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The sacrifice of Isaac. The sealing of the faith of Abraham. The completion and sealing of the Divine Promise
1And it came to pass after these things [preparatory thereto, that God [Elohim] did tempt1 Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: 2and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah [shown or provided of Jehovah];2 and offer him there for a burnt offering3 upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
3And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men [servants] with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. 4Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. 5And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come [may come] again to you (נָשׁוּכָה). 6And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife: and they went both of them together. 7And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am [I hear], my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? 8And Abraham said, My son, God will provide4 himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went [further] both of them together. 9And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid [upon it] the wood in order; and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. 10And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his Song of Solomon 1:0; Song of Solomon 1:01And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: 12and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know [I have perceived] that thou fearest God [literally: a God-fearer art thou], seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. 13And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked [spied, descried], and behold, behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him for a burnt offering in the stead of his Song of Solomon 1:0; Song of Solomon 1:04And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh5 [Jehovah will see]: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.
15And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, 16And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: 17That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies. 18And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed [shall bless themselves; Hithpael]; because thou hast obeyed my voice. 19So Abraham returned unto his young men; and they rose up, and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham dwelt [still longer] at Beer-sheba.
GENERAL PRELIMINARY REMARKS
1. The documentary hypothesis [which implies not only that historical documents may have come down to Moses, and were used by him, but also that the book is compacted from distinct and still distinguishable compositions.—A. G] meets in this section a very significant rebuke, whose import has not been sufficiently estimated either by Knobel or Delitzsch. “Leaving out of view the term Elohim, nothing reminds us,” says Knobel, “of the Elohistic, but rather, everything is in favor of the Jehovistic author, e.g., in the main point, its whole tendency as thus stated (the knowledge of the unlawfulness of human sacrifices in Israel), the human way in which God is spoken of, etc. We must, therefore, hold that the Jehovist uses Elohim here, so long as he treats of human sacrifices, and then first, after this sacrifice, so foreign to the religion of Jehovah (Genesis 22:1), has been rebuked, uses Jehovah.” The real distinction of the names of God is thus recognized without considering its consequences. Delitzsch says, “the enlarger generally uses the name יהוה less exclusively than the author of the original writing the ה(אלהים). This change of the names of God is, at all events, significant, as is every change of the names of God in the original dependence and connection of one of the two narrators.” This concession does not agree with his introduction, when he says, “a comprehensible distinction between the two names of God, Elohim and Jehovah, is not always to be received; the author has often merely found a pleasure in ornamenting his work with the alternation of these two names” (p. 32, 33). The change in the names in this section is explained by the fact, that the revelation of God, which the patriarch received at the beginning of the history, mingled itself in his consciousness with traditional Elohistic ideas or prejudices, while in the sequel, the second revelation of Jehovah makes a clear and lasting distinction between the pure word of Jehovah, and the traditional Elohistic, or general religious apprehension of it.
2. We have already discussed, in the introduction (p. 74. ff.), the peculiar idea in the history of the sacrifice of Isaac, which the traditional theological misunderstanding has transformed into a dark enigma, which lies as a grave difficulty or stumbling block in the history. In his “History of the Old Covenant” (2d ed. p. 205), Kurtz resumes with great zeal the discussion, with reference to Hengstenberg’s Beiträge, iii. p. 145; Lange: Leben Jesu, i. p. 120; “Positive Dogmatics,” p. 818, and other works, and asserts directly that God demanded from Abraham the actual slaying of Isaac. It is no difficulty, in his view, that God, the true one, who is truth, commands at the beginning of the narrative, what he forbids at the close, as it was not difficult to him to hold that the assumed angels (Genesis 6:0) were created sexless, but had in some magical way themselves created for themselves the sexual power. [This is the difficulty which Kurtz overlooks. It is not the difficulty in reconciling this command with the prohibition of human sacrifices in the Mosaic law, but in reconciling the command with the prohibition in this history, if the killing of Isaac is referred to in both. Hengstenberg and those who argue with him, urge in favor of their view: 1. That the command relates only to the spiritual sacrifice of Isaac, here termed a burnt-offering because of the entire renunciation of Isaac as a son by nature, which he was to make, so that Isaac was to be dead to him, and then received back again from the dead, no longer in any sense a son of the flesh, but the son of promise and of grace; and then, 2. the numerous places in the Scripture in which these sacrificial terms are used in a spiritual sense (e.g., Hosea 14:3; Psalms 40:7-9; where the same term, burnt-offering, is used, and the Psalmist describes the entire yielding of his personality as the sacrifice which God required; Psalms 51:19; Psalms 119:108; Romans 12:1; Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:15, etc. See also the passage 1 Samuel 1:24-25); and finally 3. the force and usage of the word here rendered to tempt. But on the other hand it is urged with great force: 1. That the terms here used are such as to justify, if not require, the interpretation which Abraham put upon the command, i.e., that he was required literally to slay his son as a sacrifice; 2. that it is only as thus understood that we see the force of the temptation to which Abraham was subjected. It is obviously the design of the writer to present this temptation as the most severe and conclusive test. He was tried in the command to leave his home, in his long waiting for the promised seed, in the command to expel Ishmael. In all these his faith and obedience stood the test. It remained to be seen whether it would yield the son of promise also. This test, therefore, was applied. The temptation was not merely to part with his son, the only son of his love, but it was in the command to put him to death, of whom it was said, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” The command and the promise were apparently in direct conflict. If he obeys the command he would seem to frustrate the promise; if he held fast to the promise and saved his son he would disobey the command. 3. That this interpretation best explains the whole transaction, as it related to Isaac as the channel of blessing to the world, and the type of Christ, who was the true human sacrifice—the man for men. 4. That there is no real moral difficulty, since God, who is the giver of life, has a right to require it, and since his command clearly expressed, both justified Abraham in this painful deed and made it binding upon him. 5. That this seems to be required by the words of the apostle, Hebrews 11:19, “accounting that God was able to raise him from the dead.” The weight of authority is greatly in favor of the latter interpretation, even among recent commentators, and it is clearly to be preferred. In regard to the difficulty which Hengstenberg and Lange urge, it may be said that the command of God is not always a revelation of his secret will. He did not intend that Abraham should actually slay his son, and there is therefore no change in his purpose or will. He did intend that Abraham should understand that he was to do this. It was his purpose now to apply the final test of his faith (a test needful to the patriarch himself, and to all believers), which could only be the surrender to the will of God of that which he held most dear; in this case his son, the son of promise, in whom his seed should be called. To apply the test, he commands the patriarch, as he had a perfect right to do, to go and offer his son a burnt-offering. When the act was performed in heart, and was about to be actually completed, the test was clear, the obedience of faith was manifest, the whole condition of things was changed, and there was therefore a corresponding change in the formal command, though no change in the divine purpose.