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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Genesis 22

 

 

Verses 1-8

This incident took place some time after the events recorded in the chapters immediately preceding this one, evidently several years later.

God"s revelation to Abraham (His eighth recorded in Scripture) came to test Abraham"s faith (i.e, to prove its character and strength; cf. James 2:21-23).

"Life is a succession of tests, for character is only possible through discipline." [Note: Thomas, p195.]

God was testing Abraham"s love for Himself as well as his faith ( Genesis 22:2). Such testing (Heb. nsh) shows what someone is really like, and it usually involves difficulty or hardship (cf. Exodus 15:25; Exodus 16:4; Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 8:16; Deuteronomy 13:3; Judges 2:22; Judges 3:1; Judges 3:4; 1 Kings 10:1; Daniel 1:12; Daniel 1:14).

"This scene presents the radical nature of true faith: tremendous demands and incredible blessings." [Note: Waltke, Genesis , p301.]

"The . . . best approach to the passage is that God commanded an actual human sacrifice and Abraham intended to obey Him fully." [Note: Davis, p217.]

The land of Moriah was the mountainous country around Jerusalem. It stood about45 miles north of Beersheba. On these mountains God later appeared to David who built an altar to the Lord ( 2 Samuel 24:16-25). Here also Solomon built his temple ( 2 Chronicles 3:1) and Jesus Christ died. A mountain was a suitable place for Abraham to meet God (cf. Genesis 22:14). [Note: See Appendix3at the end of these notes for an article about Jerusalem"s Temple Mount.]

Genesis 22:1-2 relate another call God gave Abraham that parallels the one in Genesis 12:1-3 where God told him to leave where he was and go to another land.

"The repetition of these motifs forms an inclusio in the narrative structure of the Abrahamic narrative, pointing out the complete cycle in the patriarch"s experience. The allusion to the former call would also have prompted obedience to the present one, in many ways a more difficult journey in God"s direction." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p394. Cf. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26 , p, 283.]

The Lord was not asking Abraham to make any greater sacrifices to Him, the true God, than his pagan neighbors were willing to make to their false gods. Canaanite religion involved child sacrifice, but we do not know for sure that the Canaanites practiced it as early as Abraham"s time. [Note: See Everyday Life in Bible Times, p91; and The New Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Canaan, Canaanite," p186.]

"The demand [to sacrifice Isaac] was indeed only made to prove that Abraham was not behind the heathen in the self-denying surrender of his dearest to his God, and that when the demand had been complied with in spirit, the external fulfillment might be rejected." [Note: Delitzsch, 2:91.]

The words used to describe Isaac in this chapter, as well as what Moses said of him, indicate that he was probably a young man at this time ( Genesis 22:6). Josephus said he was25 years old. [Note: Josephus, 1:13:43.]

"There are indications to suggest that the meaning of Abba in Mark 14:36 is to be found in the light of its whole context and Genesis 22. Jesus" final trial in Gethsemane appears to be modelled on the supreme trial of Abraham and Isaac. Despite his horror and anguish before the prospect of an imminent sacrificial death, Isaac calls to Abraham his Abba and, as a faithful Song of Solomon , obeys the voice of God speaking through his father. Parallel to this, Jesus says Abba to God in the same way that Isaac does to Abraham. In this context, Abba has the meaning of "father" in the sense of a relationship to a devoted and obedient son. In Jesus" supreme hour of trial, it is his trust and obedience to God as Abba that carries him through, even to the cross. This meaning of Abba may prompt further study of the significance of son in other NT texts to discover whether the obediential aspect may be more prominent than has been suspected. The father-son relationship in Genesis 22may be a far-reaching New Testament model of that between Jesus and God." [Note: Joseph A. Grassi, "Abba, Father ( Mark 14:36): Another Approach," Journal of the American Academy of Religion50:3 (September1982):455.]

Abraham referred to the sacrifice he would offer, supposedly Isaac, but really God"s substitute for Isaac, as "the lamb." This statement ( Genesis 22:8), of course, proved prophetic of Jesus Christ as well ( John 1:29). Abraham spoke better than he knew.


Verses 1-19

14. The sacrifice of Isaac22:1-19

In obedience to God"s command Abraham took his promised heir to Moriah to sacrifice him to the Lord. Because Abraham was willing to slay his uniquely begotten son God restrained him from killing Isaac and promised to bless him further for his obedience. Abraham memorialized the place as "the Lord will provide."

