Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 11
The Son of the Promise
© C. O. Bishop 2012; revised 2018
We have been studying through Genesis, the “book of beginnings,” specifically looking for prefigurings of the person of Christ. In Luke 24:25-27, Jesus taught the disciples to see him in passages throughout the Old Testament. We are attempting to do the same thing, here.
Since we are looking to “see Jesus in Genesis,” I am tempted to just skip chapter 20; it doesn’t really deal with the imagery of the Messiah. It deals more with Abraham’s failure, and unbelief, which we have seen before, when he deceived Pharaoh, about Sarai, and again, in the conception and birth of Ishmael, by exploiting the slave-woman, Hagar. But I don’t like to leave out any part of God’s Word, so we will at least have a quick look at Genesis 20.
Genesis 20—Abraham with Abimelech.
Abimelech is a title, similar to Pharaoh. He was king in Gerar (a Philistine city). I have no idea why this whole thing happened…Abraham went into the land of Gerar, and again played the “she’s my sister” game, regarding Sarah. It just seems strange to me that when it came to Lot, Abraham went off to battle, whipped the enemies and brought him back, along with everyone else. Now, with (evidently) more servants and riches, etc., he is afraid to even admit Sarah is his wife, and he’s obviously willing to allow her to be taken from him. He has already seen that God will protect him: why not simply state the truth, and let the chips fall? I can’t answer that.
I don’t see anywhere in scripture where lying is approved by God. He points out that some of His people lied, and in some cases He makes no comment, beyond the fact that they lied. He does condemn lying, of course, in the Mosaic Law; and Jesus said that Satan was a liar and the Father of Lies (John 8:44.) Paul ordered the believers of Ephesus to “put away lying and speak every man truth with his neighbor.” (Ephesians 4:25) I’d have to conclude that God “hates a lying tongue!” In fact, in Proverbs 6:16, 17, He says so, in those exact words.
The fact that Abraham got richer, in the bargain, does not change the fact that he dishonored God in the process. Pharaoh and Abimelech were not “drawn to the Grace of God” by Abraham’s deception—they were offended and angry that he had very nearly gotten them into trouble with God by his lie. That sort of thing does not make for good relations with one’s neighbors. Paul (in Romans 2:24) rebuked the Jewish professing believers, saying “You have made the Name of God to be blasphemed among the Gentiles.” I’m sure it didn’t impress Sarah very much either: even though Abraham admitted that he had asked her to say he was her brother, for his safety’s sake, she was the one reproved by Abimelech. (“See, I have given your “brother” a thousand pieces of silver…”)
The only thing that might have changed how the Philistines felt is that Abimelech’s little kingdom had a “baby boom” right after the incident with Abraham. Evidently the whole chain of events must have taken quite some time; long enough that they knew that the women had all become barren, and that they had afterward all been restored to fertility. Maybe that made them happier. I couldn’t say for sure. It seems to have been a bad deal all the way around, in terms of testimony, though. Physical payoffs can’t fix everything…there will still be consequences.
In a way, this is an example of Abraham being a picture of believers, across the board. His position in Christ is perfect, and God is on his side—he will be blessed forever, and God no longer sees him as a sinner: these were all true of him, just as they are of us. The Bible gives examples of people who had a good ministry, and through whom God was doing great things; but who fell into sin, and it cost them dearly. Abraham’s sin cost him something, too. We will see what it cost him, and the grief he suffered, and the terrible results for the future of Israel. His position, like ours, was perfect; his behavior was not: though his behavior was perhaps better than ours, he was still “only a sinner, saved by Grace.” Remember too, that Abraham had a pretty important spot in history: so, the consequences for his sin lasted for thousands of years.
Genesis 21—Sarah has a son; Abraham loses one.
Sarah finally had her son, as God promised. She named him Isaac, as God predicted. The name “Isaac” means “he laughs”, and Sarah said it was because God had made her to laugh in her old age. But God ordered that name, because both Abraham and Sarah had laughed at the very idea they could have a son. And, as we will see, Isaac stands as a figure of Christ in several ways.
The problems began almost immediately: Ishmael was naturally resentful at the attention his new baby brother was getting, especially as he (probably) had been hearing, already, that this was the promised son…so that he himself was not. All we know for sure, is that when Isaac was weaned, Ishmael was seen mocking him. Sarah was furious, and wanted him and his mother cast out.
Abraham was heart-sick over it, because he really loved his son Ishmael. But God told him that in this case, just as he had listened to Sarah in the matter of taking Hagar as his concubine, he was to also listen to her in the matter of kicking her out. It’s a pretty ugly story. God promised that he would make a nation of Ishmael, too—and he did—but that nation has been an enemy to the people of God ever since. We call them the Arab nations. They all claim Ishmael as their patriarch, and they bitterly despise Israel, the true people of the Promise.
