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The Ram for Abraham
Father of Faith
Most of us have heard the wondrous historical account of the “father of faith”, Abraham. It’s kind of ironic, in that Abraham, after being personally visited by the LORD and being told that Sarah would have his son by that time the next year (Gen 18:10), he and Sarah’s faith didn’t even last three months! It takes nine of those 12 months to carry and deliver a baby, right? But Sarah quickly convinced Abraham to father this child with their hand-maiden, Hagar, in accordance with the ‘Law’! This is a perfect example of why "the Law is not of faith" (Gal 3:12). Israel still suffers the 'ram-ifications' (pardon the pun) of that decision to this day! (Gal 4:29)
So WHY was Abraham known for his FAITH? I believe his faith was firmly established as soon as he witnessed his elderly, barren wife conceive. God not only promised Abraham Isaac, but told him his descendants would be “as numerous as the sand on the seashore”. Indeed, Abraham earned the honorable title of “father of faith” because he passed the great test of faith found in Genesis 22.
While there are so many spiritual insights to this passage, and I would love to expound on them all, the LORD’s put on my heart verses 6-12. Before we read these verses, we need to set the firm foundation ~ that is, that God first gave Abraham a directive in vs.2, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” ~ and Abraham OBEYED the voice of the LORD.
“Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham,
‘Yes, my son?’ Abraham replied.
‘The fire and wood are here,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’
Abraham answered, ‘God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ And the two of them went on together.”
What FAITH, amen?! Like father, like son, too! Isaac didn’t fight his father as he was bound and placed on the wood. No sooner did Abraham lift the knife, the Angel of the LORD shouted, “Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay a hand on the boy! Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.” (vs 12)
More in the Meaning
Traditional teaching focuses on Isaac representing Jesus, God’s only Son. That would then liken Abraham to ‘the Father’. Even Jesus spoke of the beggar, Lazarus, going to the ‘bosom of Abraham’ after he died (Luke 16:22). Rev 13:8 tells us of the foreordained “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”, and Isaac was a picture of that ‘Lamb’ to come. Isaac, like Jesus, showed great obedience to his father, even unto death. Consider Phil 2:8: “Being found in appearance as a man, He [Jesus] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Abraham had faith God would raise his son from the dead (Heb 11:9), a picture of the resurrection of the LORD, Jesus Christ.
That’s all inspirational and beautiful, but we’re going to press on to ponder more…
Focus on the Ram
While Isaac did represent Jesus in many ways, he certainly was NOT Abraham’s only son, let alone his firstborn. Remember Hagar? She begat Ishmael before Sarah begat Isaac. The reason Isaac was called Abraham’s ‘only son’ is because Isaac was the son “born according to the Spirit”, while Ishmael was the son “born according to the flesh” (Gal 4:29). We could spiritually apply this to the words of Jesus in John 3:5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water [womb-flesh] and the Spirit [God] he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” This is what it means to be ‘born again’ or ‘born of God’. It was from Isaac Jacob was born, later renamed Israel (Gen 35:10); it was from Jacob the twelve tribes of Israel were borne (Rev 7:4-8), who were later enslaved in Egypt for a period of 400 years. Notice what God told Moses to say to their captor in Exodus 4:22: “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.’” Now, not all natural-born Israelis(-ites) are “Abraham’s offspring”. While Isaac could be seen as representative of Jesus, he truly represented all of the ‘born-again’ offspring of Abraham as revealed in Romans 11, and here’s why:
Remember God told Abraham his descendants would be as numerous as the sand of the seashore? Well, Abraham believed God, even though it seemed contradictory for the LORD to require Isaac’s life on that altar. It was because of the great faith of both of them, evidenced by obeying the voice of the LORD, Isaac’s life was saved ~ by what? The RAM. How often do we focus on the ram? It’s time we do.
In Hebrews 11, also called ‘The Faith Chapter’, the list of those who lived by faith started with Abel, right on up to John the Baptist, if you consider him one who “went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—“ (Mat 3:3-4). What did they have faith in? The Seed of Abraham, the coming Messiah, the LORD Jesus Christ (from the tribe of Judah)! The first pleasing sacrifice offered to God was by Abel. Indeed, Abel sacrificed a lamb. The Bible gives us another account of Noah sacrificing to God in Gen 8:20. The Law of Moses nor the Levitical priesthood were around when Abel and Noah offered their sacrifices to the LORD, nor when Abraham offered up Isaac, for Levi was Abraham’s great-grandson, a son of Jacob. The specifications for regular sacrifices were, of course, outlined in Leviticus.
While there were many types of sacrifices, we are going to focus on two: the burnt offering and the sin offering. For the purpose and method of the burnt offering, read Leviticus 1. Several times it is stated, “It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD.” From this, we can conclude that Abel sacrificed a burnt offering to the LORD (Gen 4:4) and so did Noah (Gen 8:20). A burnt offering is not the same as a sin offering. They are different. It is important to understand that the sin offering was for atonement, while the burnt offering imputed righteousness to the forgiven. For the purpose and method of the sin offering, read Leviticus 4. Several times it is stated, “In this way the priest will make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven.”
Burnt offerings were brought to the priest by individual persons or families. The Israelites were to provide a “male without defect” from their herds (cattle), flocks (livestock), or even birds. After hands were laid upon it, the whole animal was totally consumed by fire. Consider the two birds Mary and Joseph brought along to the temple, when presenting Jesus to Simeon, the priest (Luke 2:22-24). The offering of two birds was in accordance with the Law in Lev 12:7. One bird was to be sacrificed as a burnt offering; the other as a sin offering.
