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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 22

 

 

Verses 1-24

Genesis 22:1-18. God did tempt Abraham, who had now attained the height of all his earthly joys; and seen in Isaac the long-suspended promises fulfilled. He saw nature aided by divine power in his birth, and in his conduct daily proofs of genius, of piety, and filial obedience. The lad everywhere accompanied his aged father, and gained on his affections, not less by his love of virtue than by his other engaging qualities, and hopeful indications of future greatness. In such circumstances it were no wonder, if the patriarch loved his son a little too well; and that the Lord God, desirous of giving an early type of the promised Saviour, should also at the same time resolve to purify his beloved and faithful friend from inordinate affections.

With these views, everyway becoming the wise and holy One, he said, Take now thy son. And what could Abraham now expect, accustomed as he had been to hear the promises concerning Isaac enlarged, but that they should now be larger still! Take now thy son, the only son now in thy house, even Isaac, whom thou lovest, whose birth occasioned thee so much joy, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. Every word in this command was as a two-edged sword, dividing asunder soul and spirit, the joints and the marrow. The divine injunction was clear and distinct; and the patriarch, long accustomed to the visions of God, well knew the voice which spake. A doubt, or shadow of a doubt, which often proves painful to others, would have afforded him the greatest relief.

It being probably after the evening devotion when this command was received, let us cast our eye on the astonished patriarch, and trace the workings of a wounded mind. See him extended this night on his sleepless couch, labouring with thought, embarrassed with darkness, and groaning with grief. He had no friend to whom he could disclose his burdened heart; for no friend had ever known the griefs which now assailed him; and a friend destitute of experience would have proved his greatest foe, by tempting him to disobedience; or by advising, as the priests of Crete advised Idomeneus, to substitute a hundred bulls for the life of his son.

In the morning, unrelieved by thought, he rises early with a trembling but obedient heart. He saddles his ass, cleaves the wood, and taking two young men and Isaac his son, sets his face, like the Saviour, stedfastly to go up to Salem. Oh what a day of pensive grief and labouring thought! As a bird caught in the net of the fowler, runs round a thousand and a thousand times, and seeks in vain some avenue of escape, and then sits down to breathe; so this weary traveller, having revolved in fruitless toil all his stores of ancient knowledge for comfort, lays down at night to enjoy his grief.

The second day arrives, and after a long and labouring night which seemed too short; the patriarch rises to travel a new road indeed, but his mind still revolved the same train of thought. Whether he reviewed a vast pilgrimage of chequered life, or whether he considered the traditions of his long-lived Sires, nothing was pertinent to his case, nothing afforded him comfort, or even a vestige of hope. Whether he considered the awful effects which Isaac’s tragic death would produce on Sarah, on his household, and on his pagan neighbours; or whether he considered the forlorn and languishing remains of his own old age, destitute of a son, and a dejected wife; all presented some new gloom, some fresh cup of bitterness, some additional woe. Big with these thoughts, and thoughts which inexperience cannot trace, he lays down the third night, but not to sleep. A dark and gloomy tempest still assailed his soul; waves of trouble still rolled over his head, and merciless as the roaring ocean, menaced his feeble age with never- ceasing fury.

The third day at length began to obtrude an unwelcome lustre on his wakeful eyes. But when calamities come to a crisis they often take a favourable turn; so even now, a ray of hope sprung up in the patriarch’s mind, but hope of the saddest kind. He knew, he well knew that God was true, and that he had promised to multiply Isaac’s seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sands on the seashore which are innumerable. His fainting soul therefore catched at the only vestige of presumptive comfort admissible in his case: he assuredly gathered, that God would raise his Isaac from the ashes of the altar, and so fulfil his faithful word. Oh what a tragic faith! Faith in a God unseen, faith in a God surrounded with clouds of thickest darkness. Somewhat cheered with this sad hope, he rises this morning also; and after adoring his Maker, throws his weary limbs across the beast, and stedfastly pursues his way.

He had not travelled far, before he saw the place afar off, the place already seen in vision. The word being in the plural, we cannot say whether it were mount Calvary or mount Zion; but Josephus thinks the mount was the scite on which the temple was afterwards built. Here all his wounds bleed afresh, and all his soul he yields a willing prey to grief. Here nature made her last recoil. But shrinking more at disobedience to his God, than at the oblation of his son, he delivers his beast to the young men, promising that both would soon return. He laid the wood on Isaac, and taking the knife in one hand and the censer in the other, proceeds with the lad to devotion. But ere they reach the awful place, ere the father slays his son, it was the lot of Isaac to pierce the Sire with the deepest wound. Isaac, trained to devotion, Isaac, accustomed to attend the altar, observed a defect in his father’s preparations. My father, said the unsuspecting youth, behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering? The father, unable as yet to afflict his unoffending son, answers, the Lord will provide himself a lamb for a burnt-offering. So they walk on, both of them together, and arrive at the awful spot. Abraham with a slow and trembling hand prepares the rude but mystic altar; he lays the wood in order, and then is compelled to disclose the strange revelation to his beloved son.

See the astonished youth turn pale with awe. See him rapidly revolve a train of thoughts in his astonished mind concerning God, providence, his mother, and a future state. See reflection soften his soul into tears; and the heroic faith of the father gradually inspire the heart of his obedient son. Isaac was now approaching 25 years of age, and Abraham 125, so that it is doubtful whether he could have bound him, unless Isaac had been willing. See Isaac now all irradiated in countenance by this faith, offer himself a willing victim to the divine command, and even exhort his shrinking father to persevere in obedience. So it is, that heaven gives to faithful martyrs a courage more than human, and arrays the soul with a lustre all divine. The courage of the son, now animates the trembling Sire to perfect his obedience. But what can language say. It has lost all its force. The aged patriarch raised his arm, to slay his only son!