God called on Abraham to make five great sacrifices: his native country, his extended family, his nephew Lot, his son Ishmael, and his son Isaac. Each sacrifice involved something naturally dear to Abraham, but each resulted in greater blessings from God.

This incident also demonstrates the strong confidence that Abraham had in God at this time. He believed God was even able to raise Isaac from the dead ( Hebrews 11:19). This is why he was willing to slay him. Jewish tradition refers to this chapter as the Akedah, from the Hebrew word wayya"aqod, translated "bound," in Genesis 22:9. [Note: See Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26 , pp300-306.]

"With this chapter we reach the climax of the faith life of Abraham-the supreme test and the supreme victory." [Note: Leupold, 2:616. Cf. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 , pp99 , 112. This writer also noted parallels between chapters21,22on pp99-100.]

"The seventh crisis [I believe it is the eleventh] comes at a point in the narrative when we least expect it and is without question the greatest crisis of all. After all obstacles have seemingly been surmounted and all potential rivals eliminated, God now asks for Abraham"s only son whom he loves. The gracious intervention of God and the reaffirmation of the basic promise of121-3in2215-18 would seem to conclude the Abraham cycle at the moment when faith triumphs over the greatest obstacle of all, death." [Note: Helyer, pp84-85.]


Verses 9-19

Isaac demonstrated his own faith clearly in this incident. He must have known what his father intended to do to him, yet he submitted willingly ( Genesis 22:9).

"If Abraham displays faith that obeys, then Isaac displays faith that cooperates. If Isaac was strong and big enough to carry wood for a sacrifice, maybe he was strong and big enough to resist or subdue his father." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters18-50 , p110.]

The possibility of Isaac resisting may be why Abraham bound him on the altar.

"The sacrifice was already accomplished in his [Abraham"s] heart, and he had fully satisfied the requirements of God." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:250.]

"The test, instead of breaking him, brings him to the summit of his lifelong walk with God." [Note: Kidner, pp142-43. See Donald Campbell, "Passing the Test," Kindred Spirit9:2 (Summer1985):9-10.]

Abraham gained a greater appreciation of God as the One who will provide or look out for him (Yahweh-jireh, lit. "the Lord sees") as a result of this incident ( Genesis 22:14). Also, the Lord confirmed His knowledge of Abraham ( Genesis 22:12; cf. Genesis 18:21; Job 1:1; Job 1:8; Job 2:3).

"The story reaches its climax when Abraham demonstrated his loyalty ( Genesis 22:12; Genesis 22:15-18) by obeying God"s command (cf. Genesis 26:5). God then elevated the patriarch to the status of a favored vassal who now possessed a ratified promise, comparable to the royal grants attested in the ancient Near East. God contextalized His self-revelation to Abraham (and to the readers of the narrative) within the relational, metaphorical framework of a covenant lord. Thus one should not be surprised to hear Him speak in ways that reflect the relational role He assumed within this metaphorical framework." [Note: Chisholm, "Anatomy of . . .," p13.]

Abraham"s sacrifice of the ram ( Genesis 22:13), like Noah"s sacrifice after he left the ark ( Genesis 8:18 to Genesis 9:17), expressed thanks and devotion to God and anticipated His benevolence toward future generations. This is the first explicit mention of the substitutionary sacrifice of one life for another in the Bible. God appeared again to Abraham (the ninth revelation) at the end of His test ( Genesis 22:15). God swore by Himself to confirm His promises to Abraham ( Genesis 22:16). God so swore only here in His dealings with the patriarchs. Moses referred to this oath later in Israel"s history ( Genesis 24:7; Genesis 26:3; Genesis 50:24; Exodus 13:5; Exodus 13:11; Exodus 33:1; et al.; cf. Hebrews 6:13-14).

". . . the main point of Genesis 22:9-14 is not the doctrine of the Atonement. It is portraying an obedient servant worshipping God in faith at great cost, and in the end receiving God"s provision." [Note: Ross, " Genesis ," p65.]

One writer suggested that Genesis 22:15-18 really ". . . describes the establishment of the covenant of circumcision first mentioned in Genesis 17." [Note: T. Desmond Alexander, " Genesis 22and the Covenant of Circumcision," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament25 (February1983):17.] However the lack of reference to circumcision in the immediate context makes this interpretation tenuous.

