Topical Studies

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What the Bible says about Abraham's Sacrifice
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 15:10

In Abraham's day, covenants were sometimes agreed to by preparing a sacrifice, cutting it in two pieces and halving it exactly. They would lay the pieces out on the ground. Then those making the covenant had to pass between the divided carcass. This symbolized the seriousness of their intentions to keep the covenant, because the divided carcass represented what would happen to them if they did not keep their oaths. They were committing themselves to be cut in two if they broke their word.

That was not the way every covenant was agreed to, only rather more serious covenants. They placed their lives at risk. If either party did not keep that covenant, they were pledging their life. Then after they passed through, the carcass was burned, symbolizing their acceptance.

What is interesting here in this case is that God is the only one shown passing between the divided carcass. First, this shows God's seriousness to meet the requirement of the covenant. It also shows that God was not holding either Abraham or his descendants to the same stringent requirement to the covenant as He held Himself. This promise therefore would be met by God's grace, and not by man's works. Nobody will meet the terms of the covenant on the basis of works, but by grace.

The smoking oven and the burning torch symbolize God in many instances in the Bible. In the Old Testament especially, God represents Himself through the image of fire: the burning bush and the pillar of fire in the wilderness. It is likely that, as He passed through the divided sacrifice, the fire consumed it, showing His acceptance. The burning of the sacrifice by fire means "fire out of heaven" from an invisible source. Whoom! It just appeared there, and turned it into a charred mess. God has done this in the past, too. When the Tabernacle was built, God ignited the first sacrifice. When the Levitical ministry and the priesthood under Aaron were consecrated, God ignited the sacrifice, as He did in Genesis 15:10. God consumed it out of heaven.

Abib 14 thus symbolizes the ratification of the promise by sacrifice, and Abib 15 symbolizes what it accomplishes by giving visible evidence of God's faithfulness as the Israelites go free. He is keeping His promise, and here is the evidence.

When Israel left Egypt on the night of Abib 15—The Night To Be Much Observed—it marked the beginning of the fulfillment of the physical aspects of that promise. God's promise included “race”—national promises—and “grace”—spiritual promises. Abraham's descendants left Egypt with great substance, exactly as the promise says, and Christ's sacrifice marks the beginning of the spiritual fulfillment.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wavesheaf and the Selfsame Day

Genesis 22:2

Notice how God phrases this: "your only son [the only legitimate son] . . . whom you love." It is not that Abraham does not love Ishmael, but Isaac is the son of promise, the son of his old age, a very special son. God is tender in His phrasing, for what he commands Abraham to do foreshadows Christ's own sacrifice later and so has special meaning to God.

There was absolutely nothing wrong in Abraham loving Isaac deeply, as long as his love did not become worship. We often say we "adore" those whom we love. The first definition of adore is "to worship with divine honors," while the second is "to love deeply," which is perfectly acceptable to do. It is important to understand the distinction.

God tells Abraham, "Go to the land of Moriah," and He promises to tell him exactly which peak he should ascend. "Moriah" refers to an area of land in what is now Jerusalem that contains several mountains or small peaks. Abraham lived in Beersheba, more than 40 miles from Moriah.

God also tells him to sacrifice Isaac "as a burnt offering." We can only imagine the thoughts that must have raced through Abraham's mind! How can the promises be fulfilled if Isaac is dead? Is this not human sacrifice, such as was practiced by the heathen nations? Would this not be murder? How will it look to Sarah, his servants, the Egyptians, and others? Even so, his obedience was absolute.

Mike Ford
Abraham's One God

Genesis 22:4

For three days, as far as Abraham was concerned, Isaac was dead. They walked for over 40 miles, each undoubtedly lost in his own thoughts.

Mike Ford
Abraham's One God

Genesis 22:7

Notice the affection in this interplay between them. Does Isaac suspect anything? Had they begun to discuss things by this point? We do not know. But Isaac is no simpleton. He might well have figured things out and was seeking confirmation. Abraham is a type of God the Father, and Isaac, as a type of Christ, has complete faith in him. Just as Jesus would rather have not gone through the agonies of crucifixion but did so, trusting His Father completely, Isaac appears to respond similarly.

Mike Ford
Abraham's One God

Genesis 22:9

This is an amazing verse—the pivotal point of the narrative. We read that Abraham built the altar. Imagine what must have gone through his mind as he piled up rock for a base then laid the wood upon it, knowing all the while he would soon be sacrificing his beloved son on it. Surely by now, Isaac understands what was going to happen; he knows that he will be the sacrifice. His total submission throughout the entire story is impressive. He may have even helped build the altar he was to be sacrificed on!

Scripture says that Abraham bound his son and laid him on the altar. How does a 133-year-old man tie up a strapping 33-year-old, unless the younger man consents? Isaac, like Jesus, went willingly to the slaughter. He certainly was not eager to die, but he submitted to Abraham's will and thus to God's will. He had complete confidence in Abraham and in his relationship with God. This verse shows a template of prophecy to be fulfilled in Christ.

Mike Ford
Abraham's One God

Genesis 22:13

The ram, a type of Christ, was behind Abraham, so he had not seen it previously. It was offered for Isaac, just as Christ was offered for us.

Mike Ford
Abraham's One God

2 Corinthians 4:16

Once fellowship with God is established through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that is not enough. This fellowship must be built upon. For it to continue, it has to be renewed day by day. In other words, sacrificing has to continue. Our relationship with God, then, is not constant because we are not unchanging as God is. Our attitudes fluctuate, our faith increases or decreases, and our love, joy, and peace ebb and flow in their intensity.

Sacrifice, whether it be the sacrifice of Christ or our own personal sacrifice, plays a major role in all of this because these things are not constants within us, so they have to be renewed daily. We can conclude that a sacrifice is then either a means of reconciling or a means of strengthening what already exists—a necessary means of becoming or continuing at-one-ment with God.

We need to add another factor to this. In the Old Testament, the gifts given to God are arranged in the order of their value: An animal is of greater value than a vegetable. Consider Cain and Abel's offering. Abel gave an acceptable one, while Cain gave one that was unacceptable for that circumstance. It might have been acceptable in a different circumstance. Nonetheless, the Bible arranges them in order of priority, as in Leviticus 1-3: A bullock is of greater value than a ram, which is of greater value than a kid or a dove. There is a principle here.

Let us step this up even higher. The offering of a son is of greater value than the offering of any animal. When Abraham offered Isaac, it was far greater in value than the offering of a lamb, ram, or even a bullock. In this case, God would not accept anything less than the very best. It had to be the offering of what was nearest and dearest to Abraham's heart. From this we learn that it is not just the intrinsic value of the gift, but also the relative cost to the giver to which God attaches the greatest importance of all. A widow's two mites can be a greater offering than all of the silver and gold a wealthy man can give.

From this, then, we can extract another principle: The greatest gift of all is self-sacrifice.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Preparing to Be a Priest


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