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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Genesis 22

 

 

Introduction

This great chapter lies at the very heart of Genesis, and for that matter, at the center and citadel of the entire Old Covenant. The constitution and charter of Judaism and the embryo of Christianity lie side by side here in this inner womb of the O.T. This chapter is not legend, or myth, but the Word of Almighty God. It is not a scissors-and-paste job by five different "redactors" putting together three or four, or five or six, "previous sources." Someone has said that this chapter is welded together like cast iron, and the unity of it is indestructible.

Speiser cited the near unanimous opinion of radical scholars who "attribute this chapter to `E' with scarcely a dissenting voice."[1] However, he admitted that [~'Elohiym] is the name for God in Genesis 22:1,3,8,9, and Genesis 22:12, and that "[~Yahweh]" is used in Genesis 22:11,15, and Genesis 22:16, and twice in Genesis 22:14! Does a fact like that force them to abandon their theory? Oh no! They say, "Somebody (maybe from the `P' school) mis-wrote [~'Elohiym] for [~Yahweh]!"[2] Disproving all such postulations, however is the simple truth that, "The present Hebrew text is supported by every ancient manuscript."[3] The believer has a choice here. He may believe the Bible or the unsupported, unreasonable, and blatant denials which Satan hurls against it! It is long past time that critical scholars should abandon all such doodlings with their imaginary sources. They do not exist.

The great theme of this glorious chapter focuses upon the offering of Isaac by his father Abraham in a suspense drama that rises above the literature of all times and nations. God commanded Abraham to offer up his only son as a burnt-offering! Abraham proceeded to do so and was restrained only at the last moment when God stayed his hand.

Why did God command such a thing? Many answers have been suggested. Speiser thought, "The object was to discover how firm was the patriarch's faith in the ultimate divine purpose."[4] Skinner suggested that, "It is explaining the substitution of animal for human sacrifices."[5] Yates believed that at least part of the purpose was, "To present an object lesson depicting God's abhorrence of human sacrifice as it was openly practiced by the heathen on all sides."[6]

At least one of the purposes as it related to Abraham was given by Francisco thus:

"Not until Abraham acted upon his faith did that faith come to fruition. Until he lifted the knife over his son, his ultimate surrender to God had not occurred. Faith is not just a nice attitude toward God; it is submission to His will. To will it in the heart is not enough. The act is the ultimate test."[7]

That this view is correct appears certain in the light of James' statement that Abraham was justified "when he offered up Isaac" (James 2:21).

There is also another great purpose of God visible in the command to offer Isaac as a burnt-offering. It was most proper and necessary that the whole human race should understand with what propriety God had chosen Abraham to be the father of the faithful in whom all people might be saved. All over the ancient pagan world, human sacrifice was practiced everywhere, with great kings sacrificing their own sons, as did some of the kings of Israel. And since that abominable practice was so widespread and influential in the world, it was a matter of eternal consequence that the faith of Abraham should have been demonstrated as being superior to the faith of pagans, in every particular.

After all,

"Human sacrifice was due, we may say, to the perversion only of a true instinct of humanity, namely, that which suggests the need of some great atonement, and the claim of the Giver to all our best and dearest, if demanded of us."[8]

However, one of the greatest and most likely purposes of God in thus testing the faith of Abraham was that of providing a type of the Lord Jesus Christ in the person of Isaac. Macknight agreed that, "The sacrifice of Isaac was commanded for the purpose of being a type of Christ."[9] See discussion of Isaac as a Type of Christ at the end of this chapter.


Verse 1-2

"And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham; and he said, Here am I. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of."

"God did prove Abraham ..." This was the only thing that God ever commanded Abraham to do calling it a "test" or "proving" of his faith in connection with it. None of the other things God commanded and Abraham obeyed had the quality of this event as a TEST. For example, Abraham might have desired, from personal reasons, to leave Ur, etc. The offering of Isaac, however, was something that Abraham could not have done except in an act of obedience to God. The versions that render the word "tempt" instead of "prove" are misleading, because God does not TEMPT any man (James 1:13).

The shocking intensity and impact of this divine command are seen in the cumulative effect of the designations for Isaac: "thy son ... thine only son ... whom thou lovest ... even Isaac!" "This is the first mention of love in the O.T."[10] Oddly enough, the first mention of love in the N.T. ("This is my beloved Son ..." Matthew 3:17) refers to Christ, of whom Isaac was a type.

