Genesis 22:1-2 “God Tests Abraham’s Faith”
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Read Genesis 22
22:1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 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.” 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. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 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.” 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. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
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. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 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.” 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. 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.”
15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.
20 Now after these things it was told to Abraham, “Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” 23 (Bethuel fathered Rebekah.) These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 Moreover, his concubine, whose name was Reumah, bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.
Introduction: Good morning and “Boomer Sooner”. It’s not often I get to mention that OU beat Texas!
Seriously though, today we get to the climax of the Abraham story. You might think that the actual birth of Isaac should have been the climax, but it was not. Ch.22 shows us the nature of Abraham’s mature faith and complete obedience in the face of the most severe trial. It is appropriate that we have arrived at this passage at this point in our church’s history. A week ago tonight 18 yr. old Daniel Heinrich, a strong and faithful young man in our church, was killed by a drunk driver and illegal alien. Our church has watched the Heinrich family grieve and we have grieved right along with them. And now we come to one of the toughest and most controversial chapters in the Bible where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Perhaps in the study of this text we can find some application for us that meets our needs in this time of grief. For sure we will find much sound doctrine here and plenty of application for our applying our faith to our daily lives.
We will take our time with this important chapter, probably 3 weeks, maybe 4. I may even take a week to discuss the role that the interpretation of this chapter has played in Baptist history because this chapter was at the center of a big controversy in Southern Baptist life 40 years ago. This morning, instead of just lecturing, I am going to get you involved in the process of Bible study. We will divide up into teams and do some research in this chapter and how it relates to other passages in Genesis and the rest of Scripture.
- I. Literary Analysis of Gen. 22
- A. Outline- I want you to team up in groups of 2-3 and tell me how you would outline this text.
- 1. God’s Command, vss.1-2
- 2. Abraham’s Obedience, vss.3-10
- 3. The LORD’s Provision, vss.11-14
- 4. The Covenant Renewed, vss.15-18
- 5. Return to Beersheba, vs.19
- 6. Genealogy of Nahor, vss.20-24
- B. Key Words- Now I want you to look at the text again and tell me what the key words are and why you think they are key. How many times are those key words used? Here are my Key Words: “son” (Heb. ben) is used 10 times in this passage (vss. 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 16) and “only son” (Heb. yahid) 3 times (vss. 2, 12, 16). Isaac is named 5 times (vs. 2, 3, 6, 7, 9), and “the boy” is mentioned twice (vss.5,12). God (Elohim) is mentioned 5 times in vss.1, 3, 8, 9, 12, and LORD (YHWH) is mentioned 5 times in vss.11, 14 (twice), 15, 16. Abraham is mentioned 20 times in vss. 1 (twice), 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 (twice), 13 (twice), 14, 15, 19 (twice), 20, 23. Is there a new name for God in this text? Vs.14, Jehovah Jireh, “The LORD will provide”. Some scholars will label this passage something like, “Sacrifice of Isaac”, focusing on Isaac. And it is easy for us New Testament Christians to immediately jump to the type of Christ that we see in both Isaac and the ram caught in the thicket; but, this passage is primarily about Abraham’s faith and obedience and the LORD’s covenant with Abraham. Waltke writes, p.301, “This scene presents the radical nature of true faith: tremendous demands and incredible blessings. The crisis of Abraham’s faith and the promises and provisions of God will be no greater than in this testing of Abraham…Abraham’s faith, not Isaacs submission, is the focal point of this scene.”
- C. Structure and Parallels
- 1. The twofold use of the name Abraham in verses 1 and 19 frame the story.
- 2. There are parallels between chapters 12 and 22. In chapter 12 we have the first recorded divine speech to Abraham, and here in 22 we have the last. Look at ch.12 and compare with 22- both start with a command from God to Abraham to “Go…to the land I will show you” and “go to the land of Moriah…on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” The promise of blessing in 12:2-3 is repeated in 22:17-18 (see also 15:5-6; 17:1-8).
- 3. There are parallels between this chapter and chapter 21:12-21. God sends out Hagar and Ishmael, and now God sends out Abraham and Isaac. In 21:14 and 22:3 we see that Abraham rose early in the morning. Provision was made for the journey in 21:14 and 22:3. God commands Abraham to give up Ishmael in 21 and Isaac in 22. Each son faces death, Ishmael in 21:16 and Isaac in 22:10. The Angel of the LORD intervenes directly by speaking in 21:17 and 22:11; “fear not” in 21:17 and “you fear God” in 22:12. In 21:19 Hagar sees a well of water and in 22:13 Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and beheld the ram. Both boys are promised many descendents in 21:18 and 22:17.
