“And Abraham lifted up his eyes and he looked and beheld a ram behind him caught fast in a thicket by its horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and went up to make a whole burnt offering of it instead of his son.”
Substitution is perhaps the word for the day when it comes to the redemptive work of God. God substituted the ground in the place of Adam and Eve when entering into the curse (Genesis 3:17), animals were repeatedly substituted for the sins of the people (see the book of Leviticus!!!), and ultimately, God would send his Son to substitute his divine person in our place. Justice must be done and rightful justice for sin is death eternal. God sent his Son to bear the weight of death eternal so that we might be given life eternal.
Here Abraham is given a substitute for Isaac but only because a greater substitute is coming. The blood of animals, in and of itself, cannot purify, but can only demonstrate to us the horrid nature of our sin. Think of how the blood flowed in ancient Israel — sacrifice after sacrifice made for millions of people. The blood of animals was but a pointer that there was a need for a perfect sacrifice to be made … not the blood of an animal, but the blood of a perfect man who could intercede for us. God was the only one who could substitute himself in our stead, which is why his Son took on flesh. And, soon after the sacrifice of Jesus the Temple was destroyed, never to be rebuilt. And there is no need for rebuilding as Jesus’ sacrifice is the perfect and final sacrifice for his people.
The ram was a reprieve for Abraham and Isaac, pointing to the great Lamb of God who would come. It might be a bit of a stretch to compare the thicket in which this ram was caught to the tree (cross) upon which Jesus was hung, though it is worth noting that in this very place, the King of Glory would one day come to redeem mankind and perhaps here, in the redemption of his son, Abraham and Isaac not only got a taste for the grief of God in the death of his Son, but the joy of salvation.
How often, as Christians, we take the offer of salvation lightly and for granted. Arguably that is partly because we have such a low view of hell and the realty thereof. There are even some who reject the whole notion of Hell to begin with, considering it an antiquated tool to keep rambunctious children in line with the rules of the community. But the Bible does not let us draw such conclusions, indeed the Bible trumpets not only the reality of the place, but the horrors thereof. And the Bible insists that the only way one can avoid hell as a destination is through faith in Jesus Christ…something we neither deserve or can earn by doing good deeds. It is a gift of grace to those God equips and allows to believe. May we who have been given a gift we did not deserve be grateful for that gift. There is no questioning the extent of Abraham’s gratitude at this point in his life; may those who know us also say that there is no questioning the gratitude we feel for the work of Christ on our behalf.