Genesis 22:1-19 “God Tests Abraham’s Faith, Part 3”
Sunday, October 17, 2010
- II. Theological Analysis and Application of Gen. 22:1-2
- A. Verse 1-2 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 1-2 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?
10. “Take your son…Isaac…go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…” Three imperatives in the Hebrew show the strength of this command: Take, Go, Offer. We are not privy to Abraham’s private thoughts other than his brief words to his young men in vs.5 and to Isaac in vs.8.
11. John Calvin writes (p.563), “his mind, however, must of necessity have been severely crushed, and violently agitated, when the command and the promises of God were conflicting within him. But when he had come to the conclusion, that the God with whom he knew he had to do, could not be his adversary; although the did not immediately discover how the contradiction might be removed, he nevertheless, by hope, reconciled the command with the promise; because, being indubitably persuaded that God was faithful, he left the unknown issue to Divine Providence.”
12. Matthew 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?
13. 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.”
14. 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. 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)
15. Clyde T. Francisco, Henton Davies’ professor at Southern Seminary, was chosen to write the “Genesis” portion of the Broadman Bible Commentary after the original volume was recalled due to the uproar. Francisco writes, (p.188) “The test recorded here is different from the others recorded in Genesis. In chapter 12 Abraham was asked to give up his past. This he did without hesitation. In the years that followed he was expected to give up his anxiety about God’s keeping his word. In chapter 15 he passed that test. Now he was asked to give up his future. This, although the most painful decision of all, he was also ready to do. Trusting God, he would follow where he led, for the future was in his hands.”
16. 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.
17. 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.”
18. 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.
19. 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 requires no less faith; we are called to lay everything on the altar and follow him.
20. “…your only son Isaac…and offer him there as a burnt offering…” In the Koran this incident is mentioned but Isaacs name is not. Muslims consider Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael, all three, to be muslim prophets. Later muslim tradition states that Abraham actually offered Ishmael on the altar. See:
Some muslims believe that the location of the sacrifice of Ishmael by Abraham is in Mecca and a significant part of the annual Hajj is remembering this event from Gen. 22:
- B. Abraham’s Obedience, vss. 3-10
- 1. Vs.3 “So Abraham rose early in the morning…and went to the place of which God had told him.” There is no negotiating as he did over Sodom; there is no delay in his obedience. He was given a tough challenge and he responded quickly; a quick obedience is a holy obedience. The longer we delay the more opportunity we have for losing faith and falling into sin. A reluctant, hesitant obedience is still obedience (Matt.21:28ff and the parable of the two sons) but a quick obedience is a sign of a loving and mature faith. Contrast Abraham’s quick obedience here with Moses’ unwillingness to go back to Egypt in Exodus 4:13 “O LORD please send someone else.”
- 2. Calvin, (p.567), “this promptitude shows the greatness of Abraham’s faith.”
- 3. Vs3 “…saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men…he cut the wood…” Why are these non-essential details given? By including these mundane tasks of preparing for the trip it shows that obedience in the big things, sacrificing Isaac, is made up of several smaller decisions to obey. It heightens the drama, it slows down time increasing the weight upon Abraham’s shoulders.
- 4. Abraham’s obedience to the voice of God was built upon his being used to hearing the voice of God, and his track record of obeying the Lord when he did hear from God. We may be slow to hear the word of the Lord because we do not make it a habit. If we spend little time in God’s Word, little time in prayer, and infrequently attend Worship, Care Group, Sunday School or other Bible Studies, then we fall out of practice hearing the Word of God. We may be used to listening to those who are not godly, reading that which is not spiritual, and we used to the worldly cacophony all about us so that the voice of God is faint, distant and indistinct. Then we are easy prey for that which tickles our ears and leads us astray. When you see the huge coliseums filled with rapt audiences for the TV preachers who preach a false gospel or an incomplete gospel at best you see people who may not be used to hearing from the Lord.
- 5. John Calvin (p.562), “We find, indeed, all men ready to boast that they will do as Abraham did; but when it comes to the trial, they shrink from the yoke of God.”
- 6. Vs.4 “On the third day…” We have already mentioned the allusion here to Moses requesting of Pharaoh a three day journey into the wilderness for Israel to worship in Ex. 5:3, and to a limited extent, perhaps even to Christ being in the tomb for three days. Notice that there is no conversation reported during the three day journey. The silence speaks of the dread felt by Abraham.
- 7. Victor Hamilton, p.107, points out that if Abraham averaged about 17 miles a day, they would arrive in the region of Jerusalem on the third day from Beer Sheba. However, he says that “the third day” can be an idiom much like our “eleventh hour” indicating an indefinite time but emphasizing the drama of the event.
