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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. The testing was for Abraham's benefit, not God's; He doesn't need to reach understanding by experimentation. It has been observed: "In Late Bronze Age diplomatic correspondence, vassals attempt to demonstrate their loyalty by declaring they would carry out any command of the king even if it is self-destructive". Abraham was aware of this, but I suggest he loyally accepts it, and the point of the record is "obedience" rather than faith in resurrection, which I suggest is not upmost in Abraham's mind at this point. He believed he would receive Isaac back, so that the promises could be fulfilled (Heb. 11), but in what form and when were surely unclear to him. He showed the faith which is trust. And to be willing to sacrifice his son was effectively  sacrificing his future, going against all basic human instinct. And that is indeed the call of Jesus to this day.

We note this [and :11] is the only time when God calls Abraham by name. It was to demonstrate the depth of His personal relationship with Him, and He repeatedly shows how He understands what He is asking of men. Likewise we note that "God" here has the article, ha. As if 'God, the God, tested Abraham'. And so Phyllis Trible translates: "God, indeed God, tested...".  

That God tests man is a common theme. Ps. 26:2 “Probe me, YHWH, examine me, Test my heart and my mind in the fire”; Ex. 20:20 “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; God has come to test you, so that your fear of him, being always in your mind, may keep you from sinning’ ”; Dt. 8:2 “Remember the long road by which YHWH your God led you for forty years in the desert, to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart— whether you would keep his commandments or not”; Job 23:10 “And yet he knows every step I take! Let him test me in the crucible: I shall come out pure gold”; Zech. 13:9 "I shall pass this third through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, test them as gold is tested”; Ps. 17:3 “You probe my heart, examine me at night, you test me by fire and find no evil”. The testing as fire clearly alludes to probing the quality of gold and silver- and that is for the benefit of the tester, not the tested material. Yet does not God see and know all things? In one sense yes, in another, He limits His omniscience as He limits His omnipotence, in order to enter legitimate, felt relationship with us. "Surely they will reverence My Son [but they didn't]... I looked for My sons to be... [but they weren't]". Proverbs says that the spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching the innermost mind of man. I take that to mean that His probing of us is our probing of ourselves. We are revealed both to Him and to ourselves. And because self-examination is hard to totally achieve, He brings tests into our lives, to reveal ourselves to ourselves- and thereby to Him. This I suggest is what happened to Abraham. It is what happens to us as we come before the cross of the Lord in self examination at the communion table. If our hearts are zoned out and His death and resurrection means nothing, we are blank in feeling and response- then this is shown to God. If we feel motivated to lay down our lives, whilst admitting our humanity puts the brake on such desires... and we beg for God's patient endurance with us until we can do that... then, God sees that too.

In the end, Abraham didn't have to sacrifice Isaac; and perhaps one subtext of the story is to show that God wants us to be willing to sacrifice our children to Him, but He doesn't of course want us to do that in literal reality, and instead showed that animal and not human sacrifice was the path He chose for His people.

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. But God is foreseeing Abraham's tendency to try to get around things; He is clarifying that He means Isaac, not Ishmael, nor Eliezer, whom Abraham had been tempted to consider his promised 'seeds'. God had always tested Abraham at the point of family relationships- leaving his natural family (Gen. 12:1), separating from Lot (Gen. 13:15-18), separating from Ishmael his son (Gen. 17:17,18); and now being willing to lose his beloved son Isaac, 'laughter', the one who had brought such joy to him and Sarah. Attitudes to family are critical; and so is the willingness to sacrifice what is nearest and dearest to us, whatever it is in our context.  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.

"Your only son" reflects how God did appreciate what He was asking of Abraham. It is stressed six times in the record that Isaac was to be offered as a "burnt offering". The emphasis reflects how God was intensely aware of the enormity of what He was asking Abraham to do. In Gen. 12:1, Abram had been asked to sacrifice his past, his homeland and family or origin- and eventually, Abram had done so. Now he is being asked to sacrifice his future- and he is willing. We naturally struggle with the idea of child sacrifice; but we must note that the later, Mosaic condemnations of child sacrifice were always in the context of forbidding the sacrifice of children to other gods. Israel were asked to give their firstborn to God: "You shall give the firstborn of your sons to Me" (Ex. 22:29). This was not literal child sacrifice; but the idea was that instead of giving your firstborn in literal sacrifice to a god, Israel were to give their firstborn in service to Yahweh, as living sacrifices.  

And go into the land of Moriah. Offer him there for a burnt offering- 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). "Moriah" is a form of the Hebrew ra'a, 'to see' or provide. This is going to be a major theme; that on the mount of sacrifice, there Yahweh would provide. The ultimate 'seeing' and thereby provision of human need was in the gift of Jesus to die on Calvary. God sees our sins, and our inability in reality to put them right, nor to escape their consequence. He understood that, and His seeing is also His provision.

