Isaac: Pattern for Grace
“But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called.” (Gen. 21:12)
“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: through Isaac your descendants will be named.” (Rom. 9:6-7)
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” (Heb. 11:17-18)
“In Isaac your descendants shall be called” is a recurring phrase of the Bible. God gave us the pattern for His work of grace through the birth of Isaac. God had promised Abraham an extended family (Gen. 12:1-3). In order to keep His word, He had to give Abraham a son. Abraham and Sarah had grown old and Sarah was barren. The couple had become impatient and attempted by their own plans to make God’s promise happen.
Abraham tried to slip Eliezer, his trusted servant, into God’s plan. God rejected that idea (Gen. 15:1-3)! Sarah tried to give her husband an heir through her handmaid, Hagar (Gen. 16:1-6). God rejected that idea! None of their human schemes worked!
God Brought Isaac into Being
Twenty years passed after God gave Abraham the original promise. Abraham was standing in front of his tent in the heat of the day. He was 99 years old and Sarah was 89. Jehovah God, accompanied by two angels, walked up and spoke to Abraham. The Lord said:
“Then they said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ He said, ‘I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’ And the LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.’” (Gen. 18:9-14)
- And He said
Note the capitol “H” in “He.” Not we, not they, not them, not an angel, not the angels, but God is speaking.
- I will certainly return to you
There can be no doubt. God is the one who is going to make Isaac happen!
- according to the time of life
The Hebrew may read “according to this time next year.” God was speaking of a specific time. Everything that was going to happen was going to happen according to a divine timetable. God waited until Abraham and Sarah could not possibly produce a child on their own. In fact, He waited another year until Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah was ninety. God alone would make this happen.
- and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son
God emphasized “your wife,” not your concubine, but your wife – the one that God gave to Abraham as his wife.
- Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.
The women’s quarters were probably in the back of the tent, divided by a thin partition from the men’s section. She could not help but hear the conversation.
- Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing
Do we get the impression that God the Holy Spirit wants us to remember something here? He kept emphasizing the miracle that was about to be done by God alone! Abraham and Sarah could not do anything to help God help them.
- Therefore Sarah laughed within herself
“Within herself” indicates that it was a silent chuckle. The Hebrew indicates that she whispered this in her mind. She just thought it! Now her thoughts are made known.
- “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
She was saying, “Shall I in my old age have relations with my husband and even conceive a child?” She, like Abraham, treated the announcement as incredible. She was overwhelmed.
- And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’
Did God know her thoughts? Yes! This is the point! Did God want Abraham to know that He knew Sarah’s secret thoughts? Yes! Did God need Abraham’s confirmation that Sarah had laughed? No!
What is going on? Abraham and Sarah were in the presence of their Creator and He had the power to read their thoughts. If He had the power to read their thoughts, could He bless them with a child in their old age? Yes! Then God gives us what I believe to be the very basis for His grace.
- Is anything too hard for the LORD
Here is the key to grace! Grace is God’s work on man’s behalf. Grace is that which God alone does. God has a plan from eternity and He will carry out that plan.
- according to the time of life I will return
At the appointed time I will return to you. God etched out the time in His own will. We know from a previous verse that it would be a year. God had an appointed time to bring Isaac into the world. This lets us know that God has an appointed time for everything to happen (His will is the supreme will in all the universe; Dan. 4:34-35).
- and Sarah shall have a son.”
God’s word came to pass! The very next year at God’s appointed time, (Abraham was now 100 years of age and Sarah was 90), Sarah had a son.
“Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.” (Gen. 21:1-2)
God gives life to man by His sovereign choice based upon His gracious work in Jesus Christ.
Paul had begun Romans 9 with a plea for Israel’s salvation. It appeared that God’s word had failed toward the Jews. Paul’s heart was grieved! Had God changed His plan? Had He gone back on His promises to Abraham? Not so! Paul brings to light the truth that this is all in God’s plan! It was God’s desire to temporally blind Israel in order to call out His elect. And Paul brings up “the Isaac connection” to show that this was the case.
“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” (Rom. 9:6)
God gave the promises to the generations of Abraham through Isaac. The promise was given to those who would be given life “like Isaac.”
“Nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: through Isaac your descendants will be named.” (Rom. 9:7)
God’s word had not failed because of “the Isaac connection.” God gives life to those who belong to Him.