We can see a bit of the long-term relational result of Abraham’s earlier deceit, too; King Abimelech, and his top soldier, Phicol, came to Abraham to request an oath of him that he would not deal falsely with them. (Remember; Abraham had “dealt falsely” with them before.) They could see that God was blessing him, and that he was getting richer and more powerful, and they were beginning to be afraid of him. (That’s not surprising, given the circumstances.) It is interesting, too, to see that, at this point, the Philistines saw the God of Israel as the true God. Actually, Israel didn’t even exist yet…Abimelech simply spoke of “God,” with no qualifier: he was referring to Abraham’s God. He had earlier talked with God when God rebuked him in a dream, regarding Sarah, and he had protested that his was a “righteous nation”…and God evidently had agreed with him. Later in their history, they became idolaters.
But at this point, the Philistines had become afraid of Abraham, and there had also been friction between their herdsmen and those of Abraham (though Abimelech evidently had not known about it.) Politics were not stable, between Abimelech’s people and the people of Abraham; there was definite tension. It is easy to see why…Abraham had already “dealt falsely” with them once, and now he was gaining power in a way that made them very nervous, so they hoped to bind him with an oath before his God and theirs; and, Abraham readily agreed. There had been a dispute between herdsmen over a well that Abraham’s herdsmen had dug. It was eventually agreed that it belonged to Abraham, and it was named “Beer-Sheba”: the “well of the oath.” Beer-Sheba is an important city of over 200,000 people, in Israel, still today.
Genesis 22—Abraham’s Test
Please take note of the first sentence of this chapter: it was a test. God was not advocating human sacrifice. He never did and never will, except in the specific case of Jesus Christ. We are all sinners: none of us ever could be an acceptable sacrifice for another person. Jesus was not a sinner, so He could be…but no one else could.
Remember: back in Genesis 3, we saw the first example of a substitutionary sacrifice: one animal for one human, when God clothed Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2, the first Law had been given: “Don’t eat that tree; in the day you eat it you shall surely die.” That wasn’t a threat, it was a fact. They did die, spiritually: they were separated from God. Death always involves some sort of separation. In the case of Adam and Eve, they were separated from fellowship with God the moment Adam ate the forbidden fruit. Nothing happened when the woman ate, but when Adam ate, the eyes of both people were opened, and they saw that they were naked.
Next, they hid their nakedness with their own works, by covering themselves with leaves, sewn together as aprons. But when God showed up, walking in the garden in the cool of the day, they fled, and hid themselves. Fellowship was broken, and their own works (the leaves, in this case) did nothing to cover their sins. They were still naked! We can “cover our sins” in relationships between humans; but, between God and man, our works have no covering effect at all.
They were spiritually separated from God; so they were spiritually dead. Had they died physically, at that same time (their spirits and souls being separated from their physical bodies) they would have been eternally separated from God. Instead, God introduced a deeper law—the Law of the Substitute. God provided the Redeemer from the beginning of time. Jesus is called the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth.” (Revelation 13:8) In fact, we are told that he was “the Lamb slain,” before there were Humans to need a savior! All those sacrifices that covered the sins of all those believers, were so closely linked to Christ that they represented Him. I do not mean that Jesus “became a lamb, and died millions of deaths over the centuries”—that would be blasphemous. I do mean that all those sacrificial lambs pointed forward to the True Lamb of God, so that, when John the Baptist cried “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the World!” everyone knew exactly what he meant…some rejoiced in it; some rejected it. But, they all knew what he meant.
I suspect that Abraham did not know that this was “just a test.” What we do know is that he knew Isaac was the Son of the Promise. He knew that Isaac, and not another, was the son who would eventually produce the Messiah. Hebrews 11:17-19 says Abraham not only knew this, but he believed that God would raise him from the dead. (Wow! That is real faith!) But, what I would like to know, is: what did Isaac think? And, how did he pre-figure Christ?
Isaac and Jesus
Picture this situation: Abraham has a bad dream… a really bad dream. God says “Take your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and take him up on this mountain and offer him there as a burnt offering.” Abraham did not “dicker with God” as he had done in Genesis 18, begging for the life of Lot; he got up early and started splitting wood. Then he called Isaac, and two young servant men, and went off toward the mountains where God had sent him. Three days out, Abraham looked up and saw the place where he was to offer Isaac. He told the young men, “You stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder, and worship, and return unto you.” Abraham gave his word that both would return. That supports Hebrews 11!
How old was Isaac? I don’t know, but he was big enough to carry a donkey-load of wood; enough for a burnt offering. He was not a “little child”—he was a big, strapping youth. But he was in complete fellowship with his father. And this is where we begin to see Isaac as the picture of Christ: “the Promised Son, in perfect fellowship with The Father:”
He was the Son of the Promise: he was born according to the promise of God; born by fulfilled prophecy to a woman who by all standards was far too old to bear children: in short, he was born by a miraculous birth. (So was Jesus…but even more so: He was born of a virgin!)
Isaac walked in complete obedience to his father, even unto death. (So did Jesus! Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.”) They walked together. Isaac said, “My father?” Abraham answered, “Here I am, my son.” Isaac asked a very logical question: “Where is the Lamb? I see the fire, the wood, and the knife—but where is the lamb?” Abraham answered, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” And they walked on, together.