—A. G.] The actual divine restraint, which even restrained the sacrifice of Isaac in the very act (p. 207), forms the reconciling middle-term between the command to Abraham and the prohibition to Abraham’s descendants. We cannot truly yield our assent to such reconciling middle-terms between the commands and prohibitions of God. The question, how could the assumed positive command, “Thou shalt slay Isaac,” become a ground of the certain faith of Abraham? which is the main difficulty in the ordinary view of the passage, Delitzsch dismisses with the remark (3d ed. p. 418), “the subjective criterion of a fact of revelation is not its agreement with the utterances of the so-called pious consciousness which exalts itself above the Scripture, etc., but it is the experience of the new-birth.” This accords entirely with the explanation of the Tridentine theologians. The subjective criterion of a fact of revelation is rather that clear, i.e., calm, because free from doubt, firm certainty of faith produced directly by the fact of revelation itself. And this is truly a consciousness of the pious, which does not indeed set itself above the Scripture, but with which, also, the different acts, words, and commands of Jehovah, who ever remains the same in his truth and veracity, cannot be in conflict. The agreement between the declarations of the eternal revelation, and the eternal declarations of the religious consciousness, is so far wanting here, that Delitzsch says: “Israel knew that God had once required from Abraham (the human sacrifice) in order to fix for it a prohibition for all time. The law therefore recognizes the human sacrifice only as an abomination of the Moloch-worship (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:1-5), and the case of Jephthah belongs to a time when the Israelitish and Canaanitish popular spirit and views were peculiarly intermingled.” Then the abomination of the Moloch-service in Israel rests purely upon the positive ground of the example in this history, an example which with the same extreme positiveness, might be understood to have just the contrary force, if it signifies, perhaps; we may omit the human sacrifice in all such cases, when Jehovah makes the same wonderful prohibition. As to the sacrifice of Jephthah, Delitzsch regards it as a sort of reconciling middle-term between the Moloch-worship of the Canaanites and the prohibition of a Moloch-worship in Israel, that a hero of the time of the Judges should have acted in a heathen (even Canaanitish!) rather than in an Israelitish manner. Jephthah, who with the most definite and triumphant consciousness distinguishes between the Moabitish and Ammonite God, Chemosh, to whom, probably, human sacrifices were offered (2 Kings 3:27), and the God of Israel, Jehovah (Judges 11:24); Jephthah, who made his vow of a sacrifice to Jehovah, after the spirit of Jehovah came upon him (Judges 11:29), a vow which was connected with a prayer for victory over a Moloch-serving people; Jephthah, who was clearly conscious that he had made his vow to Jehovah that through him he might overcome the children of Ammon under their God Chemosh; offered indeed an abomination to Jehovah; and it is obvious what is meant when it is said, the daughters upon the mountains bewailed her virginity (not the lost, but the illegally fixed) and not her life, although the matter concerned her life; but it is not so evident when it is said that she never knew a man, after her father had put her to death (Judges 11:39), and it must not surprise us, truly, that it became a custom for the daughters of Israel to spend four days yearly to commemorate and praise a virgin who was entirely in accordance with her father in the most hurtful and godless misunderstanding, and in the most abominable sacrifice.6 We have to observe three oppositions in this history: first, that between נִסָּה וַיּאֹמֶר and וַיִּקְרָא מִן־הַשָּׁמַיִם, second, that between הָאֱלֹחִים and יְהוָֹה, and third, that between העלה of verse second and שחט of verse tenth.—The key to the explanation of the whole history lies in the expression נִסָּה. It denotes not simply to prove, or to put to the test (Knobel, Delitzsch), but to prove under circumstances which have originated from sin, and which increase the severity of the proof, and make it a temptation. And in so far as the union of the elements of the testing and of the tempting, i.e., the soliciting to evil, is under the providence of Jehovah, it denotes, he tempts, in much the same sense that he also punishes sin with sin. It is defined more closely thus: he leads or can lead into temptation (to do wrong) (Matthew 6:13). But the closest analysis is this: the proving is from God, the temptation is from sin (James 1:13). Thus the promise at Marah (Exodus 15:25-26) was in so far a temptation of the people as it had the inclination to misinterpret the same in a fleshly sense; the giving of the manna was a temptation so far as it was connected with the ordinance that the manna should not be gathered upon the Sabbath (Exodus 16:4); the terrible revelation of God from Sinai (Exodus 20:20) was a temptation of the people, since it could be the occasion for their falling into slavish fear, and flight from the presence of God (Exodus 20:19); comp. Deuteronomy 8:2; Genesis 22:16; especially Genesis 13:4; Judges 2:22. The demand of God from Abraham that he should sacrifice his son, became, through the remaining and overwhelming prejudices of the heathen, to whom to sacrifice was identical with to slay, a temptation to Abraham actually “to lay his hands upon the lad.” The command of God stands sure, but he did not understand its import fully, viz., that he should, in and under the completion of an animal sacrifice, consecrate and inwardly yield his son to Jehovah, and thus purify his heart from all new fleshly and slavish attachment to him. But it was the ordination of God, that in his conflict with the elements of the temptation, he should come to the point, when he could reveal to him the pure and full sense of his command. Hence also the first revelation was darker than the second. This fact is distorted when Schelling finds here in the Elohim the ungodly principle, which appears in opposition to the Maleach Jehovah as the true God (Delitzsch, p. 417). Even the distinction between a night and dream-voice, and a clear and loud tone at the perfect day (Ewald), decides nothing, although generally the dream-vision is the more imperfect form. But the distinction between an imperfect, vague, and general, and the perfect, definite revelation, is here truly of decisive importance. The history of the prophets (as of Jonah) and of the apostles (as of Peter) confirms abundantly that a true divine revelation can be obscured through an erroneous understanding of the revelation (as indeed the unerring voice of conscience may be obscured through an erroneous judgment of the conscience). This same fact appears and continues in the development of faith. “The flame purifies itself from the smoke.” We thus hold here, as earlier, with Hengstenberg and Bertheau, that the divine command to Abraham was subject to a misunderstanding in him, through the inner Asiatic sinful tradition of human sacrifice, but a misunderstanding providentially appointed to be finally salutary to Abraham. With this contrast between the imperfect and perfect revelation now referred to, corresponds fully the contrast between hælohim, Elohim on the one side, and Maleach-Jehovah, and Jehovah on the other side. God, as the God of all Gods, whose name breaks through all the impure conceptions of him, gave the first command, which Abraham, in his traditional and Elohistic ideas, with an admixture of some misconception, has yet correctly but vaguely understood, but the God of revelation corrects his misunderstanding, when he seals and confirms his understanding, that he should sacrifice his son to God in his heart. But the third opposition, between the expression to sacrifice and to slay (העלה and שחט), is very important. It is a fact that the Israelitish consciousness from the beginning has distinguished between the spiritual yielding, consecration (especially of the first-born), and the external symbolical slaying of a sacrificial animal for the representation and confirmation of that inward consecration; and thus also between the sacrifice and the killing in a literal sense. This fact was also divinely grounded, through the sacrifice of Isaac. It served, through the divine providence, for the rejection of all heathenish abominations, and for the founding of the consecrated typical nature of the sacrifices of the Israelites.
