Genesis 22:1-14 - EXEGESIS (Donovan)
CONTEXT - Gen. 12-21: Abraham's story begins with his call, when his name was Abram. God told Abram, "Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you." (12:1-3). God's promise to make of Abram a great nation implies that Abram will have a legitimate heir. Abram was 75 years old at the time of his departure from Haran (12:4). He was married to Sarai (later Sarah), but they had no children-and at their age they had no reason (except God's promise that he would make of Abram a great nation) to believe that they would ever have a child.
Later, God said, "After these things the word of Yahweh came to Abram in a vision, saying, 'Don't be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward'." Abram said, "Lord Yahweh, what will you give me, since I go childless, and he who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?" (15:1-2). God responded, "This man will not be your heir, but he who will come out of your own body will be your heir." Yahweh brought him outside, and said, "Look now toward the sky, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." He said to Abram, "So shall your seed be" (15:4-5). This promise was very specific. Abram would have a child-a legitimate heir. Abram "He believed in Yahweh; and he reckoned it to him for righteousness." (15:6).
But Sarai, in anguish because she had been unable to bear children for Abram, told him to go in to her slave-girl, Hagar, so that Hagar might bear a child for him (16:2). She had grown weary of waiting for God to keep his promise to Abram, and felt a need to take matters in her own hands. Abram did as asked, and Hagar conceived a child. Hagar then began to look with contempt on Sarai, who responded by complaining bitterly to Abram (16:5). Abram gave Sarai permission to do as she would with Hagar. Sarai acted so harshly that Hagar ran away into the wilderness (16:6). An angel found her there and told her that she would bear a son who would have so many descendants that they could not be counted. The angel told her to name her son Ishmael (Hebrew: yismael-"God hears"). Abram was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (16:15).
In chapter 17, God made a covenant with Abram, reaffirming the promises that God made earlier. Abraham responded to this promise by falling down laughing (17:17). The motif of laughter repeats frequently in chapters 17-21.
In chapter, 18, God promised Abraham and Sarah (the names conferred by God on Abram and Sarai in 17:5, 15) that they would have a son, and Sarah laughed (Hebrew: sahaq-a word related to yishaq or Isaac, which means "He laughs").
Chapter 19 tells the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and chapter 20 tells of Abraham's shameful behavior at Gerar (20:2).
Chapter 21 tells the story of Isaac's birth (21:1-7), the fulfillment of God's promise of an heir and surely the happiest time of Abraham and Sarah's lives. Then the story quickly turns sour when Sarah becomes angry with Ishmael and insists that Ishmael will not share the inheritance with Isaac (21:10). She puts pressure on Abraham to expel Hagar and Ishmael from their camp. Abraham is distressed at the prospect, but God tells him to do what Sarah asks (21:12-13), so he sends Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness with minimal provisions (21:14).
After running out of water, Hagar and Ishmael prepare to die (21:16), but an angel of the Lord intervenes to promise that God will make a great nation of Ishmael. Then God opens Hagar's eyes to see a well, where she and Ishmael get water (21:19). Then we are told that God was with the boy, and he grew up and became an expert bowman-and that Hagar (an Egyptian woman) got a bride from Egypt for Ishmael (21:20-21).
Then Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech. Abraham gave Abimelech seven ewes. When Abimelech accepted them, he acknowledged that Abraham had dug a well at Beer-Sheba. "Abraham lived as a foreigner in the land of the Philistines many days. " (21:34).
GENESIS 22:1-2. AFTER THESE THINGS GOD TESTED ABRAHAM
1 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2 Then He said, "Take now your son, 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."
"It happened after these things" (v. 1a). What things? The last incident reported in chapter 21 was Abraham's encounter with Abimelech-but the real purpose of "after these things" is to create a transition-a way to introduce a new story. The period of time between the last story and the new story is indefinite. It could be a few days or a few years.
"that God (elohim) tested (nissa) Abraham" (v. 1b). With the exception of verses 11 and 14, which use Yahweh, this passage uses Elohim throughout to refer to God.
- This is one of a number of accounts in the Old Testament where God tests people. He will also test the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 15:25; 16:4). Testing "indicates an attempt to prove the quality of someone or something" (Richards, 593).
- The scriptures also include stories of the devil tempting people. The difference between testing and tempting is that the tester hopes for the tested person to succeed, but the tempter hopes for the person to fail. We can be sure that God wants Abraham to pass this test with flying colors-which, as we will see, he will do handily.
"and said to him, 'Abraham!' and he said, 'Here I am"" (v. 1c). When God called Abram in chapter 12, he simply said, "Go from your country...to the land I will show you" (12:1). But here, in chapter 22, he first calls Abraham's name, perhaps signaling the gravity of what he is about to demand.
"Now take your son, your only son, whom you love, even Isaac" (v. 2a). This speaks of Isaac as Abraham's only son. We hear echoes of this phrase in the New Testament, where Jesus says: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son" (John 3:16).
- In truth, Abraham has another son, Ishmael, but at Sarah's instigation he drove Hagar and Ishmael out of his camp into the wilderness (21:8 ff.), so that his relationship with them has been severed. There is a lovely progression in this threefold statement:
- "Your son" is the most general of the three phrases.
- "Your only son" is much more personal, and attests to the special relationship between Abraham and Isaac.
- "Whom you love" is the first of the phrases to deal with Abraham's feelings. It addresses the fact that Isaac is more to Abraham than the means to carry on the family name. Abraham loves Isaac-loves him more than life itself.
- The question that Abraham will now have to answer is whether he loves Isaac more than he loves God. As noted above, there is a similar progression from the general to the specific in chapter 12, where God calls Abram to leave: > His country > His kindred and > His father's house (12:1).
"and go into the land of Moriah" (v. 2b). We aren't certain about the location of "the land of Moriah". The only other time that name appears in the Bible, Solomon is building the temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 3:1), so the land of Moriah might be what will later be the temple mount in Jerusalem. Some "Jews believe the altar of burnt offering in the Temple at Jerusalem was situated on the exact site of the altar on which Abraham intended to sacrifice Isaac" (Lockyer, 727). While that is not certain, it is consistent with the length of time that Abraham travels to get to Moriah from Beersheba. It is also consistent with the next part of this verse where God tells Abraham to offer Isaac "on one of the mountains that I shall show you."
- The last we saw of Abraham, he was in Beersheba (21:33), about 45 miles (70 km) southwest of Jerusalem. The direct route between Beer-Sheba and Jerusalem is mountainous. If Moriah is Jerusalem, Abraham would probably elect to travel due north on easy terrain before entering the mountains west of Jerusalem. It would be a several day journey (v. 4 says three days) made more difficult by the burden of carrying firewood for the sacrifice (v. 3). The last leg of the journey would require going up a mountain to an elevation of 2500 feet (800 meters) with Isaac carrying the firewood on his back.
"Offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of" (v. 2c). There is only one other mention in the book of Genesis of a burnt offering. Noah earlier offered a burnt offering upon leaving the ark after the flood (8:20). We will not hear of burnt offerings again until the Exodus (Exodus 10:25; 18:12; 20:24; etc.).
- The Mosaic Law gives specific guidance regarding burnt offerings. Their purposes are (1) to raise a pleasing odor to the Lord and (2) to provide atonement to the one making the offering. The animal is to be burned until consumed. The priest is to dispose of the ashes in a clean place outside the camp (Leviticus 6:1-11). In that time and place, people thought of mountains as appropriate places to encounter God. In this instance, God promises to point out the right mountain for the sacrifice.
- Our text doesn't mention Abraham's reaction on hearing this requirement, but it must take his breath away. Not only does he love Isaac, but God has promised to give Abraham descendants through Isaac (21:12). Nothing is more precious to Abraham than this son of his old age-and that is the key to understanding the requirement that God has placed on him. God is requiring that Abraham render to God the most precious offering he can give. The test (v. 1b) is to see whether Abraham, who loves Isaac, loves God even more.
GENESIS 22:3-5. WE WILL WORSHIP AND COME BACK TO YOU
3 So Abraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and his son Isaac; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the boy will go over there; and we will worship and return to you."
"Abraham rose early in the morning" (v. 3a). Abraham's rising early in the morning demonstrates his determination to carry out God's commandment. He doesn't hesitate or drag his feet or complain or beg. He has been given his orders, so he starts marching. God is in charge, and Abraham is an obedient servant.
- Abraham complied in this same fashion earlier when he "rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child (Ishmael), and sent her away" (21:14). In that instance, he was also obeying God's command (21:12). However, in that instance, God reassured Abraham that he would make a nation of Ishmael (21:13), but that " For from Isaac will your seed be called. " (21:12). But now God has given the command to sacrifice Isaac and offers no further reassurance.
- How will God carry out his promises to Abraham? Abraham can only wonder.
"saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him" (v. 3b). The two young men are Abraham's servants or hired hands. It seems odd that Abraham would saddle the donkey personally, given the presence of servants, but his action might signal his determination to carry out his mission-or Abraham might feel a need to keep his hands and mind busy rather than standing idly while his servants do the work. Busy hands can sometimes keep one's mind from dwelling on terrible possibilities.
"and Isaac his son " (v. 3c). Last, but very definitely not least! Abraham could easily dispense with his servants, his donkey, and his other possessions, but his son Isaac is his heart and soul.
"he split the wood for the burnt offering" (v. 3d). Again, it seems odd that Abraham would cut the wood personally instead of having the servants do it, but he might see this as a sacred obligation that he must perform personally-or, again, he might need to keep his hands and mind busy lest he dwell too much on what lies ahead.
"and rose up, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him" (v. 3e). This is the bottom line! Abraham gets up early, makes necessary preparations and very deliberately sets out to go where God has commanded him to go. His obedience is impeccable.
"On the third day" (v. 4a). If this is the morning of the third day, it represents between two and three days of travel, but if it is late in the day it represents three full days on the road.
- But the people of that day and age were less time-conscious than we are today.
- In any event, Abraham has had a good deal of time to contemplate the awful task that awaits him. He has had more than enough time to remember how he wanted a son-and God's promises-and his laughter when God told him that he would have a son in his old age-and the baby's birth-and the years of careful nurture that he has invested in his son. He has had time to remember the boy making mistakes-and growing. Most of all, he has had time to remember the bond that he and Isaac have forged over the years-the trust that Isaac has shown-the way that Isaac has tried to follow in his father's footsteps-the way Isaac has honored Abraham by trying to do what Abraham wants.
"Abraham lifted up (Hebrew: wayyissa) his eyes and saw the place far off" (v. 4b). We will see this word wayyissa again in verse 13, where Abraham lifts up his eyes and sees a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. •The first time he lifts up his eyes, he sees only the terrible place where his son will die. The second time he lifts up his eyes, he will see the provision that God has made for Isaac's salvation.
"Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go yonder" (v. 5a). Abraham addresses these words to the two men who have accompanied him on this journey. The text has given us no indication why Abraham took them along on the journey. Whatever their purpose, he clearly doesn't want them with him when he sacrifices Isaac. They would be horrified. They might try to interfere.
"we will worship" (Hebrew: histahawa) (v. 5b). Histahawa can mean "bow down, prostrate oneself, or pay homage," so it does not necessarily suggest sacrifice. However, Abraham and his party have been carrying firewood since they began the journey, and Abraham will carry fire and a knife when he and Isaac go up the mountain. These elements make it clear to everyone that the worship that Abraham envisions involves sacrifice.
"and come back to you" (v. 5c). It is impossible to know for sure what Abraham means here. If he offers Isaac as a burnt offering, Isaac will be consumed by the fire. Abraham could bring Isaac's ashes on the return trip, but there will be no body to bury. Perhaps this is Abraham's way of reassuring his servants that there is nothing unusual about this day and that they can expect the return journey to be uneventful.
- Or perhaps Abraham is remembering God's promise to give him descendants through Isaac and anticipates that God will give him a way out of this terrible situation. However, as we will see, he never complains or hesitates. He continues to obey until the angel stops him from slaying his son.
GENESIS 22:6-8. GOD WILL PROVIDE THE LAMB
6 And Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" 8 Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.
"Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son" (v. 6a). We aren't given a reason why Abraham leaves the donkey with the servants (v. 5) and has Isaac carry the wood. The sacrifice is to take place on a mountain (v. 2), so it seems likely that Abraham and Isaac must do some strenuous hiking to get to the sacrificial site. The fact that Abraham burdens Isaac with the firewood tells us that Isaac is no small child, but has grown into a strong youth or young man. Given Abraham's advanced age, Isaac is surely the stronger and more nimble of the two.
"he took in his hand the fire and the knife" (maakelet) (v. 6b). A maakelet is a large knife, suitable for butchering large animals.
"They both went on together" (v. 6c). If this is the mountain that will later be the temple mount, their journey up the mountain will take considerable time. Abraham is elderly and Isaac is burdened with firewood, so they will have to take rest breaks along the way. All the while, Abraham must be torn inside as he contemplates Isaac's trust and the treachery that Isaac will soon encounter at Abraham's hands.
"Isaac said to his father Abraham, 'My Father!' And he said, 'Here I am, my son'" (v. 7a). There is respect and affection in both sides of this exchange-and trust on Isaac's part.
