Zacharias has just recovered his speech after nearly a year without it. And when he finished his spontaneous praise of the LORD, he was filled with the Holy Spirit. And he prophesied. Joining a list of God’s holy prophets who have been speaking God-inspired-utterances since the world began. Moved by His Spirit to solemnly and sincerely declare to men what they received by divine inspiration. Declaring things – glorious things – before they happened.
Zacharias suddenly and impulsively broke forth into a divine dialogue of blessing and praising and speaking well of God. Celebrating Him with praises.
for He has visited and redeemed His people
The same way He visited Sarah, and He fulfilled the promise He had spoken to her, and she became pregnant with Isaac. And the same way He visited Hannah, and she became pregnant with Samuel (and then five additional children). And the same way God visited His people and took them out of Egypt, redeeming them from their slavery. Job wondered at how God was even mindful of man. That He would visit them every morning. That I can take my coffee every morning with cream and a full serving of His Word and He would be there. To visit. Checking in with me when I check in with Him. A Shepherd counting His flock daily. Making sure every single one of His sheep is present and accounted for. He visits His people. And that day, Zacharias was overwhelmed with wonder that God had visited Mary. And she had become pregnant with the holy Babe the world had been waiting for. And through that Babe, was going to redeem His people. He continued prophetically thanking God in advance of redeeming His people, recognizing that to do that,
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
Or, more literally, He has caused a horn of salvation to be born. A symbol that speaks of strength. And power. Of bulls and rams who use their horns powerfully and defensively. Without them, they have no power to fight back. They are all baaa with no bite.
Hundreds of years before Elizabeth-who-was-barren became a miracle-mother, Sarah had her own experience of God visiting her. And fulfilling His promise by giving her the strength to conceive at the age of 90. Several years later, her husband was faced with a vastly difficult decision.
God asked for Isaac back
There are many resources pointing to the fact that this was approximately two decades after his miracle birth. Commentators and lexicons alike agree on the fact that Isaac was, in fact, a young man – a detailed and information-rich story for another blog post on another day. But on this day? God asked Abraham to give his son back to Him in a story that is as difficult to swallow now as it was difficult for Abraham to hear then. And understand. And obey.
But he did. Rising up early in the morning, gathering everything together and likely checking in with God. Pleading with Him. Surely I heard You wrong, he thought as he saddled his donkey. This can’t end how it sounds it will end, he pondered, stifling his anxiety and releasing his anger through the axe as he split the wood. And he gathered his son (who was now a grown young man) and a couple of servants. And they began their journey. Abraham leading the way without any explanation as to where they were going.
And then they got there to that place that only he knew of. And Abraham went aside, walking a safe distance away, to worship alone. And check in again. Desperate for discernment. And clarification. God this cannot be right! Please, let there be some other way! Jesus did the same thing the night before He died. Begging God to take the cup from Him. And I wonder if Abraham found the faith to pray the same way Jesus would so many centuries later: Nevertheless, not my will but Thy will be done.
When Abraham was done worshiping – when he had found renewed strength to continue on in this awfully difficult journey – he came back to where he had left his son. And he handed Isaac the split wood. All of it. Enough for him to lay down upon for the burnt offering that God had asked of Abraham. Enough wood to be too heavy for a young boy to carry. And the man that had raised his son of two decades took the torch with the fire and the knife. And together, the two men began the long climb up Mount Moriah.
It didn’t take long for Isaac to begin piecing it all together. With the weight of the wood heavy on his back, he began to wonder. “Hey Dad,” he called up the trail. “You have the fire. And I have the wood. But where’s the lamb?”
Abraham swallowed down hard, trying to steady the shake in his voice and speak around the lump in his throat. Simultaneously answering and praying:
God will provide for Himself the lamb
And they continued on – walking to the place that God had told Abraham to go. On the same mountain that God had dramatically met David. And David, in response, built an altar on the threshing floor of another man’s property that was so life-changing to him that he bought it. An altar for the same burnt offering that Abraham was about to make. In the same place that David would later instruct Solomon to build the temple. In that place, they stopped. And Abraham built his own altar. And placed the wood on it. And when the rope came out, and Abraham looked to his son, all the pieces came together. But this young man that could easily overpower his elderly father allowed himself to be bound. And laid on the altar. Upon the wood that he had just carried up the mountain himself.
And when Abraham took his knife, the Angel appeared. And stopped him. And Abraham turned around and saw the ram that was caught in a thorn bush by its horns. And he took the God-Himself-provided-the-sacrifice. Different than what God had told him. Different than the lamb he was probably praying for. Because God always does things a little bit differently than we expect Him to. And he offered the burnt offering with the different-than-expected ram. And he called that place YHWH Yireh – the LORD will provide.
That day, on that mountain, God provided the horn that would trap the ram and become the “instead of” sacrifice. The horn that represents power. And strength.
Twenty years earlier, God had given Sarah strength to conceive. And that day, God gave Abraham strength to obey. And believe that God would have some way of rectifying this scenario that was painful. And confusing. And He also gave Isaac strength to obey. To respectfully and submissively yield to his father. And carry the wood up the mountainside himself. And lay down on top of it. The same way that Jesus carried the wood that formed His cross up another hill. And laid down on top of it while the nails were pounded. And His blood was shed. And He died. Jesus – the “instead-of-me” sacrifice – was the only Man whose shed blood could provide salvation. And redeem sin. And God? He was the only Father who would ever have to sacrifice His only Son.
Isaac wasn’t a suitable offering. Because the answered prayer itself won’t save you. The thing you’ve waited for so long for. The thing that God promised you. It won’t save you. And the career won’t save you. Nor will the bank account. Or the accolades. Or the fame. Or your children. None of those things will save you.
Isaac had the opportunity to bolt straight back down the mountain and away what could be seen as his father’s hair-brained scheme. But he didn’t. And Jesus had the power to walk away from the cross. To call down legions of angels from heaven. But He didn’t.
As the space around our trees begin filling with beautifully wrapped packages, let’s remember that none of those things will save us. And we have to love Him more than all those other things that are vying to take our attention off of Him on His holiday.
LORD thank You that You provided Your son as a sacrifice in our place, and no one else’s. Help us to understand that just because we think we see something as happening one way doesn’t mean that’s how You will end it. Thank You that You keep us on our toes, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t possibly figure out exactly how You will answer prayer. That sometimes the lamb we expect sometimes ends up being a ram. Thank You that You have our very best at heart. Even when we don’t quite understand. And through the pain of it, may we still go aside alone to worship You.