3. According to De Wette, Schumann, von Bohlen and others, this narrative is a pure myth. Knobel is doubtful whether there is not a fact lying at its basis, but which he explains in a rationalistic manner (p. 189). He gives correctly the ideas of the history, the removing of human sacrifice, and the sanctifying of a place for sacrifice at Jerusalem. But the main, idea, the spiritual sacrifice of the son, as well as the unity of the idea and the historical fact escapes him. For the untenableness of mythical interpretations in the Old Testament, see the Introduction.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
1. The command of God to Abraham, and his journey to Moriah (Genesis 22:1-3).—God did tempt Abraham.—For the meaning of the word see above. It is in the highest degree probable that the form of the revelation was a dream-vision of the night, as this was the form of the revealed command to remove Ishmael.—Abraham! Behold, here am I.—Similarly: My father! Here am I, my son (Genesis 22:7). Abraham, Abraham! Here am I (Genesis 22:11). These brief introductions of the conversation express the great tension and application of the human mind in those moments, in a striking way, and serve at the same time to prepare us for the importance of the conversation. The call: Abraham! the announcement of a revelation, of a command. Here am I! the expression of hearing and obedience.—Take now thy son.—קַח־נָא. The נָא modifies the command; it seems to express that Elohim wished to receive the sacrifice from him as a freewill offering.—Thine only.—[Reminding us, as was intended, of the only begotten of the Father. A. G.] The Sept. has ἀγαπητόν, the Vul. unigenitum. The יחיד is more significant; it renders emphatic the incomparableness; this term and the two following express the greatness of the sacrifice, but also the thought that God knew well what he demanded from him.—Get thee into the land of Moriah.—i.e., into the region of the mountain of Moriah, or of Jerusalem. The name Moriah was anticipated; according to Genesis 22:14, it was occasioned through the events here recorded.7 Michaelis, Bleek and Tuch understand the word to refer not to Jerusalem, but to Moreh in Sichem. See the counter-reasons in Knobel. One main reason among others, is that the way from Beer-sheba, where Abraham still dwelt, by Hebron and Jerusalem to Sichem, according to Robinson, required about 35 hours, a distance which the old man Abraham and the youth Isaac could not well have accomplished in three days (Genesis 22:4). The distance from Beer-sheba to Jerusalem is, according to Robinson, 20½ hours. For the meaning of Moriah see below. [Hengstenberg (Beit. ii. p. 263) derives the name from ראה, to see. It is the Hoph. part, with the abbreviated name of Jehovah, or יה, and signifies the shown or pointed out of Jehovah. The נִרְאָה, 2 Chronicles 3:1, has no decisive weight against this since it may be rendered: “which was pointed out, shown to David,” as well as “where Jehovah appeared to David.”—A. G.] The Samaritans hold Gerizim to have been the place of the sacrifice, but have not altered the text.—And offer him there.—For a bnrnt offering may mean as a burnt offering, or, also, with a burnt offering, in and under the symbolical presenting of it.—Upon one of the mountains.—A clear intimation of the region of Jerusalem.—Which I will tell thee of.—It is not said when this more distinct designation of the place of the sacrifice should be given. The designation is, however, already, by anticipation, contained in Moriah.—And Abraham rose up early in the morning. (See Chap. Genesis 21:24.)—And saddled his ass.—Girded, not saddled him. The ass was destined to bear the wood upon his covering. Abraham sets out with the bleeding heart of the father, and the three days’ journey are, no doubt, designed to give him time for the great conflict within him, and for the religious process of development (see Acts 9:9). [As far as the matter of obedience was concerned, the conflict was over. His purpose was fixed. He did not consult with flesh and blood, but instantly obeyed.—A. G.]
2. The mountain and place of the sacrifice. (Genesis 22:4-10.)—Then on the third day.—He had now entire certainty as to the place. It is barely intimated how significant, sacred and fearful the place of sacrifice was to him.—Abide ye here with the ass.—The young men or servants, or young slaves, destined to this service, must not go with him to the sacred mountain, nor be present at the fearful sacrifice.—And I and the lad.—They could easily see from the wood of the burnt-offering, and the fire, and the knife, that he went not merely to worship, but to sacrifice; but to him the sacrifice was the main thing.—And will worship, and come again to you.—Knobel remarks: “The author appears not to have believed that Abraham would be presented in a bad light, through such false utterances (comp. Genesis 12:13; Genesis 20:12).” We have already seen what are the elements of truth, in the places referred to, here the sense of the word of Abraham is determined through the utterance of the wish in נשיב, which, according to the form ונשובה, might be translated: and may we return again—would that we might. It is the design of the ambiguous term to assure them as to his intention or purpose. [It is rather the utterance of his faith that God was able to raise him from the dead. See Hebrews 11:19.—A. G.]—And laid it upon Isaac.—From the three days’ journey of Isaac, and the service which he here performs, we may conclude that he had grown to a strong youth, like Ishmael, perhaps, at the time of his expulsion (the age at which we confirm).—The fire.—“A glimmering ember or tinder wood.” Knobel.—But where is the lamb?8—Isaac knew that a sacrificial animal belonged to the sacrifice. The evasive answer of the father, trembling anew at the question of his beloved child, appears to intimate that he held the entrance of a new revelation at the decisive moment to be possible. Until this occurs he must truly obey according to his previous view and purpose.—The terms of the address: My father! my son!—The few weighty and richly significant words mark the difficulty of the whole course for Abraham, and present in so much clearer a light, the unwavering steadfastness of his readiness to make the offering.—And took the knife.—The very highest expression of his readiness.9 Nothing is said of any agitation, of any resistance, or complaint on the part of Isaac. It is clear that he is thus described as the willing sacrificial lamb.10