Remember, now: however old Isaac was, Abraham was 100 years older. When they got to the place, Isaac evidently rested while Abraham built the altar and laid the wood on it. That makes sense—he had just completed a hard hike with that load of wood on his back. (Remember Jesus, initially bearing the wood of His sacrifice.) But then Abraham tied Isaac up! (What? A strong young teenager can’t escape a 118-year-old man? Or fight back…or just run away?) There is no record of any doubt on Isaac’s part, beyond the initial question he had asked on the way up the hill. Isaac was in complete fellowship with his father, and he made no resistance.
Abraham laid his big, strong son on the firewood, and picked up the knife. Evidently he actually lifted up the knife to kill his son…probably to cut his throat, just as he would have killed a sacrificial lamb. And, at that point God stopped him. Apparently God wanted Abraham’s attention right then, as he called twice, quickly (“Abraham, Abraham!”), whereas when he called him in verse one, he only called once. God said, “Don’t touch your son: don’t do anything to him at all! Now I know the extent of your obedience and trust. You didn’t hold back.”
Then it says that Abraham lifted up his eyes and behind him, he saw a ram, caught in the thicket by his horns. How did it get there? It must have been there all the time: but as Abraham had been moving around the location, gathering stones to build the altar, lifting his son, etc., he certainly had to have faced that direction before. But now, the altar was in front of him, as he prepared to kill Isaac, and any other direction was behind him, while he was facing the altar. Apparently the Ram (a prefiguring of Christ) was there all the time, but was hidden from his eyes until the proper time. (Incidentally, a ram’s horns are very hard and strong—the horns are the only way a ram could be securely caught in a thicket and not be damaged at all, so as to still be a perfect sacrifice.) And, what about the sacrifice of Christ? It, too, was “at the proper time.” Romans 5:6 says, “in due time” Christ died for the ungodly. Galatians 4:4, 5 says, “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”
It was announced by prophecy: the time was set by God. All the prophecies were fulfilled, and still the unbelievers missed it. In fact, the believers missed it, too, until God pointed it out: The disciples on the road to Emmaus certainly were not catching on, and Jesus reproached them for being “…fools, and slow to believe….” (Luke 24:25)
Then, God reiterated the promise he had made in Genesis 15, saying that the whole world would be blessed through Abraham’s seed…not just the elect—the whole world. Even unbelievers have been blessed through the Jews, and, more specifically, through Christ.
Think too, about the substitute: The ram was given as a substitute for Isaac, who was seen as a “figure of Christ” (in fact, some scholars believe that it was on the exact same place where Isaac was offered, that Jesus ultimately was crucified…I have no idea whether that is really true, but it would certainly fit, and it was, at least, in the right general area.) God provided a substitute for Adam and Eve. Abel brought a substitute for himself, as did every believer up until Abraham; but what about Jesus? Was there a substitute for Him? Only the offering for the firstborn—two doves were offered for him: but as a sin offering? No. There is no substitute for Jesus. That is an important point. He could bring no sin offering for himself, because he was without sin. But he could offer himself for us, for the exact same reason. There was no “ram caught in the thicket” to “bail him out” at Gethsemane, nor at Calvary. The cup did not “pass from him”…he had to drink it. All the prophecies had to be fulfilled. There is no substitute for Jesus!
How did Jesus feel about it? We can see one side of how He felt, in his prayer at Gethsemane. (Matthew 26:39 “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”) There was definitely a human dread of his imminent torture and death!
We see the other side of how He felt, in Hebrews 12:2: “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith: who, for the joy that was set before him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus had the foresight to see the joy beyond the cross. He endured well, because he could see the joy that awaits those who obey the Father. We can share that joy, if we are willing.
And, in closing, God says that “Abraham called the place Jehovah-jireh (The LORD will supply), saying ‘in the mountain of the LORD it shall be seen.’”
I think that there are several things we can learn, here:
- Faith, and the righteousness bestowed through faith, does not mean “sinless perfection:” It means “believing God, and walking with Him.” Neither Abraham nor Isaac were perfect: both had human failings, but both stood righteous before God, in spite of those failings. If you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, then, in spite of your failings, you stand righteous before God, in Christ!
- Jesus is our substitute in death, and as we have received Him in that capacity, we also have joined Him, in His righteous life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His glorification. He is our substitute, in every way, and there is no substitute for Him.
- God is the provider, in every case: He is the Creator of all things. He literally created all things from nothing. He says that He is our sustainer: we are to look to Him in all things.
We are called to look away from our own devices, and to look to God. The Children of Israel, when bitten by vipers, in Numbers 21, were called to look away to God’s plan of salvation: the bronze serpent on a pole. Jesus compared that figure to himself, saying that “…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:14, 15) Did they still have the “snake-bite holes” in their flesh? Probably, yes! But they did not die!
We still have our sin, resident in our flesh, as we were “bitten” by that “old serpent” in the Garden of Eden: but we are alive with Christ, and will not be judged for our sin. We have “crossed over from Death into Life,” and God will supply our needs as we walk with Him.
Lord Jesus, help us to understand your truth, and to apply it to our daily lives in such a way that we will honor you in all that we do. Allow us to serve as your ambassadors, and offer the gift of eternal life to all those with whom we have contact.