The first time a “lamb” and “God” are mentioned together in Scripture is in Genesis 22. In this beloved and often difficult to comprehend chapter concerning the life of Abraham, we have the devoted patriarch, way beyond his years and faith fulfilled, along with the son of God’s promise, Isaac. Years have passed (some say thirty-three) and God calls Abraham to an ultimate test.

God said, “Take your son, your only song, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Mount Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

Early the next morning--the story goes--Abraham got up, readied himself and his son and headed for Moriah supposedly to make a burnt offering to God. On the third day, when God revealed to Abraham the proper mountain for sacrifice, Abraham placed the wood for the offering on Isaac’s back while he carried the fire (or fire starter) and the knife.

Isaac became perplexed and asked his father, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb…”

The Sacrificial Lamb

In Old Testament Jewish worship, the lamb was of utmost importance. Both morning and evening sacrifices involved the slaying of a lamb. On the Sabbath the number of offerings was doubled and during some of the festivals a greater number of lambs were laid on the altar. The lamb of the Passover held a special significance.

During the time when the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt and as God prepared them to be freed, he instructed Moses thusly:

Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. (Exodus 12: 3-7)

At midnight the Lord came down to strike the firstborn of the Egyptians but when he saw the blood over and beside the doors of the Hebrew homes, he “passed over.”

After the exodus of the Hebrews, God instructed Moses (and Moses instructed the people) concerning the celebration of Passover. Numbers 28 includes the following: On the fourteenth day of the first month the Lord's Passover is to be held…Present to the Lord an offering made by fire, a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect…Prepare these in addition to the regular morning burnt offering. In this way prepare the food for the offering made by fire every day for seven days as an aroma pleasing to the Lord; it is to be prepared in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. On the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. (Numbers 28: 16-25)

Once again, we see the lamb and, once again, used for the purpose of sacrifice. Additionally and immediately following these commands, for the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth), and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), God called for the sacrifice of lambs in the same way he required for the celebration of Passover.