Sunday, March 2, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 9: God Will Provide Himself a Lamb

Today's lesson should provoke a number of questions pertaining to the Law of Sacrifice. Such a study will lead to a greater understanding and appreciation not only of what is required of us but of what has been given to us, by our Heavenly Father. That which is given and that which are required are inseparably bound as illustrated in Doctrine and Covenants 82:3,
"For of him unto whom much is given, much is required..."
Therein lies the basic foundation of any covenant. It requires effort on both sides, it requires sacrifice on both sides. Nowhere is this illustrated more clearly than in the story of Abraham and Isaac.

A study of the text of Genesis 22
v.1 "And it came to pass after these things..." After what things?  
Read summary of Genesis 21- "Sarah bears Isaac - He is circumcised - Promises to Abraham preserved through Isaac - Hagar and her son cast out of Abraham's household..."
It could also pertain to Abraham's life in general starting at his earlier life in Ur. 
So after all of that, what?

v.1-2 "God did tempt Abraham...and said, 'Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering...' ."
Now we know that the word "tempt" has the same etymology or root as the verb "to temper". God did not tempt Abraham like some devil. He tempted him in the sense of testing him, trying his mettle, proving his character. 

I went to a science fair yesterday and was introduced to a machine that I had never heard of nor seen before. This machine sends vibrations into a tree to measure the tree's strength of resistance to them. This allows foresters to better know the strength and properties of that tree and thus better direct it to its most suited purpose, eg house beam, table leg or furniture peg. In trying to explain the concept to the kids I joked that if I hooked them up to the machine the vibrations going through their bodies might tell us their true characters and strengths and allow me to give them chores at home that might better suit each one of them! Well in some ways this is what God is doing to Abraham and he does to us too. He sends us things in our life or requires things of us that can shake us to our very centre but that can reveal who we are and what our strengths and weaknesses are. Now, do you think God doesn't already know our strengths and weaknesses? So why do we go through all of this testing and proving? And in particular, why does God put Abraham through this heart-wrenching experience?

In an address given on 13th August 1996,  at BYU, Elder M Russell Ballard related this story in answer to that question:
"Brother Truman G. Madsen tells about a visit he made to Israel with President Hugh B. Brown, an Apostle of the Lord who served as both Second and First Counselor in the First Presidency. In a valley known as Hebron, where tradition has it that the tomb of Father Abraham is located, Brother Madsen asked President Brown, “What are the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?” After a short moment of thought, President Brown answered, “Posterity.”
Brother Madsen writes: “I almost burst out, ‘Why, then, was Abraham commanded to go to Mount Moriah and offer his only hope of posterity?’
“It was clear that [President Brown], nearly ninety, had thought and prayed and wept over that question before. He finally said, ‘Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham’”" "The Law of Sacrifice" Ensign, Oct 1998
I find that fascinating. Abraham must be somewhere around 115 yrs old or more at this point and yet he is still learning more about himself and his strengths and his faith and his character. When I consider this and then consider my own age and how I have handled my small "vibrations" in life, with the odd grumble and murmuring or complaint and more than a little impatience, I feel very humbled. It makes me feel like I have so much still to learn.
How much testing will be done on us? Abraham records that we will be tested to see if we will do "all things whatsoever the Lord God shall command them" Abraham 3:26

How does Abraham feel about human sacrifice? Abraham 1:11-12
Put yourself in Abraham's shoes (sandals?). You might feel that you have been through every possible test and trial known to man. Your testimony and faith in your God finds one it's earliest forms with a miraculous escape from human sacrifice. And now, 100 yrs later, as you feel your life has attained that which it should and the end is in sight, retirement seems like a cozy option, you feel like you know your God and He knows you, suddenly the very roots of your faith are subjected to a request from your life-long God to return to that most hateful of all practices - human sacrifice. 
How would you react?