3. The first call from heaven (Genesis 22:11-14).—Abraham, Abraham!—As the call of the Angel of Jehovah stands in contrast with that of Elohim, so, also, the repetition of the name here, to its single use (Genesis 22:1). A clearer, wider, more definite, and further leading revelation is thus described. The repeated call: Abraham! designates also the urgency of the interruption, the decided rejection of the human sacrifice. For the Angel of the Lord, see Genesis 12:0.—Now I know that thou fearest God.—Abraham has stood the test. The knowledge of God reflects itself as a new experimental knowledge in the consciousness of Abraham. [I know, in the sense of use, declare my knowledge—have made it manifest by evident proof. Wordsworth, p. 100. “An eventual knowing, a discovering by actual experiment.” Murphy, p. 341.—A. G.]—Behind him a ram.—אַחַר for אָחוֹד behind, backwards is not used elsewhere in the Old Testament, and from this has arisen the conjectural reading אֶחָד, and also numerous constructions (see Knobel, p. 175). Gesenius explains the word in the background; but we should observe well that it is said that Abraham looked around him, and thus perceived the same behind his back. Unseen, God mysteriously prepares his gifts for his own. He does not receive a positive command to sacrifice the ram instead of his son, although he recognizes in the fact that the ram with his long, crooked horns was caught in the thicket, the divine suggestion. Knobel: “In a like way, through a divine providence, a goat is presented as a sacrificial animal for Iphigenia, whom her father, Agamemnon, would sacrifice to Venus at Aulis (Eurip. Iphig. Aulid. 1591 ff.).”—In the stead of his son.11—This expression is of deciding importance for the whole theory of sacrifice. The sacrificial animal designates the symbolical representation of the person who presents the sacrifice; but this representation in the later ritual of the sacrifices, must be interpreted differently, according to the different sacrifices.—And Abraham called the name of that place.—Delitzsch and Keil explain the word יִרְאֶה, Jehovah observes, or takes care, but reject the explanation of the Niphal, יֵרָאֶה etc., upon the mount of the Lord it shall be seen, chosen, i.e., be provided, or cared for. They lay aside this signification of the Niphal, and Delitzsch translates: he appears upon the mount of Jehovah. But the Niphal must here certainly correspond with the Kal, although we could point to no other proof for it. The explanation also, upon the mount where Jehovah appears, is far too general, since Jehovah does not appear only upon Moriah. The expression: “it will be chosen, provided,” does not mean he will care for, but he will himself choose, and hence the Niphal also must be: The mount of Jehovah is the mountain where he himself selects and provides his sacrifice. Moriah is, therefore, indeed, not the mount of the becoming visible, of the revelation of God (Delitzsch), but the mount of being seen, the mount of selection, the mount of the choice of the sacrifice of God—inclusive of the sacrifices of God. [And thus of the sacrifice.—A. G.] For Moriah and Zion, compare the Bible Dictionaries and the topography of Jerusalem.
4. The second call from heaven (Genesis 22:15-19). The subject of the first call was preëminently negative, a prohibition of the human sacrifice, connected with a recognition of the spiritual sacrifice, ascertained, and confirmed through this suggestion of the typical nature of the sacrifice. The second call of the Maleach Jehovah is throughout positive.—By myself have I sworn.—The oath of Jehovah12 (Genesis 24:7; Genesis 26:3; Genesis 50:24; Exodus 13:5; Exo 11:33) is described here as a swearing by himself, also, Exodus 32:13; Isaiah 45:23; Hebrews 6:13 ff. The swearing of God by himself, is an anthropomorphic expression, for the irrevocable, certain promise of Jehovah, for which he, so to speak, pledges the consciousness of his own personality, the promise as it imprints itself in the perfect sealing of the assurance of the faith of the believing patriarchs. Abraham can only be certain of the oath of God, through its eternal echo in his own heart. Hence this oath is supposed also where the perfection of the assurance of the faith is supposed. Hence, also, Jehovah declares that he had sworn unto Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and it is not altogether correct, although Keil yields his assent, when Luther says with reference to Psalms 89:36; Psalms 110:4; Psalms 132:11, “As the promise of the seed of Abraham descends in the seed of David, so the sacred scriptures transfer the oath given to Abraham, to the person of David.” Although “there is nothing said in the promise, 2 Samuel 7:0, and 1 Chronicles 17:0 upon which these psalms rest, of an oath of God.” Knobel. The oath of God reveals itself even in the sealing of the faith, leaving out of view the fact that the promise given to David was much more particular and definite than that which Abraham received.—Saith the Lord (the saying of Jehovah).—[Compare the rendering of the Sept., thou hast not withheld thy son, with the terms of the apostle, Romans 8:32. The resemblance is striking, and is One of the catch-words of which Wordsworth speaks.—A. G.] A solemn statement of the promise, pointing down to the time of the prophets. נְאֻם יְהוָֹה, address of the Lord, occurs elsewhere in the Pentateuch only (Numbers 14:28), and without Jehovah in the words of Balaam (Numbers 24:3-15). In addition to the comparison of the number of the stars of heaven (Genesis 15:5), we have that of the sand upon the sea-shore, the strong figure for an innumerable mass (Genesis 32:13; Joshua 11:4).—Shall possess the gate of his enemies.—The most obvious sense is this: Israel should overcome his enemies, and capture their cities, since he should seize and occupy their gates. But the gate here points to a deeper meaning. The hostile world has a gate or gates in its susceptibilities, through which the believing Israel should enter it (Psalms 24:7-9). The following words prove that this is the sense of the words here.—And shall be blessed (shall bless themselves).—The blessing of the nations (Genesis 12:0) in which they appear still in a passive attitude, becomes, in its result, the cause of their freely blessing themselves in the seed of Abraham, i.e., wishing blessedness, and calling themselves blessed.—Because thou hast obeyed my voice (comp. Genesis 22:16).—The great promise of Jehovah is no blind, arbitrary, form, but stands in relation to the tried and believing obedience of Abraham (see James 2:23). [The closing remarks of Keil on this passage, are as follows: This glorious issue of the temptation so triumphantly endured by Abraham, not only authenticates the historical character of this event, but shows, in the clearest manner, that the temptation was necessary to the faith of the patriarch, and of fundamental importance to his position in the history of salvation. The doubt whether the true God could demand a human sacrifice, is removed by the fact that God himself prevents the completion of the sacrifice, and the opinion that God, at least apparently, comes into conflict with himself, when he demands a sacrifice, and then actually forbids and prevents its completion, is met by the very significant change in the names of God, since God who commands Abraham to offer Isaac, is called חָאֶלֹהִום, but the actual completion of the sacrifice is prevented by יהוה, who is identical with the מַלְאַךְ יְהוָֹה. Neither יהוה, the God of salvation, or the God of the covenant, who gave to Abraham the only son as the heir of the promise, demands the sacrifice of the promised and given heir, nor אלהים, God the creator, who has the power to give and take away life, but האלהים, the true God, whom Abraham knew and worshipped as his personal God, with whom he had entered into a personal relation. The command (coming from the true God, whom Abraham served) to yield up his only and beloved son, could have no other object than to purify and sanctify the state of the heart of the patriarch towards his son, and towards his God; an object corresponding to the very goal of his calling. It was to purify his love to the son of his body from all the dross of fleshly self-love, and natural self-seeking which still clave to it, and so to glorify it through love to God, who had given him his son, that he should no more love his