In Genesis 22:6 we find one of the great lessons of the story of Abraham and Isaac. It is a lesson St. Paul and St. James both recall. It lies at the foundation of the Protestant Reformation and, more importantly, at the heart of the Scriptures: “Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to him as righteousness.” God will not count a person righteous because they are religious or engaged in doing good works. God considers righteous those who believe in him, who put their trust in him through Christ. This was St. Pauls’ great theme.
But there is another side to that coin (which is St. James great theme), and it is found in verse 16-17: “Because you have done this. . . I will surely bless you.” Righteousness comes through faith; blessing comes through obedience. Abraham’s life was characterized by both. The fact is, the two are inseparable. Abraham’s faith produced obedience, and obedience strengthened his faith, and both were rooted in the promises of God. It would be good to pause and read Hebrews 11:17-19. You will see that faith and reason are not opposed; in fact, Abraham learned how to do faith reasoning, based on God’s promises. It is a discipline he invented. And if we are going to pass our tests, we will have to become proficient at faith-reasoning ourselves.
Now we need to zoom out, set our lens to wide angle. Abraham was told to sacrifice his only son. They went, on God’s specific instructions, to the land of Moriah. They looked up, verse 4, and saw the place (the place, where it was all destined to happen) in the distance. Isaac (verse 6) carried the wood on which he would be sacrificed.
Do you know where Mount Moriah was? It is mentioned only one other time in the Bible, in 2 Chronicles chapter 3. Many scholars believe that mount Moriah was where Solomon built the great temple. It was the place where – for hundreds of years – sacrifices were made for the forgiveness of sins; where the Passover lamb was slain; where the high priest entered the holiest place each year to make atonement for the people of God. But the temple that Solomon built was utterly destroyed during the Babylonian invasion. And when Zerubbabel built the second temple, in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, it is quite possible that it was built a little distance away from Moriah. We know that Herod’s temple – construction started in 19 B.C. – was built in the heart of Jerusalem.
When Isaac was spared, Abraham offered the ram in his place. The law of substitution is woven deep into the fabric of creation. Abraham had promised his son, “God himself will provide a lamb,” but God had not provided a lamb – not this time. He provided a ram. The promise of a lamb would go unfulfilled for the better part of two thousand years, then one day John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!”
Abraham’s promise waited until a greater Isaac – one who will one day set all Creation joyfully laughing – carried the wood on which he would be sacrificed through the streets of Jerusalem. Perhaps he, like Isaac, looked up and saw the place rising in the distance. That place was called Golgotha by the Jews, Calvary by the Romans and, I think, Moriah by Abraham’s contemporaries. Abraham’s prophecy was at last fulfilled. God has provided the Lamb.