Holy Week: Looking to the Lamb
Long before the Israelites were ever a nation, God called men individually to walk with Him, finding favor in such patriarchs like Enoch (who was taken up to God), Methusaleh (the oldest man ever to live), Noah (through whom the Earth was repopulated), and Abraham.
God 's Provisions are Sometimes Beyond Our Understanding
Abraham's walk was of particular note for several reasons. He walked in the faith of his forefathers, but took it to new heights. For God to make a point, and for Him to fully seek our hearts, he often will repeatedly withhold that which we think we need most, replacing it with something far greater, then test us all over again to see how we value that gift. God did this twice with Abraham. He kept Abraham's wife Sarah from conceiving. Accordingly, they took matters into their own hands to preserve Abraham's ancestory by having him father a child with Sarah's maidservant Hagar. Thus, Ishmael was born (Genesis 16). You can be sure Abraham would have loved his son, and yet - you have to wonder if because he had such a close relationship with God, did he feel like something was not quite right? Did he regret his rash actions?
Even so, God continued to bless Abraham's faith, telling him that he would be the father of nations (Genesis 17). In due time, God sent three angels to visit with Abraham and Sarah, who revealed the news that Sarah would finally conceive (Genesis 18) . What amazing and humbling news! When this child was born, Isaac, certainly everything finally felt right. Here was the child of purpose, of blessing, of promise. Perhaps if they had seen things from God's perspective versus the earthly perspective, things may have been a little less complicated.
How it must have been for Hagar and Ishmael at this point! You know Hagar held contempt for her mistress once having Ishmael; Sarah definitely had been bitter about the fact that Hagar had borne a child to Abraham, and not her. So when the tables were turned, and Hagar was the one ousted, the woman and her child fled to the desert. God still had compassion. Despite the fact that God chose Isaac over Ishmael, he still promised to care for him and his mother (Genesis 21:8-20). This consolation may not have been much in way of thinking today, but for a woman who was a cast-off servant who was left to parent a child alone, it would have been scary and agonizing. She belonged to a culture who at that time did not generally hold women in high regard. But Hagar and Ishmael thrived where they were, and Ishmael went on to be the patriarch of the Ishmaelites. Ishmael and Israel. Two very close, yet very distict nations. Interesting, isn't it?
But our story doesn't stop here, because as I said, Abraham would face another test. Isaac was loved immeasurably. His parents doted on him. Surely it would have been easy to do, especially after older brother Ishmael was out of the immediate picture. And so the years went, until the fateful day when Isaac was now a lad. In Genesis 22, we find that God approaches Abraham and comes right out with instructing him to sacrifice Isaac as a burt offering in Moriah (verse 2)! Now, it doesn't mention Abraham's reaction - if he had said anything back, was afraid, or anything like that. In fact, it continues on in the story that he got up the next morning to do exactly what God asked!
This wasn't an immediate sacrifice, either. Who knows what Abraham would have said to Isaac as they journeyed for three days up the mountain. They had plenty of time to change course, or for Abraham to find a new sacrifice. And yet...maybe he had learned something in the time it took for God to reveal His promise of opening Sarah's womb in order for Isaac to eventually be born to them. That had to count for something! Especially if Isaac was the seed through which more descendants would follow! Abraham would have had to have tried to wrap his mind around what God had said before, and that must have comforted him and given him the strength to still go through the motions of what he was asked to do. This is especially telling when he relays to the servants who were with him: "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." (verse 5)
Somehow he convinced Isaac to continue onward, despite the lack of an offering. And when he brandished a knife and bade the boy lie down on the altar to be bound, there was no struggle. No mention of emotion on either of their parts. Abraham swings the knife, and suddenly - an angel calls his name! His faith has proven true, and his fear of the Lord is rewarded through the offering of a ram instead (verses 11-13). Abraham was so moved by that entire experience that he went on to name the place "The LORD Will Provide" (verse 14). The angel accordingly says on behalf of God: "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore...through your offspring, all nations on Earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me." (verse 17, 18)
Jesus is That Sacrifice
As we look to that story, we see a bigger picture emerge. God not only provided for Abraham, and for Abraham's benefit alone. This story was passed down for generations for a reason! It pertained to all Israelites.
In thinking about how it pertains to us today, we have to take a look at what the sacrifice foreshadowed. Though not a lamb, the ram that Abraham offered was "the scape goat", who did nothing wrong, but was chosen to be slaughtered to glorify God and restore Abraham to Him. A familiar story, yes? Ironically, this was long before the Passover was instituted. For what it was, it took on yet another meaning that through time became more clearer to those who were following prophecy. Jesus was the Lamb. His sacrifice trumped all. Our faith in what He accomplished saves each of us in our faith in God (which includes everyone, not JUST Israelites anymore). And yet even though we sin because it is in our very earthly nature, God has provided and that is enough. When we take hold of that faith and praise the Lord for the victory, there is no end to our joy. Our eternal provisions are vastly greater than anything we can ever know. As we rest in the Lord in preparing for the Easter season, may everyone cling to the Lamb, take up our crosses, die to ourselves, and then come together on Easter to celebrate a pivotal moment that has trascended all time.