The Offering of Isaac. (Gen. 22.)
Therewere three men in Old Testament times with whom it pleased God specially to connect Himself. To Moses He declares Himself as "Jehovah, God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob," and adds, "This is My name forever, and this is My memorial unto all generations." (Ex. 3:15.)
Christians accordingly have been accustomed to trace in Isaac some of the lineaments of the Son of God, the Saviour. In Jacob, whose divinely given name is Israel, we may find no less, I believe, the Spirit of God; not personally, but in His work in man. While Abraham, at least in the memorable scene before us, (but elsewhere too, assuredly,) presents to us the Father. In His connection with these three men, then, God had already, ages before Christianity, foreshadowed its precious revelations.
In the history recorded in the twenty-second of Genesis, the apostle's words to the Galatians at least give us the hint of Isaac's presenting to us that greater Seed of Abraham, to whom God was in fact confirming His promise there. (Galatians 3:17 should read, "to Christ.") And this is made clearer by what he states in Hebrews 11:19 that Abraham received his son back, "in a figure," from the dead. It is in Christ risen from the dead that all nations of the earth shall be blessed indeed. This view of Isaac all his history. confirms; but here is not the place to speak of it. Our purpose is to mark only what fresh features of atonement are given us in Isaac's offering, looked at as a type.
And here, the thing which we should first notice is, that here God Himself suggests a human offering. It has startled us all, I suppose, that He could do this; but we have only to connect it as a type with its antitype to how gracious, in fact, this announcement was. Isaac did not, and was never meant to, suffer; but Another, in due time, was to take this place, and find no release from it, as he did. How the reality of what sacrifice pointed to bursts almost through the vail of figure here! Was it thus indeed that, as the Lord says, Abraham rejoiced to see His day; and saw it, and was glad? The bruised heel of the woman's Seed was in his mind assuredly. The Sufferer-Conqueror, acceptance by sacrifice, the blessing of all nations through his Seed, could but unite themselves with this suggested human offering, which was not Isaac, to give indeed a prospect full of joy, the deeper for its solemnity, to his believing heart.
The true Sacrifice was to be a human one, then. Man for men was to suffer and die; yet to be Conqueror in man's behalf over the serpent, — death only to Him the bruising of the heel. How this wrought in Abraham's mind we seem to see in what we know by the apostle's words was in it. A heel bruised is not fatal: death to the Conqueror here is not fatal. Isaac, the heir of the promises, must be offered up; and how then could these promises be fulfilled to him? In resurrection, answers faith, in Abraham's soul. "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."
Only a figure, for Isaac does not really die: but if here is figured resurrection, it is the "Seed of the woman" surely (Abraham's true Seed also) that is to rise again; and in resurrection all promises are secured and fulfilled. Thus the Ark of salvation passes through the water-floods into the new scene of covenanted blessing, and thus we find our promised rest.
Is it strange to read, then, of Abraham and his immediate descendants, that "these all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth"?
But this offering of Isaac, seen in this manner, has a yet deeper significance. It is a father's offering of his son, — yea, as the apostle says, (for Ishmael has no place here,) of "his only begotten son." Here we can no longer speak of what Abraham's faith realized. For us, however, the type only becomes the clearer. If it is a man who offers himself, it is God who gives His only begotten Son. Isaac is here the example of perfect submission to the will of his father, — one with the will of God Himself. He but asks the question, as he bears the wood of the offering to the place of sacrifice, "Behold, here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?" Abraham answers, "My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt-offering." And Isaac asks no more; but, in the vigor of his young manhood, silently surrenders himself, lamb-like, to be bound and placed upon the altar. The voluntary character of the offering is here apparent, beyond what its being of the flock or herd implies.
But it is of the father that we think most. It is as Abraham's trial that Scripture presents it: "it came to pass that God did tempt Abraham." Point by point, the severity of the trial is brought out. "Take now thy son, — thine only son, Isaac" (that is, "laughter," for "Sarah said, 'God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear it will laugh with me;'") — "whom thou lovest; — and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of." He carries this three days in his breast, that it may be, not hasty impulse, but deliberate obedience. God knew His man; the man, too, knew his God. Promptly, "early in the morning," he starts, and in due time is there with unflagging steps, and faith in Him whom in his own body he has learned as "Quickener of the dead:" "I and the lad," he says to his young men, "will go yonder and worship, and come again to you." All the while that he spoke so bravely, what was the strain on the father's heart? "Now I know," says He who understood it all, — "Now I know that thou fearest God; seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me."
But how wonderful to realize all this trial of a father's love in connection with a type of atonement! the pain and stress of it dwelt upon as if to make our human affections illustrate that amazing statement, that God "spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all." What a proof of infinite love is here! The Seed of a woman, the Victor in the conflict with the serpent, the willing Sacrifice for men's sins, is the Son of God sent of the Father to fulfill His will, and declare at once His holiness and His love. It is God Himself who in the manhood He has taken has acquired capacity to suffer and to die for man. He whose righteousness requires has Himself in love provided the atonement; humbling Himself to human weakness, suffering, and death. And we are not only brought to God in the value of so great a work, but know Him to whom we are brought as told out in the unspeakable gift of His Beloved, His only begotten Son.
Genesis thus, at the very beginning of Scripture, presents us with almost a full outline of the atoning work. Many are the important details yet to be filled in; but we have already certain fixed points which the fully developed doctrine will maintain and justify, not remove.
Atonement is by substitution; and in death, not life.
But death is the removal of the one who dies out of the sphere of his natural responsibility as a creature. Judgment is for the "deeds done in the body" only; if this also be borne substitutionally (and this is the "copher" of the ark: "atonement" which is something outside of and beyond death), then we are completely "covered;" sin completely removed from us before God.
But the substitution is not only of one perfect in the creature's place assumed, but infinitely more: it is the Eternal Son of the Father who, become man, makes this atonement. Hence the value of it is not to put us back into the old condition from which we fell, but to put us into a new condition altogether. The Second Man, risen from the dead, becomes the last Adam, Head of a new creation, fountain of life for His people in a new power and blessedness. Upon those, partakers of His eternal life, death (but no longer a penalty) may be in the meantime allowed to pass; only until the time of reconstruction, which shall make them fully what (as man) He is.
This is man's side of the atonement; but God is glorified in it, — His righteousness vindicated, His truth maintained, His love revealed. We are brought to God, know Him, and have our happy place as identified with the bright display of all He is. Good has indeed triumphed over evil, and it is the Seed of the woman who has bruised the serpent's head.