Sacrifices litter the pages of the Old Testament. In fact, the first sacrifice in Scripture takes place only three chapters into Genesis—the first book of the Old Testament—when God Himself provided garments from animal skins to clothe Adam and Eve after they chose to listen to the voice of the serpent and eat the forbidden fruit. Their sin made them aware of their nakedness, and the shedding of blood was required to clothe them. Just a chapter later in Genesis 4, we meet their sons, Cain and Abel, as they bring their own offerings to the Lord. Eventually, God would give proper instruction for offering sacrifices in the Tabernacle and Temple, which would be officiated by priests. Leviticus outlines rituals for presenting all kinds of offerings, including burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. These offerings of worship pleased the Lord and brought restitution for the people’s sins. Yet it wasn’t the blood of bulls or lambs that cleansed their iniquity; every sacrifice pointed forward to the day when the final sacrifice for sin would die on the cross, when the Great High Priest Himself would be an offering for sin and the veil would be torn, allowing all people access to God through the perfect Lamb who mediates by the shedding of His own blood.
"God Will Provide"
The story of the sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22:1–19 is a rarity in some ways. It’s not the first story of sacrifice in the Old Testament, but it’s unique because God called Abraham to bring a specific sacrifice for worship—not an offering from the field or from his flocks, but from his very household: the son God had long ago promised the barren patriarch (Genesis 12, 15).
Although we know this story as the sacrifice of Isaac, from reading the narrative, clearly this was also a sacrifice of Abraham. Can you sense the angst that must have been in Abraham’s heart as he rose in the morning and traveled up the mountain with his son, his only son Isaac, the son he loved so dearly? And yet, while Abraham must have been processing all kinds of emotions as he made that fateful journey up Mount Moriah, we see his resolve. Abraham was certain that God would provide the sacrifice and sure that God would provide for him a lineage—so certain that he built the altar and placed his son there, ready to offer him to the Lord. Abraham was willing to follow God wherever He would lead, even to the heights of a mountain where he might sacrifice his beloved son.
While this story shows us Abraham’s character, it also gives us a glimpse into God’s heart. Several times in the narrative, Abraham declares that his God provides (Genesis 22:8, 22:14). Abraham didn’t know how provision would come, but he had faith that God knew best—faith that led him to obedience. At just the right time, God provided by sending a ram caught in the thicket, a substitution for Isaac. The story of Scripture reminds us that God continued to provide for His people in this way through the Temple sacrifices. Centuries later, the Israelites would offer sacrifices on the same mount where Abraham held the knife to sacrifice Isaac, to the same God who promised He would provide.
Romans 8 reminds us that this story isn’t really an anomaly. Like Abraham, another character in Scripture would sacrifice His Son, His only Son, His beloved Son. On Calvary, God the Father “did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32 ESV). Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac pointed forward to the day when God indeed would provide—once and for all—the atoning sacrifice for our sin, at great personal cost to Himself: His Son’s life.
Genesis 22:1-19 (ESV):
The Sacrifice of Isaac
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take 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.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.