The act of obedience being now completed, immediately the angel of the Lord called to him out of heaven, and stayed his hand. Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing that thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from ME. In that happy moment heaven poured its full tide of joy and glory on the patriarch’s soul, chased before it all his griefs, and left eternal serenity behind. In that happy moment God the Messiah renewed his covenant once for all with the venerable prophet; and to banish all doubt for ever from his mind, he confirmed the promise with an oath, that his seed should possess the gates of their enemies, and bring the promised blessing on all the nations of the earth.

This most extraordinary transaction, of Abraham’s offering up his son, was afterwards incorporated into the mythology of the heathen, who preserved the memory of it in the fables of their gods. What else is meant by Saturn, the Chronos or time of the Greeks, devouring the male children; and what by the scythe or sickle put into his hand to reap the earth. Eusebius reports, out of Sanchoniotho, that Ham, in time of surrounding war and grievous danger, offered up Jeoud, the only son of a certain poor woman, called Anobret. Præp. lib. 1. c. 10. This is the first human victim of which we have any trace in history. Since then the numbers offered by the progeny of Shem, and of Ham, and of Japhet is countless. They did it in Otaheite, as Captain Wilson reports, prior to his carrying missionaries there. In the nations of India, once in about three years, they still catch a young man about twenty five years of age, and offer him up in one of the larger temples to appease the gods; the king is always made acquainted with such sacrifices. These awful results of paganism have mostly been connected with the terrors of impending danger, and with the largest promises to voluntary victims. And whence could they originate, but in the gross and mistaken notions that the woman’s Seed was to die by the serpent’s biting his heel? All those sacrifices are regarded by Eusebius as having been effected by the influence of demons. How strange then must it appear to Abraham, that God should have required of him such a sacrifice!

Genesis 22:21. Uz, after whom a district was called, and from whom Job descended. Buz, his brother, was ancestor of Elihu, one of Job’s three friends. Kemuel, Father of Aram. The LXX read here, father of the Syrians, who were no doubt Aram’s posterity.

Genesis 22:24. Concubine, the partner of his bed. Our Saviour decides against polygamy in these words: “from the beginning it was not so.” Custom then sanctioned it in princes and great men, often to the bitterness of their own minds, and the destruction of their children. Instead of building their regal houses, it often pulled them down. The average of births Isaiah 24 females and 25 males, God foreseeing that men would perish in various ways, provided that one male and one female should be one flesh, and as one soul in two bodies. Such was the marriage in paradise, the purest model of posterity. The Hebrew פילגשׁ pilgesh, is certainly a low word, and cannot be derived from the root Peleg, he divided; for concubines were servants, and their children were not heirs. Whatever honour or respect they might sometimes acquire, it was on the law of custom, not of right.

REFLECTIONS.

If God tried the purity of Abraham’s faith, he will in like manner try our faith and obedience. He will require the sacrifice of every Isaac, and the mortification of every sin. He will allow us to love no creature but in himself, and only for his sake. Christian, the day is near when he will require fortune and family, body and soul to be offered up.

We have here an assurance of the truth of revealed religion, not only from the exact accomplishment of the promises made to Abraham, but also from the nature of the vision. The divine communications were clear and explicit, leaving not a doubt behind. On many occasions the prophets strove with God to be excused from their mission; and our patriarch had every motive to deprecate this strange sacrifice, but conscious of the communication, he did not dare to speak a word. Hence our unbelief has no plea on the ground of error and mistake.

In Isaac we have a striking type or figure of the Son of God. Isaac was the promised seed, long promised to Abraham; he was born by supernatural assistance afforded to Sarah; he bore the wood of the sacrifice, and then the wood bore him; on the third day he was raised up from the altar, and made the father of nations. In Jesus Christ these circumstances were almost exactly the same. God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son to bare our sins in his own body on the tree.

The recollection of past mercies should banish future doubts. Abraham called the name of that place JEHOVAH-JIREH, saying, in the mountain of the Lord it shall be seen, or the Lord will provide. How often have we in moments of salvation promised that we would doubt no more; we have been ashamed of our weakness in distrusting the faithfulness of God. Let us at last become strong, and pay our vows unto the Lord.

While all heaven seemed to rejoice over Abraham’s faith and obedience, God added the strongest oath of confirmation to the ancient promise: he swore by himself, by his life, his name, or his holiness. Hence we learn, that in the time of trouble and sincere obedience, he will comfort us by the powerful application of promises, and the strongest assurances of support; that by two immutable things, his word and oath, we may have strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us. In Isaac we have also a view of the resurrection, and of the future life. He was one, as good as dead, when extended on the pile, but he was raised up to enjoy the promise, even life everlasting.

In Abraham likewise we have proof, abundant proof, that the aids of revelation can carry mankind to greater virtue than was ever found in the heathen world. From the moment his faith was made perfect by works, he appears to have entered into all the glorious liberty of the New Covenant, and to have attained the full assurance of hope. His faith, his love, his obedience were all now made perfect; and he henceforth walked in the closest friendship and communion with his God. What an example for christians to follow!

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 22:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/genesis-22.html. 1835.

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