- 4. There are even parallels with ch.16. Parent and child on a difficult journey in 16:6 and 22:4-8. Intervention from the Angel of the LORD in 16:7 and 22:11. Promise of many descendents in 16:10 and 22:17. The naming of the place of God’s provision in 16:14 and 22:14.
- 5. Parallels with Israel. According to 22:4 the journey was three days. Look at Exodus 5:3 where Moses was requesting of Pharaoh a 3 day journey for Israel to go worship. Moriah is described later in 2Chron.3:1 and Jerusalem, possibly where the temple was built or even where Christ was crucified.
- 6. Compare with the New Testament usage of “beloved son” in Matt.3:17; 17:5; John 3:16; Eph.1:6; 2Peter1:17.
- 7. The ram caught in the thicket compares somewhat with Jesus as the Lamb of God in Isaiah 53:7 and Acts 8:32; John 6:29, 36; 1Peter1:19; Rev.5:6.
- 8. Notice what the Moses leaves out of the story- we are not given the specific ages of Abraham or Isaac at this point, although Isaac is old enough to carry the wood and thus, supposedly old enough to have resisted Abraham. Yet no resistance is mentioned. Sarah is nowhere mentioned.
- 9. The Liberal critics of the Bible have various ways of doubting that this event took place in history. But the very thing we have observed here is that the story definitely does relate back to other stories of Abraham recorded by Moses, and it relates to things in Moses’ and Israel’s day. There is a consistency here. While the literary devices that Moses used are signs of his genius and did help in the memorization of the stories for the primarily oral culture in which he lived, we can authoritatively state that Moses’ writings of Abraham accurately reflect the history of Abraham. These events happened as Moses described them. We do not separate our doctrine of divine inspiration of Scripture from our study of the literary qualities of the text. We can not answer the question of how much literary license God allowed Moses, but we can say that the God of all history is sovereign and that he did order Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and he did intervene at the last minute and he did provide a ram.
- A. Outline- I want you to team up in groups of 2-3 and tell me how you would outline this text.
- II. Theological Analysis and Application of Gen. 22:1-2
- A. Verse 1 God Calls, Abraham Responds
- 1. “After these things…” There is no way of knowing how much time has passed since the events with Abimelech or since the departure of Hagar and Ishmael. In vs. 5 Abraham refers to Isaac as na’ar, lad, indicating that he is a child, perhaps a young adolescent. Combine that with the fact that he was old enough to carry the bundle of wood for the sacrifice and you can picture a child of about 12-16. This, then, would indicate that it has been 10+ years since the forced departure of Ishmael and his mother, Hagar. Hamilton, however, writes about a Jewish tradition, p.100, that places Isaac’s age at 37, derived from the death of Sarah at the age of 127. They assume Sarah died suddenly upon learning that Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac. There is no textual basis for this idea.
- 2. “God tested Abraham…” Hamilton brings out that the unusual inclusion of the definite article with Elohim in vs. 1 adds not just intensity but clarity to the situation. P.101, “The text clearly makes the point that what follows is a divine testing, not a demonic temptation.”
- 3. Keep in mind that Moses knew it was a test and he knew how it would end, but to Abraham this was real life and he did not know for sure how it would work out, even though he expressed great faith in speaking to his two men in vs.5 that they would return from worshiping.
- 4. Ross writes, p.392, “The narrative provides us with an important teaching abut the Lord’s dealings with his people- he tests them…It can be demonstrated that, when God tested his people, he was determining the quality of their faithfulness (cf. Exod. 15:22-27). Conversely, when human beings put God to the test, they were acting out of a weakened faith or a lack of faith (cf. Exod. 17:7; Num. 14:22). From Genesis 22, we learn that God may examine the faith of his people by calling them to obey him in ways that seem inexplicable.”
