Sunday, July 15, 2012

The ram: The God-provided substitute

“Abraham! Abraham!” came the voice from heaven.

Abraham froze. “Here I am,” he replied. The voice continued, “Do not harm the boy! Now I know that you fear God, for you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

Abraham quickly put down the knife. His hands were shaking so badly, and his vision was so tear-blurred, that he didn't trust himself to cut the ropes. So he unbound Isaac, slowly, by hand, one knot at a time.

As he raised his head from his work, Abraham saw a form in the thicket. He approached cautiously. It was a ram! The brambles and thorns were wrapped so tightly around its horns that it had become trapped there.

Abraham whispered a prayer of thanksgiving as killed the ram. Then he cut the wreath of thorns from its head, pulled it from the brier, placed it on the altar. He laid the animal where Isaac had lain just minutes earlier. He prepared the body. He lit the wood.

Later, father and son sat side by side watching the sacrifice burn. They were silent as their eyes ran the trail of smoke that ascended into the heavens. Then Abraham swept his hand in a manner to include everything around him: the altar, the sacrifice, the mountain, the land beyond, the stars, Isaac. “The Lord will provide,” he said.

As they were traveling to the mountain God had chosen, Isaac noticed that something was missing. “We have fire and wood, but where is the lamb we are going to offer?” he asked. Abraham replied, “The Lord will provide for Himself the lamb.”

And Abraham was correct; God did. At the last moment, Isaac was spared. He was removed from the altar, and the substitute God had provided took his place. Genesis 22:13 highlights the substitutionary nature of this change by noting that the ram was offered instead of Isaac.

Yet the ram was not the lamb Abraham was anticipating. While the promised lamb would be provided, it would be many generations before Abraham's descendants would hear John the Baptist proclaim, “Behold, the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world!”

Paul wrote to the Romans, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus was the fulfillment of Abraham's prophecy. God provided a substitute. Jesus did not take the place of an innocent victim, but of guilty sinners. He would not only die for Isaac, but for me and you. For us.

(Genesis 22, Romans 5:6-8)