The Sacrifice on Mt. Moriah
March 10th, 1946 @ 10:50 AM
THE SACRIFICE ON MOUNT MORIAH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-10-46 10:50 a.m.
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
And He said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
A wonderful promise is made to Abraham when he begins his pilgrimage from Ur of the Chaldees to the land of Canaan. “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation … and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” [Genesis 12:1-3]. As we read through the chapters of the Old Testament, the prophecies concerning God’s redemptive plan become more explicit, fuller, more particular in each subsequent announcement. It begins with the promise to the woman, “And thy Seed shall bruise the serpent’s head” [Genesis 3:15]. As light increases, Seth is chosen [Genesis 4:25]; then Noah “found grace in the sight of the Lord” [Genesis 6:8], then Shem [Genesis 9:26-27], and now Abraham is called, and the wonderful promise is made to him: “Unto thy seed will I give this land” [Genesis 13:15].
The years passed and multiplied, but there still was no fulfillment of that promise. No child is born in the house of the patriarch. He becomes rich, with flocks and herds, and servants to tend them; he wins great victories over kings and nations near and far and returns laden with the spoils of conquest. But no seed is given the waiting servant of God. In the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, Abraham speaks to the Lord concerning the matter. “And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me Thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir” [Genesis 15:2-3]. It was then that the Lord God, in repeating the promise that he should have a son [Genesis 15:4], took Abraham under the canopy of heaven and challenged him to count the stars. “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them.” Then came the astonishing announcement, “So shall thy seed be” [Genesis 15: 5]. Did Abraham stagger at the promises of God? No! The next verse is, “And he believed” [Genesis 15:6]. This is the first time this phrase appears in the Bible; and it is one of the most important words that ever entered the heart of a man. “And he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness” [Genesis 15:6]. They were no longer stars only, now, in the blue firmament; they had become God’s promises, oaths, blessings. As the rainbow displayed the covenant of the Lord with Noah [Genesis 9:11-17], so the stars burned with the light of hope in the dark night above for Abraham [Genesis 15:4-6].
Again the years pass, we come to the seventeenth chapter of Genesis, and still there is no heir. Abraham is now one hundred years old. Sarah, his wife, is ninety, and no seed has been given the waiting home. God has even changed the name of Sarai to Sarah, because “she shall be a mother of nations,” and told Abraham, saying, “I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her” [Genesis 17:15-16]. It was almost too much for credulity. Abraham fell upon his face and laughed and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” [Genesis 17:17]. And Sarah laughed, too, when she heard the wonderful announcement [Genesis 18:9-12]. But nothing is too hard for the Lord [Genesis 18:14]. The day came when a boy was born to Sarah, the wife of Abraham, and they called him Isaac, “laughter” [Genesis 21:1-3]. And Sarah said, “God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me” [Genesis 21:6]. It seemed that all the world rejoiced over the happy event, and, oh, what gladness was in the house of the patriarch!
As the boy Isaac grew in strength and in stature, he also grew in the affections of his parents. Being stricken in years, they doted on him all the more. He was truly “the child of promise,” the joy and hope and sunshine of their old age. Then came the severest trial through which any father ever had to pass. God would prove Abraham to see if it was still God alone who was Abraham’s “exceeding great reward,” as in Genesis 15:1, or whether love for the child Isaac had come to take the place of the faith that rested solely upon the promises of God. “And it came to pass that God said unto Abraham, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” [Genesis 22:1-2]. Abraham knew what this meant, the terrible ordeal of burning upon an altar one’s own child. He had witnessed such human sacrifice many times in the heathen worship of the tribes of Canaan, but never, never had he expected to receive such a command from the Lord Jehovah. It came as a vast, numbing shock! The tragic realism of the test was to be found in the terrible conflict it precipitated in Abraham’s soul.