"(Isaac) said, 'Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?'" (v. 7b). It seemed odd that Abraham would bring firewood from home on this three day journey. Now Isaac asks why they have no lamb for the burnt offering. It would seem to have made more sense to bring a lamb from Abraham's flocks on the journey and to find firewood near the destination. A lamb intended for God needs to be a fine specimen. How can they expect to find a Grade-A, first-rate lamb on this mountain?
- Does Isaac sense that something serious is amiss here? Does it occur to him that he might be the sacrificial lamb? We have no way of knowing. We know only that he continues the journey without complaint.
"God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son" (v. 8a). As Abraham understands it, God has already provided the lamb-Isaac. If Abraham hopes that God will somehow spare Isaac, that hope does not affect his actions. He never hesitates-never questions-never balks when it comes to carrying out God's command.
"So they both went together" (v. 8b). See the comments on verse 6b above.
GENESIS 22:9-10. HE BOUND HIS SON ISAAC, AND LAID HIM ON THE ALTAR
9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 And Abraham reached out with his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.
"They came to the place which God had told him of. Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order" (v. 9a). Abram built an altar long ago, when he first entered Canaan, at the oak of Moreh in Shechem in response to God's promise to give Abram's offspring that land (12:7). Now he builds an altar to sacrifice the offspring through whom God has promised to carry out that promise. The details of building an altar and laying the wood give us a sense of Abraham's deliberativeness. He continues to press on-laying the
foundation for the sacrifice of his son step by step-never hesitating or complaining or begging for relief.
"bound Isaac his son" (v. 9b). This causes us to ask how an old man managed to bind his young strong son. If Abraham had stood behind his son and knocked him unconscious, the author surely would have told us that. It seems more likely that Isaac, who has been trusting and compliant throughout this story, permits Abraham to bind him. Whether he understands that Abraham intends to kill him is open to question.
"and laid him on the altar, on the wood." (v. 9c). Abraham continues his step-by-step obedience. If Isaac didn't understand what was happening when Abraham bound him, it must be clear to him now.
"Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son." (v. 10). Abraham takes this next-to-final step with no apparent hesitation. It is hard to imagine how he could do this. The author of Hebrews explains it by saying: "By faith, Abraham, being tested, offered up Isaac. Yes, he who had gladly received the promises was offering up his one and only son; even he to whom it was said, "In Isaac will your seed be called;" concluding that God is able to raise up even from the dead. Figuratively speaking, he also did receive him back from the dead." (Hebrews 11:17-19).
GENESIS 22:11-14. DON'T LAY YOUR HAND ON THE BOY
11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 12 He said, "Do not reach out your hand against the boy, and do not do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." 13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by its horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in the place of his son. 14 And Abraham named that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, "On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided."
"The angel (malak-angel or messenger) of Yahweh called to him out of the sky" (v. 11a). In times past, God has spoken directly to Abraham. This time, God sends an angel or messenger to speak from heaven-to stay Abraham's hand. (vv. 11 and 14 refer to God as Yahweh. Otherwise, Elohim is used throughout this passage.)
"Abraham, Abraham!" (v. 11b). When God spoke to Abraham in the past, he has usually done so without addressing him by name (12:1, 7; 15:13, 18; 17:1, 5, etc.). On one occasion, he addressed him as "Abram" (15:1) and on another occasion he addressed him as "Abraham" (22:1). But here the angel says Abraham's name twice for emphasis-"Abraham, Abraham!" There is a sense of urgency here. The angel must get Abraham's attention before Abraham carries through his intent to kill Isaac.
"Here I am'" (v. 11c). This is the frequent response of the faithful to a call from the Lord. Abraham has already responded this way (22:1). Jacob will do the same (31:11; 46:2)-and Moses (Exodus 3:4)-and Samuel (1 Samuel 3:4, 6, 8, 16). Isaiah will respond with the similar phrase, "Here am I" (Isaiah 6:8)-and Mary will do the same (Luke 1:38).
"Don't lay your hand on the boy neither do anything to him" (v. 12a). Earlier Abraham "reached out his hand" to take the knife (v. 10). Now the angel tells him not to "lay your hand on the boy"-cancelling the commandment to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering.
"for now I know that you fear God" (v. 12b). Sometimes people fear God because they fear retribution for
their sins, but "fear God" in this context means something entirely different -reverence and faith that
- Fear of the Lord is serving the Lord and the Lord only (Deuteronomy 6:13).
- It is observing God's commandments (Deuteronomy 28:58).
- Fear of the Lord is "the beginning of knowledge," in the sense that the person who fears God will be open to instruction by God (Proverbs 1:7).
- It is often the result of seeing God's power in action (Exodus 14:31).
- Fear of the Lord requires righteousness (Acts 10:22), faithful service to God, and rejection of false gods (Joshua 24:14).
- Fear of the Lord insures God's mercy (Luke 1:50), and results in spiritual prosperity (Acts 9:31).
- "Yahweh's eye is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his loving kindness; " (Psalm 33:18), so those who fear the Lord can sing: "Our soul has waited for Yahweh. He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in him, because we have trusted in his holy name. Let your loving kindness be on us, Yahweh, since we have hoped in you." (Psalm 33:20-22).
"Abraham lifted up his eyes (wayyissa), and looked, and saw that behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by his horns." (v. 13a). We last saw this word wayyissa in verse 4, where Abraham lifted up his eyes to see the place where Isaac would die. Now he lifts up his eyes to see the provision that God has made to save Isaac's life.
- Earlier, Isaac asked, "where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" (v. 7) and Abraham responded, "God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." (v. 8). Now God does just that-except that the sheep is not a lamb (a young sheep) but a ram (a mature male sheep). Sheep are known to be docile creatures, but rams less so.
- This ram has its horns caught in a thicket, so Abraham can easily capture it.
"Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering instead of his son" (v. 13b). In most sacrificial offerings, the one making the sacrifice provides the sacrificial animal. Here God provides the animal.
- In most sacrificial offerings, the death of the animal substitutes for the death of the person who offers the sacrifice. Here the offering substitutes for Isaac's death.
"Abraham called the name of that place Yahweh Will Provide. As it is said to this day, 'On Yahweh's mountain, it will be provided'" (v. 14). Abraham earlier said, "God will provide himself the lamb" (v. 8). Now he names this place "Yahweh will provide." "The name does not draw any attention to Abraham's role in the story.... The reader will come away from this story more impressed with God's faithfulness than with Abraham's compliance" (Hamilton, 113-114). When this account was written, the name remained, "Yahweh will provide."
