“And Abraham said, ‘God will himself see to the Lamb for the whole burnt offering my son.’ And the two went on together.”
Often when we read this passage we see this statement of Abraham’s as a means of placating his son and keeping him somewhat in the dark and in doing so, we miss the profound prophetic nature of what Abraham is uttering in faith. First of all, Isaac, as we have mentioned, is no longer a child but a young man and he is no fool. He knows that the elements for the sacrifice are there except for the sacrifice itself yet is continuing with his father in faith. He also must certainly see the emotional weight on the shoulders of his father as they approach the hill of sacrifice and while understanding that God can miraculously provide a lamb for the sacrifice, something ominous is soon to take place. Again, he continues with his father in faith.
Rather than seeing Abraham’s statement as elusive, instead we should see it as profoundly prophetic in nature. Now, one may object and say that Abraham got the spirit of the statement right but that the prophesy itself was wrong. Yes, God did provide an offering, but it was a ram and not a lamb as Abraham predicted. The two words are profoundly different in Hebrew, so there is no mistaking one for the other or some sort of scribal error as the liberal scholars might suggest. Abraham said that God would provide a lamb and in this specific instance, God provided a ram.
But is it this specific instance that Abraham has in mind? We have already reflected on the faith of this man in trusting God to raise his son from the dead even if Abraham had to go through with the sacrifice and we have already reflected on the fact that this event is meant to foreshadow the sacrificial death of God’s own son, Jesus — Jesus who was referred to as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). And herein we begin to make the connection as to what God is doing through Abraham’s statement. Abraham himself is prophesying not the presence of the ram that will substitute itself for Isaac, but the presence of the Lamb of God — God’s own son — who will substitute himself for each of us if we are trusting in Him as our Lord and savior. Jesus is the Lamb that was slain for our sins…your sins and mine…may you follow him with your whole heart and may every moment of our life be committed to the pursuit of his glory. Abraham understood (at least on a basic level) that his entire activity over those few days was one where he was to trust God implicitly but that God also would use that action to foreshadow someone greater — The Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.
“And Abraham said to the young men, ‘Keep yourselves here with the donkey and I and the boy will go up there. We will worship then we will return to you.”
At times, we are tempted to gloss over the language of this passage, but it is crucial to understanding the faith of Abraham as he is going up to the place of sacrifice with Isaac. After commanding the servants to stay with the donkey, he tells them that “we will go to worship” and “we will return.” In both cases, Abraham uses the plural form of the verb. It is clear that Abraham has every expectation that it will be both he and Isaac that come down from the mountain. Either God will provide a substitute or God will raise Isaac from the dead — either way, both will return down from the place of sacrifice. He has confidence in the fulfillment of God’s promises even if he does not fully understand how that promise will be fulfilled.
The confidence in God’s provision is a lesson that each of us could stand to be reminded up and learn from. How often do we take things into our own hands and seek our own ways and means of providing for our needs. God is gracious and he is gracious all of the time, yet somehow we forget and we worry and we wonder whether God will provide for our needs and preserve us in a given event even when God has been faithful in the past. How short our memories are when it comes to God’s grace. How often we are more like the unthankful steward who, having been forgiven 10,000 talents, neglects to forgive 100 denarii. How shameful we can be as those who carry the greatest treasure the world has ever known in our lives and who hold the key of truth in our arms.
Abraham and Isaac thus part company with the young men and head to worship God. An interesting point to note is the language for worship that is chosen here. The Hebrew word in question is the verb hÎwDj (chawah), which in itself is not overly remarkable. What is remarkable is that it is found in a rare verbal stem known as Hishtaphel. Technically, this stem is reflexive (the action is directed back at the one performing the action) and in the middle tense (the actor is performing the action upon himself). On the surface, that also may seem unremarkable. We might also add that in Hebrew, this is the only verb found in the Hishtafel construct, which in itself again is not overly remarkable given ancient verbal forms in the Old Testament.
What is remarkable is when you put all of these pieces together in the context of the event that we have before us. How can an act of worship be reflexive — that is turned back at oneself? How also can this verb be used in blessings over God’s people, suggesting that the nations will “worship” or “prostrate themselves” before God’s own (see Genesis 27:29)? The answer is found in the realization that the Hebrew language contains numerous words to communicate the idea of worship and that in this case, the aspect of worship that is in sight is that of one’s submission to another who is greater (as is the case with the nations to Jacob’s line in Genesis 27:29). Abraham understands that the act of worship he will be performing is one that is primarily focused on his own submission to God.
Our submission to God, though an act that honors our creator, is an act that we predominantly apply to ourselves (reflexive and middle). Our nature is to do our own thing; God’s demand on us is that we submit our will to his divine will. And in our submission we worship. How often we come into worship with no submission whatsoever. We say the words and go through the actions, but we withhold the one element that God yet demands from our being: our whole person. Believer, do not hold back from God, but give yourself in faith to His call and to His demand on your life. We may mouth the words of truth, but until our life is submitted to that truth, our worship is shallow at best. Abraham’s worship on this mountain will be far from perfect (for he is fallen), but he is offering everything he has in submission to God’s call; will you offer the same?