He was torn asunder between fatherly love and obedience to God. The Lord Himself seemed to emphasize this bond of affection between the two when He gave the commandment to slay the boy. “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest” [Genesis 22:2]. God in heaven knew and felt the deep, abiding love Abraham had for the child. In the Bible story almost every verse seems to repeat the tender ties that made their hearts beat as one. It is set forth in the second verse, repeated in the third, “Isaac, his son” [Genesis 22:2, 3]; again in the fifth, “I and the lad”; again in the sixth and the seventh and the eighth, “my son” [Genesis 22:6, 7, 8]; and so again in the ninth and the tenth and the twelfth, “thy son, thine only son” [Genesis 22:9, 10, 12]. One can almost feel the filial closeness of the boy to the very soul of his father. And now he must die at his father’s own hand! [Genesis 22:2, 10]. Abraham himself is to cut asunder the bond that holds them together. How terrible a task! [Genesis 22:1-2].
Some of you, in the providence of God, have been called upon to give up the joy of your homes, the delight of your souls. Oh, the sorrow of those days of separation! Some of you have been forced to make a choice between earthly and heavenly love, between the human call of the world and the divine call of God. How hard it is! It was so with Abraham. There was no sad journey like the journey of those three days [Genesis 22:3-4]. Every step of the way was like the slow tolling of a bell, like drops of blood heard falling from a fatal wound.
Not only was Abraham torn asunder between his love for the boy and his devotion to God, but his very religion seemed to break in two over the tragedy of this latest command [Genesis 22:1-2]. The years and plans of his life had been spent in the persuasion that God would keep His promise; that he should have a “seed,” and that in that seed all the families of the earth should be blessed [Genesis 22:18]. One born in his own household should be his heir [Genesis 15:4]—one born of the heart of Sarah [Genesis 17:15-16, 21:1-3]. And now, what is to become of the promise? The child of faith is to die. The same God who made the promise now demands that the lad be destroyed [Genesis 22:1-2]. Abraham’s whole religious experience seems to be rent in twain. God seems to be against God; faith seems to be against faith; promise seems to be against promise. Heaven itself seems to have chosen sides, and the war is to be fought in Abraham’s soul.
Hebrews 11:17-19 describes how Abraham battled it out. He trusted God before Isaac was born [Hebrews 11:8]. For a hundred years God had been his shield and his exceeding great reward [Genesis 15:1]. He had trusted God when the laughing, happy boy stood before him, the child of promise. He will trust God now when the lad lies still in death on the sacrificial altar [Genesis 22:9-10]. The duty of Abraham is to obey God; it belongs to God to keep His promises. If it is true “that in Isaac shall thy seed be called” [Genesis 21:12], then it is also true that “God is able to raise him up, even from the dead” [Hebrews 11:17-19]. Slay Isaac on the altar! Then he will live again! God will not fail to keep His word. Anything earthly may fail, but that God should fail is the absolute impossibility. In life, in death, in hope, in faith, Abraham waited upon God. “Who against hope believed in hope … And being not weak in faith . . . he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform” [Romans 4:18-21].
Fully committed, therefore, in heart and soul to the sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham leads the lad to the top of Mt. Moriah, builds there an altar before the Lord, lays thereon the wood in order, binds the boy with cords, and places him on the altar on top of the wood [Genesis 22:6-9]. Then comes the fatal and terrible moment. Abraham raises the knife to plunge its cold steel into the heart of his son [Genesis 22:10]. But no! Thank God, this sacrifice is not to be. The Angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham: … Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from Me” [Genesis 22:11-12]. It was then that Abraham saw the ram caught in a thicket by its horns, which he took and offered in the stead of his son [Genesis 22:13]. Who could ever, ever forget the name of that hallowed place ! Jehovah-jireh, “The-Lord-Will-Provide” [Genesis 22:14]. It was there that the temple was built [2 Chronicles 3:1]. It was upon that exact spot that the altar of sacrifice was erected [2 Chronicles 4:1].
Jehovah-jireh, “The-Lord-Will-Provide.” What a name for a place! What an experience! What a gospel! “And Abraham said, My son, the Lord will provide Himself a lamb for the offering” [Genesis 22:8]. “And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold … a ram caught in a thicket” [Genesis 22:13]. There is always a way of escape. The grace and mercy of God never fail. If the man and his wife are driven out of the garden of Eden, then on the east side are the cherubim, symbols of love and mercy, and before them is the shekinah glory of God where the man may come and worship and be saved [Genesis 3:22-24]. If this world is to be destroyed by flood, there is an ark of hope with an open door into which all who will may come and be saved [Genesis 6:16-18]. And if the world is to judged finally for its sins [Acts 17:31], there is a way of escape, an atonement [Romans 5:11], a sacrifice that is able to take away all our sins, a way by which all may be saved [John 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:12].
