December the 2nd finds us again in the book of Genesis, in chapter 15, verses 1-6:
After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars - if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
It is estimated that the Milky Way galaxy has about 150 billion stars. That’s 15 with ten zeros after it. In 2003, NASA estimated that there may be as many as 200 billion galaxies like ours. They arrived at that number by examining 10 years of photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope, from one small sliver of space, and extrapolating that number over the rest of space. That is a total of 30 sextillion stars, or a 3 with twenty two zeros after it. And that is just what they can see.
About the same time, researchers at the University of Hawaii estimated the number of the grains of sand on all the seashores and in all deserts in the world (who would know more about sand than a Hawaiian?). Their estimate came to 7 quintillion, 500 quadrillion, or 75 with seventeen zeros after it. These are very rough estimates but, if they even close to correct then, there are more stars in the heavens than there are grains of sand on all the seashores and in all deserts in the world.
In Isaiah chapter 40, verse 26 we find:
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
That’s our God!! That is the God who created the stars, and the heavens they reside in. That is the God who calls each star by name. That is the God who promised Abram that he would be the father of a great nation. But in Genesis chapter 11, verse 30 we are told that Abram's wife, Sarai, was unable to conceive:
Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.
Abraham had heard this promise many times. In Genesis chapter 17, verses 15-19 we find:
God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”
Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah 90 when she bore him Isaac. But then we see in Genesis chapter 22, verses 1-18:
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 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.”
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. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 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.”
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, 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?” Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by Myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me."
God was asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. But he still believed God's promise, that Isaac was the son of the promise. Abraham believed that God’s covenant would be fulfilled through Isaac. We aren’t told how old Isaac is at this time, but he must have been at least a teenager, maybe 12 or 15 years old, and that would mean that Abraham was 112 or 115 years old. Isaac was strong enough to carry the wood up the mountain, he must have been strong enough to resist Abraham tying him up and putting him on the altar.
When I was in graduate school, my wife Barb, our oldest son Jacob, and I lived in married student housing. Jake was about two years old at this time. One of our favorite activities was laying on the small hill just outside of our apartment on clear summer nights and just watch the stars. I think Abraham must have told Isaac many times about God's promise, at night, when the stars were at their brightest. I think they both believed God's promise. I think they both knew that, somehow, they both would come back. You can see his confidence in the promise of God in Genesis 22, verse 5:
We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
We are told in the book of Hebrews chapter 11, verses 17-19:
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced 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 even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
In Genesis chapter 22, verse 14 (shown in the passage above) we find:
So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”
Abraham did not delay. We are told that Abraham got up early the next morning and loaded his donkey. He knew that God’s covenant was going to be through Isaac. The passage from Hebrews chapter 11 above tells us that “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead”. So he trusted that God would work something out, even if he didn’t know what that something would be. Abraham called that mountain Jehovah-Jireh, Hebrew for “The LORD Will Provide”. The root word for Jireh is translated “to see” but combined the name Jehovah it is translated “The Lord will provide.”
It is interesting to note that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. There is estimated to be between 400 and 500 years between the birth of Isaac and Moses leading Israel out of Egypt but, after this 400 to 500 year gap, Moses says “And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’ ”.
And to this day, December 2, 2019, God still provides for our needs. I have seen this time and time again in my own life, especially since the accident that disabled me. As the lyrics in the song Reckless Love say: “You have so so good to me.”
Today's text in Genesis is another foreshadowing of Christ's death on the cross. Abraham's son, Isaac, didn't have to die; the ram died instead. And we don't have to die either. Jesus came to die in our place. The ornament that goes beneath the tree on our Advent calendar today is a ram.