The Offering Up of Isaac
June 30th, 1957 @ 8:15 AM
THE OFFERING UP OF ISAAC
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-30-57 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message from the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis. Last Sunday morning we spoke through the twenty-first chapter, which is the story of Ishmael, the patriarch of the Arabic, Islamic world [Genesis 21:1-21]. This morning we are speaking of Isaac, and the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis is the story of the offering up of Isaac; Genesis 22. If you will turn to the passage in your Bible, you can easily follow the message of this morning’s hour:
And it came to pass after these things, that God did try, did prove 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.
And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.
Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.
And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.
And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.
And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold, the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
And Abraham said, My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.
And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
And the Angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
And He said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from Me.
And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.
And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord is deliverance.
And the Angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:
That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
And in thy seed—
as of one—
and in thy Seed—
which is Christ—
and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed My voice.’
So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.”
Do not I say a correct thing when I observe that as long as men shall live in this earth, they shall turn with unwaning interest to this incomparable story? There’s only one greater, and that is the story when the Lord God spared not Himself what He spared here, His friend. And as we read that story, the wood laid upon Isaac his only begotten son, as you read the story, the wood laid upon his only son [Genesis 22:6], can’t you see the Via Dolorosa and the wood laid upon the Son of God, bearing the cross? [John 19:17-18]. Can’t you see the sacrifice for us? The substitution, a ram caught in a thicket, thorn-crowned, “And Abraham took the ram, and offered him in the stead of his son” [Genesis 22:13]; substitution—Christ dying for us [2 Corinthians 5:21].
Well, we are going it look at that story this morning, the trial of Abraham. It begins back here in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Genesis. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Genesis, God says to Abraham in the second verse, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and thou shalt be a blessing” [Genesis 12:2]. And the third verse, “And in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” [Genesis 12:3]. And the seventh verse, “And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there he built an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him” [Genesis 12:7].
So the story begins with this promised seed, this son that should be given to Abraham [Genesis 12:7]. Then the years passed, many years passed, and we come to the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, after the passing of the years, there is no son born, there is no seed given. And Abram takes it to the Lord, and he says,
Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
Mine heir is not my son—
I have no son, the years have passed and the promise has not been fulfilled—
And the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? Lord, what of the promise? Behold, Thou hast given no seed to me. And lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
And the Lord took Abram out under the canopy of the heavens and said, “Look now toward the chalice of the sky, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them.” And He said, “So shall thy seed be” [Genesis 15:5]. Then is the greatest verse in the Old Testament, “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord counted it unto him for righteousness” [Genesis 15:6]. The greatest word that ever entered into the heart of a man is that word which is used here for the first time in the Bible. “And Abraham believed the Lord. He trusted in the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him for righteousness.”
Now the years pass, and Abram now is a hundred years old, and Sarai his wife is ninety years old; and no seed is born, no son is given; just trusting in God [Genesis 17:16-17]. So in the seventeenth chapter God takes this man who is a hundred years old and whose wife is ninety years old, and He changes their names. He changes Abram to “Abraham, the father of many nations” [Genesis 17:5]. And He changes, in the fifteenth verse, the name of Sarai to “Sarah, the mother of many nations” [Genesis 17:15]. Then He says that, “I will bless Sarah and give thee a son of her” [Genesis 17:16].
Now the seventeenth verse, “Then 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]. But he was still trusting in the Lord. It was just too good to be true. And he laughed and he rejoiced in his heart, but he was still trusting the Lord.
Now, in the eighteenth chapter that same story continues. When the announcement is made, according to the time of life, Sarah is to have this child; twelfth verse:
Therefore Sarah laughed within herself . . . And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I surely bear a child, which am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed, according to the time of life, Sarah shall have a son.
Now, the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Genesis, “And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah,” ninety years old and Abraham one hundred, “Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time” [Genesis 21:1-2], just according to when God said it would be [Genesis 18:15-17]. Not a day earlier, not a day later, but at the set, at the exact time, according to God’s calendar.
