God, that he figured that if Isaac dies, and the Lord said he promised many descendants through him, then the Lord is obviously going to resurrect Isaac! And Abraham did receive Isaac back from the dead figuratively (Hebrews 11:19) But there is a whole lot more to this Bible account than meets the eye.
Let’s examine my claim that this whole scene is a prophecy of Christ:
Abraham’s “only son”: First of all, God calls Isaac Abraham’s “only son.” Yet we know Abraham had another son Ishmael at the time. Of course, Isaac is the son through whom it is promised future blessings will come, and so God seems to say here it is as if Isaac was Abraham’s only biological son. God for His purpose views Isaac as Abraham’s only son to fit the antitype, Jesus, who is God’s only Son.
Same location: Furthermore, as Missler discusses, Mount Moriah where Abraham is directed to go is really a ridge, with the peak being at a location in the same region that would later be known as Golgotha. This is the location where Jesus would be crucified and made an offering for sin two thousand years later.
Parallels to the crucifixion event: Let’s continue in Genesis 22:3-5: “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass, and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.”
Notice that two men were with him, but they were not a part of the offering. Two men were crucified with Christ, but they were also not part of His offering.
Notice the expression the “third day.” The journey was for three days, and during that time, because of God’s command, Isaac had been as good as “dead” to Abraham for three days. Yet Abraham said they would “come again unto you” to the others, meaning he believed that since God had said Isaac would have many descendants, somehow God would resurrect Isaac. This is not speculation, since Abraham’s belief in resurrection is spelled out in Hebrews 11: 17-19: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.” In other words, Abraham did not actually sacrifice Isaac but was ready to, believing God would simply raise Isaac from the dead. This passage also says that figuratively Isaac was raised from the dead, by being spared from the original command to be killed.
Continuing in Genesis 22:6-8: “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.”
Notice that the wood was laid upon Isaac’s back. Remember how the wooden cross was laid upon Jesus’ back as He was on His way to execution. And Abraham’s explanation for the missing lamb is very important. Notice the wording. “God will provide himself a lamb.” Two thousand years later God the Father would actually carry out the offering of His Son, the Lamb of God, for sin. And in the same location.
The substitutionary sacrifice: We know that in the following verses Abraham binds Isaac and is ready to slay him when the angel intervenes and stops Abraham. Incidentally, many scholars think Isaac was not a little boy at this time, but somewhere around thirty. This would imply that he willingly cooperated and did not resist. But regardless, look at verses 9-13: “And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. 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 him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.”
So we see the ram offered as a substitute in place of Isaac, illustrating the idea of a substitutionary death. All the sacrifices of the Old Testament, such as the Passover lamb, were meant to illustrate the idea of a substitutionary death, that is, the idea that innocent blood had to be shed to cover our sins. This is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the innocent Lamb of God who died in our place and took upon Him our sins.
A prophecy given: Finally, let’s look at verse 14: “And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.”
Abraham gave this place the name “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.” Did he know that what would be seen two thousand years later in this location was the Father offering His Son for the sins of the world? Did Abraham know his experience was so profoundly prophetic of the sacrifice of Christ?