God will provide for himself a lamb
As part of my seminary education, I will be writing lots of papers. To which, of course, I say, “Huzzah!” I like writing. I’ll post my papers as I write them, for those who are curious, and so that others can, if they so desire, help me sharpen my thinking.
This paper was prepared for Dr. Steven McKinion’s Hermeneutics class, with the limitation that it be between 600 and 625 words.
The Meaning of the Text
Moses declares that Yahweh provides for himself a sacrifice that blesses both individuals and all the nations. The narrative opens with Yahweh’s command that Abraham sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. Going forward, however, Moses emphasizes that Yahweh provides the sacrifice, not Abraham. To Isaac’s question, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering,” Abraham replied, “God will provide for himself the lamb…” (21:8). Likewise, after the angel of Yahweh’s intervention and Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram in Isaac’s place, Abraham names the place “Yahweh will provide” (21:14).
Yet this provision is not merely an individual provision for Abraham. Moses turns immediately from the proclamation that Yahweh provides to the angel of Yahweh’s reiteration of God’s promise bless the nations in Abraham’s offspring. The sacrifice provided by Yahweh thus has implications not only for Abraham’s personal walk with God, but for God’s work in all the nations. God provided the sacrifice in place of Isaac; in turn, Isaac (Abraham’s seed) would be the source of the one who would “possess the gate of his enemies” (21:17) and in whom would “all the nations of the earth be blessed” (21:18).
The most prominent intertextual link is the refrain that “God/Yahweh will provide” (see above). Following close behind is the repetition of the phrases, “your only son, whom you love” (21:2, 21:12, 21:16). Isaac was Abraham’s only son; Ishmael had been driven away; and all of Abraham’s physical evidence of God’s faithfulness to his promises hung on this one who he was now called to sacrifice.
Just as the phrase “beloved son” appears frequently within the text, the same phrase frequently refers to Jesus in the New Testament. At both Jesus’ baptism and his transfiguration, God audibly declares from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, 17:5; cf. Mark 1:11, 9:7; Luke 3:22, 9:35; and 2 Peter 1:17). Likewise, Paul indicates that Jesus the “beloved Son” rules God’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13).
Moses shocks the reader by his careful placement of this narrative. Yahweh’s promise to give Abraham a son was hinted at in chapter 12, made explicit in chapter 15, reiterated in chapter 17, and finally fulfilled in chapter 21. Just one chapter later, after sending away his other son Ishmael in the latter part of chapter 21, Abraham faces this test. Chapters of waiting culminate here: with Abraham called to sacrifice his only son.
Solomon built the temple on the self-same site where Abraham took Isaac for the sacrifice (1 Chronicles 3:1) – in Jerusalem. Where Yahweh provided a sacrifice in place of the father of Israel, there Israel sacrificed to Yahweh and there Yahweh died as a sacrifice in place of Israel.
God’s promise to bless the nations through Abraham’s seed here is the third of four repetitions of the promise (the others to Abraham in chapters 12 and 15, and then to Isaac in chapter 26). God’s swearing by himself here is noted in Zechariah’s song in Luke 1 and in the epistle to the Hebrew’s call to assurance. Peter quotes the promise to the Jews in his sermon in Acts 3, as does Paul to the Gentiles in Galatians 3.
The significance of the text
The text pushes us to recognize that God is the one working to provide salvation to the nations. In the end, Yahweh provides the sacrifice, not Abraham. Likewise, Yahweh promises to bless the nations in Abraham’s offspring, as Abraham himself could not. We are therefore called to trust in Yahweh’s provision. As Hebrews highlights, this provision is no longer future or mysterious: we are called to trust in Jesus the Messiah: the beloved Son of God who died in place of every human son and in whom all the nations are blessed.