And God runs His whole universe that way. Sometimes we think Satan has taken this world and gone away with it. And sometimes we think darkness, and unbelief, and violence, and wickedness, and infidelity have overwhelmed the kingdom of our Lord. Oh, no! At a set time in God’s omnipotent hand, at a set time, all of these things come to pass. “And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him,” which [Sarah] bare to him, “Abraham called him laughter— Isaac—laughter. And Sarah said, ‘God hath made me to laugh, to rejoice, this son, so that all that hear me will laugh, will rejoice with me’” [Genesis 21:2-6]. So they called his name “laughter.”
Now, the twenty-second chapter. How old is the boy here? Well, he is old enough to make a long three-day journey. He is old enough to bear the wood on that long journey. He is old enough to understand the pattern of the life of Abraham his father. He had seen him offer a lamb many, many times [Genesis 22:1-8]. So let’s say the boy is twelve years old, something like that. He is a lad just approaching his teenage. And it came to pass after these years of childhood, and the father loving that boy—and that boy, one of the most lovable of all the sons that any father ever had, Isaac is the type of a boy that would be a delight to any man’s heart. He was obedient. He was yielded. He was just everything that a father would delight in, in a son. And of course, being that child of promise [Genesis 15:2-6], being that one for whom they had waited lo, a century [Genesis 21:5], I suppose it would be impossible for me to describe in words the full affection of Abraham for that child. Then the word came to Abraham that he was to take this child and slay him and offer him a burnt offering unto the Lord. And that is called a trial. “And it came to pass after these things, that God did try Abraham” [Genesis 22:1].
Now when Satan tries you, he tries to ruin you, to destroy you, to plow you up, to bury you deep. But when God tries you, what God is doing is sitting as a refiner’s fire, to make pure gold out of you [Malachi 3:3]. Any trial that comes from God, if it’s from heaven, if it’s a providence, there’s in it some great and blessed thing. It’s not a vicious thing and it’s not a wicked thing, but it is a holy and heavenly thing. The providential trials of our life are to make true sons of us, to reveal the gold of God that is in us—a refiner’s fire. And that’s what it is here. It came to pass that God did try, did prove Abraham, and this is that trial [Genesis 22:1].
First: it is a trial of Abraham’s love for God [Genesis 22]. Does Abraham love God more than Abraham loves anything in this world, including that boy? Does he? For all of these years, Abraham had put God first, God first. God was his strength, and his salvation, and his hope, and his vision. God was everything, his shield, his buckler. God was everything to Abraham. Is God still first? Is He?
It is like that old story that I heard. There was an Irishman who was converted. And at a testimony meeting he said, ”Some of these days when I get to heaven the first one I want to see is Jesus.” And the days passed, and that Irishman had a child that died. And then the Irishman’s mother died, and his father. And then the Irishman’s wife died, and another child. And somebody asked him about that testimony. “When you get to heaven, you said the first one you wanted to see is Jesus. Is it still that way? The first one you still want to see is Jesus?”
Well, that’s what it is here. God had been first in Abraham’s life. Does Abraham still love God first and above everything in his life? So we shall see. God says to Abraham—now look in this chapter how the Lord Himself will emphasize that—and God said, “Take now thy son.” Now, look, “Thine only son, Isaac.” Now look again, “Whom thou lovest.” God knew how Abraham felt toward that boy. Even God emphasizes it, “Thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest” [Genesis 22:2].
And all through this story, you will find that emphasized; “I and the lad”; sixth verse, “Isaac his son”; seventh verse, “Here am I, my son”; eighth verse, Abraham said, “My son”; ninth verse, “Bound Isaac his son”; twelfth verse, “Thy son, thine only son” [Genesis 22:5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12]. That is very much emphasized in the story, the tender bond between the father and that boy. And now he is called upon to cut it asunder with his own hand [Genesis 22:1-2].
I say it is a trial of Abraham’s love for God. Does Abraham love God more than anything else in this world? Does he? Do you? Do you? God shall be first [Exodus 20:3; Colossians 1:18-19]. Is He? It was a trial of Abraham’s love for God.