beloved son as his flesh and blood, but solely and only as the gracious gift and possession of God, as a good entrusted to him by God, and which he was to be ready to render back to him at any and every moment. As Abraham had left his country, kindred, father’s house, at the call of God, so he must, in his walk before God, willingly bring his only son, the goal of his desires, the hope of his life, the joy of his old age, an offering. And more than this even. He had not only loved Isaac as the heir of his possessions (Genesis 15:2,) but upon Isaac rested all the promises of God, in Isaac should his seed be called (Genesis 21:12). The command to offer to God this only son of his wife Sarah, in whom his seed should become a multitude of nations (Genesis 17:4; Genesis 17:6; Genesis 17:16), appeared to destroy the divine promise itself; to frustrate not only the wish of his heart, but even the repeated promises of his God. At this command should his faith perfect itself to unconditional confidence upon God, to the firm assurance that God could reawaken him from the dead. But this temptation has not only the import for Abraham, that he should, through the overcoming of flesh and blood, be fitted to be the father of believers, the ancestor of the Christ of God; through it, also, Isaac must be prepared and consecrated for his calling in the history of salvation. As he suffered himself, without resistance, to be bound and laid upon the altar, he gave his natural life to death, that he might, through the grace of God, rise to newness of life. Upon the altar he was sanctified to God, consecrated to be the beginner of the holy Church of God, and thus “the later legal consecration of the first-born was completed in him” (Delitzsch). As the divine command, therefore, shows in all its weight and earnestness the claim of God upon his own, to sacrifice all to him, even the most dear (comp. Matthew 10:37, and Luke 14:26), penetrating even to the very heart, so the issue of the temptation teaches that the true God does not demand from his worshippers a bodily human sacrifice, but the spiritual sacrifice, the unconditional yielding up of the natural life, even unto death. Since through the divine providence Abraham offered a ram for a burnt-offering, instead of his son, the animal sacrifice was not only offered as a substitute for the human sacrifice, and sanctioned as a symbol of the spiritual sacrifice of the person himself, well pleasing to God, but the offering of human sacrifices by the heathen, is marked as an ungodly ἐθελοθρησκεία, judged and condemned. And this comes to pass through Jehovah, the God of salvation, who restrains the completion of the external sacrifice. Hence, this event, viewed with respect to the divine preparation of salvation, wins for the church of the Lord prophetic significance, which is pointed out with peculiar distinctness in the place of this sacrifice, the mount Moriah, upon which, under the legal economy, all the typical sacrifices were brought to Jehovah, upon which, also, in the fulness of time, God the Father, gave his only-begotten Son an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, in order, through this one true sacrifice, to raise the shadowing image of the typical animal sacrifice to its truth and real nature. If, therefore, the destination of Moriah, as the place for the offering of Isaac, with the actual offering of the ram in his stead, should be only at first typical, with reference to the significance and object of the Old Testament sacrifice, still this type already, also, points down to that in the future appearing antitype, when the eternal love of the Heavenly Father, itself, did what it demanded here from Abraham, namely, spared not his only-begotten son, but gave him, for us all, up to that death actually, which Isaac only endured in spirit, that we might die with Christ spiritually, and with him rise to eternal life (Romans 8:32; Romans 6:5, etc.), pp. 177–17.—A. G.]
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. The ruling thought in this whole narrative, is the perfection of the obedience of faith of Abraham, not merely, however, in the sacrifice of his son, but also in his readiness to perceive the revelation of Jehovah, which forbids the killing of his son, and causes the symbolic killing of the sacrifice provided as the seal and confirmation of the spiritual sacrifice. Faith must prove itself in the inward hearty concession of the dearest objects of life, even of all our own thoughts, as to the realization of salvation, present and future, to the providence of the grace of God. But it cannot complete itself with reference to this salvation, without purifying itself, or allowing itself to be purified from all traditional, fanatical ideas, or misconceptions of faith. In the completion of faith, the highest divinity coincides with the purest humanity. The sacrifice of Isaac is, therefore, the real separation of the sacred Israelitish sacrifice from the abominations of human sacrifices. “These sacrifices, especially of children, were customary among the pre-Hebraic nations of Palestine (2 Kings 16:3; Psalms 106:38), among the kindred Phœnicians (Porphyr. de abstin. ii. 56; Euseb. Prœpar. ev. i. 10, and Laudd. Const. xiii. 4), among their descendants, the Carthaginians (Diod. xx. 14, Plutarch, etc.), among the Egyptians (Diod. i. 88, etc.), among the tribes related with Israel, the Moabites and Ammonites (2 Kings 3:27) who honored Moloch with them (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2), appear also in the Aramaic and Arabian tribes (2Ki 7:31 ff.), as well as in Ahaz among the Israelites (2 Kings 16:3 ff.), but were forbidden by the law (Deuteronomy 12:31), and opposed by the prophets (Jeremiah 7:31 ff.). They were thus generally spread through the cultus of the nations in contact with Israel, but were entirely foreign to its legally established religion.” Knobel. According to Hengstenberg, the human sacrifice does not belong to heathenism in general, but to the darkest aspect of heathenism (Beiträge iii. p. 144). Kurtz believes that he gives the correction (p. 210). The fact that the spirit of humanity among the Greeks and Romans opposed the human sacrifice (see Lange: Positive Dogmatik, p. 862), loses its force with him, since he ascribes this opposition to the religious and rationalistic superficialty of their times; the human sacrifices are, indeed, a fearful madness, but a madness of doubt as to the true sacrifice, of hopelessness as to finding the true atonement. But the true atonement is even in the death of Christ, the obedient concession of Christ to the judgment of God; and the analogy of the crucifixion of Christ in the Moloch-sacrifice, must be distinguished from it both on the side of Judaism and of the world. The entire perversion of the fact that the religion of Jehovah abhors and rejects the human sacrifice, as it has been introduced by Vatke and Von Bohlen (the religion of Jehovah stood originally upon the same plane with the Moloch service), and has been completed by Daumer, Kurtz has examined and exposed in a most satisfactory way (p. 204 ff.). [The arbitrariness and blasphemy of Daumer, and the boldness with which he makes his assertions in the face of all history, render his work unworthy of any serious refutation. And Kurtz justly treats it with ridicule.—A. G.] Ghillany’s essay: “The Human Sacrifice of the Old Hebrews,” may be, also, consulted here, but is essentially one with Daumer.
