THE DIVINE ARCH OF HUMAN REDEMPTION (7)
THE PATRIARCHS (3) – ABRAHAM AND ISAAC
“Men were not ushered into being for the purpose of being saved or lost. God manifestation, not human salvation was the grand purpose of the Eternal Spirit” (The Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, 1838, p 84). I feel sure that many, like myself, upon first reading that statement by Bro. John Thomas either find it hard to accept as a statement of fact or find it extremely difficult to comprehend. Certainly, it pulls us up in our tracks. It seems to run counter to so much that goes to make up the importance of what is called the gospel which to us, is synonymous with our salvation. But it is not the prime doctrine or purpose of the Scriptures. That purpose is to restore God to His rightful place in the thinking and therefore life of all who aspire to become His children. The first and greatest commandment to Israel was “hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might” (Deut 6:45).
In other words the great object of our life is the worship of that Great Creator in whom we live and move and have our being, in whose hand is the breath of all mankind. That worship is exemplified in loving voluntary implicit obedience, the effect of which will qualify in its outworking for an entrance into the Kingdom of God.
WORSHIP TAUGHT THROUGH ATONEMENT
In case readers may wonder what this has to do with the subject we are considering, may we emphasise the fact that God in the fulness of His Character is made manifest to us in the doctrine of the Atonement and that first and foremost its teaching is that of worship of the Almighty in a spirit of reverence, humility and awe. That is at the very heart of the matter. Salvation was and is conditional upon that acknowledgement seen in action, a fact which is exemplified in the life of Abraham. In our last essay we left him before Mount Moriah. To his young men who had accompanied Isaac and himself so far he said, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship and come again unto you”.
Here is revealed what in the mind of Abraham was paramount – the worship of God. Indeed this formed the mainspring of his actions without which he could not possibly have passed through the trying ordeal without wavering. There is not an incident in the entire eventful life of this great man which so demonstrates this fact to the exclusion of all else. Not even his son, his only son Isaac would he withhold. Here is what is meant by faith. Here is what is meant by love. Here is what is meant by obedience. All is comprehended in true worship, its quality and depth of devotion. Abraham in effect relinquished all that he had, for it was in Isaac that his “all” was bound up. But it was no blind obedience. Through it, there shines through an unswerving, unshakeable confidence in the ultimate fulfilment of that which God had promised. Here in the circumstances of the drama is seen his absolute trust and faith even though the one in whom fulfilment was predicated should be slain.
But in the knowledge that all God’s ways are true and righteous altogether, supreme in wisdom as in power, that his purpose requires not only the sacrifice of an only son, but the restoration – the resurrection – of that son, there was also the quiet but firm confidence that so it will be. “I and the lad will come again unto you”. So in all his anguish of heart heightened as it was by Isaac’s own poignant question “my father, behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham could in full assurance of faith reply, “My son, God will provide a lamb for the burnt offering” (Gen 22:7-8). There, is amply revealed the depth of appreciation of the Atonement in the mind, not only of Abraham, but of Isaac too.
“And they came to the place which God had told him of and Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar upon the wood” (Gen 22:9). We cannot refrain at this point to make comment upon the evident gentle submission of Isaac to his father’s will. His father was an old man, he was certainly of an age to resist both physically and vocally. There is no evidence of either! That his mind was exercised to the point of being acutely aware of every nuance in the entire episode we can confidently affirm. From the moment he was awakened very early on that morning three days prior, through the vicissitudes of the journey to Moriah, to this, on his part, supreme act of submission, there is revealed to us with what devotion he loved his father. There is no other explanation possible. But how to such an acutely sensitive, divinely intelligent obedient son would all that was enacted be riveted on his mind and thereafter be to him as to Abraham, a living witness and a constant reminder of all that was involved in the work of God in redemption. It would no doubt form the subject of many a conversation between them afterwards – yes and all their faithful seed right down to our day.
“And Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slay his son” (Gen 22:10). Here was the culmination of Abraham’s obedience and faith. Through strained to the uttermost yet he staggered not through unbelief, but was strong in faith. Anything short of this, and all would have been unavailing. This last, this final agonising moment when the knife was taken and the hand outstretched, then and only then was the trial consummated, for it was at that critical moment that God intervened. “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him, for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Gen 22:22). Here again we take note of the fact that in the trial, the worship of God was the paramount objective.
The fear of God made manifest was not in the sense of being terrified, bur rather of reverence and awe, coupled with a childlike submission. That is what constitutes worship in a spirit of love. But there is more to remind us of God’s work in redemption.
THE LORD WILL PROVIDE
The prophetic truth of Abraham’s reply to Isaac confronts us every time we partake of the memorial bread and wine. God will and did provide – it is all of Him. It is God Manifestation.
Abraham in faith looked forward in prospect as we do in retrospect to the One Perfect Sacrifice, the providential ram – the lamb for a burnt offering – the One whom God would provide, expressed in the words, “my son”. Whilst God stayed the hand of faith, sparing the life of Isaac, we must remember the type falls sort of that which it was intended to illustrate. The slaying of Isaac would not have accomplished anything in the Divine Plan of salvation, for he was not qualified to be the perfect sacrifice able to take away sin. God allowed the proceedings to go so far – far enough that is, to demonstrate the qualities of Abraham’s mind seen in action, far enough to impress upon Isaac, as nothing else could, that mortality is a finality for man if left to himself without God’s intervention and provision. The enacted allegory made clear the need for the perfect sacrifice of perfect obedience to the Creator who would be of God’s providing, of sin’s flesh, yet a manifestation of Deity. All is comprehended, yet succinctly expressed in the words of Abraham – “my son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering”.