"Land of Moriah ... one of the mountains ..." Where was this? The best answer points inevitably to Jerusalem, and the critical objection that it was less than three days' journey is merely a quibble. The Bible does not say that it was three days' journey, but that on the third day "Abraham saw the place afar off." Since Jerusalem cannot be seen from any great distance, the expression here must be understood relatively, and they might have arrived at noon. Certainly there was time remaining on that third day for the walk up the mountain and the building of the altar, etc. As noted in the previous chapter, Jerusalem was about 50 miles from where Abraham lived. Ewing's objection that Jerusalem cannot be "seen afar off by one approaching from the south or the southwest,"[11] merely proves that the critic misunderstood what was meant by "afar off." The notion that an old man around 125 or 130 years of age would have found that trip any less than a three days' journey borders on the ridiculous. The reasons for denying that Abraham offered Isaac in an area that later became Jerusalem are not logical or scientific, but theological. The critical schools are determined to deny as many facts of this episode as possible.

The Bible refers to Jerusalem as being in "the land of Moriah" (2 Chronicles 3:1), but the Jewish insistence that Solomon built the Temple on that very mountain where Isaac was offered is nowhere declared to be anything that God said. Our conviction is that the hill of Calvary is where Isaac was offered. "We may gather from Genesis 22:14 that the writer intended for Jerusalem to be understood here."[12] Payne referred to the "Identification of Moriah with Jerusalem, as vague (2 Chronicles 3:1),"[13] but a simple glance at the passage will reveal that such a statement is unjustified. Willis thought that, "As yet, no convincing location has been proposed,"[14] but the traditions of 3,000 years on this, as well as Scriptural identification are "convincing" enough for this writer. Kline identified it with Jerusalem.[15] Whitelaw, Leupold, Yates, Adam Clarke and many others received the evidence linking Moriah with Jerusalem as far more than sufficient, and convincing enough.

"One of the mountains which I shall tell thee of ..." We are left without any information whatever on just how God identified the particular place where Isaac was to be offered.


Verse 3-4

"And Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off."

This poignant record of Abraham's prompt move to obey God's awful commandment casts a chill over the heart even now, and one may hardly read it without tears. Nothing in the literature of mankind approaches the dramatic and heart-breaking pathos of these stark words. The allegation that a half dozen "redactors" are the authors by a piecemeal and haphazard method of such an effective narrative as this must be fairly judged as belonging to the lunacy of "modern" Biblical criticism.

Some have supposed that the young men went along to carry the wood, but since Isaac was able to carry all they needed up the mountain, the more likely conclusion is that the ass was burdened with the wood, food supplies, etc., required by four men on a projected six-day journey, and that the young men were present to aid Abraham in carrying out God's commandment, in case Isaac had resisted. Besides that, they took care of unloading, feeding, unsaddling, etc., at nights, also, no doubt, in the preparation of meals. The type of "saddle" is not mentioned, and may not therefore indicate one for riding, although that is possible.

"Saw the place afar off ..." The dreadful hour was not long to come. What thoughts of pain and anguish must have stabbed the heart of Abraham the loving father, as God "showed him" the place. Up until this point, he might have prayed that God would alter or countermand His instructions, but NO! The offering of Isaac would take place before the sun went down that third day!


Verse 5-6

"And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife; and they went both of them together."

"And we will worship ..." This is a classical definition of worship. Worship does not mean feelings of ecstasy, for Abraham's heart was breaking. Worship does not mean "communion with God." Worship is not some kind of a subjective attitude. Worship is DOING what God commands. See dissertation on this subject in my commentary on Acts, Acts 10:25.

"And laid it upon Isaac his son ..." Who can fail to see the suggestion in this of the Saviour's bearing the burden of the cross up the same mountain?

"He took in his hand the fire ..." By metonymy, the instruments for making fire are here called "fire." Speiser translated this "firestone"; but the Word of God says "fire"; and that is easily understood.

How old was Isaac at the time of this event? Some would make him only a little over three years of age, but the ability to carry an ass-load of wood up a mountain refutes that idea. Willis thought he was about twelve, but that is taken care of by the same load of wood. Keil thought he was a young man; and Kline thought he was a strong man. The answer given by Adam Clarke to this question is perceptive:

"Josephus supposed that Isaac was now twenty-five; some Rabbis say that he was thirty-six; but it is more probable that he was about thirty-three, the age at which his great Antitype was offered up."[16]

We believe that this conclusion by Clarke is trustworthy. Of course, it is a case of the N.T. shedding light on the O.T., just as there are some cases where the O.T. sheds some light on the N.T.

Even if it should be allowed that Isaac was only twenty-five, it is obvious enough that an old man of that age plus a full century, unaided, would have been unable to subdue Isaac and compel his obedience. Hence, the conclusion that Isaac willingly consented to be bound and to submit to the death which Abraham was ready to inflict. All this, to be sure, is exactly in keeping with the submissiveness of Christ. In both cases, the father offered up the only begotten son, but in neither is the son forced to yield, but yields of his own accord. In neither case is the life taken away by the violent action of the father. "Isaac yielded himself to the knife; Jesus laid down his life for the sheep."[17]

"We will worship, and come again to you ..." How could Abraham, in truth, have spoken a thing like this? The answer lies in the N.T.

