And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
“[God] said [to Abraham], “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:2-3).
It’s hard to imagine the complexity of emotions Abraham must have had as he made his way up Mount Moriah, the place where God had commanded him to sacrifice his beloved son. Isaac was his only child, the one he had waited decades for, the one whom God had promised and then miraculously provided. Isaac was a physical sign of God’s goodness and faithfulness to keep his covenant with Abraham. He represented all the dreams and aspirations of Abraham’s heart—Isaac was Abraham’s treasure. There was a lot at stake.
We don’t know exactly what Abraham was feeling, but we do know how he responded. Instead of arguing with God, he immediately began preparing for the sacrifice. His response was obedience: he “saddled his donkey,” “cut wood for the burnt offering,” and began making his way up the mountain.
This isn’t like the man in Jesus’ parable who found a treasure in a field and sold everything he had to buy the field. That man knew what he stood to gain. We don’t mind sacrifice if we know there is a good reason or reward. However, it seems Abraham had neither of these, just a mysterious faith that he and the boy would come back together from the altar (22:5).
When they came to the altar, Abraham carefully laid out the wood, then bound his son and placed him on the wood. And just as he was taking the knife to slaughter his son, God interceded:
“But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your 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 it up as a burnt offering instead of his son” (22:11-13).
To believe God means to trust beyond reason and reward that he is good, and that what he demands he also provides. It is in this sense that Abraham believed God, and so was willing to obey God, even to the point of offering up his only son.
God honors our obedience and worship by providing what we really want and desperately need: a substitutionary sacrifice. Abraham did not withhold his only son from God; “[God] did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom 8:32). Isaac was the promised seed of Abraham through whom God would bless the nations; Jesus was the promised seed of Adam through whom God would bring redemption to all peoples throughout history. Isaac carried the wood on his back up to the altar to be sacrificed; Jesus carried his own cross on the road to Calvary where he would be crucified. Isaac was laid upon the altar in anticipation of his death through his father’s own hand; Jesus was slain upon the altar and cut-off from his Father. A substitutionary lamb was provided for Isaac, but Jesus was the substitutionary lamb provided for us all. Jesus is the greater and perfect sacrifice who empowers our obedience and worship.
What is your treasure, the thing you cherish and protect and want to control?
What would it look like for you to “give” that to God?
Can you trust his goodness and provision for you?
O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, All that were ever saved were saved by thee, and will through eternity exclaim, ‘Not unto us, but unto thy name give glory for thy mercy and truth’s sake.’ Thou hast chosen to transact all thy concerns with us through a Mediator in whom all fullness dwells and who is exalted to be Prince and Saviour. To him we look, on him we depend, through him we are justified. May we derive relief from his sufferings without ceasing to abhor sin, or to long after holiness; feel the double efficacy of his blood, tranquillizing and cleansing our consciences; delight in his service as well as in his sacrifice.