Genesis Lesson 22 | 22:1–22:19
Prayerfully read Genesis 22:1–22:19 at least two times and then read the following notes.
Context: Setting the Table
Following a magnificent introduction, Genesis divides into two unequal halves of five sections each. The first half of the book (2:4–11:26) deals with the history of humanity as a whole, from its creation to the birth of Abram. The second half of the book (11:27–50:26) focuses on the history of the patriarchs. In this eleventh installment of the story of Abraham, God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering.
Content: Reading the Text
(22:1a) We must remember that Abraham had, at God’s command, already been forced to part with Ishmael. Though the son of Hagar may not have been the one that God had chosen, Abraham had loved him dearly. Not only was God demanding what was most precious to Abraham—he was doing so for a second time.
(22:1b) Although, in both Hebrew and Greek, tests and temptations are referred to by the same word, they by no means represent the same reality. “We are not…tempted by God (James 1:13). ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5). We are, however…tested by God.….The difference between testing and tempting is no trivial matter. The goal of tempting is evil; the goal of testing is ‘that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing’ (James 1:4).”1
(22:1c) The next time that God is said to “test” anyone is Exodus 15:25, as the descendants of Abraham were headed on a “three-day journey” (Exodus 8:27) into the wilderness to meet with God on a mountain. This is just one of many ways in which the story of the Exodus links back to the story of Abraham. See also under verse 4.
(22:1d) While we as readers know that what follows represents God’s “testing” of Abraham, Abraham himself had no way of knowing that at the time. Though God’s demand seems altogether shocking to us, we must remember that Abraham simply did not have access to the great deal of subsequent revelation (including the absolute prohibition of human sacrifice—Deuteronomy 12:30–32) that was given to later generations.
(22:2a) The Hebrew phrase translated by the KJV as “get thee” is highly unusual and occurs only here (the last speech of God to Abraham) and in Genesis 12:1 (the first speech of God to Abraham). “In both instances, the precise ultimate destination of the trek is withheld.…Both episodes culminate in promises of glorious posterity, the second one containing striking verbal echoes of the first.”2
(22:2b) The only other occasion on which “Moriah” is mentioned is 2 Chronicles 3:1. While the details are not made explicit in Scripture, it seems that we are intended to see a connection between the location where Abraham offered up Isaac, the building of the temple, and the crucifixion of Christ.
(22:2c) Of the various offerings described in the Old Testament, the “burnt offering” (Leviticus 1:3–17) was the only one to be consumed entirely on the altar. No portion (the skin only excepted, Leviticus 7:8) was reserved for human consumption or benefit.
(22:3) The order of Abraham’s actions makes little sense. Why wait to cut the wood until the donkey was already saddled? “This illogical order hints at Abraham’s state of mind.”3 Hebrew prose often makes use of brilliant little hints like these to convey to the reader the emotional states that modern writers describe using many more words (See also the note on Genesis 21:14).
(22:4) “As elsewhere in Genesis, [Abraham’s] actions foreshadow the later history of Israel. They too were called to go a three-day journey to worship God upon a mountain.”4
(22:5) While the writer of Hebrews focuses on the faith of Abraham in God’s ability to fulfill his promises—even if that required the resurrection of Isaac from the ashes of the altar (Hebrews 11:19)—we should be no means suppose that faith in God’s promises was the only, or even the uppermost thing in Abraham’s mind and heart as he approached his final test. In the moment, it is altogether probable that his emotions and intentions were at least as conflicted as we find our own to be in times of deep crisis. “The enigmatic ambiguity of ‘we shall return’ perhaps gives an insight into the quite contrary ideas agitating Abraham’s mind at this time (‘I believe; help my unbelief,’ Mark 9:24).”5 While Abraham certainly had faith, he was also undoubtedly both confused and scared, hardly knowing if he was making a prophecy or obscuring the truth. What we must remember in our own lives is that, as long as we continue to follow Jesus, we will find that God’s perspective on our confused struggles in moments of crisis will be far more gracious than we had dared to think possible (see also the notes under 18:12b)!
(22:6) While we do not know Isaac’s age at this time with certainty, he was old enough both to carry a considerable quantity of wood. Given the other parallels between the near death of Ishmael in the wilderness and the near death of Isaac on the mountain, it is quite possible we are intended to see them as around the same age (around 15–17).
