Abraham, Isaac, and the Servant: The Pactum Salutis


There is a reason we are enamored with The Shack. We have a longing to see God’s purposes played out in metaphor, in terms we can touch and taste and feel. We are feeble creatures, and we need spiritual realities to be depicted in physical terms. The Shack scratches an itch–albeit poorly, like when you reach your hand over your shoulder and can’t quite hit that spot in the middle of your back.

We devour William Young’s cheap–and heretical–fiction because we don’t know how to read the Old Testament. We are all so itchy…because we don’t realize the Old Testament satisfies our longing for eternal Gospel metaphors.

Peter writes, “It was revealed to [the Old Testament saints] that they were serving not themselves but you…” (1 Peter 1:12). God sculpted the story lines of these men and women–at times asking them to act out events that would not occur for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years–so that we, believers living on this side of the cross, would recognize the beauty of the Gospel when it was fully revealed in Christ.

Forget Papa, awkward, bumbling Jesus, and Sarayu. Let’s consider Abraham, Isaac, and the Servant.

Father Abraham.

Genesis 17 is a turning point in Abraham’s life. God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:4-5). The LORD continued, “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you through their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your offspring after you.”

This covenant between God and Abraham, the Father of nations, was completely unnecessary. God didn’t have to reveal his plans for Abraham’s offspring. He didn’t have to make this decree of covenant loyalty to Abraham and his seed. But God did. Here in Genesis 17, God makes Father Abraham privy to his divine decree. He establishes beforehand with Father Abraham his plan to create a people made up of many nations.

As a participant in this covenant, Abraham, the Father of multitudes, agrees to God’s foreordained purposes involving his offspring. In so doing, Abraham plays the part of God the Father in Act One of the Divine Comedy. All of the plans are established beforehand for his offspring–a multitude from many nations.

Isaac the Son.

1024px-Sacrifice_of_Isaac-Caravaggio_(Uffizi)Abraham finally received his promised child at the age of 100.  Isaac was born to his wife Sarah, and God singled him out as the sole heir of His promises. However, the moment after God told Abraham to fix all of his hopes and dreams upon Isaac, he commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. He directed Abraham to a certain mountain. There he would slay his only beloved son on an altar to God.

As Isaac obediently carried the wood on his back, he asked his father, “Behold, the fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:7-8). Abraham bound his son, laid him on the wood, raised his knife…and just then, the angel of the LORD cried out, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”  Then lifting up his eyes, Abraham saw the substitute ram which God did provide for the sacrifice.

God didn’t make Abraham almost sacrifice his child of promise, his only beloved son, as some harsh trick.  Isaac’s sacrifice is the central event of the second act of God’s Divine Comedy. The Beloved Son comes into the world, carries the wood on his back and a substitutionary death occurs. Isaac the son is a picture of Jesus, God the Son, and his necessary sacrifice.

The Servant the Spirit.

When it comes time to find a wife for his son Isaac, Abraham commissions a nameless servant: “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac” (Gen. 24:2-4). He puts his servant under oath to go and choose the right wife for Isaac.

So, gathering up “all sorts of choice gifts from his master…he arose and went” (Gen. 24:10). After praying that God would provide the perfect bride for Abraham’s son Isaac, he came to a well where he encountered Rebekah, a woman who was “very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known” (Gen. 24:16). Long story short, the servant recognizes this as God’s chosen bride for Isaac, she expresses her willingness to return with him to marry Isaac, and he showers her with all of the choice gifts he brought.

This is Act 3 of the Divine Comedy. The Father, Abraham, sent his nameless Servant to gather up a bride for his Son. He finds a beautiful, spotless, and pure woman. He bestows gifts upon her, and they begin their trek back to her betrothed husband.  The servant plays the role of the Holy Spirit, who searches the whole earth, gathering up the bride of Christ, the Church, and bestowing on them God’s choice gifts.

The Consummation.

Act 3 ends in fantastic fashion. As Rebekah and the servant enter the promised land, the shadow of a man appears on the horizon. She asks, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?”  The servant says, “It is my master.” (Gen. 24:65). The story finishes, “Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her” (Gen. 24:67).

This is not just the end of a beautiful love story. This is a picture of the happy ending of God’s Divine Comedy. The Book of Revelation narrates the beautiful finish of God’s plan: the Bride of Christ will finally be joined to her Husband forever. The marriage of Isaac and Rebekah gives us a picture of the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Narratives deeper and richer (not to mention inspired by God) than The Shack are waiting for us if we will only put down the paperback drivel and pick up the leather bound OT. On this side of the cross, we can see that the characters and stories found there are shadows of things to come (Colossians 2:17).

If we will only take up and read them.

In the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and the Servant we see glimpses of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The narrative arcs toward a glorious happily ever after wedding between the Son and his Bride. We, the Church, are that Bride gathered up from the furthest corners of the world traveling across the wilderness back to the Son. One day, we too will lift up our eyes, and seeing him from a distance, we will say, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?”  Then the Holy Spirit will say, “It is my master.”

(photo creditphoto credit)

Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC

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