2. The sacrifice of Isaac has an inward connection with the expulsion of Ishmael, which will appear more clearly if we recollect that the age of both at the time of these events must have been nearly the same. Thus must Abraham repent in the history of Isaac, the human guilt which lay in his relation to Ishmael. But as he had surely doubted a long time as to the choice of Ishmael, so also a doubt intrudes itself as to the literal external sense of the divine command in regard to Isaac; a doubt which can no more prejudice or limit the divine revelation than perhaps the doubting thought of Paul upon the way to Damascus, but rather serves to introduce the new revelation. [The narrative of Paul’s conversion will not bear out this comparison. He does not seem to have been in any doubt, but was, as he himself says, conscientious. He verily thought that he ought to persecute the Church of God.—A. G.]
3. The distinction between the divine revealed command and Abraham’s misconception of it, is similar to the distinction between the infallible conscience13 and the fallible judgment in regard to conscience, which has not been sufficiently noticed in theology. Thus also Peter, on his way from Joppa to Cæsarea, with the divine commission to convert Cornelius, might have connected with it the misconception that he must first circumcise him, but the further revelation tears away the misconception. The stripping away of the erroneous and unessential ideas of the time, belongs also to a sound development of faith.
4. The burnt-offering of Abraham appears here as the foundation and central point of all the typical sacrifices in Israel. Its fundamental thought is the spiritual yielding of the life, not the taking of the bodily life. It receives its wider form in the Passover lamb, in which the division of the offerings is already intimated, viz., the thank or peace-offering and the consecrated killing on the one hand, and the sin-and guilt- (trespass) offering and the imprecatory offering on the other, The peculiar atonement offering is a higher centralization and completion, in which the whole system of offerings points to that which is beyond and above itself.
5. The mountain of Jerusalem receives, through the offering of Abraham, its preconsecration to its future destination as the later mount Moriah upon which the temple stood, the preconsecration of the historical faith in God, which transcends the unhistorical faith in God of Melchizedec.
6. The Angel of the Lord gives the more accurate and particular definition of that which Elohim has pointed out in the more general way.
7. The obedience of faith which Abraham renders in the sacrifice of Isaac, marks the historical perfection of his faith, in a decisive test. It marks the stage of the New Testament δοκιμή, or sealing (see the Biblework upon James).
8. The typical significance of the sacrifice of Isaac is so comprehensive that we may view it, in some measure, as embracing all Old Testament types, just as the sacrifice of Abraham itself may be regarded as including the whole Mosaic system of sacrifices. The sacrifice itself is the type of the sacrificial death of Christ, and indeed, just as truly, in reference to the interest of God, as to the interest of the world in this fact. The self-denial of Abraham is a copy, a symbol (not perhaps a type) of the love of God, who gave his only-begotten Son for the salvation of the world (John 3:16 : Romans 8:32). The sacrificial act of Abraham, as also the enduring silence of Isaac, is typical in reference to the two sides of the suffering obedience of Christ, as he is priest and sacrifice at the same time. Isaac received again from the altar is now, in reference to Abraham, a God-given, consecrated child of the Spirit and of promise: in reference to Christ, a type of the resurrection, and therefore, also a type of the new resurrection life of believers.
9. Since Abraham must have reconciled the promise, earlier connected with the person of Isaac, with the command to offer Isaac as he understood the command, he was necessarily driven to the hope of a new awakening, as this is admirably expressed in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Genesis 11:19). Luther remarked upon the obedience of faith: “Faith reconciles things which are contrary.” [Abraham’s faith rested not upon the conclusions of his understanding, but upon the word of God. The nature and strength of his faith appear in that he held to the promise while he went promptly to do what, to human view, seemed to prevent its fulfilment. He set to his seal that God was true. He believed that God would fulfil all that he had promised. How he did not stay to question. This is true faith. It takes the word of God as it is, in the face of all difficulties, and acts upon it.—A. G.] But this reconciliation of apparent contradictions does not happen in this method, that faith in blind passivity receives and holds the contradictions, or rather, suffers them to remain (as, e.g., universal grace and particular election), but that faith itself is brought, through the spirit of revelation, to a higher standpoint. [But is not this standpoint just that from which faith receives truths apparently contradictory, upon their own evidence in the word of God, and holds them, though it is not seen how they can be reconciled?—A.G.]—In the anticipating activity of his faith, Abraham gained the idea of the resurrection, but in the actual issue of the history of the sacrifice he gained the idea of the true sacrifice (Psalms 51:18-19 : Hebrews 10:19 ff.), as also the fundamental form of the Old Testament sacrifice. [In the stead of his son. “The wonderful substitution in which God set forth, as in a figure, the plan of the Mosaic economy, for the offering of animal victims instead of human sacrifices—pointing forward to the only acceptable substitute whom they foreshadowed, who is God’s Lamb and not man’s—the Lamb of God’s providing and from his own bosom. His only-begotten and well-beloved Son, the man—the God-man.” Jacobus. And this great doctrine, running through the whole system of sacrifice, culminates in the sacrifice of Christ—the innocent in the stead of the guilty.—A. G.]
10. Delitzsch: “The concession unto death at the threshold of the preliminary history of the new-humanity is not completed, but merely a prefiguration, for Isaac’s death would have been useless, but the concession unto death at the threshold of the history itself is completed, because the fulfilling and perfection of the death of Christ is the passing of himself, and with him of humanity, into life. Judaism believes differently. It sees in the sacrifice or binding of Isaac an act serviceable for all time, and bringing Israel into favour with God. Where the Church prays for the sake of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the Synagogue prays for the sake of the binding of Isaac” (p. 418).
11. The oath of Jehovah. It is not merely the basis for the oaths of men, but: 1. The expression of the absolute self-determination, consciousness, and faithfulness of the personal God;14 2. The expression of a corresponding unshaken certainty of faith in the hearts of believers; 3. The expression of the indissoluble union between the divine promise and the human assurance.
12. The name Moriah15 points out that as God himself perceives (selects) his sacrifice in the readiness of an obedient heart to make the sacrifice, man should wait in expectation, and not make an arbitrary and abominable sacrifice.
13. W. Hoffmann: “Until now we hear only of the bruiser of the serpent, of a conqueror, of a blessing of the nations, of a dominion; in short only the image of a great king and dominion, could present itself to human thought as the form in which the divine salvation should reach perfection. But now sorrow, concession, death, the rendering of self as a sacrifice, enter into the circle of the hope of salvation, and indeed so enter that the hope of salvation and the sacrifice belong together and are inseparable.”