- 5. Waltke writes, p.304, “The focal point of this story is not the danger to Isaac but the danger to Abraham in his relationship to God. The Hebrew word ‘tested’ does not mean ‘to entice to do wrong’. With a personal object it means ‘test another to see whether the other proves worthy’ (1Kings 10:1; 2Chron. 9:1; Dan.1:12,14). Youngblood summarizes, ‘Satan tempts us to destroy us (1Peter 5:8; James1:15; Rom.6:23), but God tests us to strengthen us (Ex. 20:20; Deut.8:2). Here the saint is torn between his faith in the divine promises and the command to nullify them, between his affection for God’s gift and for God. Faith is living within the vision of trusting God and his promises.”
- 6. Application- I think that you can look at just about any obstacle, hindrance, or painful trial as a Test from God, much as Job was tested and, here, Abraham. Some of the tests come directly from the Lord, as this one with Abraham, others come from demonic activity as in Job, yet still under the sovereignty of God. Some can be seen as natural, while others can come from our own sinful choices. We know that God does not tempt us to sin, according to James 1:13f. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
- 7. Given everything that has happened in our church in the past year, from a child molestation case, to the removal of our teaching elder for sins, to the death of Daniel, would you say that our church is being tested by God? How have you been tested by God in your life?
- 8. Matthew Henry writes, p.40, “Now, perhaps, he was beginning to think the storms had all blown over; but, after all, this encounter comes, which is sharper than any yet….God tempted him, not to draw him to sin but to discover his graces, how strong they were, that they might be found to praise, and honour, and glory, 1Peter 1:7. Thus God tempted Job, that he might appear not only a good man, but a great man.”
- A. Verse 1 God Calls, Abraham Responds
“…that which God has to say to him is, in short, Abraham, Go kill thy son. Every word here is a sword in his bones; the trial is steeled with trying phrases.”
- 9. “Here am I.” This phrase occurs 3 times in the story (vss.1, 7, 11), but occurs with other great people of faith in the Bible as well (Ex.3:4; 1Sam.3:4; Isa.6:8). Are we as sensitive to the calling of God?
- B. Verse 2, God Commands Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac
- 1. “Take your son…Isaac…to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…” Henry offers 6 difficulties for Abraham: 1) it goes against the law of God in Gen. 9:5-6. 2) It goes against Abraham’s natural affection for his son. 3) God gives him no reason for this requirement. 4) It seems to contradict the promise of God “through Isaac shall thy seed be called.” 5) How could he ever face Sarah? 6) What would the surrounding peoples, like Abimelech, say?
- 2. Walton and Matthews, p.49, write, “In the ancient Near East, the god that provides fertility (El) is also entitled to demand a portion of what has been produced. This is expressed in the sacrifice of animals, grain and children. Texts from Phoenician and Punic colonies, like Carthage in North Africa, describe the ritual of child sacrifice as a means of insuring continued fertility. The biblical prophets and the laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus expressly forbid this practice, but that also implies that it continued to occur. In fact, the story of Abraham’s ‘sacrifice’ of Isaac suggests that Abraham was familiar with human sacrifice and was not surprised by Yahweh’s demand. However, the story also provides a model for the substitute of an animal for a human sacrifice that clearly draws a distinction between Israelite practice and that of other cultures.”
- 3. It is this command which British Baptist G. Henton Davies objected to in his commentary for Broadman Press that caused a serious uproar in Baptist life and eventually led to the conservative resurgence in Southern Baptist life. Davies essentially objected to the historicity of this account maintaining that God would never have asked this of anyone.
- 4. While I would certainly agree that God does not require human sacrifice and commands against it (Lev.18:21; 20:2-5) and, since the law came after Abraham, we can look to Gen.9:5-6 as a law against murder, nonetheless, this event really happened and it does not contradict God’s character because he knew the outcome before he commanded it. The test of Abraham’s faith was legitimate and not morally conflicted since it was God who designed it from start to finish. I may deal in more detail with the Davies controversy later.
- 5. Jesus teaches us in Luke 14:26-27 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
- 6. In Matthew 10 Jesus gives some tough teaching on following him, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Conclusion: Abraham’s willingness to trust God with Isaac is probably the single greatest example of faith in the Bible. The call of Christ to us is no less. We are called to lay everything else aside and follow him.