- 8. Waltke, p.307, “the extended interval of time show that Abraham does not act rashly but proceeds with resolute faith.”
- 9. Vs.5 “Abraham said to his young men, ‘…I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Here is the great statement of Abraham’s faith in God which the author of Hebrews interprets as a hope for resurrection in Heb.11:17-19.
10. John MacArthur writes on the Hebrews 11 text, p.335, “The proof of Abraham’s faith was his willingness to give back to God everything he had, including the son of promise, whom he had miraculously received because of his faith. After all the waiting and wondering, the son had been given by God. Then, before the son was grown, God asked for him back, and Abraham obeyed. Abraham knew that the covenant, which could only be fulfilled through Isaac, was unconditional. He knew, therefore, that God would do whatever was necessary, including raising Isaac from the dead, to keep His covenant….The thought of sacrificing Isaac must have grieved Abraham terribly, but he knew that he would have his son back. He knew that God would not, in fact could not, take his son away permanently, or else He would have to go back on His own word, which is impossible.”
“If Noah illustrates the duration of faith, Abraham shows the depth of faith. In tremendous, monumental faith Abraham brought Isaac to the top of Mt. Moriah and prepared to offer him to God. He believed in resurrection from the dead even before God revealed the doctrine. He had to believe in resurrection, because, if God allowed him to carry out the command to sacrifice Isaac, resurrection was the only way God could keep his promise.”
11. Vs. 6 “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son.” Here we see a faint type of Christ who also carried his wood to his sacrifice. This is one of the little details of the story and the Gospel that confirms in my heart the historicity of the text and its authority and divine nature.
12. Vs 7 “…where is the lamb?” Isaac may be catching on at this point, but he remains obedient to the end, again pointing us toward Christ and his passive obedience unto death.
13. Vs.8 “God will provide…” Abraham trusts in Jehovah Jireh. This points forward to the conclusion where God does in fact provide a sacrifice and Abraham names God and the place, The LORD will provide, Jehovah Jireh. Two thousand years later, at the same location, Herod’s Temple, while Jesus was dying on Golgotha, the Temple Veil separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place, would be torn in two from the top down by the hand of God as Jesus was providing a sacrifice for our sins.
14. “provide”- jireh- can be interpreted as to see or provide. How are they related? For YHWH to see includes seeing the future because he is eternal and sovereign. God knows and declares the end as well as the beginning. In understanding the English word provide we see that it is related to the word vide in Latin, “I saw”, or, today, video. Thus to provide is to foresee, to see in advance. We even use the word in that way- have you provided for your family if something should happen to you? Thus the insurance industry was born. We use the idea in another idiom- when asked about plans for something in the future we often respond with, “I’ll see to it.” In other words, God sees what we will need before we need it and provides it when we need it. The ram caught in the thicket was predestined by God to be on that mountain at that time, and the thicket was predestined by God to grow in such a way as to entice and capture the ram at just the right time so that Abraham could have the ram to sacrifice to the LORD. The Lord provided.
15. Can you recall a time when you had a need and God provided for that need? Now perhaps a more difficult question, Can you recall a time you had a need, and the need was not met, and you had to suffer? In what ways is this name for God abused today? Is it possible that by our living in America and being considerably wealthier than most of the people in the world, and in history, has affected our theology? What do you know about the Word of Faith movement and preachers who preach a Prosperity Gospel? How would you critique the Prosperity preachers? Or should we?
16. Vs.9 “Abraham…bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.” Again, there are no words spoken and here again we Isaac seemingly quietly, meekly, submitting to the will of his Father, pointing us to the willing sacrifice of Jesus who could have called legions of angels to his rescue.
17. V.10 “Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.” He would be bringing the knife down to the throat of his son to sever the carotid artery. He is committed to the task, his obedience is complete.
18. Matthew Henry writes, 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.
Calvin, John. The New Geneva Series of Commentaries: Genesis. Translated and edited
By John King, The Banner of Truth Trust: Edinburgh 1965 (originally published
in 1554 in Latin); (pp.557-574).
Francisco, Clyde T. The Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 1, Revised, “Genesis”
Broadman Press: Nashville, TN. 1973 (pp.187-191).
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).
MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Hebrews. Moody Press:
Chicago, IL. 1983 (p.335).
Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing, A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis.
Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI. 1996 (pp.391-406)
Stone, Nathan. Names of God. Moody Press: Chicago, IL 1944 (pp.57-69).
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.