14. The completion of the promise.16 As the whole history of the sacrifice of Isaac is typical, so also is the expression of the completed promise. It refers beyond Israel, to the innumerable children of Abraham by faith, and the conquest of the world, promised to them, appears both in the aspect of a contest, as in that of the solemn feasts of victory and blessing.
15. We cannot say directly that Abraham sacrificed Isaac as a natural son, that he might receive him again sanctified and as a spiritual son. For Isaac was given to him as the son of the promise from his birth. But he sacrificed him in his present corporeal nature, that he might receive him again as the type of a second, new, and higher life. Thus Israel must sacrifice its ideas of the present kingdom of God in order to gain the true kingdom of God which is not of this world. The want of this idea of sacrifice betrays the most of them into unbelief through Chiliastic dreams. It happens similarly to all who, in the sacrificial hour appointed by God, will not sacrifice their inherited ideas that they may gain a glorified form of faith. On the other hand, every arbitrary external sacrifice is regarded and judged as a self-chosen service of God.
16. The meaning of the ram in the sacrifice of Abraham is not to be lightly estimated. It designates figuratively the fact, that Christ also, in his sacrificial death, has not lost his own peculiar life, but, as the leading shepherd of his flock, has only sacrificed his old temporal form of a servant, in order that through his death he might redeem them from death, the fear of death, the bondage of sin and Satan, and introduce them into a higher, deathless life.
[In the person of Abraham is unfolded that spiritual process by which the soul is drawn to God. He hears the call of God, and comes to the decisive act of trusting in the revealed God of mercy and truth, on the ground of which act he is accounted as righteous. He then rises to the successive acts of walking with God, covenanting with him, communing and interceding with him, and at length withholding nothing that he has or holds dear from him. In all this we discern certain primary and essential characteristics of the man who is saved through acceptance of the mercy of God proclaimed to him in a primeval gospel. Faith in God (Genesis 15:0), repentance towards him (Genesis 16:0), and fellowship with him (Genesis 18:0), are the three great turning-points of the soul’s returning life. They are built upon the effectual call of God (Genesis 12:0), and culminate in unreserved resignation to him (Genesis 22:0). With wonderful facility has the sacred record descended in this pattern of spiritual biography, from the rational and accountable race to the individual and immortal soul, and traced the footsteps of its path to God. Murphy p. 342.—A. G.]
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Through the traditional exegetical interpretation, the sacrifice of Isaac has often been used homiletically without due caution. What Kurtz in his work asserts with confidence we often hear also from the pulpit—God commanded Abraham to kill his son Isaac. Thus a gross sensuous interpretation in fact transforms a history which is the key to the nature of the whole Old-Testament sacrificial system, which presents in a striking light the humane aspect of the theocracy in contrast with heathenism, into an offence to the human and Christian feeling, i.e., an offence which is burdensome and injurious to a limited and contracted theology, but must be carefully distinguished from the offences or difficulties of unbelief. We make this remark notwithstanding Kurtz thinks that he must administer to us a rebuke for similar utterances (p. 206). Luther also has already spoken of the difficulty in treating this passage correctly.
Genesis 22:1. The testing or trying of Abraham, as full of temptation: 1. As a temptation; 2. as a testing. Or: 1. The sacrifice of God; 2. Abraham’s obedience of faith.
Genesis 22:2. Abraham’s sacrifice: 1. The command of God; 2. the leading of God; 3. the decision of God; 4. the judgment of God.
Genesis 22:3. Abraham’s obedience of faith: 1. Faith as the soul of obedience; 2. obedience as the full preservation of faith.—Abraham’s sealing.
Genesis 22:16. The oath of God: 1. What it means; 2. as it perpetuates and generalizes itself in the sacraments; 3. to whose advantage it will be.—The silence of Isaac.
Genesis 22:4. Abraham’s journey to Moriah an image of the way to all true sacrifice: 1. The journey thither; 2. the journey home.—Moriah, or the meeting of God with the sacrificing believer: 1. God sees; 2. he is seen, appears; 3. he cares for, provides; 4. he himself selects his sacrifice; 5. he gives to man in an eternal form what he has taken from him in a temporal form.
Starke: (Moses does not relate the peculiar time of this severe test of Abraham’s faith. Some place it in the thirteenth, others in the fifteenth, and still others in the thirty-fifth or thirty-seventh year of Isaac. Because in this whole transaction Isaac was a type of Christ, and he finished the work of redemption, through his death, in the thirty-third, or according to others the thirty-fourth, year of his age, it may well be thought that in this year also Isaac was led out as a sacrifice.—The existing incorrect use of the typology still runs through the misconceptions of Passavant and Schwenke. He is three and thirty years old, says Schwenke; and Passavant says he was grown up to be a mature man.)—Some reckon ten temptations wherein Abraham’s faith was put to the test, among which this was the last and most severe: 1. When he must leave his fatherland at the call of God (Genesis 12:1), etc.
Genesis 22:2. (Offer him there, put him to death with thine own hand, then burn the dead body to ashes, thus make him a burnt-offering.—Luther and others think that Adam, Cain and Abel, Noah also when he came from the ark, held their worship of God and sacrificed upon this mountain. Hence the Arabic and both the Chaldaic interpreters name it the land of the worship and service of God.—Various ancient utterances as to the mountain of Moriah and its meaning follow.)
Genesis 22:4. God reveals the place where our Saviour should suffer and die, earlier than the city in which he should be born (we must distinguish, however, between verbal and typical prophecy).—The two servants of Abraham. It is scarcely, at least not seriously, to be conjectured even, as the Chaldaic interpreters suppose, that they were Ishmael and Eliezer.—Neither Sarah nor Isaac knew at the time the special object of the journey. Undoubtedly the mother would have placed many hindrances in the way, and would have sought to dissuade Abraham for entering it.—When it is said (Hebrews 11:19) that he had received him as a figure, we discern what Abraham knew through the illumination of the Holy Spirit.17 (At all events Abraham knew that the sacrifice of the first-born should henceforth be an ordinance of God, and that this should culminate in a closing sacrifice bringing salvation).—The three days of the journey.—Abraham must in his heart hold his son as dead, as long as Christ should lie in the grave.—But one must above all else guard against a self-chosen service of God.—Upon Genesis 22:8. He stood at the time in the midst of the controversy between natural love and faith.—(The altar upon Moriah. The Jews think that it was the altar which Noah had built upon this mountain after the flood, which time had thrown into ruins, but was again rebuilt by Abraham.)—Upon Genesis 22:13. The LXX render, in the thicket, Sabek. They regarded it as a proper name, which shows the ignorance of the Hebrew language in the Greek commentators, after the Babylonian captivity. Starke records the fact, that some “Papists” refer the expression of Christ upon the cross, lama sabacthani, to this bush Sabek, and that Athanasius says, Planta Sabek est venerand crux.—Comparison of the sacrifice of Isaac with the death and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Genesis 22:10. Lange: God knows the right hour, indeed, the right moment, to give his help.—Bibl. Wirt.: If our obedience shall please God, it must be not merely according to examples without command, but in accordance with the express word of God.—Bibl. Tub.: Genesis 22:11. When we cannot see on any side a way of escape, then God comes and often shows us a wonderful deliverance.—Hall: The true Christian motto through the whole of life is: The Lord sees me.