EPILOGUE: Many people find this story offensive because it portrays God as commanding child sacrifice. However, it is not a story about child sacrifice, but is rather a story about obedience to God-about faith. When God gives the law to Moses, he will make it clear that child sacrifice is not permissible (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10). While he will require the gift of the firstborn (Exodus 22:29), he will make it clear that parents are to redeem the firstborn male's life with the life of a sheep (Exodus 13:13; 34:20).
Also, the angel's voice that stays Abraham's hand and the ram that God provided for the sacrifice make it clear that Isaac was never in any danger. Abraham didn't know that, of course, and that is what made it the ultimate test of his faith. Nothing was more precious to Abraham than his son, Isaac. The test was whether Abraham would give God the one thing nearest and dearest to his heart. He passed that test with flying colors.
EW Commentary - Gen. 22:1-14
A. God's command to Abraham and his response.
1. (22:1-2) God tests the faith of Abraham.
Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." Then He said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you."
- God tested Abraham: This was not so much a test to produce faith, as it was a test to reveal faith. God built Abraham slowly, piece by piece, year by year, into a man of faith. This test would reveal some of the faith God had built into Abraham.
ii. "I cannot imagine a greater test than that which the Lord applied to Abraham. The Jews usually say that Abraham was tried ten times. Surely on this occasion he was tried ten times in one." (Spurgeon)
- Here I am: Abraham's quick answer to the call is a wonderful example of how the man or woman of faith should respond to God. When Abraham said, "Here I am," it meant that he was ready to be taught, ready to obey, ready to surrender, and he was ready to be examined by God.
- Take now your son, your only son Isaac: Significantly, God called Isaac your only son Isaac, when in fact Abraham had another son, Ishmael. Since Ishmael was put away from Abraham's family (Genesis 21:8-14), as far as God's covenant was concerned, Abraham had only one son.
- Your only son Isaac, whom you love: Counting from Genesis 1:1, this is the first mention of love in the Bible. This first mention comes in the context of the love between father and son, connected with the idea of the sacrificial offering of the son.
i. Every phrase of God's command to Abraham was like a knife.
• Take now your son.
• Your only son Isaac.
• Whom you love.
• Offer him there.
• As a burnt offering.
- Offer him there as a burnt offering: God told Abraham to offer him as a burnt offering. This was not an offering that was burned alive, but one with the life first taken by sacrifice and then the body completely burnt before the LORD.
i. Abraham lived as a sojourner, a pilgrim, in the land of Canaan. The priests of many of the Canaanite gods said their gods demanded human sacrifice. The people of Canaan found nothing especially strange about human sacrifice, but Abraham had believed Yahweh was different.
ii. With this command, Abraham might have wondered if Yahweh, the God of the covenant and creator of heaven and earth, was like the pagan gods the Canaanites and others worshipped. By the end of this story, Abraham knew that God was not like the pagan gods that demanded human sacrifice. In truth, He was just the opposite.
iii. How would we react if God told us to do such a thing? Many years ago, Jack Smith, a columnist for the L.A. Times, wrote about this Biblical incident. He said he would have told God to mind his own business. That's what the world always says to God.
iv. It can't be denied that either out of madness or demonic deception, some have done terrible things and justified it along these lines. In 1993, a man named Andrew Cate was sentenced to 60 years in prison after being convicted of fatally shooting his 2-year-old daughter, then walking naked through his neighborhood carrying her body. Cate claimed he was acting out the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, and God would do a miracle to win his brother to Christianity. Cate believed God would miraculously stop him at the last moment before killing his daughter. The man was obviously deranged. What Abraham did was something completely unique in God's redemptive history, given for a specific purpose once-for-all fulfilled. There is no way God would ever direct someone to do this same thing today. As will be shortly demonstrated, a significant point of this story is the demonstration that God did not, in fact, want this kind of sacrifice.
- Offer him there as a burnt offering: This test was difficult in yet another aspect, because it seemed to contradict the previous promise of God. God had already promised in Isaac your seed shall be called (Gen 21:12). It seemed strange and contradictory to kill the son who was promised to carry on the covenant when it had not yet been fulfilled in him. It seemed as if God commanded Abraham to kill the very promise God made to him.
i. Abraham had to learn the difference between trusting the promise and trusting the Promiser. We can put God's promise before God Himself and feel it is our responsibility to bring the promise to pass, even if we have to disobey God to do it. Trust the Promiser no matter what, and the promise will be taken care of.
ii. "Brethren, there are times with us when we are called to a course of action which looks as though it would jeopardise our highest hopes... It is neither your business nor mine to fulfill God's promise, nor to do the least wrong to produce the greatest good. To do evil that good may come is false morality, and wicked policy. For us is duty, for God is the fulfillment of his own promise, and the preservation of our usefulness."
- To the land of Moriah... on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you: There was a specific place God commanded Abraham to go, a particular spot where this would happen. God carefully directed each detail of this drama.
2. (22:3) Abraham's immediate response of faith.
So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
- So Abraham rose early: There is no sign of hesitation on Abraham's part. Abraham rose early in the morning to do this. It must have been a sleepless night for Abraham.=
i. Abraham's obedience showed that he trusted God, even when he did not understand. Sometimes we say, "I'm not going to obey or believe until I understand it all," but that is to put myself on an equal standing with God.
ii. Abraham's obedience showed that he didn't debate or seek counsel from others. He knew what to do and refused to use stalling tactics.
iii. Abraham's obedience showed that he trusted God, even when he did not feel like it. There is not a line in this text about how Abraham felt, not because he didn't feel, but because he walked by faith, not feelings.
iv. "But there is not a word of argument; not one solitary question that even looks like hesitation. 'God is God,' he seems to say, and it is not for me to ask him why, or seek a reason for his bidding. He has said it: 'I will do it.'" (Spurgeon)
v. God trained Abraham over many decades, bringing him to this place of great trust. In just the last chapter, God asked Abraham to give up Ishmael in a less severe way. God used that, and everything else, to train up Abraham and build great faith in him.
- Saddled his donkey: The phrasing suggests that Abraham did this work personally; he saddled his donkey and he split the wood. Though he had plenty of servants to do this for him, Abraham did it himself, even in his old age. Perhaps this was because he was filled with nervous energy.
i. "He was a sheik and a mighty man in his camp, but he became a wood-splitter, thinking no work menial if done for God, and reckoning the work too sacred for other hands. With splitting heart he cleaves the wood. Wood for the burning of his heir! Wood for the sacrifice of his own dear child!" (Spurgeon)
- Went to the place of which God had told him: In wonderful, trusting obedience, Abraham went right to the spot which God had told him. He did this even though it would have been easier in Abraham's eyes if God had asked Abraham to lay his own life down instead of the life of his son Isaac.
B. Abraham's offering of Isaac.
1. (22:4-8) Abraham journeys to the place of sacrifice with Isaac.
Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you." So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." Then he said, "Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" And Abraham said, "My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." So the two of them went together.
- On the third day: Abraham came to the place on the third day. The region of Moriah is associated with Mount Moriah, which is modern-day Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 3:1).
i. Abraham had three long days to think over what God commanded him to do. This made the test even more severe. "To be burnt quick to death upon the blazing fagot is comparatively an easy martyrdom, but to hang in chains roasting at a slow fire, to have the heart hour by hour pressed as in a vice, this it is that trieth faith; and this it was that Abraham endured through three long days" (Spurgeon).
- I will go yonder and worship: This is the first use of the word worship in reference to God in the Bible. The Hebrew word shachah simply means, to bow down. While Abraham and Isaac did not go to the mount to have a time of joyful praise, they did go to bow down to the LORD.
- And we will come back to you: Abraham was full of faith when he spoke to the young men who were with him. He believed that both he and Issac would return; that we will come back, and he told them so.
i. This does not mean that Abraham somehow knew this was only a test and God would not really require this of him. Instead, Abraham's faith was in understanding that should he kill Isaac, God would raise him from the dead, because God had promised Isaac would carry on the line of blessing and the covenant.
ii. He knew in Isaac your seed shall be called (Genesis 21:12), and Isaac had yet to have any children. God had to let him live at least long enough to have children. "If Isaac shall die, there is no other descendant left, and no probabilities of any other to succeed him; the light of Abraham will be quenched, and his name forgotten"
iii. Hebrews 11:17-19 clearly explains this principle: By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
iv. Abraham knew anything was possible, but it was impossible that God would break His promise. He knew God was not a liar. To this point in Biblical history, we have no record of anyone being raised from the dead, so Abraham had no precedent for this faith, apart from God's promise. Yet Abraham knew God was able. God could do it.
- Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son: Isaac received the wood for his own sacrifice from his father, and he carried it to the hill of sacrifice.
- He took the fire in his hand, and a knife: Abraham took the knife up the hill. He didn't leave it behind or pretend to forget it. This was a further demonstration of his obedience, and of his trust that if necessary, God would raise Isaac from the dead.
i. "That knife was cutting into his own heart all the while, yet he took it. Unbelief would have left the knife at home, but genuine faith takes it." (Spurgeon)
- The two of them went together: This literally means the two of them went in agreement. Isaac did this knowingly and willingly. The phrase is repeated twice for emphasis.
- My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering: Abraham knew God would provide a sacrifice, but where? Where was the lamb? That question had been asked by all the faithful, from Isaac to Moses to David to Isaiah, all the way to the time of John the Baptist when he declares: Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
i. At this time, Abraham didn't know how God would provide. He still trusted in the ability of God to raise Isaac from the dead, but he wouldn't stop trusting just because he didn't know how God would fulfill His promise.
ii. We have a remarkable picture of the work of Jesus at the cross, thousands of years before it happened. The son of promise willingly went to be sacrificed in obedience to his father, carrying the wood of his sacrifice up the hill, all with full confidence in the promise of resurrection.
2. (22:9) Isaac willingly lies down on the altar.
Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood.
- Then they came to the place: Apparently, even on Mount Moriah there was a specific place God told Abraham to stop, because this was the place to do this.
- Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac: At this time, Abraham was more than 100 years old and Isaac would have been able to escape his coming death had he chosen to. Yet he submitted to his father perfectly. In remembering Abraham's faith, we should never forget Isaac's faith.
i. Some Jewish commentators think Isaac was in his thirties at the time of this event. "The younger man, perhaps five-and-twenty - so Josephus thinks - possibly thirty-three years of age, and, if so, very manifestly the type of Christ, who was about that age when he came to die" (Spurgeon).
- Upon the wood: As an obedient son, Isaac laid down on the wood, ready to be sacrificed.
3. (22:10-14) God's merciful reprieve.
And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" So he said, "Here I am." And He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind himwas a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, "In the Mount of The LORD it shall be provided."
- Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son: We must believe Abraham was completely willing to plunge the knife into Isaac, because his faith was in God's ability to raise Isaac from the dead, not in God's desire to stop the sacrifice. Abraham didn't think this was a drama or a mere ceremony.
i. "Notice the obedience of this friend of God - it was no playing at giving up his son: it was really doing it. It was no talking about what he could do, and would do, perhaps, but his faith was practical and heroic." (Spurgeon)
ii. One may say, "It's not fair or right. God told Abraham to do something and then told him not to do it. If God really wanted to test Abraham, He should have made him plunge the knife into his son's chest."
iii. Yet God often takes the will for the deed with his people. When He finds them truly willing to make the sacrifice He demands, He often does not require it. This is how we can be martyrs without ever dying for Jesus. We live the life of a martyr right now.
iv. But, "Often there are believers who wonder how they may know the will of God. We believe that ninety per cent of the knowing of the will of God consists in willingness to do it before it is known"
- Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him: With this, God emphatically showed Abraham that He was not like the pagan gods worshipped by the Canaanites and others, gods that demanded human sacrifice and were pleased by it. God strongly and clearly demonstrated that He did not want human sacrifice.
- You have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me: Abraham displayed his heart towards God in that he was willing to give up his only son. God displays His heart towards us in the same way, by giving His only begotten Son (John 3:16).
i. When God asked Abraham for the ultimate demonstration of love and commitment, He asked for Abraham's son. When God the Father wanted to show us the ultimate demonstration of His love and commitment to us, He gave us His Son. We can say to the LORD, "Now I know that You love me, seeing You have not withheld Your Son, Your only Son from me."
- Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son: All the while, God still required a sacrifice. God didn't call off the sacrifice. Instead, He required that there be a substitute provided by God Himself.
- Abraham called the name of the place: The naming of the place was significant. Abraham called it The LORD Will Provide (Jehovah Jireh); In this mount, it shall be provided.
i. Abraham didn't name the place in reference to what he experienced. He didn't name it Mount Trial or Mount Agony or Mount Obedience. Instead, he named the hill in reference to what God did; he named it Mount Provision. He named it knowing God would provide the ultimate sacrifice for salvation on that hill someday.
ii. Earlier, Isaac asked his father where the sacrifice was, and Abraham answered, God will provide for Himself the lamb (Genesis 22:8). In naming the place Jehovah Jireh, "Abraham says nothing about himself at all, but the praise is unto God, who sees and is seen; the record is, 'Jehovah will provide.' I like that self-ignoring; I pray that we, also, may have so much strength of faith that self may go to the wall" (Spurgeon).
iii. As it is said to this day: Apparently, Moses meant even in his own day, men looked at that hill and said, "In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided." Abraham, and later Moses, recognized that God did provide, and it pointed to the ultimate sacrifice when God would provide Himself. "God provided a ram instead of Isaac. This was sufficient for the occasion as a type; but that which was typified by the ram is infinitely more glorious. In order to save us God provided God. I cannot put it more simply. He did not provide an angel, nor a mere man, but God himself" (Spurgeon).
iv. This event is also a prophecy of Jesus' rising from the dead on the third day, as 1 Corinthians 15:4 says He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. This is one place where the Old Testament indicates the Messiah would rise again the third day. It says so through the picture of Isaac. Isaac was "reckoned dead" by Abraham as soon as God gave the command, and Isaac was "made alive" (risen) three days later.
v. Isaac's life as a picture of Jesus becomes even clearer:
- Both were loved by their father.
