One of the parallels that is often drawn between the Old Testament and the New Testament is that between Issac and Jesus - both of whom are the only begotten sons of their fathers; both of whom were appointed as sacrifices. As Abraham raised a knife over his long-awaited son, the Romans raised hammers over God's beloved. There is no need to rehash all of the parallels here; they are well-documented.
There is one, however, which is often overlooked, and it is of vital importance to our full understanding of God:
Both Isaac and Jesus were second sons.
They were, to be sure, only-begottens, but they were still second sons. Isaac had an older half-brother named Ishmael, the son of his father Abraham and his mother's concubine, Hagar. And while you might say that Ishmael was begotten, since he was the seed of his father, it is the fertile womb of his mother that makes him otherwise. He was born outside of the covenant of marriage, and therefore, he was not legitimately begotten.
This is important, however, because it changes the dynamic of what happens on Mount Moriah. We always think what a tragedy it must have been for Abraham to be led into this situation, the heartbreak he must have felt holding a knife over his innocent child, the son he had so long waited for, the promised child who would continue his name. And all of this is true. But the tragedy of Mount Moriah is deepened by the tragedy of the wilderness. You see, a decade or so earlier, Abraham had lost his first son after being forced to send him away.
Abraham's sacrifice of his only-begotten dwells in deepest heartache because of the fate of his firstborn. He is on the verge of losing two sons, and there is no telling whether either one will ever come back to him.
The same can be said of God.
Jesus was God's only-begotten son; John 3:16 reminds us potently of this. But He was also a second son. He had an older half-brother named Adam, the work of His Father's hands. God formed Adam from the dust and breathed into Him the very breath of life. He was not begotten, not in the same sense that Jesus was, but the life of God flowed through him. And like Ishmael, Adam was brought into existence outside of covenant. (We do not see God form a covenant with His people until Abraham, ironically, where this parallel story begins to develop. That is no theological accident.)
We sort of understand some of this when we talk about the Cross, although we do not necessarily draw the importance from it that it is meant to have. God sent His Son.... yes, He did. And it was a tragedy. But the tragedy of Golgotha is deepened, again, by the tragedy of the wilderness. You see, long before the crucifixion, God had lost His first son after being forced to send him away. (Cast out of Eden, anyone?)
So as with Abraham, God's sacrifice of His only-begotten dwells in deepest heartache because of the fate of His first-formed. In the Cross, God lost His second son. He knew that Jesus was coming back to Him; that was never in question. But the question remained whether, even after all of this, He'd ever see His first-formed again. Would His first son, Adam (and by extension, mankind), come back to Him?
The parallels between Isaac and Jesus are well-known, and for good reason, but this is the one we always seem to miss. And in many ways, I think this adds a richness to the parallels that cannot, or should not, be ignored. These only-begottens are second sons.
The tragedy of their sacrifice is deepened by the wanderings of the firstborns.
And where do we fit in? That's more complicated still. Stay tuned....