You put down the fork as your phone rings: "Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Target! You and your wife have just been awarded an all-expense-paid cruise on the Caribbean!" Or was it ten million dollars that was reserved for you according to the junk mail yesterday? Do you read the fine print on those million dollar offers? Of course not. You don't need to.
Do you think the Gospel offer is like that? Check out the experience of Abraham described in Genesis 22. God promised Abraham more than a Caribbean cruise, or even ten million dollars. God promised him a land, a nation, and blessing to share with all the families of the earth. Yet some of God's promises were long in coming. Ten years after reaching Canaan, Abraham had neither a land nor a nation. In fact, his wife Sarah did not even have a son. Desperate for descendants, Sarah gave her slave Hagar to Abraham, and Ishmael was born. The Lord, however, kept promising a son to Abraham and Sarah. Fifteen years later the Lord was still promising. At the advanced ages of 100 and 90, Abraham and Sarah found this absurd. Both laughed at God's impossible promise. But Sarah laughed again; her little son was named Isaac, "He laughs." The Lord had the last laugh.
Abraham was certainly blessed: he had wealth, two sons, and open pastures. What about the fine print? The cost of blessing came in God's command. "Abraham," God called. "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there on one of the mountains I will tell you about" (Gen. 22:2 NIV).
The meaning of the name "Moriah" already suggests that something will be seen. On that mountain it is the cost that will be seen. Abraham will see the cost in the experience of faith. There, too, God will show the cost that only he can meet: the cost of grace. Abraham will see that God is the Savior.
For Abraham, the cost is everything. All that God has promised walks beside him in his son Isaac. If the price is Isaac, nothing else is left. At God's command, Abraham had sent Ishmael away, for he was not the son of the promise. "Take your son, your only son, Isaac…" Without Isaac there is none to be heir of the land, none to found a great nation, none to be a blessing to the whole world. God called, "Abraham!" God had given him that name: "Father of a multitude." How could he be "Abraham" without Isaac? Isaac is the seal of Abraham's faith and the son of his love.
Early the next morning, Abraham prepared for the journey. Two servants will go with him. He saddled his donkey, cut wood to burn the sacrifice, but chose no sheep from his flock. He left Beersheba with the wood, a knife, and his beloved Isaac.
The "whole burnt-offering" was a gift of consecration. Abraham was to return to God what he had received from God. God did forbid human sacrifice as practiced by the surrounding nations, but God has every right to condemn sinners to death. Indeed, when God judged the land of Egypt before the exodus, he required the life of the first-born sons of Israel as well as of Egypt. The oldest son, as representing the family, was doomed, but the Lord provided the Passover lamb as a substitute, marked by the blood on the doorpost. Later, God continued to assert his claim on the firstborn (Ex. 13:15; Num. 8:17). The sacrifice of Isaac was not to be, for he was not a perfect offering, a lamb without spot; he could not pay the price of the sins of others. Abraham could not give the fruit of his body for the sin of his soul.
Abraham obeyed without delay, but his test was not over. It had continued as he chopped the wood. There must be wood enough for the burnt-offering at the distant place he had not yet seen. Every blow of his axe prepared for the stroke of his knife. Then, for three days his obedience paced on. The donkey carried the wood as they went together.
At last Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the very mount the Lord had identified. This was the place; this was the time. The servants must come no further. Abraham lifted the wood from the donkey. Isaac put his arms through the ropes that held the heavy burden. He settled it on his shoulders. Abraham carried a smoldering torch. They reached the hill in Moriah and began up the slope. Isaac broke the silence: "My father," he said. "Here am I, my son," answered Abraham. Their courteous form of address was measured against eternity. "Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt-offering?"
"God will see for himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son," answered Abraham. In the agony of his testing, Abraham could only cling to God. He was on the mount he had seen, the Mount of God, with the son God had given. God saw him there. God would see the offering that he would provide for himself. The verb for "see" in Hebrew also means "see to" or "provide." Abraham was not evading the question. Beyond his own knowledge, he was prophesying. Abraham would pay the price, but God's promise could not fail. Abraham had told the servants, "We will return to you." If need be, God would raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19).
They went, both of them together, father and son, to the crest of the hill. They gathered rocks and stones to build the altar. The obedience of Abraham is matched by the faith of Isaac. He does not resist, but is led by his father as a sheep to the slaughter. He allows himself to be bound, hand and foot, and laid on the wood he has carried. Not till Abraham stretches out the knife does the Angel of the Lord call from heaven, "Abraham, Abraham…".
Abraham was ready to give everything in devoted obedience. Because he feared God, he would pay the price. On the mount, Abraham looked up, and saw a ram just caught by its horns in a bush. He took the ram and offered it in the place of his Isaac. Abraham called the place, "The Lord Will See (to it)."
The cost to Abraham was everything, yet as he clung to the Lord in faith, the cost was nothing. He declared that the Lord would provide, and the Lord did provide. Abraham's obedience was the obedience of faith. Isaac was given to Abraham a second time. He was his by birth and his by redemption. The offering of the sheep symbolized not only consecration, but atonement in the blood of a substitute.
