“Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.” Gen. 22:13
Matthew Henry, in his Commentary, notes that just as Abraham was tested to ensure he loved God more than his father (Gen. 12), now God wanted to ensure Abraham loved him more than his own son Isaac. Now that Abraham has proven this, the sacrifice of Isaac can be called off, and the ram offered instead.
Abraham’s story embodies here what Jesus said about being willing to hate our families (by comparison of our love for Him). That is the necessary level to strive for, and Abraham was able to prove that to God.
God ultimately provides a substitute sacrifice as Abraham sees a ram caught in a thicket. Gesenius’s Lexicon (Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testamament Scriptures) defines the word ‘thicket’ here as “branches, interwoven“1. The late pastor Adrian Rogers noted that this scene prefigured the crown of thorns upon the head of Jesus the Messiah, the ultimate substitutionary sacrifice, prior to His crucifixion.
I believe God introduced the concept of the substitutionary sacrifice here to guide His people, the Jews, into understanding what He would do with the Christ. Another similar example would be in Genesis 41 – how Joseph was somehow both under Pharaoh, but was in full power, just as Pharaoh was. This is a picture of how Jesus can be considered co-equal with God as the Christian faith believes. After all, it was written of Joseph that he was paraded around Egypt with shouts of “bow the knee!”, and of Christ it is written in Philippians 2:10 “every knee will bow”.
The rams horn (the shofar) in Jewish tradition is related to this story. Additionally, the liturgy for the second day of Rosh Hashanah includes the reading of Genesis 22, the Binding of Isaac, as this story is known.