Certain things may be established forensically, while not touching one’s heart. If newly-weds spoke exclusively about their marriage’s legality, including the licence, the officiant’s credentials, or the couple’s standing before the law, one might wonder if they could not do with a little more romance in their lives! Scripturally, divine salvation rests on the unassailably legal basis of Christ’s perfect sacrifice. Nonetheless, His saving work is not merely judicial; it also demonstrates the Almighty’s incomparable loving and holy character. The Father’s gracious gift of His Son, and the Son’s willing obedience in laying down His life, unveil the Godhead’s heart as nothing else can. Though he was intellectually brilliant and impeccably erudite, Paul never got over the fact that Christ is ‘the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’, Gal. 2. 20. A classic hymn rightly called His redemptive work, ‘the gift of gifts, all other gifts in one’.1 One cannot fathom what it meant for the Father, the Son, and the Spirit to go together to Calvary, nevertheless, plumbing the depths of God’s love for mankind is valuable.
Losing a child is a horrific experience. The widow of Nain was a notably sad case – at least until the Lord Jesus broke up the funeral procession, Luke 7. 11-16. When a son dies under God’s wrath, the tragedy is compounded. Though his demise was fitting, Absalom’s death wrenched this piteous lament from David’s lips, ‘And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son’, 2 Sam. 18. 33.
That is why the Lord’s request for Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah was so momentous.2 Must he kill the promised child for whom he waited for so long? One teacher elucidates the patriarch’s difficulty, ‘How is it that the man who is now called “the father of many nations" is asked to offer up the only heir he had as a burnt offering? Who would then carry on the promised seed? Also, how about the covenant that God made with him regarding the land? How will all the nations of the earth be blessed without the promised seed? Abraham never put these questions to the Lord. He obeyed, never seemingly for a moment doubting the purposes of God’.3 The great faith chapter reveals that he concluded that the Almighty would raise Isaac from the dead, Heb. 11. 19.
The divine instructions acknowledged Abraham’s affection for his beloved son, ‘Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest’, Gen. 22. 2. ‘Only’ can have the sense of ‘unique’ in Hebrew4 and the Greek Old Testament translation renders the entire phrase, ‘your beloved son whom you love’.5 The terminology is similar to John chapter 3 verse 16 when it refers to Christ as ‘the only begotten Son’.6 A Jewish translator also points out that in Genesis chapter 22 verse 2 in Hebrew, Isaac ‘is left until the end of the phrase, to heighten tension’.7 Another commentator explains, ‘[T]he order and accumulation of the terms … [are] calculated to excite the parental affection of the patriarch to the highest pitch, and to render compliance with the Divine demand a trial of the utmost severity’.8 The young man, the apple of his father’s eye and centre of all his hopes, was now demanded by the living God. Isaac was Abraham’s irreplaceable son, yet the patriarch was now called to slay his darling. The resemblance to God’s affection for His own Son is evident. The Father publicly declared His esteem for Christ, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight’, Matt. 3. 17 JND.
2 Peter chapter 2 verses 5 and 6 declare that God spared neither the fallen angels nor the antediluvian world of Noah’s day. It is extraordinary, therefore, to think that He did not spare His own Son the cross, Rom. 8. 32. Viewing this, Horlock exclaims, ‘We have no problem in understanding why God spared not the angels who sinned, but we do well to ask why He spared not His own Son who never sinned’.9 Of course, Romans cites this gift as the standard of lavish divine generosity, affirming that no good thing could be withheld from the saints in view of God’s donation of His precious Son.