Sin offerings were made by the priest for himself, the congregation, leaders, and common people. The animal “without defect” was to have hands laid upon it, then its blood sprinkled and poured out in the sanctuary and on the holy altars accordingly. Its fat was to be removed and placed on the bronze altar located outside the sanctuary in the court of the temple for the burnt offering. The hide and all its flesh, as well as the head and legs, the inner parts and offal (refuse) was to be taken outside the camp to a place ceremonially clean, where its ashes were thrown and burned in a wood fire on the ash heap...
In Leviticus 16, the LORD told Moses that his brother Aaron, the priest, could only enter the sanctuary by bringing a young bull as a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. After a ceremonial cleansing and dressing in his white linen priestly garments, he was to first sacrifice the bull as the sin offering for himself and his own family. Then verses 5-10 tell us, “From the Israelite community he [the Priest] is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. Take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.” (compare to Ps 22:18; John 19:24 and Is 53:6)!
Verses 20-22 tell us that the blood of the sin offering cleansed the sanctuary and its altars from the sins of the people, while the scapegoat sent into the desert carried their sins away. (ponder 1 Cor 6:19)
In reading Leviticus 16, I found it interesting that Aaron, while in priestly garments, performed the sin offerings for himself and the people (the bull and the goat) to cleanse the sanctuary, yet it wasn’t until AFTER he removed his priestly garments, exited the sanctuary and put on his regular clothing that he sacrificed the ram as the burnt offering for himself AND the people. In other words, he went IN to the sanctuary carrying the sin of himself and the people and came OUT forgiven! The bronze altar held the fat of the sin offering, and the ram would be consumed along with it. Why yet another sacrifice? Forgiveness of sin was a gift, but to be made righteous the ram had to die.
The Ram Lamb
We may now have a better understanding of 1 Samuel 15:22: “Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams [burnt offering].” James 2:23 (KJV) states of Abraham, “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” Now ponder what Jesus said in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
Let’s go back for a moment and notice the type of sacrifice Abraham was asked to make in Gen 22:2: “Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” It was on Mt. Moriah that God, because of their faith, evidenced by obedience to His voice, imputed righteousness to Abraham and his offspring by the RAM!
"Clearly no one is justified before God by the Law, because, 'The righteous will live by faith.'" (Gal 3:11)
Why then, did Abraham tell Isaac, “God Himself will provide the lamb”, when God provided a RAM? In fact, there are those who argue that Lev 4:32 specifies a female lamb must be sacrificed as the acceptable sin offering for the common people. First of all, whose flesh was Jesus born of? Mary’s, not Joseph’s. Furthermore, did you know male rams father lambs? John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). I also found it notable that in Lev 27:1-4, which specifies the value of human beings vowed to the LORD, males between the ages of 20 and 60 were valued at 50 silver shekels, while females were valued at 30. The priests indeed paid 30 silver shekels to Judas for the ‘Lamb’. If you continue to read this chapter, which is about the increased price of redeeming anything vowed, in order to reclaim it, know that we are valuable to God and He paid it all (Acts 20:28)!
Truly, Jesus redeemed us! He was both our sin offering (atonement) and our burnt offering (imputed righteousness). He was both the scapegoat (Is 53:6) and the ram! “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.“ (Ps 103:12) “For He has made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us [sin offering]; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him [burnt offering]."
Furthermore, Jesus was also the revelation of the Pesach (Passover) lamb. The Passover lamb had to be a ‘male without blemish (sin)’. It was the blood of the lamb, spread upon the doorposts of the Israelites' dwelling places in Goshen, that saved them from the final plague that took all the firstborn male offspring of Egypt. Have you ever thought about what might have happened, had they not obeyed the voice of the LORD?
If sacrificing animals was able to atone for sin and impute righteousness, why would we need the Savior to do this for us? What does ‘Passover’ mean? Just as the death angel 'passed over' the Israelites in Goshen, the sins of the faithful were merely passed over, year after year. Sin was NOT fully atoned for; therefore, no one could truly be made the righteousness of God (Rom 3:25). Likewise, Heb 10:4 tells us, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats [sin offerings] to take away sins.”
In conclusion, we should recognize that Isaac was not to be a sin offering, but a burnt offering. Since God abhors the sacrificing of sons and daughters in the flames (Jer 7:31; 19:5 and 32:35), this was NOT about child sacrifice. It was about faith, evidenced by obeying the voice of the LORD, God provided the burnt offering that not only saved Isaac’s life, but imputed righteousness to both of them and thus, ‘Abraham’s offspring’.
Surely, Isaac begat Jacob, the father of Israel (Gen 35:10; Rom 9), and while Jesus came to save only the lost sheep of Israel (Mat 15:24), that gift of salvation has been graciously extended to the Gentiles, the Good Shepherd’s ‘other sheep’ (John 10:11,16; Rom 9:25). By faith in Christ’s atonement by the spilled blood of the ‘Lamb’, our sins are forgiven (Rom 3:25; Heb 9:22). We are then made righteous by faith ~ baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mat 3:11) because God provided the ‘RAM’ for ‘Abraham’ (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11).
“For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you would hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts…” (Ps 95:7-8a)
- With His OWN Blood
Does God ordain child sacrifice? If so, why would He contradict His own Word by asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering (completely consumed by fire)? Does Isaac represent the Son of God? You might be surprised.
- The Eternal Son?
“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:” If God is three persons, and each is not the other, was the incarnation of Jesus Christ that of the eternal Son or the eternal Father?