"It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (Heb. 10:4), yet nothing else in which there is the life of the flesh could man offer with acceptance before God. It was not, however, till after the lapse of many centuries, that the efficacious death of one who is man was directly treated of in the Word. We have to wait till we come down in the history of mankind to the days of David, and to those also of Isaiah, for plain though prophetic teaching on such an important matter (Ps. 22; Ps. 40; Isa. 53.); for to John the Baptist was it first given to point the people of Israel to the person of Him who is the Lamb of God. (John 1:29, 36.) But long ere the days even of David, as we now see, God was setting forth in His word truths about the death of His Son. What a subject, then, must that be to God, since it was continually in His thoughts; and before ever He hegan to commit to writing His revealed will, He indicated by His dealings with men, and by His words to His saints, what was ever before Him.
In the offerings which we have already passed in review, we have seen traced out something of God's dealings with men, in virtue of the sacrifice of His Son. In the histories of Abraham and of Job, we learn from God's words recorded in them more about that death which is of such interest to Him.
Between the building of Noah's altar and that erected by divine direction on a mountain in the land of Moriah more than four hundred years elapsed, during which period we read not of any fresh teaching as to either the need, or the acceptability of sacrifice. Men had not ceased to make use of altars (Gen. 12:7; Gen. 13:4, 18); but God did not disclose, that we read of, anything fresh in reference to sacrifice. Yet how many important events had taken place in the interval! The confusion of tongues, and the consequent dispersion of mankind abroad upon the face of the earth, had been already effected. The glory of Nimrod's kingdom had culminated, and its power had evidently declined; for an Elamitic monarch, Chedorlaomer, was the head of that confederacy, which, sweeping like a flood over Palestine, carried all before it, until Abraham, the Hebrew, the stranger in that land, at Hobah, on the left of Damascus, made the four victorious kings disgorge their prey. Besides this an event of still more importance, and one which concerned all the world, had taken place in the encampment of that patriarch who was called the "Friend of God;" the heir had been born to Abraham, in whose line the promised seed was in due time to appear. For twenty-five years had Abraham to wait between his departure out of Haran and the birth of His son and heir. (Gen. 12:4; Gen. 17:17.) But at the end of that time Isaac was born, the meaning of whose name his mother well understood, as she said, "God has made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me." (Gen. 21:6.)
For a time after Isaac's birth there seems to have been a cessation of divine communications to Abraham, till God tested His servant by demanding the death of the heir, with whose continuance in life all the patriarch's hopes were bound up. God's right to demand His servant's son was incontestable. Life belongs to God; He gives it, and He withdraws it, when and where He will. Abraham fully acknowledged this right. He paused not in the carrying out of the divine command; for "he 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." Everything was provided, nothing was forgotten; the wood, the fire, and the knife, all were thought of. There was no hurry, which so often produces forgetfulness, nor was there any delay. All was prepared for the offering up of Isaac his son. What must it have been to Abraham to travel that three days' journey, the sole depository of a secret which he could communicate to none of his fellow-creatures, and one so dreadful in its consequences to himself! But he had sustenance in that trial, and we learn what it was. He knew God as the God who quickeneth the dead. He had proved that in his own person. (Rom. 4:17.) He would therefore count on Him to manifest Himself as the God of resurrection in the raising up of Isaac from the dead. (Heb. 11:19.) With this confidence he moved forward to the place of which God had told him. The trial to which his faith was put he was enabled to stand, and was thereby justified by works. (James 2:21.) But the trial was severe, and the language in which the command had been given must have gone like daggers to his heart. "Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest," God had said to him at Beersheba. If the Lord had by an accident or by a sickness taken away Isaac, the stroke would have been a severe one, and his father could not have warded it off. But the patriarch was commanded himself to offer up his son. On no one had God ever made such a demand. To no one surely will He ever speak in like manner again. "Thy son." All his parental affection must have been called out at the mention of the word. "Thine only son." It was true indeed that he had but one; for in Isaac God had said his seed should be called. (Gen. 21:12.) "Whom thou lovest." God well knew what the patriarch felt about the lad, yet He commanded him to surrender that object of his love: and Abraham was obedient.
