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Deeper Commentary


22:1 It happened after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, Abraham! He said, Here I am- See on Gen. 24:18. Temptation comes from internal processes (James 1:13-15), but God does test, as He did Adam in Eden and Israel in the wilderness (Ex. 15:25; 16:4). The primary audience of the Pentateuch was Israel under testing; and so the example of Abraham was presented in that context.

22:2 He said, Now take your son, your only son, whom you love, even Isaac- Isaac was not Abraham's only son. He had Ishmael, and other children by Keturah. Clearly the incident is framed to point forward to the sacrifice of God's only and beloved Son; "the son of His love" (Col. 1:13) surely alludes back here. Perhaps we are to read the words here as meaning that Isaac was the "only" son whom he loved so much. Or it could be that Isaac is framed as Abraham's only son, just as Melchizedek is spoken of as having no parents, and no beginning nor end of life. The reference is to how the record is framed in Genesis; no genealogy nor chronological markers are provided for him. And so it might be there, with this presentation of Isaac as "your only son". But perhaps the idea is that Isaac was the only son of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham had frequently lied about her during their marriage (Gen. 20:13), and hardly comes over as willing to die for her. And yet God here speaks to Abraham as if he is Sarah, alluding to the unity which He counted as being between them. The decision to sacrifice Isaac would have ideally needed her agreement.

And go into the land of Moriah. Offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of- It seems reasonable to conclude that Isaac was offered on or near the hill of Calvary, one of the hills (Heb.) near Jerusalem, in the ancient “land of Moriah" (where the temple was built, 2 Chron. 3:1).

 22:3 Abraham rose early in the morning- The flesh would naturally like to delay our response in case we can avoid the sacrifice required. But Abraham arises early in immediate obedience. He may have discussed the situation with Isaac, who would've been about 20, and he would have agreed of his own volition. However, Isaac's question in :7 suggests that he was not aware that he personally was to be offered.

And saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him- The details are added so that we can play "Bible television" with the scene and imagine it. "His young men" may refer to other sons he had had by concubines or Keturah. Perhaps he was willing to sacrifice them too if required.

And Isaac his son. He split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him- There are examples of Abraham being progressively set up by God so that his spiritual growth would be an upward spiral. Initially, he was told to walk / go to a land which God would shew him (Gen. 12:1); when he got there, he was told to "arise", and "walk" through that land of Canaan (Gen. 13:17). And Abraham, albeit in a faltering kind of way, did just this. But this was to prepare him for the test of Gen. 22:3 in the command to offer Isaac. His obedience this time isn't at all faltering. He "arises" and 'goes' [s.w. "walk"] "unto the place of which God had told him" to offer Isaac (Gen. 22:3). This is exactly what he had been called to do right back in Ur- to arise and walk / go to a land / place which God would show him (Gen. 12:1). And so our obedience in one challenge of God leads us to obedience in others. I've elsewhere pointed out how circumstances tend to repeat both within and between the lives of God's faithful. One experience is designed to lead us to another. Nothing- absolutely nothing- in our lives is senseless chance. All- and this takes some believing- is part of a higher plan for our spiritual good, in our latter end.

22:4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place far off- The name given to the place, Yahweh-Yireh, means ‘in this mount I have seen Yahweh’. The events of the death and resurrection of the Lord which Isaac’s experience pointed forward to were therefore the prophesied ‘seeing’ of Yahweh. When Abraham ‘saw the place [of Isaac’s intended sacrifice] afar off", there is more to those words than a literal description. Heb. 11:13 alludes here in saying that Abraham saw the fulfilment of “the promises" “afar off". The Lord in Jn. 8:56 says that Abraham saw His day or time [usually a reference to His sacrifice]. And yet that place of offering was called by Abraham ‘Jehovah Jireh’, ‘Jehovah will be seen’. Note the theme of seeing. In some shadowy way, Abraham understood something of the future sacrifice of the Lord Jesus; and yet he speaks of it as the time when Yahweh Himself will be ‘seen’, so intense would the manifestation of God be in the death of His Son.

22:5 Abraham said to his young men, Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go yonder. We will worship, and come back to you- True sacrifice is praise of God; thus Abraham's willingness to offer Isaac was "praise" (s.w. "worship"). Israel in their repentance "will account our lips as calves" (Hos. 14:3 LXX, RVmg.), i.e. as sacrifices. The "fruit of the lips" there was repentance. Which is why the Hebrew writer says that we "make confession to his name" with the fruit of our lips (Heb. 13:15 RV). Continually we should offer this sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15), the thankfulness that wells up from knowing we are forgiven, the joy born of regular, meaningful repentance. And we do this "by" or 'on account of' the sacrifice of Jesus for us, which enables this forgiveness and thereby repentance (Heb. 13:12,15).

