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Go to Bible: Genesis 22
“God tested Abraham.” The Hebrew word translated “tested” in Genesis 22:1 is nasah (#05254 נָסַה), and its meanings include “to test” and “to tempt.” It is helpful in biblical study to know that in both Hebrew and Greek, the same word can be either “test” or “tempt,” depending on the motivation of the one doing the testing or tempting. In a “test,” the most common idea is that the test would help the person in some way and result in success. In contrast, in a temptation, the motivation is that the person will fail. When it comes to nasah referring to a “test,” there are different uses of “test” in the Bible: people test God (Judg. 6:39); people test other people (1 Kings 10:1; Dan. 1:12, 14); people test things (1 Sam. 17:39), and God tests people (Gen. 22:1; Ps. 26:2). Understanding temptations is a little more challenging because people “tempt” God on their part (cp. Exod. 17:7; Num. 14:22), but God is not tempted by what they do, nor does God tempt anyone (James 1:13).
God’s “tests” are meant to strengthen the person in their walk with Him, and also accomplish His purposes. That is certainly the case here with Abraham. But it is important to understand that God testing Abraham is not unique because there are many times in the Bible that God “tested” people by asking them to do things for His purposes that the person did not want to do, but the word “test” is not in the text. Actually, on the most basic level, every person is tested by God. God commands people to do things, such as live a godly life, with the intention that people will obey and pass the “test,” and that is the basic idea behind verses that say God tests the heart (cp. 1 Chron. 29:17; Ps. 7:9; 26:2; Jer. 11:20; 17:10).
However, beyond God’s test to every person as to whether or not they will obey Him, God sometimes has specific jobs for people to do that severely test them because the job is unpleasant, a lot of work, or even dangerous. For example, God told Jeremiah not to marry (Jer. 16:1-4), not to go into a house where people were mourning the dead (Jer. 16:6-7), and to make a yoke with straps and crossbars and wear it around (Jer. 27). God had Ezekiel act out a number of prophecies; for example, to draw the city of Jerusalem on a tile and lay siege to it (Ezek. 4:1-3). Also, to lie on his left side for 390 days, then on his right side for 40 days (Ezek. 4:4-8). Also, to eat very little and drink very little, and bake his food over dung (Ezek. 4:9-17). God also told Ezekiel to shave his head and beard (Ezek. 5:1-13), and to leave Jerusalem as if going into exile (Ezek. 12:2-6). God told Hosea to marry a prostitute (Hos. 1:2-3). God told Amos, who was from Judah, to go into Israel and prophesy against it, a very dangerous assignment (Amos 7:10-17), and similarly, God told Jonah to leave Israel and prophesy against Assyria, which was also a very dangerous assignment (Jonah 1:1). The point is that although God’s asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac was no doubt very challenging, it was not completely out of line with what God has asked of other people, especially since God knew He was going to stop Abraham before he killed Isaac.
In Genesis 22 God tested both Abraham and Isaac, although the text only uses the word “test” of Abraham. Abraham had to be willing to sacrifice his son, and Isaac had to be willing to die at the request of his father. Both tests were difficult, and both were necessary. God did not test them “for fun.” The prophetic picture produced by the willing participation of Abraham and Isaac produced the clearest depiction in the whole Bible of the willing sacrifices made by God the Father who gave His Son and Jesus Christ the Son as he willingly gave his life. Abraham’s love and obedience to God and Isaac’s love and trust in his father is an example that has now shown brightly down through some 4,000 years of human history. That clear example no doubt helped Jesus Christ understand his role in the salvation of all who would believe, and has helped many better understand the singular sacrifice of Christ as well as the difficult sacrifices we must sometimes make in this fallen world in order to help others.
Once we understand that God does “test” people the way He tested Abraham and many of the prophets, we are better prepared mentally for whatever the Lord may have for us to do. Actually, some of the things that God asks of every Christian, such as sharing their faith with others, can severely test some people, but God wants us to succeed and we should want to participate in His plan to save every person on earth.(top)
“your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac.” The fourfold mention of Issac as Abraham’s “son...only son...whom you love...Isaac, establishes the intimate relationship between Abraham and his son, which is especially the case since Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, had been sent away years before. Abraham’s hope lay in Issac because he knew the promise was that the Messiah would come through Isaac. Also, the fact that God acknowledged that Isaac was loved by Abraham—“your only son, whom you love—precluded any idea that the reason that Abraham would be willing to sacrifice Isaac was that he did not really care about Isaac in the first place and was a selfish and cold-hearted man.
