A snake strikes up a conversation with a naked woman. A donkey chews out a cursing preacher on his back for whipping him. Ravens fly breakfast and dinner to a hungry prophet. All sorts of weird things happen in the Bible. But it’s not just with animals. A sea unzips its surface and bodybags a whole army of Egyptians. Rivers give a round of applause. Cypress trees and cedars mock defeated Babylon. All of creation has a part to play in the great saga of salvation. Let me tell you about one of those characters in this saga. It’s not a snake or a bird or a sea. It’s a mountain. I bet it’s a story you haven’t heard before. And I bet it’s one you’ll never forget.
There’s a young man, ropes around his wrists, and stretched out atop firewood that’s been arranged on a makeshift altar. There’s a father, standing above him, the hilt of a knife clasped in his hand, the blade lifted high. “Take your son,” God had told Abraham, “your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” That’s where they are. On Moriah. The place where the father is to sacrifice his son. Yet he doesn’t. A split second before the knife plummets, an angel stops Abraham. In the stead of his son, the father offers a ram caught in a nearby thicket as a burnt offering. Here is where the story begins. On Mt. Moriah, God provides a substitute to die in Isaac’s place.
Fast-forward a few centuries. In the latter years of his reign, David has incensed the Lord by commanding a census be taken of all Israel. Catastrophic casualties follow as a plague steamrolls through the land. Finally a skyscraping angel unsheathes his sword over Jerusalem. David hurries up Moriah, to a threshing floor owned by a local farmer. He buys the plot of ground and the oxen used for threshing. He builds an altar, kills the beasts, and flames fall from the sky upon the altar to consume their bodies. The plague stops, the angel sheathes his sword, Zion is saved. On Mt. Moriah, God provides oxen to die in order that his people might be spared.
The son of David, wise Solomon, built the temple of the Lord on this exact spot (2 Chron 3:1). On this mountain where the promised son, Isaac, had been spared by the sacrifice of a ram in his stead. On this mountain where Jerusalem was spared by the sacrifice of oxen in their stead. On this mountain, Moriah, the house of God was erected and the massive altar set up. Here, year after year, morning and evening, the blood of cattle, sheep, goats, and birds was spilled. Their bodies reduced to ashes. Until the time appointed, these beasts died in the stead of God’s people. They bore the guilt of sinners. Onto their heads was transferred the sin of the congregation. And through their blood shed and bodies burnt, the Lord provided cleansing and forgiveness to his people. On Mt. Moriah, God provided sacrifice after sacrifice in order that his people might be spared.
But the story of Moriah was far from over. For these three stories are but the pre-story to why this mountain is so important. For what Abraham and David and Solomon did not do, could not do, a greater one did.
Jesus wrote the last chapter of Moriah. He made this mountain his own. He climbed Mt. Moriah, to enter his Father’s house, time and again. He taught on this mountain. He turned over the tables of the money-changers like a madman on this mountain. On Moriah, he declared, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it.” He spend the last week of his life on this mountain. And he brought this mountain’s story to its peak.
Jesus was not killed in Bethlehem as a baby, or in Galilee or Samaria as an adult. He couldn’t be, for it was necessary for him to die in Jerusalem, where Moriah is. He is the promised Seed of Abraham, the new and better Isaac. He is the promised Son of David, the new and better Solomon. He is the tabernacle and temple of God. And he is the Son who is not spared, but given up for us all. At his death, the angels outside Eden sheathe their swords and welcome us back into the paradise of God. He is the lamb of God, upon the altar of the cross, who transforms Golgotha into Moriah. He is the substitute, by whose sacrifice we are not just spared, but welcomed into the life and family of the Father.
When Abraham offered a ram in the stead of Isaac, he called the name of this place Yahweh-Yireh, meaning, “The LORD will provide,” as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”
Indeed, it will. And it was. God provided his Son. And in that Son, we receive everything.
What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!