Darby further notes God’s expansive munificence, saying, ‘God has bestowed unnumbered blessings on man; but there was one thing which He had in heaven greater than all His other gifts: that one gift He gave, and having given this, shall He, or can He, refuse us anything else that is for our good? Christ is ours, and then it follows, all is ours; “for ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s”. God, therefore, gives us all things with Christ; not as man gives, for God gives freely – “He freely giveth us all things”.10
One must also remember, that while the Father gave the Son, other scriptures assert that the Son came in willing obedience. The recurring phrase, ‘they went both of them together’, demonstrates the unity of purpose between Abraham and Isaac, which, in turn, pictures God the Father and the Son in their joint work of salvation, Gen. 22. 6, 8.11 The son carried the wood and, by implication, permitted himself to be bound to the altar, vv. 6, 9.12
While it is true that, as the universe’s righteous judge, God poured out wrath on Christ for human sin, nonetheless, in another sense, as the Son He was never more precious to God the Father than when He was accomplishing the perfect will of the triune godhead.13 All enjoyment of divine protection was removed from Him as indicated by His cry of dereliction, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Matt. 27. 46. But the fact remains that the Trinity was fully at work in His sacrificial work, 2 Cor. 5. 19. Though the heavens were silent at the crucifixion, the Father registered His love and acceptance of His Son by the resurrection, Acts 2. 31-36; Rom. 6. 4.
The angel of the Lord spared Abraham the agony of killing his son, but God gave Himself no reprieve in providing ‘the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world’, John 1. 29; Gen. 22. 14. He gave the most costly and greatest gift ever given, as Grant observes, ‘God has given His Son, and His heart has been declared to us once for all. If He try us too, as He tried Abraham, how blessed to think that in this carefully measured cup of his, God was saying, as it were, “I know – I know it all: it is My Son, My Isaac, My only one, I am giving for men’. The tree is cast into these Marawaters thus that sweeten all their bitterness’.14 In light of this unparalleled love, can anything be too great for Him to ask of us? As Romans chapter 12 verse 1 exhorts, ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service’. Believers were purchased at this great cost, so that they might completely give themselves to God for His glorious service. Does He possess our hearts? His offering ought to impel us to great sacrifices for His sake. In this manner, the missionary William Carey passionately urged his fellow-saints, ‘Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God’.
Horatius Bonar, ‘Blessed be God our God’.
‘Here, as nowhere else, are we shown the Father’s heart … Oh! how the Spirit of God lingers on the offering and the offeror, as if there must be a thorough similitude in the type of the antitype – “thy son – thine only son whom thou lovest!"’. A. W. Pink, Gleanings in Genesis, Bellingham, 2005, pg. 222. [Italics original].
Boushra Mikhael, ‘Altars in the Life of Abraham, part 2’, in Precious Seed, 59. 2; another adds, ‘The life of faith is ever a life of testing, and very often the fire that tries increases in heat as life advances. The worst conflicts are not always at the beginning of the war’, Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: Genesis, Bellingham, 2009, pg. 161.
David J. A. Clines (ed.), The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, Vol. 1, Sheffield Academic Press, 1993–2011, pg. 200.
Rick Brannan, Ken M. Penner, Israel Loken, Michael Aubrey, and Isaiah Hoogendyk, (eds.) The Lexham English Septuagint, Lexham Press, 2012.
‘“His own Son, His only Son” … there is an obvious reference to Gen. 22. 2’. B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, J. Murray, pg. 55.
Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; a New Translation with Introductions, Commentary, and Notes, Word Publishing, 1995.
Thomas Whitelaw, Genesis, The Pulpit Commentary, Funk & Wagnalls, pg. 283. [Brackets mine].
Malcolm Horlock, ‘His Own Son’, in Precious Seed, 53. 4.
John Nelson Darby, ‘God for us’, in Notes of Sermons, pg. 91.
Like creation, resurrection, and other works of the triune Godhead, all three members of the Trinity performed various functions related to the sacrifice at Calvary; Christ offered Himself by ‘the eternal Spirit’, Heb. 9. 14.
To my knowledge, the only other reference in the Old Testament to a bound sacrifice is messianic, Ps. 118. 27.
Isa. 53. 6; 2 Cor. 5. 21; John 5. 20; 14. 31; Ps. 22. 21.
F. W. Grant, Genesis: In Light of the New Testament, Galaxie Software, pg. 138.