"By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac: yea, he that had gladly received the promises was offering up his only son; even he to whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God is able to raise up, even the dead; from whence he did also in a figure receive him back." (Hebrews 11:17-19).

Thus Abraham, believing that God could and would raise Isaac, even from the dead, moved in perfect faith and obedience to do the dreadful thing God had commanded him to do! Never in world history has there been exhibited a more perfect OBEDIENT faith than that manifested here, both by Abraham and by Isaac.


Verse 7-8

"And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering? And Abraham said, God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son: so they went both of them together."

"Where is the lamb for the burnt-offering ... ?" Behold, what this does to the allegations of the false critics who affirm upon their honor that the sacrifice of the lamb did not exist until the times of Moses! How do they explain the inferential reference here in which Isaac spoke of the "lamb" as being a vital, customary, and necessary part of the sacrifice of a burnt-offering? Well, the good old "redactor" gets called into service again. But as we have repeatedly noted, the integrity of the text of this chapter is absolutely unimpeachable. This is the biggest and most important event since the creation and the deluge, and that Isaac actually said this is as certain as it may be possible to imagine.

"Father ... Here am I, my son ..." More tragic words were never spoken. How Abraham's heart must have been stricken with anguish here. Note the repetition of "they went both of them together" in Genesis 22:6 and Genesis 22:7. The sacred narrative here has been the unfailing marvel of all subsequent ages. Not a word is wasted. The breathless intensity of it rises higher with every step taken by father and son up the mountain to the place! The awesome climax, like a threatening cloud, looms more and more ominous. Even though we know the outcome, we cannot tear our minds away from this soul-chilling ordeal.

"God will provide himself a lamb ..." Aalders assures us that the literal meaning of this clause in Hebrew is: "God sees before him the lamb for sacrifice!"[18] That God was looking upon Isaac was surely what Abraham understood by this, but God made it true also in another sense. Who but God had already provided the ram caught in the bushes by his horns? God saw that also. It would have been far better for the translators to have left the literal meaning alone.


Verse 9-10

"And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built the altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son."

Abraham had built many altars, "at Sichem, Bethel, Hebron, and at Beersheba,"[19] but how heavy indeed were the stones that he brought together here!

"The wood in order ..." There was a regular order that Abraham followed in building an altar and offering sacrifice. It was done in a certain way, through long practice for many years; and that was noted here. The sacrifice was then placed "upon the wood." Is there any doubt that in all the other altars which Abraham had built that any such details were omitted? Absolutely NO!

"And bound Isaac ..." Every precious word here is loaded with eternal truth. The Son of God, his great Antitype, would also be bound and brought before the Sanhedrin, before Annas, before Caiphas, and before Pilate! We noted above that Isaac consented to this. Josephus' account of a conversation between Isaac and Abraham before this event has no Scriptural warrant, but it is included here as a Jewish tradition of what happened:

The patriarch said, "It was by God's will that I became thy father; and it is now by his will that I relinquish thee. O my son, bear this consecration to God with a generous mind; for I resign thee up to God who has thought fit now to require the testimony of this honor to himself, on account of the favors he has conferred upon me ... Accordingly, thou my son, will now die, not in any common way of going out of the world, but sent to God, the Father of all men, before hand, by thy own father, in the nature of a sacrifice.

Isaac said that he was not worthy to have been born at first, and that if he should reject the determination of God and his father, and should not readily resign himself up to their pleasure, it would have been unjust. So he went immediately to the altar.[20]

"And laid him on the altar, upon the wood ..." Was not Our Lord also laid "upon the wood," not only in the instance of his cradling in the manger of Bethlehem, but again upon Calvary when the soldiers stretched him there and affixed the savage nails in his hands and feet? The emotions are shocked and sucked dry by the contemplation of such things. And then like a stroke of lightening at midnight deliverance came!


Verse 11-12

"And the angel of Jehovah called out of heaven, and said, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me."

"The angel of Jehovah ..." "The angel of the Lord is the Lord himself, as the context shows (Genesis 22:11-12,15-18; 18:2,22; 19:1)."[21] Again and again, this glorious person appears throughout the Scriptures, as notably also in the visions of Zechariah.

"Abraham, Abraham ..." marks great urgency, or is an indication of some unusually significant event: "Jacob, Jacob" (Genesis 46:2), "Moses, Moses" (Exodus 3:4), "Samuel, Samuel" (1 Samuel 3:10), and "Saul, Saul" (Acts 9:5).

