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Genesis 22:1-19 – The Sacrifice of Isaac

Summary

Abraham responds positively to God's command to sacrifice his son, and God responds to Abraham by reiterating the promises.

Analysis

Genesis 22 is a classical text and constitutes a climactic point in the story of Abraham. This "test" of Abraham, but not known as such by him, is intended to test his faithfulness (so that God may know, 22:12), not to kill Isaac. This story is especially poignant in that Abraham has just lost his son Ishmael (21:8-21). Now the "only son" left is endangered. These two stories are mirrors of each other, focusing on the potential loss of both sons, and God's provisions for both.

Abraham's silent response to God's command seems cruel (and child abuse questions from our world are close at hand), but it may be that the reader, informed by Abraham's challenge of God in Genesis 18:23-25, is to respond with questions this time around.

While God's command (in view of the promise) is bizarre, Abraham's response over the course of the journey is informed more and more by a conviction that God can be trusted finally to save Isaac; this Abrahamic move in fact places the burden back on God to be true to promises made. Abraham's faith is evident in 22:7-8 (see also 22:5), wherein Abraham conveys this confidence in God by means of his attentive response to Isaac's question. Isaac's response shows that he believes his father's trust is well placed. The provision of a ram for the sacrifice (which was God's intention from the beginning), and God's overriding of the original command with another, confirms Abraham's trust. God responds with a reiteration of the promises (22:15-19).

This story may present a metaphor for Israel's life with God, perhaps especially at the time of the fall of Jerusalem. God has put Israel to a test in the fires of judgment in which many children died, has called forth its continuing faith, delivered it through the fires of judgment, and renewed the promises. Out of this traumatic experience Israel developed an understanding that a sacrifice was necessary to assure Israel's future. This is seen most profoundly in Isaiah 53 (compare Isaiah 53:7 with Genesis 22:7-8). Israel's redemption would not take place without cost--indeed, cost to God.

Genesis 22:1-19

The Command to Sacrifice Isaac

22After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 2He 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 that I shall show you.’ 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’ 6Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ 8Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.

9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill* his son. 11But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 12He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ 13And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’;* as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’*

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.’ 19So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.

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10 February 2011

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