“your only son.” This is not an error in the Hebrew text or a contradiction in the Bible. Genesis tells us clearly that Abraham had another son, Ishmael, by Hagar (Gen. 16:4-16). God calls Isaac the “only son” as a point of emphasis to draw our attention to Isaac because he is the son of the promise, the son in the line of the Messiah (Gen. 21:12). If Isaac dies, humanity is lost because God’s promise of a Messiah through Isaac will go unfulfilled and there will be no Messiah to save mankind from death. In the line of the Messiah, and as the Hope of mankind, Isaac was the “only son.”
The offering of Isaac in Genesis 22 is a multifaceted portrait of the Messiah in which Isaac is a type of Christ and Abraham is a type of our Heavenly Father. No doubt Jesus himself received great inspiration and courage from it.
The multifaceted portrait includes: Abraham being the father who is willing to give his only son, while Isaac is the “only son” who is willing to give up his life. While it is often portrayed that Isaac is a small child, that is not the case. Isaac was a strong young man, as we can see by the fact that he carried the wood for the burnt offering on his back for three days, and that would have been quite a lot of wood, (Gen. 22:5). If Isaac had not allowed Abraham to bind him, then Abraham, likely around 130 years old, would not have been able to do it. Isaac was willing to die simply because Abraham told him it was the will of God.
Isaac and Abraham traveled for three days, during which time Isaac was as “good as dead” (Gen. 22:4), while Jesus was dead for three days and nights (Matt. 12:40). Isaac carried the wood he was to be offered on (Gen. 22:6), and Jesus carried the wood he was to be crucified on (John 19:17). Isaac was bound before he was offered (Gen. 22:9), Jesus was bound before he was offered (Matt. 27:2).
Also, Abraham and Isaac were both blessed with great blessings after they obeyed. Abraham was told his seed would become many—like the sand on the seashore; Isaac was told he would inherit the gate of his enemies (Gen. 22:17). Similarly, God and Jesus were both blessed after Jesus obeyed: God was blessed to have a huge family to live with Him forever, while Jesus will rule the earth as king, and indeed, inherit the gate of his enemy.
Still another parallel between God and Abraham is that Abraham was so confident in the promise of God that the Messiah would come through Isaac that he believed God would raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:19). However, offering Isaac would still have been difficult for him—it would never be easy to kill your own son even if you knew things would be okay in the end. Similarly, even though God knew He would raise Jesus from the dead and make him ruler over His creation, that did not make it easy for God to watch His only Son suffer and die.
“Moriah.” The name “Moriah” is composed of three elements. The prefix Hebrew letter mem, in this context referring to “the place,” the Hebrew verb ra’ah (#07200 רָאָה), and “Yah,” indicating “Yahweh.” When used in the passive voice, the verb ra’ah means “to see,” while when it is used in the active voice it means more “to provide.” Thus the connotation of “Moriah” in this context would include both “the place where Yahweh sees,” and “the place where Yahweh provides.” The word ra’ah occurs throughout the record, showing God’s constant watchfulness and provision (Gen. 22:4, 8, 13, 14; and also as part of “Moriah,” v. 2).
“burnt offering.” Although this was about 400 years before God gave the Law to Moses, the burnt offering was an indication of complete surrender to the will of God. Human sacrifice was forbidden by the Law (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut. 12:31), and there is no indication that God condoned it in any way before the Law. In fact, when people engage in human sacrifice it is to demons, not God (Ps. 106:37-38).
God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac is a unique prophetic picture in which Isaac was a type of Christ, and beyond that, God knew ahead of time that He would not allow Abraham to kill his son. Sadly, the record of Abraham and Isaac has been widely misunderstood. Some people have doubted that God really asked Abraham to offer his son as a burnt offering—to kill him and burn him. However, it is clear from Hebrews 11 that Abraham understood God correctly and acted out of his genuine trust in God, and thanks to Abraham’s trust and action, Isaac became a very clear type of Jesus Christ. Soren Kierkegaard is one famous person who misunderstood the Abraham-Isaac record, and in his book Fear and Trembling, he wrote four scenarios about Abraham and Isaac, none of them correct. In the first scenario, Abraham lies to Isaac and acts like killing Isaac is his own idea trying to protect Isaac’s faith in God. In the second, Abraham’s trust in God is shaken because of God’s request and so he sacrifices a ram instead of Isaac. In the third scenario, Abraham decides not to kill Isaac and prays to God to forgive him, and in the fourth scenario Abraham cannot bring himself to kill Isaac but Abraham’s lack of trust in God causes Isaac to doubt his own faith.