(22:8) “This is what John [the Baptist] means by calling Jesus ‘the Lamb of God’ [John 1:29]—the Lamb that God is providing. Jesus is not a lamb taken from the flocks of Israelites who bring it as an offering; he is the lamb that has come from God, the lamb that God gives for the salvation of the world. Only one lamb in the Hebrew Bible is said to be provided by God: the lamb of Genesis 22:8.”6 May we never forget the cost of our salvation!
(22:9) “[W]hy bother to mention that Abraham bound Isaac? Perhaps it was because Abraham might relatively easily have slit Isaac’s throat when he was off guard; that an elderly man was able to bind the hands and feet of a lively teenager strongly suggests Isaac’s consent.”7
(22:10) The Hebrew word translated here and in verse 6 as “knife” is a highly unusual one that elsewhere appears only in Judges 19:29 and Proverbs 30:14. As this particular word sounds a great deal like the word translated as “angel” in the next verse, some sort of word play, aligning the “instrument of death” with the “rescuing agent” seems likely.8
(22:11) Though the angels are spirit beings who do not have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39), they can nevertheless only be present in one place at one time. In order to convey God’s messages, they therefore need to travel from one place to another, which they are frequently depicted as doing. There is a striking parallel between this verse (note also the repetition in 22:15) and Genesis 21:17. In the entirety of the Old Testament, it is only in these two passages that an angel is said to speak “from heaven.” The messenger of the Lord intervened to save the life of both boys—and in both cases, the urgency of the moment precluded the completion of his journey and demanded he speak “from heaven.”
(22:12) God knows all things, and he certainly knew in advance that Abraham would pass this greatest of tests (Genesis 18:19). Yet what we must see is that the great faith that God intended to develop in the life of Abraham could only be produced by actually going through a trial that was as genuine as it was great.
(22:13) The provision of a ram, rather than a lamb, leaves Abraham’s words about a “lamb” as a promise to be fulfilled in the future—as indeed it was. Note also the striking allusion to 21:19—Both Abraham and Hagar are caused to see something that saves the life of both Ishmael and Isaac.
(22:14) “Jireh” is the same word that is translated as “will provide” in verse 8. It is often used to refer to the Lord’s appearances to Abraham (Genesis 18:1) and others. It is possible that the name “Moriah” is also connected to this same basic word.
(22:16) “This is the first and only divine oath in the patriarchal stories,”9 and this is the passage referred to in Hebrews 6:13. While God had already promised Abraham abundant blessings (Genesis 12:1–3), we must remember that God almost always works through means. Although everything that happens is under the control of God’s sovereign will (Ephesians 1:11), he works out this control through the free and meaningful actions of human beings. This is not a matter of an either/or but rather a both/and (Philippians 2:12–13).
(22:18) The word translated here as “because” is an unusual one. In Genesis, it is used only here and in 26:5 (where it refers back to this same event). Given that the word translated as “heel” in Genesis 3:15, is spelled in the same way, and that this is the only previous passage in which this sequence of letters was used, it seems at least possible that we are intended to see a link between the two passages.
Credo: Believing the Truth
Abraham’s walk of faith had been anything but smooth. Sometimes he was faithful—leaving all that was familiar to follow God. Other times he was fickle—repeatedly risking his wife’s honor to protect his own skin. Yet though Abraham lived a very public life, his defining moment took place in secret, with Isaac as the only human witness. By forcing him to place his allegiance to God above his greatest earthly treasure, God grew in him the great faith that the fulfillment of his promises had demanded all along. He will do no less for us!
Discuss the meaning of the text and then walk through the following application questions as you discuss the difference this meaning ought to make in our lives today.
How might we be tempted to ignore the fact that our salvation required nothing less than the death of God’s Lamb, Jesus Christ?
Examples: Allowing the difficulties of our individual situations to deaden our sense of gratitude; An unwillingness to be so much as inconvenienced by those for whom Christ gave up his very life, etc.
What in your life do you love so much that you could be tempted to withhold it from God?
Examples: Your sense of financial security; Your plans to accomplish something “great”; Your hobbies; Your favorite entertainment, etc.
1. Moore 2011, 39–40
2. Sarna 1989, 150
3. Wenham 1994, 106
4. Wenham 1994, 116
5. Wenham 1994, 108
6. Bauckham 2015, 156
7. Wenham 1994, 109
8. Sarna 1989, 152
9. Wenham 1994, 111