Our reflections are based upon a poignant and prophetic passage which yields amazing preparation for the comprehension of the gospel. It makes you wonder if Luther was not being rash, after all, in calling Abraham a Christian. Was he indeed right? Luther knew what he was doing. His claim may not fit in with the historical dates concerning Abraham and Jesus but it is certainly in accord with the biblical data. And also with the insights of Christ himself in dispute with the Jews: Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad (John 8:56).
When and how did Abraham see Jesus' day? Genesis chapter twenty-two is a vivid example. It reveals how strongly Abraham came to believe and trust in the Messianic Promise: It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned (Genesis 21:12).
Abraham was the recipient of a momentous promise. God had made it and there- fore it must be reliable and irrevocable. Abraham could rest content in that divine pledge. The promise was supported by miracle. In spite of their infertility Abraham and Sarah produced a son. They were assured beyond doubt their late and impossible parenthood was through divine activity. The matter concerning Isaac's destiny and earthly security was therefore not a cause of further concern. They could watch the child mature and together mature in their faith in God. All would be well. And then came the horrific shock that put their calm faith through the most cutting test. Abraham was commanded by God to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. He was ordered to destroy the very vessel that contained, and was to continue, the validity and fulfilment of the sworn divine purpose for all of mankind. It would occur to any devout mind that the apparent change in God's mind was senseless and almost sadistic. Surely to build hope and then blow it up would be deemed radically unkind in man let alone the Lord himself. This incident and others have caused some people to regard God as unpredictable and arbitrary, someone of whom we have to be wary and constantly suspicious.
It is true, as Luther alleges, that there are occasions when God seems to be our assailant, but this is not in order to be cruel but to increase our confidence, not in signs and appearances, but in his bare word alone, which in the most agonizing of circumstances eventually proves to be totally and marvellously wonderful. This was the ultimate trial now posed to Abraham. The experience must have been bewildering and excruciating and at the same time we observe a studied and resolute obedience in the patriarch.
He complies with the unpleasant word of his Lord promptly – early the next morning (v3). He cuts the wood for the sacrifice himself, not employing his servants, but with his own hands preparing the act of slaughter to be carried out upon his own beloved son and sign of the redemptive covenant. He sets out with his “indispensable” victim toward the place where God had indicated the life- offering should take place – a vicinity specifically appointed, the region of Moriah. Abraham's behaviour indicates no hesitation. His heart must have been in conflict. His faith seems to overcome the impending disaster: We will worship and then we will come back to you (v5). His trust must have been subject to great strain.
It is unnerving to note the pathetic details of the story. Christian insight instantly begins to make comparisons. Is not Abraham unconsciously resembling the story of the Father who sent his Son as the sacrifice for the sins of the world? Are we not seeing dimly through human experience the pain in the procurement of atonement with God on our behalf? An only son is commissioned to die, for Ishmael is a stranger to the covenant forged with Abraham, which is a salvific arrangement mirroring the mighty plan of God for the salvaging of human souls. The cost to divine love for mankind is intimated here. The life-taking action of the Father with regard to Jesus is also a feature. Abraham himself carried the fire and the knife (v6 cf Isaiah 53: 4-10). Isaac's questioning of his father is deeply affecting (v7) and Abraham's answer matches the attitude of his contemporary, Job (v8). Abraham's convictions hint at resurrection, timely provision by God, and the notion of substitution in sacrifice. Abraham's ongoing perseverance in obedience is remarkable when his enormous mental pressure is considered. He deliberately does exactly what God tells him (vv8-10). The details are climactic and heart-wrenching to the extreme as they are played out in our imagination. The tension is huge. The divine intervention is astounding (vv11-12). God stays the hand of the believing yet grieving covenant man about to stab his precious boy and annul the promise sealed in him. This was a turning point in human history and human hope.
With immense relief Abraham releases the lad he loves and espies a ram caught in a thicket (v13). The discovery is decreed just as our Saviour was caught in the thicket of human evil, envy, and viciousness (Acts 2:23). How readily Calvary springs to mind! We must be cautious, the scholars warn, as to what we read in this powerful and evocative narrative. We can't be sure what Abraham did see and conclude, but we know what we see in the unity of the divine purpose. The incident of an exchange of victim and the vindication of God's word and the validation of Abraham's faith all coalesce in the region of Moriah, the site of Solomon's temple and our Saviour's suffering. Can we help but tie in this stupendous geographical fact with the full apostolic explanation of the gospel, especially when we hear its echoes in the teaching of John who has stated himself that Abraham rejoiced in Jesus' day? Abraham's forward-looking faith was saving, and so he is kin to all believers. We are privileged to be his descendants.
God's gospel was given to Abraham (Galatians 3:6-18). This man's trust was placed in the coming Messiah. His gaze was set upon the heavenly country (Hebrews 11:8-12). He now resides in the kingdom of heaven: I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11). So identified with the kingdom and its King is Abraham that that blessed realm is called Abraham's bosom or side (Luke 16:220. Abraham is described as the father of the faithful – the prime believer whom we resemble if we share like faith in the beautiful Son of God. Through promises and the graphic details of his experience Abraham peered into the future to grasp Christ. What he looked forward to, we see more fully. His faith was pre-adventist. What he anticipated we know as actual. Christ's day has come and we are in it. As Paul says, “I tell you now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation.
Let us rejoice in it as did Abraham and with equal earnestness and sincerity rely upon the same promise - future for him, fulfilled for us. For we trust in the same gracious God, invisible to Abraham, incarnate for us. “'I tell you the truth' Jesus answered, before Abraham was born, I am!'” (John 8:58). O, that joyous exclamation of Christian heart and hymn, “Christ, my God!”.