In this chapter Abraham is called to give his only son Isaac to God. One way of giving something completely over to God was by offering the thing as a burnt offering – which would include Isaac’s death.
People sometimes make a link between Isaac and Jesus by the following comparisons:
• Both are only sons who are being handed over to death
• Both stories mention ‘a third day’ – how long Abraham travels, and how long Jesus is in the grave
• Both carry wood – Isaac the wood for the sacrifice and Jesus carrying the cross
However, these are very superficial connections made simply by identifying things like ‘wood’.
A better approach is to consider the main points. Why did God set this up in the first place?
1. In verse 1 it says that God did so to test Abraham. Abraham is tested by God for the purpose of revealing the faith God has worked in Abraham – testing reveals the character of a thing.
2. Secondly, Abraham is obedient and offers Isaac to God. The offering of Isaac is necessary because Isaac represents the new people who will become God’s people – so naturally he and they need to be given to God.
3. Thirdly, the problem with giving Isaac (who represents the new people) to God is that they die. The solution to this problem is the point of the passage.
As Isaac is about to be sacrificed on the altar God intervenes. The LORD provides a ram caught in a thicket by his horns which is then offered up as a burnt offering in place of Isaac. The mount is named “The LORD will provide”. The God-provided ram dies in place of Isaac (representing the new people of God). The comparison is not between Isaac and Jesus but between the ram and Jesus. The God-provided ram dies so that Isaac is given over to God but still lives. In the same way Jesus is the God-provided substitute who dies so that the new people of God are given over to God but live.
Repeatedly in Genesis 12-50 the promises made to Abraham are at the forefront. These are the promises that will return the earth to Eden. Previous chapters have added to our understanding of the promises as being related to a covenant (where God will take on himself the penalty of covenant breakers) and the notion of a covenant sign (circumcision implying regeneration of sinners). This chapter contributes the idea that the formation of God’s new people will be brought about by a substitute-death.
Once again, the promises to Abraham are affirmed – a people like the stars and the sand, a possessing of the land, and through this God bringing blessing to all nations.
The chapter ends in verses 20-24 with a notice that Abraham’s brother, Nahor, having twelve sons. Why is this notice here? Abraham only has one son. This notice is here to remind us that the promises will be fulfilled not by sight (Nahor has more children than Abraham) but by faith – not by natural means but by the power of God.