Mt. 26:36 has the Lord saying to the disciples: “Sit in this place [kathisate autou] until going away, I pray there”, and then He takes along with him [paralambanein] Peter. These are the very words used in the Gen. 22 LXX account of Abraham taking Isaac to ‘the cross’. Jesus is seeking to encourage Peter to see himself as Isaac, being taken to share in the cross. Now whether Peter discerned this or not, we don’t know. But the Lord gave him the potential possibility to be inspired like this.  

"And come back to you" means that Abraham was certain that Isaac would be resurrected. Heb. 11:19 says that Abraham went in faith that "God was able to raise him up, even from the dead". Like Job, he worked out by inference that there had to be a resurrection of the body to fulfil the implications of the promises made to them.

22:6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. He took in his hand the fire and the knife. They both went together- Twice emphasized (:8), this speaks of the unity between Father and Son as the Lord walked the Via Dolorosa to the place of crucifixion; and of Isaac's willing involvement in the sacrifice, when he was easily old enough to escape from it. The scene looks forward to the Lord carrying the wood upon which He would be offered. Indeed the Hebrew for "wood" is strictly "tree". The same word is used of how Abraham had earlier "laid" provisions upon Hagar and Ishmael's shoulders and sent his son Ishmael away (Gen. 21:14). That experience in 'losing' his begotten son was to prepare him now for this apparent loss.

22:7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, and said, My father? He said, Here I am, my son. He said, Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?- This would suggest that Isaac had not been told of the plan. And yet he was old enough to have resisted. His willingness to cooperate would therefore have been a result of deciding to give his life at the very last moment. "Here I am" is the very Hebrew phrase Abraham uses in responding to the Lord's call in :1. We are given the impression of a man absolutely ready to obey any call.

22:8 Abraham said, God will Himself provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son. So they both went together- The Hebrew language reflects certain realities about the nature of God’s ways. The common Hebrew word for ‘to see’, especially when used about God’s ‘seeing’, means also ‘to provide’. Abraham comforted Isaac that “God will see for himself [AV ‘provide’] the lamb” (Gen. 22:8 RVmg.); and thus the RVmg. interprets ‘Jehovah Jireh’ as meaning ‘the Lord will see, or provide’ (Gen. 22:14). The same word is used when Saul asks his servants to “provide” him a man (1 Sam. 16:17). When Hagar said “You God see me” (Gen. 16:13), she was expressing her gratitude for His provision for her. What this means in practice is that the fact God sees and knows all things means that He can and will therefore and thereby provide for us in the circumstances of life; for He sees and knows all things. Perhaps Abraham learnt from the words of his slave girl, whom he and his wife had abused. This is how we are to be, remembering and learning from incidents, even those which involve our own failures, to prepare us for future understandings and commitments.

22:9 They came to the place which God had told him of. Abraham built the altar there, and laid the wood in order, bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, on the wood- "They came to the place" is echoed in the description of the Lord's arrival at "the place called Golgotha" (Mt. 27:33). Again the details are given, so that we can reconstruct the scene. Thus we read of the wood ["tree [branches]"] being laid "in order", literally 'in rows'.

22:10 Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to kill his son- This is the Hebrew term used of Adam and Eve stretching out their hand to take the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:22). Abraham by contrast stretches out his hand in obedience rather than disobedience. The 'taking the knife to kill ['slaughter in sacrifice']' really does invite us to see Abraham silhouetted against the sky, with the knife in mid air. He really was taken to the brink. Surely this incident is in mind in 1 Cor. 10:13: "No temptation ['testing', as in Gen. 22:1] has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it". Abraham is no longer left as an icon to be admitted from afar, as if in stained glass; but rather is he everyman in Christ.

22:11 The angel of Yahweh called to him out of the sky, and said, Abraham, Abraham! He said, Here I am- This is presented as his characteristic response (:1,7). He was willing to do and be as directed, both in sacrificing or not sacrificing.

22:12 He said, Don’t lay your hand on the boy, neither do anything to him- His hand was literally less than a meter from Isaac's heart, with a knife in that hand, just seconds away from plunging the knife into Isaac.