Now it is a second thing: it is a trial of Abraham’s faith in God. This is that promised son of the years and the years, born in Abraham’s old age. Now, had Isaac been old enough to be a father himself and had Isaac children, then I think it would have been most explicable and understandable, how the promise could have been kept inviolate and Isaac be sacrificed. But Isaac is a child. He has no children himself. How then could childless Isaac die and the promise be fulfilled that in this son shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, and in this child will God greatly multiply the posterity of Abraham like the stars in the heaven? [Genesis 15:4-5]. How could it be? How could it be? It was absolutely inexplicable to Abraham! Offer this child, slay him upon an altar [Genesis 22:1-2], and yet, in this child who himself is childless, yet in this child, all of Abram’s posterity is to be called!
I think that that precipitated in the soul of Abraham the most violent, religious, spiritual conflict that any man ever sustained! Faith in the promise of God [Genesis 15:4-6], in which Abraham had been living for a century, drew one way, and obedience to the command of God that he heard now, drew another way [Genesis 22:1-2]. He is sure that God has not falsely foresworn, and he is sure that God means what He says now. And the very religion and the very faith of Abraham is torn in twain. God seems to be against God. Faith seems to be against faith. Promise seems to be against promise. Offer Isaac, his only son and the child of promise? Offer Isaac?
There was only one thing that Abraham could do. And that was to cast himself upon the ableness of the Almighty, who, when Abraham was a hundred years old and when Sarah was ninety years old, to them who were as good as dead, the omnipotent power of God had quickened them into life, and the child was born [Genesis 17:15-19, 21:1-2]. And Abraham now casts himself upon the ableness of the mighty God, the Lord who gave that son in the first place, that same God who is able to quicken him from the dead if he is slain.
Like it says in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews:
By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
Accounting that God was able, God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
Abraham felt in his heart, that if he slew Isaac and offered him as a sacrifice on an altar, that God would raise him up from the dead. Abraham trusted God before Isaac was born [Genesis 15:4-6]. Abraham trusted God when the boy stood before him [Genesis 22:1-3]. Abraham will trust God if Isaac lies slain, a sacrifice on an altar [Hebrews 11:17-19]. So Abraham made this journey in the faith and in the persuasion that God would raise him up from the dead! It was for Abraham to obey. It was for God to keep His promise [Genesis 15:4-6]. Abraham, slaying Isaac, will yet see that boy raised again from the dead! [Hebrews 11:17-19].
Now let me tell you something, and you listen to me. This is the very climax of faith. When the ways of God are apparently contradictory, to believe in apparent impossibilities rather than doubt the word of God, that is the climax of faith! I don’t see it. I don’t understand it. And the way apparently is so contradictory to all that I have known or all I have understood, but if God has said it, and if the word of the Lord has ordained it, I will believe in apparent impossibilities rather than doubt the word of God. My soul! My soul! If we could come to the place where we could trust in God even though that trust required impossibilities, yet God is able and God will bring it to pass, a trial of Abraham’s faith. “And it came to pass after those things, that God did try Abraham” [Genesis 22:1]—it was a trial of his obedience to the Word of God.
You look at that third verse. After this the word of the Lord came to Abraham—maybe it came in the middle of the night. Look at that third verse, “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, he saddled the ass, he clave the wood. He awakened Isaac his son and rose up and went into the place to which God had told him” [Genesis 22:3]. Before the camp awakens, before anyone is aware, Abraham is up and on his way to the land of Moriah. Couldn’t you have excused him? Couldn’t you have sympathetically understood if Abraham had procrastinated, if he had delayed, if he had lingered? If he had put it off just as long as he could, wouldn’t you have understood, and couldn’t you have forgiven him for that procrastination, that lingering?
Do you remember when the angel came to Lot and said, “Get thee out!”? Lot tarried and waited and lingered until finally the angel took him by the hand and forced him out, led him out, pushed him out [Genesis 19:15-16]. Couldn’t you have understood had Abraham procrastinated like that? Look at the obedience of this man. “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and he rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him” [Genesis 22:3].
