Mountain to Mountain: Mount Moriah to Mount Zion

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5)

Between my sophomore and junior years in college, I spent the summer working in Yakima, Washington. I stayed with Joe Johnson, a college classmate and a native of Yakima.

One weekend, Joe and I decided to climb one of the smaller mountains in the Mount Rainer National Park. It took us several hours to reach the top of the mountain. It was a hard, sweaty, worthwhile climb. However, we had misjudged how long it would take us to get to the pinnacle of that mountain. So, we only had a few hours to get back down before nightfall.

We had to do double-time coming down the mountain. Sliding down loose gravel; holding onto small trees; always watching for loose rocks or dangerous holes. The last hour was the scariest because it got real dark, real fast. We were extremely grateful when we finally made it down the mountain. Joe’s ugly orange pick-up never looked so good.

The two of us felt excitement when we started our climb, but were filled with anxiety when we were coming down the mountain. Those emotions must have been reversed and compounded for Abraham. He felt fear and dread as made the three-day trek up Mount Moriah. But, then he felt elation and exhilaration when he was coming down the mountain.

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. (Genesis 22:1-8)

The Lord came to Abraham and instructed him to take his son, his only son, to Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Abraham was faithful. This was a terribly difficult test. To obey God’s command, Abraham had to disregard everything his heart and his reason told him, and to concentrate totally on God’s promise: “My covenant I will establish with Isaac” (Genesis 17:21). The epistle to the Hebrews helps us to understand Abraham’s attitude: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (Hebrews 11:17-19) If there was a conflict between God’s command and God’s promise, resolving that conflict was God’s business. Abraham’s business was to put God first and obey God’s clear command.

Before, Abraham had subverted God’s promises by taking matters into his own hands by lying about Sarah to Pharaoh and sleeping with Hagar so he might have a son. But this time Abraham gets up early, cuts the wood for the sacrifice and with two servants and Isaac, sets out for the land of Moriah, a 50-mile journey.

When they reached the site, three days later, Abraham orders the servants to stay, while he and Isaac go on ahead. Abraham’s instructions to the servants are significant for two reasons. “I and the boy will worship …”  Abraham is about to sacrifice his son and what word does he use to describe the act? “Worship.” When we think of worship we typically think of offering a song or a prayer or an hour or a gift. But when Abraham worshiped, he offered his son. He offered the biggest part of his life to God.

He also told his servants, “… and then we will come back to you.” During the three-day walk, Abraham had plenty of time to consider how all the Messianic promises were through Isaac. So, if Abraham had to kill Isaac, then God was simply going to bring Isaac back to life. His son would be raised from the dead and the two of them would come back down the mountain.

Abraham is silent as father and son walk up Mt. Moriah together. Isaac breaks the silence, “Father, where is the lamb for sacrifice?” The answer must have cut Abraham like a knife. He answers, “The Lord will provide.”

Sin requires sacrifice. Blood must be shed to pay the price. Payment must be made to satisfy the debt. Sin has exiled man from God, and the only way to return from this exile is to pay the price demanded … and the price is blood. So, to satisfy the payment demanded, Abraham prepares to offer up his only son.

Isaac is the sacrifice. He carries the wood for the sacrifice upon his shoulders. Silent. Innocent. Bound. Laid upon the altar. His father gives him a parting kiss (perhaps an extra kiss from Sarah). Abraham takes the knife and raises his hand to give the final cut to Isaac’s throat.

Until … until the Angel of the Lord calls out with a doubly urgent, “Abraham, Abraham.” The Lord stays Abraham’s hand. The Lord provides a sacrifice, a ram caught in the thicket. And thus it is said, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

There are Christological implications all over this text! When you really dig down, you can’t help but make connections to Jesus Christ.

The Lord said to Abraham: “Your only son Isaac, whom you love.” Obviously, Abraham has another son, Ishmael. How then should we understand, “your only son”? Looking at the language of the entire chapter, we can see a connection to the only-begotten Son of God. We are more like Ishmael. Jesus is like Isaac.

Donkeys are quite capable of navigating the mountains (hills) in this part of the country of Israel. Why does Abraham leave the donkey behind? The answer is seen in his placing the wood on his son Isaac, who then bears the wood upon which he will be sacrificed further up the mountain. Again, a strong Christological connection is evident. Jesus would carry the wood of His cross beam so that He could be laid upon it as the sacrifice.

This account is so powerful and the drama so intense; the faith is so shocking and the rescue so amazing, that the Hebrew people will later build the temple upon this very mountain. Mount Moriah is where God dwells with His people. But, Mount Moriah later comes to be known as Mount Zion, in the midst of Jerusalem.

The Hebrew people revere this account of Abraham and Isaac so highly that it has its own title and place in their faith. They call it the Aqedah, which is the Hebrew word for “binding.” Isaac is the only “bound,” tied-down sacrifice in the Old Testament. All other sacrifices are first killed and then placed upon the altar as their blood is poured and sprinkled. Isaac is the only bound sacrifice, the only living sacrifice in the Old Testament. In the rest of the Bible, there is only one more.

Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is the only New Testament sacrifice to be found. He is nailed to the altar of the cross to suffer and die. He is both the only begotten Son and the substitute ram for the sacrifice.

Sin, our sin, has exiled us from God. Humans were created to be close to God, to walk with God in the cool of the day, to enjoy each other’s presence. But, sin has driven us away from our relationship with our heavenly Father. Now, we hide from God. We blame others for our behavior. We have committed crimes against our holy and just Judge. That means that payment must be made.

The payment that God our Judge demands is blood.

Thankfully, the Lord provides that blood for us. “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” But, this sacrifice did not take place on Mount Zion. The reason Jesus is not sacrificed on the Temple Mount is due to the law that forbids the killing of a human within the city gates. Thus, we see Jesus is sacrificed on Mount Calvary, outside of the city; as a result, He is connected with the scapegoat of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) which was taken outside the camp (or city), bearing the sins of Israel.

Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Father and the substitute ram, sheds His blood on Mount Calvary. The Lord provides the final sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Abraham makes a three-day journey to Mount Moriah prior to the sacrifice of his son; but Jesus’ three-day journey follows His sacrifice. For three days, He lies in the tomb. For three days, the grave holds Him. But on that third day, Jesus is lifted up to new life, a glorious resurrection. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God provided His Son, His only Son, as the sacrifice required for sin, and all who believe in Him shall not perish. For God provides everlasting life, on this mountain.

Mount Moriah to Mount Zion—a return from exile. We who have been exiled from the presence of God by our sin have been returned to His presence, restored to His face, reunited on this mountain. On this mountain, God provides His only Son, and He provides the bloody payment for sin. On this mountain, our exile has ended. Because of what happened on Mount Calvary, now we are able to climb the new Mount Zion in heaven. All because, on the mountain, the Lord provides. Our fear and dread have turned to elation and exhilaration. Amen.