The command to sacrifice Isaac would apparently have meant that God's promises about the future seed through Isaac would not come true. I doubt whether Abraham was expecting to sacrifice Isaac and then see him instantly resurrected. I think his faith was rather in the sense that he trusted that God would somehow fulfil what He had promised, even though Abraham could not see how that would happen. This is where faith means trust, to believe is to trust, even when on an intellectual level we fail to see sense, justice or purpose.

It is stressed six times in the record that Isaac was to be offered as a "burnt offering". Ten times the word "son" is used in :2-16. The emphasis reflects how God was intensely aware of the enormity of what He was asking Abraham to do. The Biblical narrative is so sparse- just a small amount of text to cover decades. So when there is repetition of detail, we must see this as significant.

On one of the mountains which I will tell you of- As with the journey to the promised land, Abraham was not given specific details, and presumably an Angel in a cloud directed him to the specific spot. Abraham's earlier slow response is now far better- he gets up and goes straight away, trusting in guidance.

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. The fact Abraham himself does the mundane things like saddling the donkey and splitting the wood, when he heads a household of 318 trained servants, reflects how he very personally responded to the call. And we are left to infer that he did not inform Sarah. Our callings to the most intimate sacrifices are invariably faced alone. And the Abraham who elsewhere usually says something in response to God's voice... now is strangely silent throughout the three day journey. The splitting of the wood, saddling the donkey etc. are all recorded as highly calculated, consciously performed actions- all in obedience. And by those works was his incomplete faith "made perfect", the works didn't save him, but the experience of doing them matured his faith. 

And Isaac his son- Continually the record reflects God's recognition of the sacrifice. Abraham had had to separate from his father's family, from Lot, he had twice been separated from Sarah his wife (Gen. 12:15; 20:3), twice from Hagar his servant girl partner, twice and finally from his son Ishmael whom he loved; and now, apparently, he was asked to separate from his beloved son Isaac. He had been well prepared for it, but all the same- he does it. 

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.

The taking of wood with them is unusual, and remarkable. Because there would have been wood nearer, rather than having to take it three days journey. This unusual element in the narrative is to highlight the matter; and it becomes understandable once we perceive that the Father and Son were carrying the wood on which the son was to be sacrificed. This was exactly what happened as the Lord carried the wood of His cross to Golgotha. "Wood" and "tree" are the same word, so we picture Isaac carrying the tree on his shoulder. God was totally connected with Him in that last walk.

The record is as it were with the camera zoomed in very close upon Abraham and Isaac. We are to imagine the scene as if it were Bible television. The way the donkey was saddled, the wood split and transported, Abraham puts forth his hand, took the knife... and the silence as the two went "both together". We are being somehow invited into the unity between the Father and Son as the Lord travelled and walked to His death, in obedience to the Father's will.

22:4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes- The language is usually 'he looked and saw'. The mention of lifting up eyes is therefore suggestive of Abraham looking at the ground as he travelled, lost in thought. 

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. We also note the double meaning of 'seeing' as both seeing and providing. Abraham sees the place, and there God also saw / provided. So there was a mutuality between God and man; we see, and we see our need. God sees what we see, but His seeing is His provision. We learnt this when Hagar says "You, God, see me"; she means 'You have provided for me'.

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" could be read as meaning 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. But the spirituality of Abraham and Sarah is often spoken of in apparently exaggerated terms in the New Testament. Perhaps this is an example; Abraham's basic simple trust is read as if he had a more detailed faith and understanding than he actually did. Or it may be that Abraham was thinking of resurrection from the dead at the last day, rather than resurrection immediately after he had slain Isaac. He perhaps had no clear understanding of how and when the resurrection would happen. But he trusted that the promises necessitated Isaac's revival. Abraham's faith is never presented as total. We learn from Gen. 20:13 that Abraham's lying about Sarah had been habitual and frequent; and he had refused to learn the lesson from the incident of Gen. 12 when he lied about Sarah in Egypt. Dishonesty is presented as a characteristic of Abraham and his family. In this light we come to consider his statements as he takes Isaac to be slain: “You stay here with the ass. The boy and I will go up there; we will worship and we will return to you” (Gen. 22:5). He fully intended to sacrifice Isaac. So Abraham expected to return to the servants without Isaac, but he says “we will return” in order to cover his intention of killing Isaac. Perhaps he lied- rather than having faith that Isaac would be killed by him and then immediately resurrected. And yet he also believed, and his obedience and trust that somehow things would work out is commended and noted by God. He likewise effectively lied to Isaac in answering the question “But where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7).  It was by God's gracious hand that these white lies became prophetic.

