Genesis 22:1-19 – The Sacrifice of Isaac
SummaryAbraham responds positively to God's command to sacrifice his son, and God responds to Abraham by reiterating the promises.
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.