‘Your son, your only son, whom you love’


the-crucifixionTomorrow evening, I will preach on Genesis 22, ‘the Aqedah’, ‘the Binding of Isaac’. I turned to Fleming Rutledge’s section on this solemn passage in The Crucifixion, and found a thoughtful reflection on the text, both sensitive to the features of the biblical passage and open to canonical and theological developments.

Among the significant challenges presented by this passage, is how to relate the narrative of Abraham’s faithful obedience to the horrifying instruction he received and the narrative of the crucifixion of Jesus. Rutledge offers the following ‘Good Friday reading’ of the story (p.266):

We note two verses especially: “The Lord himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” and “You have not withheld your son, your only son, whom you love.” Abraham is for us the unparalleled example of steadfast trust in unimaginable circumstances. God never asked this of anyone else; it was a onetime event, never to be repeated. Never, that is, until the day of the ultimate “counter-attack” (Calvin), God seeming to be against God, when God’s own Son cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

For Isaac, a substitute was provided – Abraham saw a ram caught in the underbrush.”God himself will provide the lamb for an offering, my son.” When Jesus came to the cross to bear the sin of the world in fathomless darkness, there was no substitute for him. He himself was the Lamb. God did not withhold his son, his only son. The Son himself became the substitute – for us. But the crucial difference between the Aqedah and the cross, finally, is that the Father is not sacrificing the Son. God the Father and God the Son together, with a single will, enacted the eternal purpose of God that the second person of the blessed Trinity would become “once for all” the perfect burnt offering, for us human beings and for our salvation.