Reaching the place indicated, he prepared to carry out his work. All was made ready for the sacrifice, but as yet there was no sign that God would interpose, and provide a substitute. The lamb of which Abraham had spoken to Isaac, where was it? Isaac now bound on the altar, the father with uplifted hand was just about to slay his son, when the angel of the Lord called to him out of heaven. There was One who though unseen had been a witness of all that Abraham had been doing, and One, too, who could read his heart, and know all that he was suffering in his soul. But now the trial was over; God had tested the obedience of His servant in the most rigorous manner, and through grace that servant had proved himself obedient to all that was demanded of him. The angel of the Lord, Jehovah Himself, therefore now interposed: "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." (Gen. 22:12.) A direct command having been given Abraham to offer up his son, nothing but a fresh command to spare him would have kept the patriarch from surrendering to death his well-beloved Isaac. How perfect on this occasion was his obedience!
As the servant he was obedient, as a creature of God he admitted the claims of God, and that all which he possessed was at the Lord's disposal. He had done what was right in surrendering Isaac; for God had commanded him to do it. Could he, then, claim anything from God because of this manifestation of obedience? Clearly not. He had only done what it was his duty when commanded of God to do. All will agree surely in this. All, then, must own that we can lay claim to no merit on the ground of obedience to God; yet how often may there be found lurking in the corner of the heart, if it be not openly expressed, the thought of preferring a claim on God to be rewarded because of obedience rendered to Him. If God rewards obedience He is free to do so, though we could never demand it. He acted in this way with Abraham. He will act in this way. with His servants. (Luke 19:11-27.)
Isaac spared, Abraham discovered a ram caught in the thicket by its horns, and offered it up as a burnt-offering. Isaac had asked about a lamb. Abraham assured him that God would provide one. But instead of a lamb, there was a ram brought by God to that spot; and having offered it up for a burnt-offering instead of Isaac his son, Abraham's work on the mountain was ended. What feelings must have filled his heart we can well imagine. How thankful he must have been to the Lord who provided the substitute for his son. Never surely did he forget all that he had passed through during those three eventful days. Never was that place to be forgotten, nor its association with the Lord's goodness to him to drop out of remembrance. So he called it "Jehovah-jireh;" i.e. the Lord will provide. For the words in which he had answered Isaac had in the fullest way come true. "My son, God will provide," he had said. (v. 8.) The Lord did provide, he could ever after declare. But once more the angel of the Lord addressed him, and in language which he could not have expected. "By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice." (vv. 16-18.)
How richly was Abraham blessed! To Isaac, the type of the heavenly one, the son and the heir, and who never left the territory God promised to Abraham (Gen. 26:2, 3), a seed as numerous as the stars of the heavens was promised. To Jacob, the exile and wanderer, from whom the twelve tribes came, a seed as the dust of the earth (Gen. 28:14) was promised, each illustration fitting in its place. But to Abraham, the father of the faithful, both of heavenly and earthly saints, a seed as numerous as the stars, and as the sand on the sea-shore, was now promised. Patriarchal blessing in the fullest way was to be his. Victory too, which should not be reversed, the Lord assured him was in store for his earthly seed. But besides and above all this, in his seed, which is Christ (Gal. 3:16), should all the nations of the earth be blessed, because Abraham obeyed God's voice.
Three thoughts we have here of instruction to us. It was a very precious thing in God's eyes for Abraham thus to surrender Isaac, so He blessed him. Next, the blessing was both full and distinctive. No one was ever blessed by God in the same way. And lastly, the blessing was made sure in resurrection; for it was after Isaac was raised in figure from the dead that the angel of the Lord thus addressed his father. But is this all that we are to learn from this history? Surely not; for we may read, as it were between the lines, another history which more immediately concerns us; viz., the surrender by God of His only Son to die upon the cross for sinners, and what it was in God's eyes to give up to death One so precious. Thus, whilst testing Abraham's faith, and proving the reality of the work in his soul, all the fruit of divine grace, God had before Him another thing - the carrying out His own purpose in grace by the sending His Son to die as man upon the cross. What we share in as the fruits of that death other Scriptures teach us. What it was for God to give His well-beloved Son to die, this history it is which in any measure illustrates it to us, "Thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest." All this was true as it regarded Abraham; all of it is true likewise as it regards God. His only-begotten Son (John 3:16), His well-beloved One, God gave to die for the ungodly. Are we wrong in thinking that, when God reminded Abraham of what Isaac was to him, there was present to His own mind that purpose conceived in His heart before the foundation of the world, but only carried out ages after Abraham and Isaac had been gathered to their fathers? How the angel of the Lord dwelt on the thought of the only son! Three times over was Abraham reminded of it. How precious was that surrender by the patriarch of his son! How great an act was it in God's sight! "Now I know," said the Lord, "that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me." So both by His words, and by His dealings with Abraham, the Lord plainly declared what such an act of surrender was in His eyes.
