The New Testament's Use of the Old Testament: He Considered that God was Able

The Bible has many human authors. It has one divine author. If only the first statement were true we would not be surprised to find disagreements and inconsistencies between authors. But because the second sentence is true we find that the many human writers are in harmony and consistency with one another. Not only this; later portions help us to understand earlier portions (and vice versa). The New Testament is our best commentary on the Old Testament.

One of the most heart wrenching and excruciating portions of God’s Word is found in Genesis 22:1-19. There we read the account of how God commanded his servant Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. This narrative is so disturbing that the Danish philosopher Sören Kierkegaard wrote a whole book, Fear and Trembling, which is essentially a retelling of the story from several different angles. Despite his multiple retellings of the account, Kierkegaard missed what seems basic. He failed to account for the function of the Abraham/Isaac narrative in the unfolding drama of redemption.

Kierkegaard was certainly right to catch the pathos of the storyline. Isaac was Abraham’s only son. He was Abraham’s beloved son. In fact, Isaac was the son of the promise. Abraham and Sarah had Isaac in old age, well past the ordinary years of childbirth and rearing. Isaac was his parents’ pride and joy. He was the object of their affections. But he was more than that. He was the one who would fulfill the promises God made to Abraham. God promised that Abraham was to have descendants as many as the gritty grains of sand on the seashore and as the sparkling stars in the deep blue night sky. Through Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12, 15, 17, 22).

How could God demand of Abraham this particular sacrifice? How could God require this father to kill this son on an altar? Abraham must have experienced torturous emotions. Should he do it not? God was testing Abraham’s obedience. He was seeking to draw out the fruit of Abraham’s justifying faith. But how did Abraham bring himself to follow through with God’s command? We do not have to ransack our imaginations to answer this question. God provides an answer in Hebrews 11:19. In this verse, God offers his own divine commentary on the Genesis 22 story.

Abraham was not simply a Stoic. He was not stuffing his emotions deep down inside himself. Rather, as the divinely inspired writer to the Hebrews tells us in this vignette from the “hall of faith” Abraham actually believed that God was able to raise his beloved son Isaac from the dead, we pick-up this scent in Genesis 22:7-8 when Isaac asks Abraham where the lamb for the sacrifice was. They had the wood. They had the fire. But where the sacrificial lamb? Perhaps we have thought that Abraham’s response was simply a way to distract Isaac - a way to put off the disquieting question.

But that is not so. Abraham told Isaac, “God would provide for himself the lamb.” Abraham was able to obey what seemed like a totally horrendous divine command because he believed God could and would raise his beloved Isaac from off the altar. As it turned out, the angel of the Lord prevented Abraham from slaughtering his son before the knife pierced his flesh. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, Abraham received his son back from the dead “figuratively speaking.” The New Testament helps us to understand the substance of Abraham’s faith.

But it tells us so much more. The New Testament tells us of a Father who gave up his only beloved Son as a sacrifice for sinners (John 3:16 & Romans 8:32). This same Father would raise his Son by his Holy Spirit (Romans 1:4) for our justification (Romans 4:25). God spared Abraham the heartbreak of sacrificing his only beloved son. But he himself gave up his only beloved Son Jesus Christ for our sins. By raising him and not Isaac, he has bestowed new life upon us in Christ. If you believe on this Jesus Christ you too will be raised from the dead, not figuratively, but really.

Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum.  Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.

Jeffrey Waddington