For now I know that you fear God- Because the Angels are of limited knowledge, it seems that they bring some trials upon us in order to find out more about us. This is language of limitation- God Himself knows all things, but the Angel wanted to test Abraham. Indeed, the apocryphal Book Of Jubilees claims in so many words that it was an Angel called Mastema who was responsible for the idea of testing Abraham in order to determine his level of obedience.

Since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me- "Your only son" [see note on :2] reflects how God was fully aware of the cost of the sacrifice He was asking for. He too did not spare or withhold His only Son, and this passage is alluded to in Rom. 8:32: "He that spared not His own Son". Therefore He was so thrilled with Abraham's attitude because He perceived how a man was connecting with Him in having the same spirit. We too can thrill God by being likewise.

22:13 Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and saw that behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering instead of his son- This was the "way of escape" of 1 Cor. 10:13, which alludes to this incident and presents Abraham as every one of us. When the Lord on the cross cried out "How have You forsaken Me!" (Mk. 15:34), the Aramaic sabachthani  also means "entangled". It's as if He is saying "You have entangled me, I am not Isaac who was saved atthe last minute, I am like the entangled ram!". I have elsewhere commented concerning the possibility that Christ felt that although He would be tied to the cross as Isaac was, yet somehow He would be delivered. Clearly the offering of Isaac is to be understood as prophetic of the Lord’s sacrifice. The Lord's growing realization that the entangled ram represented Him rather than Isaac would have led to this sense of panic which He expressed in that cry from the cross. There is more evidence than we sometimes care to consider that Christ's understanding was indeed limited; He was capable of misunderstanding Scripture, especially under the stress of the cross.

22:14 Abraham called the name of that place ‘Yahweh Will Provide’. As it is said to this day, On Yahweh’s mountain, it will be provided- See on Job 42:1. Jehovah-Jireh can mean “Yahweh will show Yah", in eloquent prophecy of the crucifixion. There Yahweh was to be manifested supremely. Abraham comforted Isaac that "God will see for himself [AV 'provide'] the lamb" (Gen. 22:8 RVmg.); and thus the RVmg. interprets 'Jehovah-Jireh' as meaning 'the Lord will see, or provide'. The same word is used when Saul asks his servants to "provide" him a man (1 Sam. 16:17). When Hagar said "You God see me" (Gen. 16:13) she was expressing her gratitude for His provision for her. What this means in practice is that the fact God sees and knows all things means that He can and will therefore and thereby provide for us in the circumstances of life; for He sees and knows all things. Note that Prov. 28:27 and 29:7 RV speak of ‘hiding the eyes’ in the sense of not making provision for the need of others. God’s eyes are not hidden, and therefore He makes provision. Dt. 2:7 speaks of how God ‘knew’ Israel’s journey through the wilderness, and therefore they “lacked nothing”.

22:15 The angel of Yahweh called to Abraham a second time out of the sky- There was no Angel standing in front of Abraham to provide as it were visible backup. Really Abraham's faith in and response to the spoken word at this point is commendable.

22:16 And said, I have sworn by Myself, says Yahweh- The New Testament comments that this was because God could swear by no greater (Heb. 6:13). God was solemnly promising that all Abraham's seed would be saved because of this faith of Abraham confirmed now in his works.

Because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son- According to Heb. 11:12, God’s promises to Abraham were fulfilled on account of his faith; God in some way allowed Himself to be potentially limited by Abraham’s faith. Indeed, the promised world-wide blessing of all nations was promised only “because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:16,18). In this sense the covenants of salvation were partly due to another man [Abraham] being faithful [although above all our salvation was due to the Lord Jesus]. In this sense he is the “father” of the faithful.

The offering of Isaac was without doubt an act of faith by Abraham. His trust in the invisible God, His reflection upon a series of promises which amount to no more than about 200 words in Hebrew, was balanced against his natural hope for his family, human affection, common sense, love of his beloved son, lifelong ambition... and he was willing to ditch all those things for his faith in God's promises. You can speak 200 words in a minute. The total sum of God's recorded communication with Abraham was only a minute's worth of speaking. Abraham had so much faith in so few words; and perhaps the number of words was so few so that Abraham would memorize and continually reflect upon them. Yet the total number of words God or an Angel spoke to Abraham about anything was pretty small- the total [including the words of the promises] comes to only 583 Hebrew words- which can be spoken in less than three minutes [Gen. 12:1-3 = 28 words; Gen. 12:7 = 4 words; Gen. 13:14-16 = 44 words; Gen. 15 = 117 words; Gen. 17 = 195 words; Gen. 18 = 87 words; Gen. 21 = 26 words; Gen. 22 = 82 words]. And remember that all these words, these snatches of brief conversation, were spoken to Abraham over a period of 100 years or so. His faith in God's word, His mediation upon it and following its implications, really does make him a spiritual "father of us all". We have the Bible, a whole book of God's words, which we can instantly access and read. Would we were to have a like sensitivity to every word spoken.