By all accounts and on multiple levels this should turn Abraham's world completely on its head.

v.3 But the only reaction we know is that he rose early, cut the wood, saddled the ass, got his servants and Isaac ready and left. He just set about doing what he had been commanded. NO questions that we are aware of. 
Do we have any hints as to Abraham's inner thoughts or feelings? "Rose early" seems to suggest he wasn't lingering or dallying or waiting to see if there was another command coming that might be different. He didn't question what he had heard. He didn't "accidentally" forget anything. He prepared everything and went. As you ponder that, consider the words of Spencer W. Kimball
"How often do Church members arise early in the morning to do the will of the Lord? How often do we say, 'Yes, I will have home evening with my family, but the children are so young now; I will start when they are older'? How often do we say, 'Yes, I will obey the commandment to store food and to help others, but just now I have neither the time nor the money to spare; I will obey later'? Oh, foolish people! While we procrastinate, the harvest will be over and we will not be saved. Now is the time to follow Abraham's example; now is the time to repent; now is the time for prompt obedience to God's will." "The Example of Abraham" Ensign, June 1975
So what was Abraham thinking, where did his faith rest? Read Hebrews 11:17-19 
It would appear, according to Paul, that Abraham was trusting in God's powers of raising from the dead! Now I find that fascinating. If I was to put myself in Abraham's position, having experienced what he experienced, I would think that I would have been more likely to believe that Isaac would be saved BEFORE it got to the point of being sacrificed. I mean I could even see myself believing it might go all the way to the knife being raised above Isaac on the altar. After all wasn't it at that point that Abraham was saved earlier in his life? But instead, Abraham's point of faith was that God could raise Isaac from the dead. Why? What experience or teaching had Abraham been given that would make this the focal point of his faith? see JST Gen. 15:9-12 Here the Lord instructs Abraham not to worry, even death cannot stop the Lord's purposes or promises. He can conquer death.
And so with faith in Christ's promises and power, Abraham rose early without any apparent physical hesitation to do "all things whatsoever" that he was commanded to.

v.4 "on the third day" I think this really emphasizes the test going on for Abraham internally. Three days of conversing, three days of thinking, three days of knowing what was up ahead, three days of opportunity to turn back. And still Abraham continued on.
v.5 "Abide ye here" No one else could be a part of this. This was holy, sacred and personal.
v.6 "Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it upon Isaac his son...and they went both of them together." We don't know definitively how old Isaac was, but he was strong enough to carry the wood that was to be used to burn him. That's a sizable load of wood. That would suggest Isaac must have been at least in his mid teens. The next chapter tells us that Sarah died aged 127. That puts a high end estimate of Isaac's age at the time of this sacrifice around 37. So it seems Isaac must have been somewhere between around 15 and 37 yrs old when his father took him to be sacrificed.
v.7 "Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Where indeed is the lamb - eventually we learn it was a ram with its head in a thicket but Isaac apparently knows nothing of his Father's plan at this point. 
v.8 "God will provide himself a lamb" or "God will provide himself - a lamb"
If this is Abraham's test why should God provide a lamb? Surely the law of sacrifice requires Abraham to give something. Whose sacrifice is this?
What did God provide Abraham in this story? see v.13 it was not a lamb but a ram. I wonder if the point of this verse has been lost and that in fact Isaac was being taught of the foreshadowing that his sacrifice would point to? I wonder if, with that understanding, he took to the altar willingly, and possibly also with the faith that the power of God could raise him from the dead in similitude to Christ's resurrection. Certainly by the next verse, there appears to be no resistance from Isaac to being sacrificed.
v.9 "And they came to the place which God had told him of" Where are they? see v. 2 
The Moriah mountain range - runs within and without what we now know as Jerusalem. Abraham built an altar there, somewhere. What does that tell us? This was not an established temple site at this point. Obviously in the circumstances described here of Abraham building an altar and offering a sacrifice it has become a temple site but why do you think the Lord sent him to this site rather than a previously established temple site that Abraham was already using? 

"and bound Isaac his son" - this is a "lad" strong enough to carry the wood on which he would be burned. That must have been a large amount of wood and therefore Isaac must have been a strong lad. No matter his age - to be that strong and be bound by a man over 100 yrs old seems somewhat far-fetched and instead strongly suggests that Isaac allowed himself to be bound. Why would he do that? What do you think Isaac, learned about himself here? 

The Jewish people call this whole event the "akedah" or the "binding". How might their focus on this particular part of the story lend deeper meaning to the events we read in Genesis 22? In Abraham's personal life the key point of this event is that he showed his God that he was willing to sacrifice his son, to give that which he most loved and had worked hardest for. In essence he loved his God more than anything else. Of course Abraham did not actually sacrifice Isaac but merely demonstrated his willingness to. That was enough for the Lord. But this story was never really about Abraham, as much as it was about foreshadowing the sacrifice of the Saviour. And thus the focus on the binding is greatly significant. Isaac's apparent willingness to allow himself to be bound is a direct reflection on the Saviour's willingness to be bound according to the plan and direction of His Father. This willingness and obedience to His Father's plan is what made the Atonement possible. Both Father and Son had to be willing to sacrifice and herein lies the ultimate sacrifice. 
"For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son..." John 3:16
Heavenly Father gave His Son to be sacrificed, to show us how much He loved us. In obedience to his Father, Christ also willingly allowed himself to be sacrificed because of his love for us. The law of sacrifice is to test and prove someone and to show the depth of their love and allow us in so doing, to get closer to Christ. But here the ultimate sacrifice was performed by God and his Divine Son Jesus Christ. What were they proving and who were they drawing close to by this sacrifice, this Atoning sacrifice, this "at one"-ment?