The essence of grace is that God does all the work. God alone makes it happen. Salvation must be all of God. That is precisely what was illustrated by the supernatural birth of Isaac. God calls those who are not as though they were. Nothing is left for man to do. Nothing! If Isaac was to be, then it was all up to God. That is what makes grace, grace!
Paul made this plain to his Roman readers by mentioning once again the “key hole” incident with Sarah.
“For this is the word of promise: ‘At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.’” (Rom. 9:10)
Paul reaffirmed that God had an appointed time and place for Isaac to be brought into being! All the king’s horses and all the kings’ men could not make it happen until God was ready.
We can apply “the Isaac connection” to those who will be called to trust Jesus Christ as Savior. If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, it is because God made it happen. God had the time and place fixed millions of years ago. God calls people to Himself and He gives them life!
Isaac: Pattern for the Gospel (Genesis 22)
God then gave to Abraham a very rare privilege. He used Abraham and Isaac to give us a pattern for the gospel. He allowed Abraham to illustrate the cross work of Jesus Christ.
- Now it came to pass after these things
Abraham had finally learned to focus upon the Creator. Abraham’s attention was now upon the One who had given the promised blessing even more than on the blessing itself. Abraham was now enamored solely with the ability of God. He knew now that God is able and he knew that God is just!
- that God tested and said to him, “Abraham!”And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Take now your son, Your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
“Your only son,” in the Hebrew is Yechidekah. It is taken from a noun Yachid – your uniquely born son. This word is equivalent to the Greek word in the New Testament monogenes, meaning uniquely born, irreplaceable one- your irreplaceable son. The Lord Jesus Christ was God’s irreplaceable Son. We now see the beginning of a tremendous contrast.
The land of Moriah or the “hill of Moriah.” This is the hill upon which Solomon was going to build his temple. We are not left with any doubt as to where Moriah was located.
“Now Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (2 Chron. 3:1).
“Moriah” means chosen of the Lord. Today the Mosque of Omar (an Islamic shrine) is located on Mt. Moriah over the dome of the rock. But it will not remain there!
God’s command to Abraham to offer his son appears on the surface to be completely irrational, a mistake, and reflecting incompetence. It is subject to severe scrutiny and questioning from many. But there is an issue here that is not obvious on the surface.
God is always just. This is a part of His essence. God always does that which is right. But God’s will does have to appear right to us. Abraham had complete confidence in the absolute justice of God. He never once questioned God’s integrity and righteousness. Abraham was strong in faith. God instructed him to take his human treasure, the object of God’s grace, and kill him. This seems to be contradictory to everything that Abraham has experienced from God. He loved this boy more than anything else in life and to obey without blinking an eye was absolutely astounding. This is day one!
- So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey,
The Lord Jesus Christ rode a donkey into the city of Jerusalem to pronounce Himself as King on Palm Sunday (Matt. 21:1-2).
- and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day
Moriah was three days away. This is no coincidence. Remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ took place on the third day.
- Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship,
Abraham now knew God. Not only had he learned about God, he knew God. Abraham not only knew God but he also loved and trusted God.
- and we will come back to you.
“We” will return – not I, but we. The Hebrew emphasizes this. We must think about the gory details of the specific orders from God. Put your son on the altar, cut his throat, and burn his body. Did Abraham think there was an out? No!
Isaac was still a bachelor. He had no wife, and he had no children. Until that happens Abraham believes that there was no way that he was going to die permanently. Why? Because GOD said, ‘In Isaac shall your seed by called.’ Isaac is the source of the Abrahamic Covenant. So since Abraham fully intended to kill Isaac, God was going to have to raise him up or have another plan. He had to! God cannot lie! It is impossible for God not to keep His word. So strong was Abraham’s faith in God that he believed that God would raise his son up. Abraham was evidently now the friend of God (James 2:23).
- So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and the two of them went together and he took the fire in his hand and a knife
Everything that was necessary was taken along; the ingredients of judgment: the wood, the torch, and a knife. Abraham as the father had the ingredients necessary to make the sacrifice happen. The tools of judgment were in the hands of the father.
The two of them were in harmony. They were in step as they walked along. They were united in a mutual purpose. Isaac was walking up the hill carrying his wooden burden. It was a hill near this one that Abraham’s Great Grandson would also carry some wood (Jn. 19). And this Great Grandson would be nailed to that wood in order to satisfy God’s demand against man’s sin. God the father would judge all of our sins in Him. God truly gave to Abraham the privilege of illustrating the cross work of Jesus Christ hundreds of years before it was to happen.