Spiritual ambition means that we will desire to do some things which we can’t physically fulfil- and yet they will be counted to us. Abraham is spoken of as having offered up Isaac- his intention was counted as the act. And Prov. 19:22 RV appropriately comments: “The desire of a man is the measure of his kindness”. It is all accepted according to what a man has, not what he has not.  Faith is perfected / matured by the process of works (James 2:22,23). The works, the upward spiral of a life lived on the basis of faith, develop the initial belief in practice. Thus Abraham believed God in Gen. 15, but these works of Gen. 22 [offering Isaac] made that faith “perfect”. Through his correct response to the early promises given him, Abraham was imputed “the righteousness of faith”. But on account of that faith inspired by the earlier promises, he was given “the promises that he should be heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13). That promise in turn inspired yet more faith. In this same context, Paul had spoken of how the Gospel preached to Abraham in the promises leads men “from faith to faith”, up the upward spiral (Rom. 1:17).


God ‘spared not’ His own son (Rom. 8:32)- alluding to the LXX of Gen. 22:16, where Abraham spares not his son. Clearly the offering of Isaac is to be understood as prophetic of the Lord’s sacrifice. The Lord's growing realization that the entangled ram represented Him rather than Isaac would have led to the sense of panic which He expressed in "My God, why have You forsaken me?". Christ felt that although He would be tied to the cross as Isaac was, yet somehow He would be delivered.  The Greek phrase for 'not withholding' is elsewhere used about God not sparing people when He assigns them to condemnation (Rom. 11:21; 2 Cor. 13:2; 2 Pet. 2:4,5). The Lord Jesus knows how not only sinners feel but how the rejected will feel- for He ‘bore condemnation’ in this sense. We should be condemned. But He as our representative was condemned, although not personally guilty. He so empathized with us through the experience of the cross that He came to feel like a sinner, although He was not one. And thus He has freed us from condemnation.

22:17 That I will bless you greatly, and I will multiply your seed greatly like the stars of the sky, and like the sand which is on the seashore. Your seed will possess the gate of his enemies- The promise Paul refers to in Rom. 4:13 was given to Abraham because of, dia, on account of, his being declared right with God by faith in Gen. 15:6. Perhaps Paul specifically has in mind the promise of Gen. 22:17,18. Having been declared right with God, Abraham was then promised that he personally would be heir of the world- the implications of being right with God, counted righteous, were thereby fleshed out and given some more tangible, material, concrete form. He would therefore live for ever, because he was right with God; and the arena of that eternity would be “the world”.

God appears to use language with no regard as to whether the people who first heard it could understand it. God spoke to Job about snow (Job 37:6), to Abraham about sand on the sea shore (Gen. 22:17), to Noah about rain (Gen. 7:4) – things which they had never seen. And the New Testament concepts of grace, agape love, humility etc. were outside the ability of first century Greek to properly express; new words had to enter the language in order to express these ideas. Yet God is also capable of speaking in the language of the day, bringing Himself right down to our human level of language use. It is vital to appreciate that God uses language in different ways in different parts of the Bible – otherwise our interpretation of it will be inconsistent and contradictory.

In some cases God uses language in a relative sense in order to emphasize something. Thus we read here of many being saved (Gen. 22:17), yet in another sense few will be saved (Mt. 7:14; 20:16; Lk. 13:23). Relative to the wonder of salvation, many will be saved; but numerically, the figure will be small, from the perspective of this world. The way to the Kingdom is easy relative to the wonder of what is in store for the faithful (Mt. 11:30; 2 Cor. 4:17); and yet from our human perspective it is hard indeed, a life of self-crucifixion (Acts 14:22; Rev. 7:14). Our sufferings now are only for a moment compared to the glorious eternity of the Kingdom (Ps. 37:10; 2 Cor. 4:17), and yet the language of the Bible also expresses God’s appreciation that from our perspective, our time of probation is “a long time” (Mt. 25:19). “Many” – relatively- would be converted to the true ways of God by the work of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:16), whilst numerically the majority of those who heard John’s message eventually turned away from it, culminating in their crucifixion of the Messiah.