This is the meaning and the gospel message of the ram caught in a thicket, thorn-crowned, sacrificed in the stead of Isaac [Genesis 22:13]. Christ Jesus is that sacrifice who died in our stead, that we might live before God. Our sins bear with them the penalty of suffering and death [Romans 3:23; Ezekiel 18:4], but Christ was “made to be sin for us,” He who knew no sin, “that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. He died our death on the cross [1 Corinthians 15:3], He paid our penalty for sin at Calvary [Luke 23:33-46]. God provided us with a way of escape whereby we may be saved [John 3:16].
Abraham felt the pain and the anguish of a father’s heart, giving up his only son, but he was spared the final, fatal blow of sin. God never demanded the supreme sacrifice. Before the knife drew the blood, the Angel from heaven stayed the blow [Genesis 22:10-12]. But there was no angel to call from the courts of heaven when our blessed Lord Jesus was crucified [John 19:16-30], nor was there one to stay the cruel thrust that opened the fountain of blood [John 19:30-34]. The Son of God could not be spared. He received to the hilt in His own body the blow that was prepared for us. Our Savior came in between. He died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:4-14].
There is no other way. “He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” [Romans 8:32]. God’s moral universe has forever welded the two together, sin and death. If I pay the penalty, then I die, die forever, die the second death, am shut out from God forever [2 Thessalonians 1:7-9]. If I am to be saved, somebody must pay the penalty for me, must die in my place [2 Corinthians 5:21]. That atonement, born of love and grace, that death for me, in my behalf, is the blood of the cross [Ephesians 1:7]. God has mercifully provided this way of escape for me. “Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows [Isaiah 53:4] . . . He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed [Isaiah 53:5]. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all [Isaiah 53:6] . . . Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; he hath put Him to grief: when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand” [Isaiah 53:10]. The cry of Jesus, “Father, save Me from this hour,” has to be answered with the eternal obedience that sent Him into the world and to the cross: “But for this cause came I unto this hour” [John 12:27].
The pathetic call of Jesus from the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Matthew 27:46], had no answer from the Father. It was not possible that God spare His Son—not if we were to live. The penalty of sin is death [Ezekiel 18:4]. Either I pay it or Jesus does. Jesus paid it for me [1 Corinthians 15:3].
Oh, how I ought to love Jesus? He died for me. On the cruel Hill of the Skull He purchased my life and my soul’s salvation [Matthew 27:33-50].
And when, before the throne,
I stand in Him, complete,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
My lips shall still repeat.
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.
[from “Jesus Paid It All,” Elvina M. Hall, 1865]
The most natural thing in the world is for us to love the Lord Jesus [1 John 4:19], and the most natural thing in heaven is for the angels to adore Him [Hebrews 1:6]. If Abraham loved his boy before the sacrifice on Mt. Moriah, think how much more he loved him after the experience of those cruel and dreadful days! Isaac was now doubly the child of promise. Abraham in heart and intent had committed him to death [Hebrews 11:17-18]; “Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” [Hebrews 11:19]. He became not only a child of promise [Galatians 4:28], but a child of the resurrection, a child of miracle, a child of the love and goodness and grace of God [Hebrews 11:17-19].
It is thus with our Lord Jesus. Because He poured out His soul unto death for us [Isaiah 53:12], God loved Him, received Him back to heaven doubly crowned and adored [1 Timothy 3:16], and it is the intention of God greatly to exalt Him. “Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He hath poured out His soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” [Isaiah 53:12]. Or, as Paul wrote it after the atonement was made: “He took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” [Philippians 2:7-11].
“Worthy art Thou, O Lamb of God, to receive power, and riches, and honor, and glory, and blessing, for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” [Revelation 5:12, 9-10]. Let every creature that liveth repeat the glorious refrain, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto the Lamb forever and ever [Revelation 5:13], and let all the angels answer, amen [Revelation 5:11].