v.14 "Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh" There is a well-established tradition that the location for this sacrifice (that has come to be known as Mount Moriah) is located on the highly controversial and politically charged Temple Mount. This Mount is also within view of the traditional site of the Lord's final act in the process of his sacrifice - the crucifixion on Calvary (also called by some as Golgotha). While the Temple Mount is within the walls of Jerusalem, the traditional site of Christ's crucifixion is found just outside the old city walls. It is believed Jerusalem got its name when to honour both the righteous city of Salem and to honour the site of Abraham's sacrifice the Jireh and Salem were joined together to form the name Jerusalem that essentially means place from which peace is shown/taught/seen.

v.16-18 "because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son..."
Abraham's blessings are confirmed because he withheld nothing from God.

B.H Roberts the church historian and one of the Seventy wrote,
"when the voice of God came to him commanding him to kill he stood not quibbling or questioning with God, he manifested his readiness to sacrifice even his son unto God's commandment; but when it was clear that Abraham would not even withhold his son from God—when the test was completed, the trial passed, the ram in the thicket was provided, dragged out, and bound in thankfulness upon the altar to take the place of Isaac. How sweet must have been the communion of Abraham with God after that! What confidence must have been his in the presence of God even after that! And how grand the words that came from the lips of Jehovah must have appeared to him, saying: "Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice." Oh! my friends, God indeed calls, nay, demands, sacrifice; but God is able to reward men for their sacrifices, even to the uttermost. You need not doubt it. From that day on, what blessing is there in heaven that Abraham cannot command? What power in the old patriarch now and forever! Marvel you that it is written here in the Doctrine and Covenants that Abraham hath passed by the angels, and is no more an angel, nor a servant, but one of the Gods in the council of the Father? He had the strength and power of it in him, because he had made the sacrifice. (Brian H. Stuy Collected Discourses, 5 vols.)

Doctrine and Covenants 101:4 says that "the saints must be tried, even as Abraham was..." What does that even mean? For further study of this principle, read the lesson notes on the Church History Course Lesson 27
John Taylor once quoted Joseph Smith as saying, 
"'You have all kinds of trials to pas through, and it is quite as necessary for you to be tried even as Abraham, and other men of God,' and, said he, 'God will feel after you, he will take hold of you and wrench your very heartstrings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Kingdom of God.'" (Journal of Discourses XIV, 197)

President Kimball said: 
"If we would seek the blessings Abraham sought, we could also receive such revelation, covenants, promises, and eternal rewards as Abraham received.... Abraham sought for his appointment to the priesthood. He did not wait for God to come to him; he sought diligently through prayer and obedient living to learn the will of God." (Ensign, June 1975, p.7)

From our study of Abraham over the last few weeks one thing that sets him apart was his personal inner drive to seek after righteousness. This is not a man who waited for blessings, who waited for time to teach him the things he needed to learn. He went out and sought after them. He actively looked for and found the Lord. Abraham was not just active in the gospel, he was proactive.

Isaac as a type of Christ
  • Both were born under miraculous circumstances
  • Isaac and Christ were both beloved and only begotten. Isaac was beloved and the only begotten of Abraham through Sarah.
  • Both entered the area of Jerusalem with an ass
  • Both carried the wood upon which they were to be sacrificed
  • Both experiences endured a period of three days
  • Both sacrifices were offered on mountains/hilltops in the Moriah mountain range, in and around Jerusalem.
  • Both willingly offered themselves to be sacrificed and were subservient to the will of the father.
  • Both sons were resurrected or returned to their fathers on the third day. Isaac was as good as dead to his father who fully expected to sacrifice his son. On the third day God provided another sacrifice and Isaac was restored to his father.
Isaac also typifies us. As he was saved from the suffering, so we too are saved from the suffering through the Lord's Atoning sacrifice. 

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