jQuery Slider

You are here



By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
April 15, 2022


It is common knowledge that academe is strongly hesitant, even skeptical, about viewing Christ in the Scriptures of the former covenant. Indeed, there has been much fanciful imagination employed in the past conjuring up references to Christ and his salvation in allegorical interpretation of the Word where it is patently clear that the biblical material cited is innocent of any specific salvific content (e.g., four wheels on a cart pointing to our being carried along by four gospels, etc., etc.). Scripture is sometimes forced to yield a Christological reference or meaning. One perhaps encounters this kind of thing in the church fathers and medieval mystics.

Nonetheless, if allusions to the Lord Jesus are consonant with received doctrine and conducive to sound devotion, they may well be highly beneficial to spiritual cultivation and maturation, as in the case of Henry Law in his treatment of the Pentateuch, and Bernard of Clairvaux and Charles Spurgeon in their treatment of The Song of Solomon. Both practices are immensely edifying and pleasingly attractive. The Holy Spirit of God creates a connection, Christ-centered, between various portions of Scripture under the auspices of deeper salvation insight.

Besides, and no one claims similar divine inspiration, New Testament writers often give new developmental twists to quotations from the Old. Having found no responsible objection to the mild use of Christ-centered typology, for Christ is the sense and meaning of Scripture, the embargo on such a phenomenon, to this cast of mind, seems to cramp the full discovery of the riches and allurement of Holy Writ, a compendium of literature designed to inform and enchant, which is no concession to irresponsible invention. The human mind has no permission to remold Scripture according to preference. Orthodox doctrine and sensible understanding are the keys. Accurate appreciation of the Savior is the benchmark. It might seem that Alexander Whyte, John Gill and Octavius Winslow approach this close and pictorial approach to revelational reality. There is true poetry in the language of divine truth.

The Faith of Abraham Tested

It may seem that the Lord's instruction to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac presented the patriarch with a painful crisis to his trust in God. But the test may not have been designed to detect Abraham's vulnerability to doubt, but to establish the strength of Abraham's faith and increase its understanding toward a fuller disclosure of the covenantal promise. God did not need to find out the dependability of Abraham's stand on divine truth, as details within the narrative will likely prove. He knew fully Abraham's nature and disposition for good or ill.

The Lord was acquainting the prophet with expanded knowledge of his purpose and strengthening Abraham's grasp of its intent by issuing a contradiction to his earlier assurances. The test was not of Abraham's faith in the Lord but of his obedience i.e., would God really expect him to seriously act in a contrary way to the Lord's description of the coming one's (the seed) destiny and triumph. Would Abraham discover the divine gift of perseverance in his confidence in God and finding the Lord to be even more trustworthy than he originally appreciated.

The Preparation

Abraham seems calm and "business-like" in his response to God's summons. "Here I am" he replied. Of course, the detail is abbreviated, but there is the sense of readiness to meet the command of the divine call in Abraham's response. There is no hint of panic or fluster. 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."

In the early morning Abraham briskly rises to fulfill the command of the Lord. He selects two servants to accompany him on the journey and cuts sufficient wood for the burnt offering (himself or his agents? - Spurgeon calls Abraham God's wood-splitter). He sets out for the specific place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. The third day in Scripture is usually of great significance, a precursor or signal of an important event, divinely ordained for God's "new thing" radically altering a set of current circumstances. Abraham said to his servants, "Stay here with donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." Again, Abraham's demeanor is strangely measured and he is confident that both he and Isaac will return (resurrection faith). They will worship - bow before the sovereign God together and yield sincere homage to him, resolved to comply with his declared will. Yet knowing what that will seemed to be Abraham reveals no sign that he would seek to evade it. His faith seems to be holding out undiminished.

Abraham personally ensures that the supplies for the sacrifice are borne to the place of execution. He himself carried the grim means, consuming fire and swift blade, that would administer death to his darling son, while the wood that would fuel the scorching fame would be carried by the intended but unknowing victim. It is a solemn maneuver, and Isaac perceives that it is mysterious. "Father, the fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" There seems to be no tremor of fear in Isaac's enquiry, nor does the faith of the aged patriarch tremble. "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son", Abraham answered, and the two of them went on together. Isaac trusts the word of his father, and Abraham trusts the word of his faithful heavenly Father.

The Moment of Simultaneous Action: Human and Divine

The next stage in the biblical account is harrowing and tension-filled. How horrified and puzzled Isaac must have felt, ever so briefly, as he grasped and gasped at the danger beneath and above him, and anticipated the plunge of the knife toward him, wielded by his beloved and loving father. Those seconds must have been excruciating. Maybe Abraham baulked inwardly and momentarily at the point of actually envisaging the slaying his son after all. Time was far too fast-paced for reflection. "But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, Abraham, Abraham!"

Abraham's response is sturdy and still resolved to go along wholly with the command of God. Suddenly divine grace decisively intervenes. "Do not lay a hand on the boy, God said, "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." Deliverance is instant.

Substitutionary Sacrifice Established

Abraham's confidence in the word of God is instantly vindicated. Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught up by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided." A victim in our place is the central principle of the gospel and to this day the Lord's provision of a dying Savior in our stead, and all its consequential implications in terms of multifarious grace, is the great provision for all his people. The drama of redemption was displayed to Abrahams eyes, gleaming with gladness, and in that heart-stopping "twinkle of an eye" Abraham saw Christ's day.

The Covenantal Connection

The points of correspondence between the two men of Moriah, Jesu and Isaac (later Moriah became Jerusalem and the site of the temple) are astounding and piercingly memorable. They occur pointedly in the Gospel of John for the purpose of this reflection. Who can miss the the pathos and poignant comparison between the tender fatherly hearts of both the Lord and the saintly patriarch about whom each cherished his son, his only Son/son (cf Gen 22:2, 12 and John 1, the One and only). The closed gap between Abraham and Yaweh/Yeshua in the thought of Jesus/I am! related in John 8 is positively mind arresting in the service of doctrine and the sincerity of devotion. The biblical juxtaposition of Abraham the faithful and Jesus the merciful fills us with wonderment. Abraham in his time could not see that the line between Isaac and the Promised Seed - our Messiah - could ever be broken. Was the Son of God the angel of the Lord who stayed the deadly knife hovering over Isaac? Was the same angel the God who announced through the prophetic word the triumph of the suffering servant, "I will surely bless your servants" . . . "his offspring" (Genesis 22:15-18 cf Isaiah 53:10b).

Enthusiasm must never go beyond the bounds of responsible interpretation. But where is the trustworthy arbiter? Specialists in the meaning of the Bible are not infallible and who can easily overcome their subjective prejudice and overcome their trust in pre-set limited technique and method? Scholars are not without pride and personal preference in their presentation of Scripture. Conclusions vary when they weigh circumstance, motive and results in their comments on character and conduct in the lives of the persons they assess in hints of personal history. Modest imagination is not ruled out in the exegesis of the word as long as the essentials of the faith are not contradicted.

One is wary of too much stiffness and mental restraint in the handling of the living Word. Nor must it be revised in its construction of the faith (e,g. N.T. Wright and F. Rutledge in the vital matters of justification and atonement, respectively), but the Word is vividly active and colorful in its content and we must be flexible enough to feel it as well as study it. Typology and prefiguration are worthy tools with which to mine the abundant wealth of the Word of God.

"The symbolism of God's dealings with Abraham can find their ultimate resolution and fulfillment only with coming of Christ" (Edmund P. Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, R&R Publishing. New Jersey, 1998, page 59).


Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top