- Both offered themselves willingly.
- Both carried wood up the hill of their sacrifice.
- Both were sacrificed on the same hill.
- Both were delivered from death on the third day.
Gen. 22:1-14 - BibleRef Commentary
CONTEXT: Genesis 21:22-34 describes a covenant treaty between Abraham and Abimelech, king of Gerar. Abimelech had previously given Abraham land to occupy. Now the king wishes to formalize their relationship. Abraham swears not to deceive Abimelech or his offspring again, and to deal kindly with all in the land. Abimelech agrees to recognize Abraham's ownership of a well at the place which becomes known as Beersheba, which means ''well of seve'' or ''well of the oath, and v. 34 ends with: And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines.
Next, in a test of Abraham's faith and obedience, God commands Abraham to do a terrible thing: kill and offer his son Isaac, whom he loves, as a burnt offering. Abraham sets out to obey without hesitation, having finally learned to trust God's goodness over his own misunderstandings. Instead of allowing the boy to be sacrificed, the Lord calls out to Abraham moments before he kills Isaac, laying bound on an altar. Because of Abraham's obedience, God renews and emphasizes His promises of blessing, multiplied offspring, and victory over future enemies. Genesis 22:1-19 takes place over the course of a few days, when Isaac is perhaps a teenager. God commands Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son as a burnt offering. Abraham sets out to obey without hesitation, acting in complete trust that God, somehow, will make all things right. Abraham stops the sacrifice only when the Lord intervenes. For his deep trust and obedience, the Lord renews and emphasizes His blessing on Abraham and his offspring, as well as promising to bless all nations through Abraham's descendants.
v. 1: After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." - The words "after these things" indicate that some time has passed since the events of Genesis 21. We will learn that Abraham is still living in Beersheba, but that Isaac has grown some. The last direct statement about Isaac's age referred to his being weaned (Genesis 21:8), which would have been around the age of two or three. In the upcoming verses, however, we see that Isaac can travel without his mother (Genesis 22:3-4), can converse in an adult manner (Genesis 22:7), and can carry wood for the sacrificial fire (Genesis 22:6). Later verses indicate that Isaac will be around 36 or 37 when his mother, Sarah dies at the age of 127 (Genesis 23:1). Most likely, he is at least a teenager when he climbs the mountain with his father.
- Genesis chapter 22 will describe God's terrible test of Abraham's faith. The word "test" is to be understood as something clearly different from a "temptation." God will never tempt His people to do evil (James 1:13). We see God test His people in Scripture, though, asking them to trust Him and obey in spite of their difficult circumstances (Exodus 15:25; 20:20; Deuteronomy 8:2; 13:3; Judges 2:22). This is the key element missing when people misunderstand this part of Abraham's story. His obedience is based, not in blind faith, but in an experienced, established trust based on what he has already seen God do. God began this test by calling Abraham, and Abraham responded appropriately, ready to hear what God would say to him.
v. 2: He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." - Even to those who are familiar with this verse, the words of God to Abraham here land like a blow. Our first instinct is that this can't be right. Having followed the story of God in Genesis, through His relationship with Abraham and then, finally, the joyful birth of Isaac, the long-awaited son of God's promise, these words of God just don't fit.
- That, of course, is exactly the point of God's test. Would Abraham trust God even when God's command did not seem to make any sense? That is the key element many people miss when interpreting this story. This is not the first time Abraham has heard from God. Nor is it the first time God has acted in ways Abraham did not-at first-fully understand. And yet, in all of those past encounters, Abraham found that God's unseen plans led to a righteous outcome. Abraham's response, shown in the next verse, is not an act of blind faith. It is an act of faithful trust.
- Our second human reaction to God's command is that it feels cruel. Even knowing the end of the story, it challenges us to wonder about God's character. Earlier in Genesis, Abraham and then Ambimelech had both asked the Lord directly, "Will you kill the innocent?" The answer is both cases was "no." God's character was vindicated, as it will be here. In the meantime, the command God has given seems impossibly harsh.
- God's specific command to Abraham is to take the son he loves, the only son he has left (Genesis 21:9-14), to a mountainous area called Moriah, which would have been about 50 miles away. Once there, Abraham is to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. God will show him on which mountain to make the sacrifice.
- A burnt offering involved slaughtering an animal and then burning it on an altar until it was completely consumed. Such offerings were practiced by many religions. Abraham had offered animal sacrifices to the Lord. Human sacrifices of children to various false gods may well have been practiced in the land of Canaan at the time. Later, God would forbid Israel from participating in child sacrifice.
v. 3: So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. - One of the remarkable things about Genesis chapter 22 is that Abraham is not recorded as betraying any particular emotion. God's command in the previous verse was to kill Isaac and offer him as a burnt sacrifice. Rather than protesting or arguing, Abraham simply sets out to obey.
- We have seen Abraham express emotion and resistance in response to God's commands before. He was very displeased with the idea of sending his firstborn son Ishmael away, but he did so when God told him to do it (Genesis 21:9-14). He laughed at the idea of Isaac's birth in his old age (Genesis 17:17), and he even expressed his emotional desire to have Ishmael "live with God" (Genesis 17:18). His lack of emotion or even any follow-up questions may be a clue that Abraham believes God will intervene to preserve Isaac's life. In any case, his actions reveal his great confidence in God.
- This confidence is, in fact, the entire point of this test. Many who criticize this story describe Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of evil. Such criticism misses the foundation of Abraham's obedience: Abraham trusts God to do the right thing, even though he cannot fully understand how. Abraham did not see how God could give him a natural-born son; God gave him Isaac (Genesis 21:1-2). Abraham did not see how God could destroy Sodom and Gomorrah without killing the righteous, such as his nephew Lot; God proved His justice and still saved Lot's family (Genesis 18:23; 19:15-16).
