The mountain loomed above the horizon: Moriah. Yet a day away. Its sight signaled the end of Abraham’s journey. He heaved a sigh of relief, welcoming the day because he dreaded the end.
The old man shuffled down the dirt path, leading his donkey bearing wood for a sacrifice. Behind the animal, two servants followed. Isaac, the son he loved, the son of God’s promise, walked stride by stride at his father’s side. Isaac, the sacrifice.
Two days earlier, Abraham had heard the Voice—the One he’d heard occasionally for decades, the One that promised a son from old Sarah, the son to be the first of descendants as many as the sands of the sea.
But, this time the Voice spoke dreadful words: “Abraham take your only son Isaac who you love. Go to Moriah. Sacrifice him there—a burnt offering on the mountain I will show you.”
The sun burned. A hot breeze breathed on the land. But Abraham’s blood ran cold. He thrust a wrinkled hand through wispy hair. How could the Lord God demand Isaac’s sacrifice? His death would break the promise. Worse, it might kill the old man and woman.
Even so, before the next day’s sun broke the horizon, Abraham had gathered wood, saddled his donkey and set out for Mount Moriah, his son by his side.
On the third day, the ground grew steep. Moriah looked desolate now. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “I will take my boy a little farther. We will worship and then come back.”
The words escaped the old man’s mouth. “We will worship and then come back.” Were they words of faith? Of insight deeper than knowledge? Or a hope that sacrifice would somehow not end in death?
Isaac shouldered the wood. Abraham held the fire and knife—the knife with which he’d slaughter his son. “Father,” bewildered Isaac asked as they trudged up the hill, “We have wood and fire. But where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”
Silence. Abraham’s breathing was labored. Then he spoke. Resolutely in hope. Firmly in faith. More than he knew. “My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice.”
They reached the summit. The place of sacrifice. Isaac still held the wood, while Abraham stooped to gather stones. He built an altar. Took the wood from Isaac. Laid it on the altar. Led Isaac to it and lay the boy on the wood. Isaac looked up fearfully, questioning, at his father. “God will provide a lamb.” Father and son remembered the words. But when? Where? The words mocked Abraham now as his shaking hand took the knife. With feet firmly planted, but tottering with desperation, he raised the knife high toward the heavens. One thrust to kill his boy.
He tightened his grip and tensed his muscles. Now! A shout came from heaven: “Abraham, lay down the knife. Do not hurt the boy. For now I know you truly fear God. You have not withheld even your beloved son from me.”
Abraham looked up. Movement in a nearby bush drew his eye. A trapped ram. A sacrifice would be made that day. But not a seemingly senseless one of the promised son. Rather an offering of thanksgiving. As his sacrifice burned toward heaven, Abraham breathed a name for that holy ground—“The Lord will provide.”
* * *
As years passed, Abraham’s descendants multiplied. But so did their sin. They lived estranged from their Lord. As did all mankind. Prophets made it plain their sin was a snare and God’s wrath must fall. Yet through the centuries, Abraham’s words echoed: “God himself will provide the lamb”.
* * *
The cave sheltered animals. But this night it would give sanctuary to a frightened teenager about to give birth and to her anxious husband. Moments passed unnoticed as birth pains increased. The girl moaned, screamed, pushed. And “she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
“God himself will provide the lamb.”