But God did ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering and the Abraham-Isaac record in Genesis 22 is a vital piece of redemption history. Certainly it is the clearest picture in the Bible of the father who is willing to give his son and the son willing to die according to the will of the father. But more than just picturing the willing father and son, it must have helped Jesus Christ on many levels. We know from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane that he did not want to die and yet he prayed, “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). So Jesus was prepared to die; prepared to do what God wanted no matter what it involved. The fact that Jesus knew that some 2,000 years earlier a real flesh-and-blood son, Isaac, had been willing to die simply because his father Abraham said it was necessary would have helped Jesus “set his face like a flint” (Isa. 50:7) and suffer what he had to suffer to accomplish redemption. No doubt that Jesus had reflected on the Abraham-Isaac record many times throughout his life, starting at a very early age.
Also, although God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son is unique and to some people even seems cruel, it is not completely out of the ordinary for God to ask very difficult things of His prophets. Also, the text of Genesis 22 reveals, not the confused and anxious angst of a caring father, but the calm resoluteness of a prophet of God who had personally met God on numerous occasions, who had been asked to do challenging things before, and who had always been protected and blessed by God. There is no hint of Abraham’s having confusion and anxiety in the text, instead he figured that God would raise Isaac from the dead. Indeed, “he who had gladly received the promises was offering up his only begotten son…He reasoned that God was able to raise him up, even out from among the dead, from which, as a parable, he did receive him back” (Heb. 11:19).
The prophetic picture of the father willing to offer his son and the son willing to die at the request of the father was a vital one to help people grasp what needed to happen with the Messiah in order to pay for the sins of mankind and make salvation available to anyone who wanted it. The record of Abraham offering Isaac is certainly historical, and no doubt it greatly helped Jesus, and it clearly teaches us that there may be things God asks us to do that we do not fully understand, but it is still important for us to obey God.
[For more on the times God appeared personally to Abraham, see commentary on Gen. 18:1].
“one of the mountains.” The place where the Temple was built was Mount Moriah, but that does not mean Isaac was sacrificed on it, as is commonly assumed. Note that God told Abraham to “go into the land of Moriah” and sacrifice Isaac on “one of the mountains” there. God never said to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah itself. There is a huge controversy over the location of the place that Jesus was crucified, but there is good evidence that it was on the Mount of Olives. If that is the case, then it is very likely indeed that the mountain that Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac on was the Mount of Olives.
“I will point out to you.” The Hebrew is slightly awkward when literally translated: “of which I will tell you.” The meaning is, “that I will show you,” or “that I will point out to you.”(top)
“saddled his donkey.” Actually, put a blanket on his donkey. The saddle of the biblical world was just a cloth or blanket. The true saddle with stirrups may have been invented during the late first century, perhaps during the lifetime of the Apostle John, but was not even around at the time of Christ.(top)
“on the third day.” This is an important part of Isaac being a type of Christ. Jesus spent three days and three nights in the grave, dead (Matt. 12:40). This is the third day that Isaac has been as good as dead, Abraham intending to kill him but thinking that God would somehow raise him back up (Heb. 11:19).(top)
“Stay here with the donkey.” This is one of the clear indications that Abraham was acting on revelation from God; acting by faith (Heb. 11:17). Ordinarily, Abraham would have taken the donkey, which already had the wood on it, to the place where he was going to sacrifice Isaac. But in this case he left the donkey behind and loaded the wood on Isaac, a seemingly senseless thing to do. But today, with 20/20 hindsight, we can see that Isaac—the type of Christ—carried the wood he was to be offered on (Gen. 22:6), just as Jesus carried the wood he was to be crucified on (John 19:17). God was directing Abraham in ways that would build a very clear picture of the sacrifice of Christ without Abraham understanding the fullness of what he was doing and that two millennia later Jesus would in a sense replay what Isaac had already done.