- So, Abraham's actions here are exactly the opposite of "blind faith." Abraham obeys because he has seen, first-hand, that God will do what is right, and that God's plans do not require Abraham to understand every detail. He is trusting in what he already knows about God-he is not carelessly agreeing to murder his son.
v. 4: On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. - God has commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac, whom he loves, as a burnt offering in the land of Moriah. Moriah was about 50 miles from Beersheba, where Abraham lived. After a three-day journey with his donkey, two servants, all the wood needed for an offering, and Isaac, Abraham finally arrives at a place where he is able to see the mountainous region ahead of them.
- Abraham's willingness to obey this command is not an instance of blind faith. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. Prior incidents in Abraham's life have shown him that God can accomplish good, even when human beings do not fully understand how it is possible. Isaac's own birth was an example of God fulfilling a promise which seemed impossible, from a human perspective (Genesis 17:17; Genesis 21:1-2). Abraham is trusting his prior experience with God, assuming that God will-somehow-make this situation right. Abraham obeys, not because he suddenly thinks God wants human sacrifice, but because he assumes, with trusting faith, that God is planning something behind the scenes.
v. 5: Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you." - Interpreters of this event wonder: is Abraham convinced that God will intervene to stop him from killing Isaac before the moment comes? Or, that Isaac will be brought back to life? We're never told, exactly, but what Abraham says to his servants here is a clue. He tells them that he and the boy will go, worship, and come back again. One way or another, Abraham seems to suggest that he expects Isaac to accompany him on the way back.
- The term translated "boy" in the ESV is from the Hebrew root word na'ar, used to refer to "youths, lads, or young men." Given the way Isaac speaks and works in this episode (Genesis 22:6-7), he's probably a teenager, acting willingly alongside his extremely elderly father.
- Abraham clearly trusted God. God explicitly told Abraham that He would establish His covenant with Isaac, as an everlasting covenant for his offspring (Genesis 17:19). God had also said that it would be through Isaac that Abraham's offspring would be named (Genesis 21:12). Since Isaac had not yet had any children, God's promise meant that Isaac must live on. Abraham has seen God turn seemingly impossible situations into examples of His righteousness and faithfulness in the past. This included saving Lot, while destroying the wicked people of Sodom (Genesis 19:15-16). It certainly included the birth of Isaac, a "miracle baby" in every way (Genesis 17:17; 21:1-2). • Another clue to Abraham's thought process is given in Hebrews 11:17-19. There we're told Abraham believed God was able to raise Isaac from the dead. Whatever Abraham expected to happen next, he does not hesitate to continue to obey God's command to sacrifice the son he loved. This is not because he thinks God actually wanted a human sacrifice; rather, it is because Abraham trust God enough to obey, even when he does not fully understand.
v. 6: And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. - Abraham is resolute. He continues on the path to obey God's command by sacrificing the son he loves as a burnt offering. Leaving the two servants and the donkey behind, Abraham and Isaac walk up toward the mountain together, Isaac carrying the wood for the fire, Abraham carrying the flame and the knife. The fact that Isaac is able to carry the wood strongly suggests he is no child-more than likely, he is a teenager by this time.
- Again, we're given no hints as to Abraham's emotional state. That does not mean Abraham is unconcerned; Scripture does not record every last detail in every situation. All we know is that Abraham is following a path of obedience, based on his trust in God. This trust is grounded in the many times Abraham has seen God proven righteous, even when the situation seemed impossible.
- The following verse will reveal that Isaac still has no idea what Abraham has planned. This, again, suggests a few things about Isaac. An extremely old man would have been unlikely to overpower Isaac, meaning he was also acting in faith, by trusting his father Abraham.
v. 7: And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" - Abraham and Isaac walk along together, climbing toward the spot where the sacrifice and burnt offering will take place. Isaac is carrying the wood. Abraham carries the flame and the knife. Only Abraham, at this point, knows that God has issued a command for Isaac to be sacrificed on this mountain (Gen 22:1-2). Abraham's willingness to obey, despite such a dire request, is based on his trust in God. Over and over, Abraham has seen God turn seemingly impossible situ-ations into proof of His righteousness. So, Abraham obeys God out of well-established trust, not blind faith.
- Finally, Isaac says, "My father." Abraham responds as he did when God said "Abraham" at the beginning of this chapter: "Here I am." He calls Isaac "my son." Isaac asks a logical question: Where is the lamb? He clearly does not yet understand that he is to be the sacrifice.
- Abraham's response in the following verse will not fully explain this to Isaac, either. Interestingly, though, Isaac will cooperate with Abraham even when he is bound on the altar. A boy strong enough to carry firewood up a mountain would not have been overpowered by a man well over 100 years old. Isaac's upcoming participation demonstrates his own trust. This cooperation foreshadows the willing sacrifice of Christ some two thousand years later (John 10:17-18).
v. 8: Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together. - Isaac and Abraham are walking together toward the spot where the sacrifice of a burnt offering will be made. Isaac has asked where the lamb is. Abraham now responds somewhat cryptically: God will provide for Himself the lamb. What Abraham does not tell Isaac is that God's command was for the sacrifice to be Isaac (Genesis 22:1-2).
- Of course, Abraham's willingness to obey this command is not driven by blind faith or evil. Instead, Abraham seems convinced that God has some plan, behind the scenes, to make all things right. That fits perfectly with the experiences Abraham has had with God so far in his life: seemingly impossible situations working out to prove God's righteousness.
- Given his response, we're left to wonder if Abraham imagines that God will indeed stop this and provide a literal lamb in some way. Or, does Abraham mean that God has provided Isaac as the lamb for Himself, referring to Isaac's miraculous birth? Or, that God has provided Isaac as the sacrifice but intends to raise him from the dead? We can't fully know. In any case, Abraham does not flinch in continuing to move toward fulfilling God's command. Judging by his actions, his faith in God's goodness, character, and power remain absolute.
- Touchingly, Isaac's simple trust in his father also remains intact. A young man who can carry wood up a mountain could not be overpowered by an elderly man-when Isaac is bound on the altar, he has to allow it to happen (Genesis 22:9). The two obviously care for each other. Abraham continues to show his willingness to give to God this boy he loves, trusting the Lord to do what is right.
v. 9: When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. - As we read through the story told in Genesis 22, we come very close to the moment we have been dreading. Abraham has been commanded by God to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac (Genesis 22:1-2). Abraham has obeyed, thus far, seemingly under the assumption that God has some greater plan or purpose in mind (Genesis 22:5). Abraham and Isaac arrive at the place God has shown to Abraham for the sacrifice. Abraham builds the altar and lays out the wood on top of it.