Did he tell Sarah? Did he confide in Sarah? I don’t think so. Did he tell anybody? I don’t think so. When the word of the Lord came to Abraham, he arose and went, and he did it immediately [Genesis 22:1-3]. What of that thing of commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son? We are not told here it surprised Abraham at all. Maybe it did. We are not told. Abraham had seen human sacrifice on every side. It was a part of Canaanitist’s religion. What a comment that is of humanity’s abhorrence of sin. “The fruit of our body for the sin of our soul, our firstborn for our transgression” [Micah 6:7].
If you ever go down to Old Mexico City, you be sure and go out and look at those Aztecs’ pyramids and altars. And you go in that great National Museum and look at those pictures, which are descriptive of Aztecs’ religion. It was a religion of human sacrifice. So deep ingrained is it in the human heart that sin is an awful thing before God, it takes human blood and human sacrifice to expatiate it, to atone it, to wash it away. Abraham had seen that all his life and on every hand human sacrifice. And when this word of God came to Abraham, we are not told that he was surprised. But what an awful and terrible thing, this thing of expiation, of sacrifice! And he obeys. And he goes that night, in the early hours of the morning before the sun is up, he is on his way in obedience to God [Genesis 22:1-3].
Now finally in this little moment that’s left, let us look at the glory of the soul of this man as it shines through this story. All right now, look here. In the seventh verse, look at this: as they went on together with the wood, with the fire, with the knife, “Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and Abraham said, Here am I, my son. And Isaac said, Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide Himself”—and you have it translated—“a lamb for a burnt offering” [Genesis 22:7-8].
Now here is what that Hebrew is, “And Abraham said, My son, God will provide Himself hasseh for a burnt offering.” The Hebrew article is ha, “the,” seh. “My son, God will provide Himself the lamb” [Genesis 22:8]. Wonder what lamb he’s talking about? What lamb? I’ll tell you what lamb! When you turn over here to the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John and the fifty-sixth verse, listen to the word of Jesus as He says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it, and was glad” [John 8:56].
What lamb is Abraham by faith speaking of? Where did Abraham see the day of Jesus? I think he saw it from this eminence on Mt. Moriah, just beyond where Jesus was sacrificed [Matthew 27:32-50]. “My son, God will provide Himself the Lamb” [Genesis 22:8]. and that is the Lamb of God, hasseh, “the lamb.” God will provide it [John 1:29].
All right, now you look again here in the fifth verse. Now look at this man, Abraham. Here in the fifth verse they have come to the Mount of Moriah. Abraham said unto his young men, “Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” [Genesis 22:5]. Now you explain that to me. Abraham is going up that Mt. Moriah. He is going up there to slay Isaac and to burn him for a whole burnt offering unto the Lord [Genesis 22:1-3]. And yet, he says to the young men, “You abide here at the foot of the mountain, and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” [Genesis 22:5].
How is Isaac to come again, when Abraham is taking him up there to slay him on an altar and to offer him as a burnt offering? [Genesis 22:1-2]. How is that? That’s because he believed that when he slew the boy, God would raise him from the dead [Hebrews 11:17-19]. Do you believe that as you stand over the silent forms of your people? Do you—God will raise them from the dead, and we shall see them again in the light and in glory and in blessing? [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
And so the story of the substitution, which we haven’t time to speak of, “And Abraham called the name of the place, ‘Jehovah-jireh,’ God will provide” [Genesis 22:14]. Heretofore, God had promised, but now He swears. And because He could swear by none greater [Hebrews 6:13], He swears by Himself, “By Myself, have I sworn, saith the Lord” [Genesis 22:16]. Oh, the blessing of the heart that can trust in the omnipotent ableness of God! Though we stumble, yet shall we rise. Though we fall, yet shall God lift us up. Though we die, yet shall we live again [Job 14:14; John 11:25-26].
Now we sing our song, one stanza of a song. And while we sing it, somebody give his heart to the Lord, somebody put his life in the fellowship of the church, while we stand and sing this one stanza, you come and give me your hand. “I’ve given my heart to God,” or, “Pastor, we’re putting our life here in the fellowship of the church,” while we stand and sing.