It makes a difference what time of year you stand on the Mount of Olives and look across the Kidron and Haggai Valleys, now ribboned by a modern road, at that north-south stretch of land more commonly called Mount Zion. While today, the “Temple Mount” – as it is referred to – is controlled by Muslims, it is thought of by many as the site of one of the first mountains referred to in Scripture. Its ridge is about a mile long and a quarter mile wide.
When you stand looking at the Temple Mount in March, it is typically cool, maybe occasionally rainy or misty, flowers are in full bloom, and you can focus more on the fragrances of the olive trees that grow in abundance there. When you stand looking at the Temple Mount in July, there are still flowers but the heat is oppressive. Of course, I have been twice in July and only once in March. But, I would not have traded any of those experiences. You have to stand there for a long time if you want to soak up all that is to be contemplated regarding that little strip of land. Its significant events span thousands of years. Some have suggested that it was even the place where Abraham met Melchizedek in Genesis 14. Whether or not that’s true, some of the biggest moments in history took place up on Mount Moriah. There is also an unbreakable thread which ties those events together, an arduously woven thread called “sacrifice.”
Genesis 22 – The Sacrifice of Faith
God has been doing for Abraham, protecting him, providing for him, and promising him. In Genesis 21:33, Abraham plants a tamarisk tree at Beersheba and calls on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. After living there many days, God asks Abraham to make a sacrifice. As you read this account, please remember that God doesn’t want Isaac’s life; He wanted Abraham’s. Genesis 22:1-14 is such a powerful demonstration of what qualifies as sacrificial faith.
Love leads to sacrificial faith. It’s interesting that this is the first occurrence of “love” in the Bible, and it isn’t a reference to marital love, brotherly love, love of country, or even love for God or the love of God. It’s used of a parent’s love for his child. Consider Abraham’s response to Isaac’s innocent question: “Where’s the lamb for the burnt offering?” (22:5). He doesn’t scold him or ignore him. He gently replies, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering. So the two of them went together” (22:6). In fact, this love involved togetherness, tenderness, and, later, teaching truth transparently. Underlying all of this is Abraham’s love for God. After all, “he was called the friend of God” (James 2:23; Isaiah 41:8). What will move me to give up what’s mine–my time, talent, energy, and money? What has caused people to give until they could not give more? Love! The fact that Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, whom he loved (22:2), shows that he loved God more.
Submission leads to sacrificial faith. God gives Abraham three concise commands when He speaks to him–“take,” “go,” and “offer.” There is no record of Abraham arguing, disagreeing, reasoning, or rationalizing. The Bible gives no indication that he even delayed, as hard as his task was (22:3). His submission is tied to his great faith (Hebrews 11:17-19). When I can get off the throne of my heart and put God there, where He belongs, I will do whatever it takes to please and satisfy Him. It’s what life is all about (Luke 9:23-26).
Optimism leads to sacrificial faith. What can move a hopeless person to sacrifice? But if someone believes there is something to be gained by giving something lesser up, what won’t they sacrifice? Abraham concluded “that God was able to raise [Isaac] up, even from the dead” (Hebrews 11:19). He was a man who “hoped against hope” (Romans 4:18). Abraham faced a daunting, frightening future, but he did so with an optimism born of who God is! The need has never been greater for us to have this hope, and we can legitimately have it (1 John 3:1)!
Second Samuel 24 – The Sacrifice of Repentance
It’s hard to fully understand David’s motivation in numbering the people. Second Samuel 24:1 says the anger of the Lord burned against Israel and First Chronicles 21:1 says that Satan stood up against Israel. However that worked together, it moved David to take a census of Israel and Judah. David’s four words for his error are “sin,” “iniquity,” and “foolishness” (Second Samuel 24:10) and “wrong” (24:17). He seeks a remedy for his costly decision. 70,000 men of the people from Dan to Beersheba die of a plague (24:15), and the angel of the LORD relaxed His hand by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (24:16). The remedy comes with David’s two-fold sacrifice. The first sacrifice was of oxen made on an altar (24:18,24). The second sacrifice was of money given to buy the threshing floor, which Araunah tried to give David. The king’s reply is, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (24:24).
That threshing floor was located at the very place where the temple would ultimately be built (Second Chronicles 3). What a historical reminder for subsequent Jews who gathered at the place of worship, to remember this place as where David sacrificed in repenting of this egregious sin. Repentance is the hardest part of God’s expectations for us. It involves a change of direction, a change of affection, and a change of action (Acts 3:19; Second Corinthians 7:10-11). It means saying no to self and saying yes to God, and both of these can be excruciating! But, Moriah calls out to us to make that sacrifice for our good and God’s pleasure.
Second Chronicles 3 – The Sacrifice of Worship
We just noted what happens with Solomon. David wished to build the temple for God, but God declines to have a man of war use his blood-stained hands to head that project (First Chronicles 22:8; 28:3). Instead, God chooses Solomon for the job. “Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (Second Chronicles 3:1). First Kings 8 and Second Chronicles 6 record the dedication of the temple. Solomon prays, then God consumes the sacrifices of worship with fire (Second Chronicles 7:1). He offered 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep and he had to do so in the middle of the court before the temple because the bronze altar was too small for the burnt, grain, and fat of the peace offerings (First Kings 8:62-64). It was of such magnitude that it took 14 days to accomplish (First Kings 8:65-66). Just as David worshipped God at personal cost, so did Solomon and Israel.
Even though the place and law concerning worship have changed today, we still see a tie between worship and sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice makes worship possible (Hebrews 4:16; 10:22). We have to sacrifice to come worship God (Hebrews 10:24-25). We sacrifice in the process of worship (Hebrews 13:15). Looking at Moriah and thinking back to the pomp and ceremony of Solomon’s dedication, we are reminded of what he did and what his father said. I want to offer God something that costs me more than just a check in the collection plate. I want it to cost me heart, focus, concentration, effort, and, most of all, a recalibration of my priorities each time I leave His presence with the saints. It’s something I want to carry on every time I invest in worship at home with my family or alone in my spiritual closet.
The most amazing connection ties all of these events together. The Savior was present at all of them. The preincarnate (i.e., before taking on flesh) Word (John 1:1; Philippians 2:5) was in heaven when Abraham stood over Isaac with that knife, as David sweated and toiled over the altar at his real estate purchase from the Jebusite, and as Solomon superintended the slaughtering of 142,000 livestock. But, consider this. Somewhere around that area of the Temple Mount, outside the gate (Hebrews 13:12), Jesus offered His own sacrifice on Mount Moriah. It was the sacrifice of salvation. Only He could offer it!
Abraham laid Isaac on wood, and Jesus was laid on wood. Abraham was provided his “lamb” (Genesis 22:7-8). Jesus was that Lamb (First Peter 1:19). Abraham was willing to give his only begotten son on Moriah, but God was able to give His only begotten son on Moriah.
David had to offer sacrifices on Moriah because he sinned. Jesus had to offer Himself as a sacrifice on Moriah because we sinned.
Solomon consecrated the temple up on Mount Moriah. Because Jesus gave Himself up on Moriah, we can be God’s holy temple today (First Corinthians 3:16; 6:19).
In all three ages of human history, patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian, God was at work up on the mountain in the Judaean Hill Country. I hope you have the opportunity to stand and look at Mount Moriah from some nearby vantage point in Jerusalem, but even if it is only with your eye of faith please absorb the vivid picture it paints. Moriah depicts the sacrifice of faith, repentance, worship, and salvation!
Neal Pollard is the Pulpit Minister at the Lehman Avenue Church of Christ in Bowling Green, Kentucky.