He goes on with a holy wilfulness, after many a weary step, and with a heavy heart he arrives at length at the fatal place, builds the altar (an altar of earth, we may suppose, the saddest that ever he built, and he had built many a one), lays the wood in order for his Isaac’s funeral pile, and now tells him the amazing news: “Isaac, thou art the lamb which God has provided.’’ Isaac, for aught that appears, is as willing as Abraham; we do not find that he raised any objection against it, that he petitioned for his life, that he attempted to make his escape, much less that he struggled with his aged father, or made any resistance: Abraham does it, God will have it done, and Isaac has learnt to submit to both, Abraham no doubt comforting him with the same hopes with which he himself by faith was comforted. Yet it is necessary that a sacrifice be bound. The great sacrifice, which in the fullness of time was to be offered up, must be bound, and therefore so must Isaac. But with what heart could tender Abraham tie those guiltless hands, which perhaps had often been lifted up to ask his blessing, and stretched out to embrace him, and were now the more straitly bound with the cords of love and duty! However, it must be done. Having bound him, he lays him upon the altar, and his hand upon the head of his sacrifice; and now, we may suppose, with floods of tears, he gives, and takes, the final farewell of a parting kiss: perhaps he takes another for Sarah from her dying son. This being done, he resolutely forgets the bowels of a father, and puts on the awful gravity of a sacrificer. With a fixed heart, and an eye lifted up to heaven, he takes the knife, and stretches out his hand to give a fatal cut to Isaac’s throat. Be astonished, O heavens! at this; and wonder, O earth! Here is an act of faith and obedience, which deserves to be a spectacle to God, angels, and men. Abraham’s darling, Sarah’s laughter, the church’s hope, the heir of promise, lies ready to bleed and die by his own father’s hand, who never shrinks at the doing of it. Now this obedience of Abraham in offering up Isaac is a lively representation, (1.) Of the love of God to us, in delivering up his only-begotten Son to suffer and die for us, as a sacrifice. It pleased the Lord himself to bruise him. See Isa. 53:10; Zec. 13:7. Abraham was obliged, both in duty and gratitude, to part with Isaac, and parted with him to a friend; but God was under no obligations to us, for we were enemies. (2.) Of our duty to God, in return for that love. We must tread in the steps of this faith of Abraham. God, by his word, calls us to part with all for Christ,—all our sins, though they have been as a right hand, or a right eye, or an Isaac—all those things that are competitors and rivals with Christ for the sovereignty of the heart (Lu. 14:26); and we must cheerfully let them all go. God, by his providence, which is truly the voice of God, calls us to part with an Isaac sometimes, and we must do it with a cheerful resignation and submission to his holy will, 1 Sa. 3:18.
Walton and Matthews, p.49, write,
“In this section the ram is offered as a sacrifice in the place of Isaac. The concept of substitution in sacrifice is not as common as we might think….Even in Israel there is little to suggest that the sacrificial institution was understood to have a principally vicarious or substitutionary element. Redemption of the firstborn and Passover would be notable exceptions on the fringe of the sacrificial institution.”
Jerry Faught writes, “the major objection to the initial volume was restricted to Davies’s treatment of Genesis, particularly his interpretation of Genesis 22:1-19, also a controversial section in Ralph Elliott’s book. In his treatment of the passage, Davies acknowledged that some persons interpreted literally God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Davies, however, rejected the idea that God literally commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. He asked, “Indeed what Christian or humane conscience could regard such a command as coming from God?” (10) Davies declared that Abraham’s conviction that Isaac must be sacrificed “is the climax of the psychology of his life.” (11) The discovery of the ram trapped in the thicket was the “solvent of his own mistaken conviction and his release into the fulness [sic] of the God-given conviction about himself.” (12)
Hamilton, Victor P.The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book
Of Genesis, Chapters 18-50. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand
Rapids, MI. 1995 (pp.97-123).
Henry, Matthew (1662-1714). The Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, one
Volume edition. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1961 (pp.40-41).
Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing, A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis.
Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI. 1996 (pp.391-406)
Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI. 2001 (pp.301-
Walton, John H. and Matthews, Victor H. The IVP Bible Background Commentary:
Genesis- Deuteronomy. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL. 1997 (p.49).
Wenham, Gordon. Word Biblical Commentary, volume2, Genesis 16-50. Word Books:
Dallas, TX. 1994 (pp.96-121).
Faught, Jerry, II. Baptist History and Heritage, Winter, 2003 “Round Two, Volume One: The Broadman Commentary Controversy”. Faught writes on the Ralph Elliot controversy of 1961-3 and the Broadman Bible Commentary controversy of 1969-72.
Sunday in the South, June 24, 2010, a blog by Gene Brooks.