For the first and last time in Genesis , the Lord swore an oath in His own name guaranteeing His promise ( Genesis 22:16; cf. Hebrews 6:13-14). God thus reinforced, reemphasized, and extended the promise that He had given formerly ( Genesis 12:1-3) because Abraham trusted and obeyed Him ( Genesis 22:17-18).

"Here again God promised Abraham that he would become the recipient of the covenant blessings. The covenant was not based on obedience, nor was the perpetuity of the covenant based on obedience-but rather the reception of covenant blessings was conditioned on obedience. Remember, an unconditional covenant may have conditional blessings." [Note: Pentecost, Thy Kingdom . . ., pp66-67.]

Abraham"s "seed" ( Genesis 22:18) refers not only to Isaac but also to Messiah (cf. Galatians 3:16).

The Four Seeds of Abraham in Scripture

NATURAL SEED
All physical descendants of Abraham
(
Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7; et al.)

NATURAL-SPIRITUAL SEED
Believing physical descendants of Abraham
(
Romans 9:6; Romans 9:8; Galatians 6:16)

SPIRITUAL SEED
Believing non-physical descendants of Abraham
(
Galatians 3:6-9; Galatians 3:29)

ULTIMATE SEED
Jesus Christ
(
Galatians 3:16)

Abraham then returned to the well he had purchased at Beersheba and lived there ( Genesis 22:19).

Moses probably preserved the details of this story because this test involved the future of God"s promised seed, Isaac, and, therefore, the faithfulness of God. He probably did so also because this incident illustrates God"s feelings in giving His Son as the Lamb of God (cf. John 1:29; John 3:16). Other themes in this chapter include testing and obedience, the relationship between God and Prayer of Manasseh , and the relationship between father and son. [Note: John Lawlor developed these other themes in "The Test of Abraham: Genesis 22:11-19 ," Grace Theological Journal1:1 (Spring1980):19-35.]

Every time Abraham made a sacrifice for God the Lord responded by giving Abraham more.

1. Abraham left his homeland; God gave him a new one.

2. Abraham left his extended family; God gave him a much larger family.

3. Abraham offered the best of the land to Lot; God gave him more land.

4. Abraham gave up the King of Sodom"s reward; God gave Abraham more wealth.

5. Abraham gave up Ishmael; God made Ishmael the father of a multitude of Abraham"s posterity.

6. Abraham was willing to give up Isaac; God allowed him to live and through him gave Abraham numerous seed.

In each case God gave Abraham a deeper relationship with Himself as well as more material prosperity. Note the closeness of this fellowship in Abraham"s response to God"s revelations: "Here I am" ( Genesis 22:1; Genesis 22:11).

God has not promised Christians great physical blessings (cf. 2 Timothy 3:2), but whenever we make a sacrifice for Him He gives us a deeper relationship with Himself at least (cf. John 15:14). For this reason we should not fear making personal sacrifices for God.

Note too that what God called Abraham to give back to Him was something that He had provided for Abraham supernaturally in faithfulness to His promise. Sometimes God tests our faith by asking us to give back to Him what He has supernaturally and faithfully provided, not just what He has provided through regular channels.

This test of Abraham"s faith is the climax of his personal history. It is the last major incident in the record of his life.

". . . God does not demand a literal human sacrifice from His worshippers, but the spiritual sacrifice of an unconditional denial of the natural life, even to submission to death itself." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:252.]

The faithful believer will surrender to God whatever He may ask trusting in God"s promise of provision and blessing.


Verses 20-24

15. The descendants of Nahor22:20-24

The testing of Abraham"s faith was complete with the sacrifice of Isaac. The Author therefore brought the history of his life to a close and began to set the scene for related events in Isaac"s life.

This section signals a change in the direction of the narrative. It moves from Abraham to the next generation and its connections with the East. The record of Nahor"s12sons prepares the way for the story of Isaac"s marriage. It also shows that Rebekah ("heifer," or "soft, supple") was the daughter of Bethuel"s wife ( Genesis 22:23), not the daughter of Bethuel"s concubine ( Genesis 22:24). Isaac"s marriage was very important because Isaac was the heir of the promises (ch24).

Only a few of the individuals named as descendants of Abraham"s brother Nahor appear elsewhere in Scripture. The most important individuals were Rebekah and her father Bethuel. This is a segmented genealogy designed to establish family relationships, not a linear genealogy, which identifies the final descendant as the legitimate successor of the first (cf. Ruth 4:18-22).

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 22:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/genesis-22.html. 2012.

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