Again, Abraham had to offer his son himself. No one took away Isaac's life by force. His father had to give him up. They started from Beersheba with the young men acompanying them, but no human creature went with the father and the son as far as the mountains in the land of Moriah. Thither they went alone together. Abraham with his own hands bound Isaac on the altar, and with uplifted arm was about to deal the death-blow, when the angel of the Lord called him to desist. God the Father, however, actually gave up His Son, who drank the cup given to Him by His Father, and in obedience to the Father's will really died upon the cross.
But why was the land of Moriah selected for the surrender of Isaac? It was not one of the patriarchal places of worship, like Shechem, Bethel, or Beersheba. We read not that Abraham had ever been there before, or that he revisited it, and worshipped there again; nor in the lives of either Isaac or Jacob is that land even once mentioned. In the history of Solomon (2 Chron. 3:1), the answer to the question is found. It was there the temple was to be built, on the site of Araunah's threshing-floor. It was also in the near neighbourhood of mount Moriah that the Lord Jesus Christ must have hung on the cross. We understand therefore the reason of its selection as the site on which Abraham was to offer up Isaac - God there foreshadowing the death of His well-beloved Son for those who should believe on Him. The land of Moriah! The temple was built on mount Moriah, but the name in Abraham's day designated more than the future site of the temple.
Thus far the parallel may be traced between the offering up of Isaac and the death of the Lord Jesus. But there is a marked difference as well. Isaac was saved from death through a substitute provided of God. The Lord Jesus actually died. From the command to offer up Isaac we learn that the sacrifice of human life would be acceptable to God, though, as we know, Isaac himself could never have been a sacrifice which God could accept. For, born in sin like all of us, he could never have been a sacrifice holy and without blemish; for such one without sin was needed. Only one such has ever been on earth since the fall, and that one, the Lord Jesus Christ, did offer Himself a sacrifice of sweet savour acceptable to God. No human sacrifice then but one could be accepted. But that one has been, and the value of it abides unchanging before the throne. So, after God had traced out in the transactions of that day all that could be typified of the death of Christ, by the surrender of Isaac on the part of Abraham, a suhstitute was provided for the patriarch's son, and that substitute was a ram.
In this, as throughout the history, the Lord acted according to His own thoughts, showing that He alone foreknew the real character of that sacrifice which He would accept on man's hehalf. For although a lamb would equally have typified the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must admit, as we study the Mosaic ritual, that it would not have been in keeping with the aspect of the Lord's death set forth in this history. A ram suggests the thought of consecration, which a lamb does not. And though at times rams were offered with bullocks and lambs in the same offering (Num. 28:11, 19, 27; Num. 29:2, 8, 13, 17, etc.), there were occasions when a ram was appointed to be offered alone. The trespass-offering was a ram. (Lev. 5:18, Lev. 6:6.) The burnt-offering on the day of atonement for Aaron and for his house and for all Israel was to be for each a ram. (Lev. 16) At the completion of the Nazarite's vow of separation to God, the peace-offering was to be a ram. (Num. 6:14.) And at the consecration of Aaron and his sons, it was the blood of the ram, called the ram of consecration, which was put on the tip of their right ear, on the thumb of their right hand, and on the great toe of their right foot. (Lev. 8:22, 23.) Consecration, therefore, we learn from Lev. 8 was connected in thought with a ram, and hence its special fitness as the sacrifice that day on the mount of the Lord. For there was typified in the readiness of Isaac to obey his father, the readiness of the Lord Jesus to consecrate Himself to do the Father's will.
We have seen in the sacrifice of Abel, the ground upon which one born in sin can approach God. We learn from that of Noah how the Lord can bless sinners because of the sweet savour of the sacrifice. In this history of Abraham offering up his son, we have very different teaching about that one offering, of which all were types. Here we have nothing, of its value on man's behalf; but we see typified - firstly, that a man could be offered in sacrifice acceptably to God; secondly, that the true sacrifice would be the Son, given up to death by the Father, and what such a surrender is in God's eyes; and thirdly, that the Son who should die, would in obedience to His Father yield up Himself as an offering, a sacrifice well-pleasing to God.
There is yet further teaching about sacrifice, ere we look into the offerings prescribed by the law. C. E. Stuart.