- Then he prepares to do, but for the command of God, what would be unthinkable. He binds Isaac with a rope and lays him on the altar. Did Isaac protest? Did he struggle? Or did he stand obediently without resisting and allow himself to be tied and laid out? Did either Isaac or Abraham cry? We're not told any of these details, but what we do know of the story strongly suggests that Isaac was a willing participant. He's old enough to ask questions (Genesis 22:7), and to carry firewood (Genesis 22:6). He's alone with an elderly man (Genesis 22:5). Since he could have easily run away from or overpowered Abraham, it makes the most sense to assume Isaac allowed himself to be bound. Of course, Scripture does not say this directly, so we cannot be absolutely certain.
- What we know for sure is that Abraham continued to demonstrate his unshaken faith in God by willingly obeying this command. He was clearly passing God's test of his faith, showing that his love for the Lord was greater than his love for his son. Even though he does not understand, Abraham still obeys-this is the definition of "faith," which in a biblical context means "trust."
- The other thing we know is that Isaac here serves as a picture of the very action taken by Jesus about two thousand years from this moment. Jesus, the Son, willingly allowed Himself to be sacrificed for the sins of the world by His Father God. As Isaac did, Jesus carried the wood that was to be used in His own execution. Jesus, however, actually died as the sacrificial lamb, raised back to life as Abraham may have imagined Isaac would be (Hebrews 11:19).
v. 10: Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. - God had commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, the son he loved, as a burnt offering. Now that Isaac was bound and laid out on the altar, the moment had come. Again, Abraham's confidence in God's goodness, power, and character is so thorough that he does not appear to hesitate. He takes the knife and prepares to kill his precious and long-awaited son. This is the moment of truth-the phrasing here clearly indicates that Abraham is taking action. He is not merely "holding" the knife and waiting for something to happen. He is actively, obediently following the command given him by God.
- This obedience, of course, is not based in ignorance or blind faith. Instead, Abraham is trusting God to do what He has done so many times before: work behind the scenes to do the right things, even when human beings cannot understand.
- Before we read on to the next verse, in which the angel of the Lord calls out to Abraham to stop him, it's worth taking a moment to consider God's character. Was the Lord cruel to ask this of Abraham? Was God being capricious like the gods of mythology who casually tormented their human followers? Such questions require some thoughtfulness. They should not be dismissed too quickly.
- God identifies Himself as love (1 John 4:8). He demonstrated His love to the universe by the sacrifice of His own Son for our sins (Romans 5:8). He is the same God who asked Abraham to do what He Himself would later do with Jesus. Given what we see in the very next verse, God always knew that Isaac would not be harmed. So, then, what was the point of all of this? God's purpose in testing Abraham's faith will be clarified in the following verses.
v. 11: But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." - In the instant before this verse, Abraham was poised to kill his beloved son, Isaac (Genesis 22:9-10). This was in obedience to a command given directly from God. Of course, this would have seemed as unthinkable to Abraham as it does to us. Abraham's obedience comes as a result of his trust in God. Abraham has seen, first-hand, how God can prove His righteousness, even when limited people cannot understand what is happening. Abraham is not blindly obeying for no reason. He is acting for the best possible reason: because he has experienced God's goodness enough to trust Him!
- The repetition of Abraham's name and the cry of the voice from heaven indicates the urgency of the moment. Abraham responds as he did when God first spoke to him in verse 1, and as he did when Isaac asked him about the lamb: "Here I am." Once more, none of Abraham's emotion is revealed to us. He appears to be ready to do next whatever the Lord asks of him. He was certainly prepared to commit the act God had asked of him, right up until the moment he is stopped by this voice.
v. 12: He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." - In complete and unhesitating obedience to God, Abraham was preparing to kill Isaac as he lay tied up on an altar. Knife in hand, Abraham is stopped by an urgent voice from heaven calling out his name. Now the angel of the Lord makes it clear: Don't hurt the boy in any way. This was God's plan all along, and Abraham has passed God's test of his faith.
- The angel of the Lord, truly the Lord in another form, goes on: Now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your only son from me. In the Old Testament, especially, to "fear God" means to have such great respect and reverence for the Lord's power and righteousness that you obey Him above all others. God's test satisfied the question of whether Abraham "feared" God once and for all.
- Abraham's faith, we should note, is not ignorant or blind. Instead, he is choosing to trust God as a result of prior experiences. Time and again, God has proven that Abraham does not need to understand every detail, he merely needs to obey. God will work to prove His own righteousness in the end. Here, again, this is proven to be the case, though in a far more direct and dramatic form.
- The Lord again refers to Isaac as "your son, your only son." We must not miss the parallel to John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
v. 13: And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. - Earlier in Genesis 22, Isaac had asked his father where the lamb was that they were to sacrifice. Abraham replied that the God would provide for Himself the lamb (Genesis 22:8). Whether Abraham understood that God had provided for Himself Isaac or that another lamb would be provided, we don't know. In either case, God does exactly as Abraham said He would.
- The lamb, a ram, was presented ready-made to Abraham for the sacrifice. It was caught in a thicket right behind him. Abraham had only to replace Isaac with the ram and continue the offering. The ram given by God served as the substitute for Isaac in Abraham's burnt offering.
- Again, we're told nothing of the emotions or words of Abraham or Isaac in response to all of this. What matters most to the Lord is made quite clear: their actions (James 2:20-22). Whatever he was feeling or thinking, Abraham trusted God and obeyed. He had passed the test, and the Lord had provided another offering as a way of worshipping God.
- The call from heaven not to kill Isaac (Genesis 22:12), and the provision of a substitute sacrifice, serve to prove that Abraham's trust in God was well-placed. Just as He had in the past, God demonstrated that He was willing and able to keep His promises, and display His righteousness, even when limited human beings could not understand what was happening.
v. 14: So Abraham called the name of that place, "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided. - Abraham has just passed an enormously difficult test of his trust in God. Abraham obeyed God's seemingly cruel command to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22:1-2), up to the moment where God intervenes to prevent the act from happening (Genesis 22:11-12). After commanding Abraham not to sacrifice his only son, the Lord provided a substitute sacrifice, a ram. (Genesis 22:13) Abraham commemorated the place by naming the mountain. He called it "The Lord will provide."
- The phrase "to this day," is a reference to the writing of the book of Genesis. So, at least until that point, the name given to the mountain by Abraham stuck. It was the mountain of "The LORD will provide." It became a saying, apparently: "On the mountain of the LORD, it will be provided."
- It was not unusual in Genesis for a name to be changed in order to mark a significant event or interaction with the Lord. Beersheba had been named for the oath that included Abraham's well (Genesis 21:31). Bela had been renamed Zoar when Lot and his daughters took refuge from God's judgment there (Genesis 19:22). And Abraham and Sarah both had been renamed by God on the day He revealed to Abraham that Isaac would soon be born (Genesis 17:5; 17:15).