22:18 In your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice- Those seminal promises to Abraham hinged around what would be realized in, not "by", his seed. All that is true of the Lord Jesus is now true of us, in that we are in Him. Often the promises about the seed in the singular (the Lord Jesus) are applied to us in the plural (e.g. 2 Sam. 7:14 cp. Ps. 89:30-35). Baptism is not an initiation into a church. It isn't something which just seems the right thing to do. And even if because of our environment and conscience, it was easier to get baptized than not- now this mustn't be the case. We really are in Christ, we are born again; now we exist, spiritually! And moreover, we have risen with Him, His resurrection life, His life and living that will eternally be, is now manifest in us, and will be articulated physically at the resurrection.

The Lord's later command to preach to "all nations" would ring bells in Jewish minds with these promises to Abraham, concerning the blessing of forgiveness to come upon "all nations" through Messiah (Gen. 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). Therefore God's people are to preach the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ to "all nations". The offer of sharing in that blessing did not close at the end of the first century. Putting the "all nations" of the Abrahamic promises together with Christ's preaching commission leads to a simple conclusion: The Hope of Israel now applies to all nations; so go and tell this good news to all nations, for the extent of the fulfilment of the promises depends to some extent upon us.

The Hebrew word for ‘hear’ is also translated ‘obey’ (Gen. 22:18; Ex. 19:5; Dt. 30:8,20; Ps. 95:7). We can hear God’s word and not obey it. But if we really  hear it as we are intended to, we will obey it. If we truly believe God’s word to be His voice personally speaking to us, then we will by the very fact of hearing, obey. The message itself, if heard properly and not just on a surface level, will compel action.

22:19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba. Abraham lived at Beersheba- We are left with the impression that they didn't perceive what had happened, neither did Abraham and Isaac tell them. They both returned to them just as Abraham had said they would (:5). Some of our finest acts of devotion and most intimate moments with God are by their nature very personal; so much so, that we do not share them with others. That seems almost axiomatic from the very nature of the encounters.

22:20 It happened after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, Behold, Milcah, she also has borne children to your brother Nahor- The Genesis record seems to frame the confederations of Arab tribes contemporary with the 12 tribes of Israel as being a kind of pseudo-Israel- for they too are described as being 12 tribe confederacies. Here we have 12 Aramean tribes who came from the 12 sons born to Nahor, Abraham's brother (Gen. 22:20-24); and there were 12 tribes from Ishmael (Gen. 25:13-16); and the five tribes from the sons of Esau (Gen. 36:9-14) joined with the seven Horite tribes in Seir (Gen. 36:20-28).

22:21 Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram- Job was from "the land of Uz" (Job 1:1) but was a true servant of God. We have here confirmation of what I suggested about Ishmael on Gen. 16 and Gen. 21- all the seed of Abraham could have been within the covenant, although most of them chose not to, and the faithful line continued through Isaac and Jacob. That was how it was, but it wasn't like that because God rejected Abraham's wider seed only in favour of Isaac. Even if we reject this view, we are still left with the fact that people outside the immediate line from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob could be in fellowship with God. Elihu likewise is presented as a righteous man, and he was a "Buzite" (Job 32:2).

22:22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel- The genealogy is introduced at this point to demonstrate that even before Isaac was offered, God had been preparing a potential wife for him. So many people were involved in the wider family, but God was working through Bethuel and Rebekah.


22:23 Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother- Perhaps the information is given so that we can see that how through the mass of humanity, God's purpose has worked out through a minority.

22:24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah- Again we wonder why this detail is given, when the children named don't seem to have played much part in the Biblical record. Maybe we are being introduced to the idea that most significant men of the time had concubines, and children by them. Abraham was no exception, and yet Isaac has just been presented as his "only" son; as if he had a special connection with him, which made his sacrifice of him all the more meaningful. Or maybe it is again to just provide us perspective; rather like our wondering why the cosmos is so huge, why so many uninhabited planets, why so many life forms on earth, why such complexity. And one answer to all that is simply "perspective"; to help us appreciate the breadth of God's grace in focusing in upon little me, and the small group of humans which comprise His special people.