“bow down.” The Hebrew word is shachah (#07812 שָׁחָה), and it literally means “to bow down,” or “to prostrate oneself.” It was used of bowing down in homage or worship before a superior, and thus in the Bible we see people bowing down before other people, angels, pagan gods, and God. Usually, translators use “worship” when the person bows before the true God, and “bow down,” “prostrate themselves,” etc. when bowing before people and pagan gods. While this may be an acceptable translation practice, it can give the English reader the wrong impression that only God was “worshiped.” The same Hebrew word is used of bowing down in homage before God and people. This is not meant to degrade God in any way; it simply points to how people showed respect to those superior to them by bowing down or prostrating themselves. [For more on shachah and its referring to bowing down, prostration, or “worship,” see commentary on 1 Chron. 29:20].(top)
|Gen 22:6||- (top)|
|Gen 22:7||- (top)|
“see to providing.” The Hebrew more literally reads: “will see for himself.” The phrase is meant to bring the word “see” into the account, which emphasizes God seeing and providing. The Hebrew phrase means “to see to it,” or “to provide.” Later in the record (Gen. 22:14), Abraham will name the mountain, “Yahweh sees.”(top)
“And...and...and.” The word “and” occurs five times in this sentence, running forward from one point to the next. It is as if the text is telling us that Abraham hurried through this action, which was no doubt difficult for him, even though he believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead after he sacrificed him (Heb. 11:19).(top)
|Gen 22:10||- (top)|
|Gen 22:11||- (top)|
|Gen 22:12||- (top)|
|Gen 22:13||- (top)|
“Yahweh Will Provide.” The Hebrew is Yahweh yireh (better known as “Jehovah jireh” from earlier versions such as the King James and ASV), more literally, “Yahweh will see,” but in this case the verb “see” has its fuller or pregnant sense of “provide,” because God does not just “see,” He sees the need and then acts; He provides.
“On Yahweh’s mountain it will be provided.” Here again, as earlier in the verse, “provided” is more literally “seen.” In this context of Genesis, the translation in the REV and most other English versions is the primary emphasis—that Yahweh will see, or provide, on the mountain—but the last phrase in the verse can also be translated “On this mountain Yahweh is seen” (cp. CJB by Stern). This is no doubt a very purposeful choice of words on God’s part and an amphibologia (double meaning; cp. Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, by Bullinger). The mountain on which Abraham offered Isaac in a figurative sense (Heb. 11:19), is very likely the mountain on which Jesus was crucified. So it is very true that God “provided” on that mountain: He provided a ram for Abraham and years later He provided His Son for all of mankind so we could be saved. Also, however, just as we can “see” Abraham for who he is by the selfless way he showed his love for God by being willing to offer his son Isaac, so too we can “see” God and His great love and compassion for mankind by the selfless way that He offered His Son for us on the mountain. God is truly “seen” on Calvary. In truth, the loving God and the obedient Son are both clearly seen for who they are on that holy mountain.(top)
|Gen 22:15||- (top)|
|Gen 22:16||- (top)|
“bless you, yes, bless you.” The Hebrew text has the figure of speech polyptoton, using “bless” twice in the sentence but inflected in different ways. A more literal translation might be, “in blessing I will bless you.” [For more on the figure polyptoton, and the emphasis it brings, as well as the way it is translated in the REV, see commentary on Genesis 2:16].
“make your seed many, yes, many.” The Hebrew text has the figure of speech polyptoton, using the Hebrew word “increase” twice in the sentence but inflected in different ways. A more literal translation might be, “in increasing I will increase your seed.” The double polyptoton in this verse powerfully emphasizes the blessing of God on Abraham and extending to his offspring. This blessing was not due to anything Abraham could have done on his own, but was in the plan and purpose of God to have a family and save that family through the man, Jesus Christ. God promised Abraham that his seed would be a great multitude on a number of different occasions (Gen. 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 16:10 (via Hagar); Gen. 17:6; 22:17).
[For more on the figure polyptoton, and the emphasis it brings, as well as the way it is translated in the REV, see commentary on Genesis 3:16].(top)
“all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” This is another promise from God to Abraham that the Messiah would be one of his descendants. It is similar to Genesis 12:3, see commentary on Genesis 12:3.(top)
|Gen 22:19||- (top)|
|Gen 22:20||- (top)|
“Uz.” The land of Uz (cp. Job 1:1) was almost certainly named after him. The exact boundaries of Uz are unknown, but the area was east of the Jordan River and seems to include some of Edom to the south and extend all the way north into Aram (called Syria today).
“Buz.” The land of Buz was also near Edom, but like Uz, the exact boundaries are unknown. Jeremiah 25:23 puts it close to Tema and Dedan. Elihu in the book of Job was a Buzite (Job 32:2). The Assyrian records of King Esar-haddon show he invaded Bazu and Hazu, and Bazu might be the “Buz” of the Bible. The Assyrian records show Bazu was full of snakes and scorpions, which would fit the desert territory near Edom (and also fit with the fact that when the Israelites were traveling through Edom the people were bitten by venomous snakes; Num. 21:4-9).(top)
|Gen 22:22||- (top)|
“Rebekah.” She became the wife of Isaac (Gen. 24:15).(top)
|Gen 22:24||- (top)|