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’. Hagar has this sense when the Angel rescues her in the desert, and she comments "You God see me". She means indeed that 'God sees me', but she clearly has the sense that 'God you see me and therefore have provided, thank You'. This is the huge import of the simply truth that God sees and knows all things. He sees us- and it is axiomatic to that seeing that He will provide. The ultimate seeing-provisioning is in God's understanding of the human fate and condition, and the cross was His provision. 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.

The Rabbis insist that the Hebrew here should be read "God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering- my son!". As if Abraham is now telling Isaac specifically- 'It's you, my son, who is to be the lamb'. The significance of the next sentence is therefore so poignant- knowing that, they went both of them together. It is an exact prefigurement of the Father and Son discussing the issue in Gethsemane, and thence going together to the cross. Surely Paul had Abraham's sacrifice in view when he wrote: "He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32).

We see here Abraham verbalizing his self realization, that the lamb had to be "My son". He begins answering his son's question, but then mutters to himself: "My son". The Father above was having precisely the same thoughts. Unknown to Abraham, as unknown to us, we can come to feelings and realizations that are exact mirrors of God's self realizations. God realized above all that there was ultimately no lamb, the lamb had to be "My Son"; and Abraham came to realize this, and Isaac went along with it. No wonder the Lord alluded to this incident in His own realization that lama sabbachthani, how have You entangled Me. He too struggled to come to the final realization that there was to be no lamb, no substitute, but Him, "My Son", God's Son, the total representative of humanity. And yet surely He was tempted to hope that there would be a last minute substitution to replace Him.

Isaac was clearly willing to be offered. But his silence looks forward to how the Lord "opened not His mouth" during His preparation for sacrifice (Is. 53:7). Truly did Martin Buber observe: "Scripture does not state its doctrine as doctrine but by telling a story and without exceeding the limits set by the nature of a story. It uses the method of story-telling to a degree, however, which world literature has not yet learned to use; and its cross-references and inter-connections, while noticeable, are so unobtrusive that a perfect attention is needed to grasp its intent- an attentiveness so perfect that it has not yet been fully achieved. Hence, it remains for us latecomers to point out the significance of what has hitherto been overlooked, neglected, insufficiently valued".

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. Isaac is described as a child, when he wasn't. The same is true with the description of the teenage Ishmael. Perhaps the idea is that for a parent, your suffering child is always your little boy. And so the record is written from the perspective of Abraham's feelings. As God recognized it was "your only son...", so in this we again see how God wanted to show that He recognized and understood Abraham's feelings, and understood what He was asking Abraham.

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 at the 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. Surely this incident is in view when John says "Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29).

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 of the offering of Isaac, God confirmed His promise with this oath, by Himself. By His own life, is the idea. And God cannot die. This looked ahead to how the death of Jesus resulted in God confirming the promises to Abraham, which are the Gospel, with an oath. That by two unchangeable things [the promise and the oath], in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation and elpis, or "Hope", an absolute certainty of salvation. And not a 'hope for the best', as the English word 'hope' can mistakenly suggest. God is offering us salvation, eternal inheritance of the earth. Without conditions. And He has confirmed that. In this sense we take the cup of the new covenant "in His blood"; the new covenant was before the old covenant, it was the promises made to Abraham. The simple offer of eternity by grace alone. But the Lord's blood, the offering of the true 'Isaac', confirmed this- to us. Any doubt about the certainty of salvation was thereby removed. The Lord's blood was not per se necessary for our salvation. God who can do anything could as easily immortalize anyone at any point in time; He can forgive sin and deal with its consequences on any basis, or without any basis at all. He is not an angry deity who needed to be appeased by the blood of His firstborn. God is not a magician, neither did the blood of His Son achieve any kind of magic in removing our sin. That is the mistake of Catholicism and frankly this view is literalism's last gasp, making God's grace and forgiveness and salvation dependent upon literal blood. One of the many reasons for the Lord's death was therefore to confirm the covenant to us, to flag our attention to the certainty of the simple promises of salvation given to Abraham which are the Christian Gospel (Gal. 3:8). His death was to persuade us of the certainty of our salvation. It confirmed the covenant which was already sure and certain. That we might have strong consolation and a Hope so certain that it is the anchor of our souls. For we are heirs of the same promise (Heb. 6:17).

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”. Galatians 3 definitely has this verse in mind when saying that here, the Gospel was preached to Abraham. And Paul stresses that here, "seed" is singular. But elsewhere it is plural. And the seed in view, is clearly the Lord Jesus. God's reward of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his seed is quite out of proportion to Abraham's willingness to sacrifice. And it is the same with us. Our willingness to sacrifice is counted as if we did it; for the NT speaks as if Abraham did sacrifice Isaac.

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.