"Now I know ..." This, along with James' declaration that Abraham was justified" when he offered up Isaac" makes mandatory the conclusion that God's final approval of Abraham as the instrument of his purpose occurred right here. The truth that "God already knows everything" does not nullify this. The great corollary for all people is simply this: God tests every person who would receive eternal life. If God compelled Abraham to withstand such a test as this, how could it ever be imagined that God today saves people merely upon the glib assertion of their faith? The test for all people now was announced by Christ himself: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16).


Verse 13-14

"And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place, Jehovah-jireh, it shall be provided."

"A ram caught in a thicket ..." So, God indeed saw a lamb for the sacrifice, but Abraham could only see his son, until the angel of Jehovah stopped his hand.

"Jehovah-jireh ..." means "The Lord will provide," and has a double meaning: (1) that of providing a substitute for Isaac, and (2) that of providing a substitute for all people, upon Calvary.


Verse 15-16

"And the angel of Jehovah called unto Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said, By myself I have sworn, saith Jehovah, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son."

These verses are called "a supplement by a redactor" who decided the sparing of Isaac needed some greater reward than merely having his life spared.[22] Such an allegation rests solely upon the statement that "Jehovah ... called a second time." However, it is characteristic of the Bible that many such instances are given. For example, "The Word of Jehovah came the second time unto Jonah" (Jonah 3). No redactor ever touched this verse.

"Thine only son ..." How could God say that, when Abraham was also the father of Ishmael? The meaning, of course, is that Isaac was the son of promise, the only legitimate son born to his lawful wife.


Verses 17-19

"That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba: and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba."

"Stars of the heavens ... the sand which is upon the seashore ..." Morris did an extended calculation on this, concluding that: "An estimated number of the stars Isaiah 10^25 and likewise, the number of grains of sand on the earth, allowing 10,000,000 to a cubic foot, and 10^15 for the square feet of earth's surface makes the estimated number of grains of sand exactly the same, :10^25!"[23] Neither of such remarkable numbers was known to the ancients; and thus, "This is an excellent example of scientific truth found in the Bible long before scientists, by other means, learned that the two metaphors are essentially identical!

"Seed ..." as used first here therefore means an innumerable multitude; but "seed" as used in the last clause of Genesis 22:18 is the "Seed Singular." Note the singular pronoun. How futile are the devices by which critics apply this in the plural sense, meaning Abraham's fleshly descendants. Do they not know that the totality of Northern Israel was carried away forever by their enemies; and that again and again Southern Israel was defeated and carried to captivity, and finally completely obliterated by Titus and Vespasian in A.D. 70, and that even today, the Jews do not possess the cities of their enemies? Why make God prophesy a lie, by reading "seed" in this second recurrence of the term as plural also? Only "in Christ" did the seed of Abraham ever actually "possess the gate of his enemies." Most of the commentators miss this, but Unger discerned it accurately: "This expanded blessing centered in Christ, the coming seed (Galatians 3:16)."[24]

Isaac was one of the great O.T. types of Jesus Christ, and we shall discuss that aspect of this chapter after Genesis 22:24. As Leupold said, "The proper exposition of this chapter must point to the type that is involved. Such necessarily belongs to the exposition."[25]


Verses 20-24

"And it came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, Behold, Milcah, she hath borne children unto thy brother Nahor: Uz his first born, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram, and Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash, and Jidlaph, and Bethuel. And Bethuel begat Rebekah: these eight did Milcah bear to Nahor, Abraham's brother. And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she also bare Tebah, and Gaham, and Tahash, and Maacah."

This paragraph has only one significance, namely, that of disclosing the family connection of Rebekah, whose marriage to Isaac was about to be related. In those days, there was not much travel between various parts of the Mid-east, and Abraham evidently learned for the first time, through chance passers-by of the children of his brother. Some of these names are the same or similar to others recorded elsewhere in Genesis, but this means nothing at all. Many names were used over and over in successive generations as the mere reading of such a genealogy as that in Luke 3 reveals.

ISAAC; A TYPE OF CHRIST

The birth of Isaac was supernatural, as was Christ's.

Both were sons of "promise."

Both were called "the only begotten son."

Both carried the "wood" up Calvary.

Both Isaac and Jesus consented to suffer death.

Both consented to be "bound."

Both were laid "upon the wood."

Both were "offered" by their fathers.

Both "sacrifices" occurred on the same hill.

Both were in the prime and vigor of life.

Both were about age 33.

Both were "dead" three days and nights, Christ literally, Isaac in a figure.

Both lived again after the "offering," Christ literally, Isaac "in a figure."

There are a number of other typical resemblances between Isaac and Christ as their lives in relation to their brides are considered. We shall note these in connection with Genesis 24.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 22:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/genesis-22.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.


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