In this wonderful scheme of redemption, God manifestation is the prime feature to be recognised and acknowledged. So it was that in that acknowledgement Abraham, after offering up the ram caught in the thicket for a burnt offering in the stead of Isaac, called the place “Yahweh-Jireh”. But in all this wonderfully expressive and vivid drama, amid all the pathos and suspense there is running through it a message to us all as though direct from God Himself – which indeed it is.
THE PARABLE OF ISAAC
The writer to the Hebrews tells us “by faith Abraham when he was tried, offered up Isaac and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten of whom it was said that in Isaac shall thy seed be called, accounting that God was able to raise him up even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure (Heb 11:19).
The word translated “figure” is parabole, meaning to place side by side with a view to comparison or resemblance – see Vine’s Expository dictionary. So we are in no doubt as to the purpose of the record – it was a parable, drawn in this case from divinely controlled human circumstances, with a view to set forth spiritual lessons. Not only does it teach the doctrine of resurrection, but does so in the context of the atoning work of Abraham’s seed – the Christ. Though it falls short of the reality, it is nevertheless very instructive to detect the many points of reference and note in what depths the doctrine was understood by Abraham and Isaac. We have already seen in these studies how there was prefigured right from the transgression of our first parents the main essentials required to be known and exhibited in order to again come before the Lord. These truths were carried forward by faithful men and formed the very foundations of their faith and hope in the prospect of a saviour from sin and death. These truths can be enumerated as we have followed through the record as follows:
- The Saviour would be of the seed of the woman who should bruise the seed of the serpent in the head, having himself first been bruised in the heel.
- His birth would be a direct result of the intervention of God and therefore miraculous. 3. He would be the Son of God.
- He would be a descendent of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and therefore Son of Man 5. He would be typified as a lamb without blemish, the firstling of the flock. 6. He would voluntarily submit in every respect to the will of his Father.
- He should lay down his life as a sacrifice for sin, make reconciliation thereby and be the redeemer of men.
- He should be the means of God manifestation, by demonstrating in his life and death, every attribute of his Father.
- He should be the subject of resurrection from the dead, thereby opening up the way to the Tree of life, to all who in faith and obedience lived in understanding of, and in accordance with God’s precepts.
THE CONSUMMATION OF GOD’S PURPOSE
There are other remarkable points of identity which we have briefly touched upon but which we cannot now amplify. We must however comment upon the sequel to all this, for the divine record continues: “and the Angel of the Lord called upon Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, that in blessing I will bless thee and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the sea shore and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen 22:15-18). Here we see prefigured the consummation of the purpose of God in Christ, following his perfect sacrifice.
The atoning work accomplished he should be raised from the dead God having announced the acceptance of his sacrifice. Now God speaks again and makes reference to the fact that subsequent upon this, there would follow as a consequence the subjugation of all Christ’s enemies and the possession and blessing of the whole world in accord with all that God has promised to Abraham at the first.
This taken together constitutes all that is meant by the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “And the scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith preached before the gospel unto Abraham saying “in thee shall all nations be blessed”. “He saith not, and to seeds as of many, but as of one and to thy seed which is Christ” (Gal 3:8, 16).
Here is comprehended the range and scope of that “Good News”. In the things concerning the name of Jesus Christ and the things concerning the Kingdom of God are made clear, some 850 years before the one in whom the work should be accomplished was born. The same gospel, in the same words was, in due course vouchsafed to Isaac by God as the words of Genesis 26:2-5 indicate. All that was understood by Abraham in respect of the atoning work of Christ applies equally to Isaac who lived and died in anticipation of the fulfilment of all that was foreshadowed on Mount Moriah.
We conclude with a further thought or two which arise from this remarkable episode. It is important to observe how by the trial of his faith Abraham’s already deep appreciation of the character of God was perfected. Though God knows our innermost thoughts, though we may express them in ever so forceful terms, yet it is that still our faith needs to be proved. “What doth it profit my brethren though a man say he hath faith and have not works?” (Jas 2:14).
God evidently looks for reality and honours it when it is made manifest. Such faith is rare and it is precious. It is that faith which enables a man to push out from the shore against the tide of human and sometimes divine circumstance and meet the wind and waves buffeted though he be and still endure even though the Master should seem to be asleep on the pillow. Yahweh-Jireh. God will see and provide. He will answer. It is only when we are put to the proof that we really discover the nature of the God we worship.
Without trial we only know at a distance as a matter of theory. With it we learn the rich and exquisite depth of divine love, feel His presence and accept the assurance that “I will never leave or forsake thee”.
Following his trial with what buoyant feelings, with what confirmed convictions must Abraham have retraced his steps from Moriah to Beer Sheba – from the Mount of the Lord to the well of the oath, with all the deep underlying spiritual significance of those terms. Things were never quite the same again. Nor should they be with us, once the great principle conveyed in the whole matter is perceived. It is this. Abraham proved that he was prepared to give up all, to place his full and absolute confidence in the Almighty. His faith could do without everyone and everything but God, for he perceived the fulness of His sufficiency. Because of that and only because of it, God could and did respond, “By myself have I sworn”. So the Apostle writes, “For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could sware by no greater, he sware by himself saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee and multiplying I will multiply thee, and so after he had patiently endured he obtained the promise. But the mater does not end there, for God willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie we may have a strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Heb 6:13-19).
So that word and oath of the living God should put an end to all the working of the human will and form the rock upon which we stand amid all the tossing and tumult, against all the mire and dirt of this stormy world.
Because of his great atoning work our Master has now entered that within the veil … Even Jesus made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec”, with all that is thereby accomplished in our salvation, henceforth “expecting till his foes be made his footstool”.