There were two categories of offerings for which God gave instructions to His people in the Old Testament in Leviticus chapters 1-3 and 4-6. One type was offerings for sin. When an Israelite took their sin or trespass offering to the priest, they were essentially saying, “I deserve to die, but this lamb is going to die in my place.” The other type of offering was for a sweet savor to God and was not related to specific acts of sin. I believe this second type of offering was in view when God asked Abraham to offer up His only son to God as a burnt offering (though the Mosaic covenant had not yet been given). It appeals to me that the burnt offering, being an offering of free will, was also an expression of identification with the animal that was to die. The offerer laid his hands on the offering, identifying himself with it. In Leviticus 1:4 we learn that the burnt offering was for atonement– that God might accept the offerer– but it seems to me that this offering was deeper than a simple acknowledgment of a wrong action. This was not now an acknowledgment that I deserve to die, but rather was a willing laying down of one’s own life before God in consecration, acknowledging the LORD’s worth and worthiness, while at the same time acknowledging the offerer’s own unworthiness and inability to serve God acceptably in his own strength. As the lamb of the burnt offering died, the offerer said not now, “I deserve to die,” but rather, “LORD, I give myself as a consecrated offering to Thee. In myself I cannot please Thee, but through this offering, accept my heart and life as I lay it down for Thee to use” (Romans 12:1).
God asked Abraham to give back to Him the most precious possession that he had– his own son. The miracle child. The one God had said would be the heir through whom God would bless the whole world. But now God was asking Abraham to offer him. Would not this destroy the promises? God had said specifically, “Through Isaac your descendants shall be named” (Gen. 21:12). But Abraham and Isaac were walking up a mountain, and Isaac was asking, “Father, where is the lamb?” Abraham, like Job, refused to charge God and become angry with God for requiring the return of that which He had given. Instead of being angry at God for negating His own miracle, Abraham believed God and trusted Him for another miracle. The same God who could bring life out of death at his son’s entry into this world was the God who could bring life out of death at his son’s exit from this world (Hebrews 11:19).
There on that mountain, with knife in hand, it must have felt like he was about to take his own life. His own son was on the altar, and surely Abraham would have chosen to give his own life rather than his son’s. And essentially, that is what happened on Mount Moriah (Gen. 22). It was the climax of Abraham’s song to God… “Take my life and let it be, Consecrated, LORD, to Thee.” Abraham put the Giver before the gift and the Blesser before the blessing. God did provide for Himself a lamb that day, but He also provided the Lamb of God, His own beloved Son, as a blessing that flowed and continues to flow out to the whole world. A blessing that flowed from the faith of one man who was willing to trust God and die to himself. A burnt offering.