In the total commitment of faith the cost is everything, but in the simple trust of faith, the cost is nothing. Abraham worshiped as God renewed his covenant with him.
The demand that the Lord made of Abraham is not unthinkable. He makes the same total demand of you. Jesus asks it of everyone who would follow him. Whoever loves father, mother, son, or daughter more than the Lord is not worthy of him. Indeed, only as we are ready to receive our own death sentence and take up our cross do we receive everlasting life (Matt. 10:37-39). Much as we need the power of his grace to deny ourselves and follow him, his demand has not changed. Look at the cost: it's everything.
Not only in the experience of faith, but in the reality of grace, the price of redemption is revealed. In his goodness, God sends us times that try us. While Jesus was on trial before the high priest, Peter was on trial in the priest's courtyard, before a servant girl. Jesus had prayed for Peter, that his faith would not fail. It failed. Peter swore by God that he never knew Jesus, but Jesus turned from his accusers to look at Peter. Weeping, Peter stumbled out into the night. Yet the testing did not come to destroy Peter, but to show him the cost. At a resurrection breakfast by the lake, Jesus restored Peter's faith.
Through Abraham's trial, his faith was confirmed, and the Lord confirmed his own promise with an oath. Indeed, the testing of Abraham is all about grace. God tested to bless. The Lord instructed Abraham's faith, even as he put it to the test. We are given two keys to this event. First, we are told that God tested Abraham, and that he was blessed for his obedience, since it showed that he feared God. The second key is found in the name Abraham gave to the place the Lord had shown him. We know it as "Jehovah Jireh" (Yahweh-Yireh would be better): "The Lord Will See (to it)." When God provided the ram, he not only spared Isaac (and Abraham!), but showed Abraham that the price of redemption was greater than he could pay. The Lord himself must provide the offering that brings salvation. That provision must be made at the place God showed Abraham. The Lord therefore showed Abraham that after his descendants had gone to Egypt, and had been brought back, this would be the place where the promised nation would gather to worship God.
Isaac could not be the offering; neither could the real sacrifice be a sheep. The One descended from Abraham must come, in whom all the families of the earth will be blessed. "The Lord Will Provide" promises the coming of Christ. Abraham rejoiced to see Christ's day when Isaac was born, and rejoiced again when God provided the ram as a substitute for Isaac, but Abraham looked further. Not Isaac but the Lamb of God was the Sacrifice that the Father would provide. Abraham the prophet spoke words that endured, words that explained Jehovah Jireh: "In the mountain of the Lord he shall be seen" (Gen. 22:14).
Who is the "he" that shall be seen? When Hagar, pregnant with Ishmael, fled from Sarah's anger, the Angel of the Lord found her by a well, and she named the Lord, El Roi, "The God Who Sees Me." She called the well, "The Well of the Living One Who Sees Me" (Gen. 16:13,14).
Hagar saw the Angel of God's presence, because the Angel first saw her. Does Abraham name the mountain as the place where the Lord is seen? But the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven. The Lord did not come down to the mountain to stay Abraham's hand.
Abraham had looked up to see the mountain. He said that the Lord would see to the sacrifice. Abraham looked up again, and saw the ram, caught by the horns. In Abraham's saying, who then is the "he" that shall be seen? The simplest answer is the ram that Abraham saw. (The "he" is masculine for the ram: see "offered him up" v. 13.) In the mountain of the Lord, God's provision, the ram that God "saw to" was seen.
Well may we still hold to Abraham's word. In the mountain of the Lord, the Lamb of God will be seen. A popular chorus sings, "Jehovah Jireh, the Lord provideth for me" but misses the heart of the passage. Jehovah Jireh: in the mountain of the Lord Jesus Christ will be seen. What we see is Jesus Christ lifted up on Golgotha in the hills of Moriah.
The cost to Abraham was everything. He must not spare his beloved son. But Isaac was spared. Yet if Isaac was spared, the Father's Beloved must be offered up. Paul tells us that the Heavenly Father spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all (Rom. 8:32). God's revelation of the cost of redemption in the life of Abraham points us to the Lamb of God: the Lamb that God provides, that he offers for sinners. The Son paid the price on Calvary. So did the Father. In mystery beyond mystery, the Eternal God was silent as the incarnate Son cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Not just at the incarnation did God give his Son. He gave him also in the darkness, in the silence, as he forsook his Beloved. God commended his own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:5).
The cost to Abraham was nothing, for God provided. The cost to God was infinite. He paid the price. Yet, for the joy that was set before him, Christ endured the cross, despising that shame, and is enthroned with the Father. The infinite price that was paid is met only by God's infinite love-for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. How dare we even speak of such wonders, wonders that angels cannot comprehend? But it is that love, that infinite love for us, that God pours out in our hearts. Can we endure such love without ourselves being consumed with the fire of his presence? Only his grace can enable us to receive it. God's fine print is bright with the glory of his love, love that draws us to love him and moves us to love others.
Thus might I hide my blushing face while his dear ross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness, and melt mine eyes to tears.
But drops of grief can ne'er repay the debt of love I owe;
here, Lord, I give myself away, 'tis all that I can do.
– Isaac Watts, 1707