For years, I struggled with what to do with Genesis 22. The first time I heard anyone attempt to teach on it, it didn’t really make sense, largely because it was being taught from a “go and do likewise” point-of-view. But the problem, at least as I saw it, was that there wasn’t a specific me-oriented action to take. At least, not in the way we normally think. Instead, as I read the story, I kept coming back to one question: Why?
Why was God asking Abraham to take Isaac—his only son, whom he loved—to a mountain where the father was to sacrifice the son? (v.2). Why was the child of promise, the one through whom all Abraham’s descendants would be traced (Hebrews 11:18) and all nations blessed, to be killed? Why would Isaac go with his father when he asked, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7). Why was Abraham sure that “God himself [would] provide the lamb for the burnt offering”? (v.8). Why was Abraham so sure that both he and Isaac would return from the mountain? (v.5).
There’s really only one answer to these questions: Abraham believed God “to be able even to raise someone from the dead” (Hebrews 11:19). This is the only explanation that makes sense of the scene Abraham and Isaac found themselves in—the hope of resurrection. So when Abraham said that he and his son would return from the mountain, when he tied up his son and raised the knife high over him, it was all because he believed God would raise Isaac from the dead. When the angel stopped Abraham and God provided a substitute for Isaac (Genesis 22:13), there was still a sense in which Isaac had been raised from the dead, if only figuratively.
But God doesn’t want us just believing and hoping in a figurative resurrection, because there is nothing figurative about what awaits those who trust in Christ. There is a day coming when those “who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake” (Daniel 12:2) because God provided a lamb—the Lamb—for the sacrifice, when He sent His Son Jesus into the world.
That’s the only thing that makes Genesis 22 make sense to me. It’s not telling me to have faith like Abraham or to be obedient like Isaac or any other forced application I could make when focusing on my own actions. Instead, the only action we can take is to put our hope in the resurrection. God is able to raise the dead, and He did just that when Jesus stepped from the grave. He continues to raise people from the dead—you, me, and all who trust in Jesus. And someday, when all things are made new, He will raise all who believe to eternal life, and they “will shine like the bright expanse of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).
Written by Aaron Armstrong