- But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
Isaac loved and respected his father. This symbolizes the human thoughts of the Lord Jesus Christ as He faced the cross. His willingness was never in question, but it was brought to light so that we would understand that He was a willing participant (Luke 22:42).
Isaac’s question would have ripped the heart right out of an ordinary man. Abraham probably knew that he was going to ask this. Abraham had done this before but with a sacrifice. Isaac knew how sacrifices were to be offered.
- And Abraham said, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering ‘my Son.’ So the two of them went together.
Abraham did not say that Elohim would provide for “you and me” but “for Himself.” Abraham kept the issue where it belongs. The sacrifice was God’s business! It was God’s character that was at stake. Abraham was simply saying to Isaac, “Son, we going to put our trust in God.”
Not “a Lamb.” The Hebrew says “the lamb.” Remember that John said speaking of Jesus Christ, “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.”
- Then they came to the place of which God had told him
“Which God had told him” is very important. “Macom,” the Hebrew word for place, was to be that special place set apart by God. It had to be at this place. God is sovereign and He had a plan. Abraham must do the will of God regardless of how it appeared to him. His security was now solely in the Giver not the gift. The Giver does not lie! Nothing in life could shake Abraham’s faith!
God has found it necessary to consult us about nothing! Faith does not need to understand! Faith does not need to see! Faith does not need to be consoled! Faith must obey! But Abraham did not have faith in faith. He had placed his faith in the right source. He had faith in God.
- And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood.
The time had come! Isaac said nothing! Isaac had confidence in his father because his father had confidence in God. Isaac was stronger than his father and could have freed himself.
Jesus Christ submitted totally to the will of His father even though He had the strength to free Himself.
- And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
Hebrew words make an impression here. “Stretched forth his hand,” is in the Hebrew “Laqach shakat,” a Hebrew completed action. That is, in Abraham’s mind, he actually did it! He fully intended to follow through and obey God. That was his mental attitude!
In Abraham’s mind at that moment Isaac had been slain. It was with complete faith and tranquility that Abraham carried out the divine orders. For Abraham, the outcome was never in doubt. He loved his son deeply, but his trust was in God. And it was his love and trust in God that motivated this action. He was totally occupied with the Giver of his blessing. He was caught up in the fact that, though he may not understand, God knew exactly what He was doing.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” (Heb. 11:17-19)
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect (telios; was made complete; mature)! And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.” (James 2: 21)
- But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.”
Abraham has passed the toughest test in the history of man. He knew that God could never do anything that was not just and not absolutely fair? The Giver is always right no matter how it appears to man. Abraham had total confidence in the character of God. It never occurred to him that God could be unfair.
- And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him for now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your son, your only son,
Through Abraham’s offer of Isaac, God gives us the perfect illustration that He would provide His son in order to reestablish His righteousness. God is saying to Abraham in a type, “I am going to offer my uniquely born son but there will be no one who will stay my hand.” God could spare Abraham’s son, but He could not spare His own Son. Why? Because God must adjust that which is not right to His righteousness. He cannot extend His grace to sinners without first being just with Himself. Sin must be paid for!
- Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns
The Ram is a picture of Christ. There was only one place at that precise moment where there was a ram caught in the bushes. It was on that mountain at that particular time. God had provided that Ram for this place at that time. This is why this place was to be the place! God had picked out the place and the time billions of years ago.
- So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him in the place of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
“Jehovah Jireh” – “Jehovah will provide.” This name is the essence of God’s grace. God will provide a sacrifice. Only God can provide the means to adjust fallen man to His righteousness. Jehovah will provide is speaking of the second person of the Trinity and the fact that He would provide the once and for all sacrifice to pay for the sin of man.
The words “in Isaac shall your seed be called” should now take on new meaning. These words teach us that our salvation depends totally upon God. If we have eternal life, it is because God made the sufficient sacrifice and He gave us life! We had absolutely nothing to do with it. God has done it all.
“And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.” (Gal. 4:28)
New American Standard Bible
Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew Definitions
Robert B. Theime, Jr.
S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.
Basis Theology, Charles C. Ryrie