Genesis 22:15. The last manifestation of God with which Abraham was directly honored, which appears in the Holy Scriptures.—The oath of God: just as if he had sworn by his name, or by his life. In place of this form of speech Christ uses very often the Verily.—John 16:20.—What one gives for God, and to him, is never lost. [Not only not lost, but received back again in its higher form and use. Even so every child of Abraham must hold all that is most precious to him as the gift of God’s grace; must first yield to God the blessings which seem to come to him as to others, as mere natural blessings, and then receive them back as coming purely from his grace.—A. G.]
Lisco: What could better teach the Jews the true idea and aim of the whole sacrificial service (the perfect yielding to God) than the history of Abraham? Genesis 22:6. Thus Jesus bare his cross. Genesis 22:18. The great blessing is Christ who brings blessings to all nations (Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8).—When God brings a dear child near to death, or indeed calls it away, he thus proves us in a like way.—Gerlach: The name Moriah signifies, shown, pointed out, by Jehovah, and refers especially to the wonderful pointing to the ram, through which Isaac was saved, since this was for Abraham the turning-point of the history, through which God confirmed his promise and crowned the faith of Abraham.
Genesis 22:12. God knows: he knows from experience, from the testing, that the man remains faithful to him, since without the test his faithfulness is uncertain. He foreknew it, in so far as he foreknew the result of the trial.—Calw. Hand.: God naturally lays such severe trials not upon children, but upon men.—Abraham kept his faith in God, as Jehovah, through his act; now also God will approve himself to Abraham, as Jehovah.—This same promise appears here for the third time (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18) as a reward for Abraham’s obedience and triumph of faith.—Each new well-endured trial of faith leads to greater strength of faith; the fruit of faith yields nourishment again to faith itself.—The act of faith on the part of Abraham here described, is held, not only by Jews and Christians, but even by Mohammedans, as the very acme of all his testing, and as the most complete obedience of his faith.—Schröder: Genesis 22:1. He is constantly leading us into situations in which what lies concealed in the heart must be revealed.—The devil tempts that he may destroy; God tempts that he may crown (Ambrose).—The temptation has as a presupposition, that God has not yet been perfectly formed in us (Hengstenberg).—The idea of the sacrifice (1 Samuel 1:25). And they slew the bullock and brought the child to Eli (comp. Hosea 14:2; Micah 6:7; Psalms 40:7-9; Psalms 51:19).—For this whole history, see the similar history (Judges 11:0). That Abraham himself is the priest, and his own heart, his own deepest love, and all his blessing, is the sacrifice, this constitutes the severity of the test (Krummacher).18
Genesis 22:5. We cannot regard these words as mere empty words; it is rather the word of hope which had not forsaken Abraham (Baumgarten; also Gerlach).—According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, an intimation of the hope of the reawakening of Isaac. “But then, indeed, some one objects, the very severe and weighty thing in the sacrifice is taken away.” Strauss replies to this by an allusion to the painfulness of the death-beds of children to their parents, even when they are assured of their resurrection.—It is a more wonderful faith which supports itself even to the issue which he did not see, as if he saw it (Strauss).
Genesis 22:9. The son is silent before the father, as the father before God, and the child obeys the parents as the parents obey the Lord (Strauss).—A sacred contention finds place here. One elevates himself above human nature; to the other to resist the father seems more terrible than death (Gregory Nyssa). Genesis 22:12. The apostle (Romans 8:32) takes up again the last words of the Angel, and thus indicates the typical relations of the event.
Genesis 22:13. The entire Levitical system of sacrifices is only an extension of this sacrifice of the ram (Richter).—It is remarkable that the ram is destined among the Greeks and Romans as the substitutionary sacrifice in the gravest cases (Baumgarten). It happens at first according to the ordinance, that God by virtue of his concealed providence places and controls what may serve us, but it follows upon this that he stretches out his hand to us, and reveals himself in an actual experience (Calvin).
Genesis 22:18. The blessing given to the nations in the seed of Abraham, they shall themselves come to desire and wish (Baumgarten). Abraham’s obedience is named here as a reason of the promise. This is, too, a new reason (Baumgarten).—(Abraham’s obedience is, however, not so much a reason of the promise as of the sealing of the promise through an oath.)—The promise is the promise of the covenant. On the one hand it rests fundamentally upon the grace of God, on the other it is introduced for Abraham through the obedience of faith.—Abraham receives the name of the father of believers through this completion of his faith (Baumgarten). (Certainly also through the whole development of his faith.)
Genesis 22:16. There is a constant reference to this passage, as to the solemn, great, and final explanation. Thus in Genesis 24:7; Genesis 26:3; Exodus 33:1; Numbers 32:11; Deuteronomy 29:13; Deuteronomy 30:20; Deuteronomy 34:4; Luke 1:73; Acts 7:17; Hebrews 6:13 (Drechsler).—It claims our notice still, that the Jews hold the binding, of Isaac (Genesis 22:9) as a satisfaction, and use in prayer the words, Consider the binding of thine only one (see above). “Indeed, one hundred and sixty millions of Mohammedans, also read in their Koran to-day. This truly was a manifest testing” (Zahn).—Robinson’s description of Beersheba.—Schwenke: The Lord knows how to reward his own.—Passavant: Abraham journeys the first, the second, the third day in silence.—Precious school of faith, the highest, the most sacred school, how art thou now so greatly deserted?—Abraham has become the father of Christians.
Genesis 22:14. God sees, he will see, choose.—Reflection upon the children of Abraham.—The future of Israel, of believers, etc.—(Passavant closes his work with these reflections.)—W. Hoffmann: The consecration of the promise through sacrifice: 1. The concession of the promised Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. the new reception of the promised son.—According to this history God tempted Abraham. There the key is placed in your hand. It was said indeed before, that the purpose of God was not to secure an external offering, but an inward sacrifice, etc. In this inbeing of the internal and external, in this interworking of the divine and human, of the eternal and the earthly, there lay a severe temptation, a constant inducement, to the believers of the Old Testament, to rest satisfied with the mere external, the mere shell, the sweet kernel, the fruit of life itself being forfeited, to go on in security, indeed oftentimes to grow proud of their possession.
Genesis 22:1. In how many ways he enters the family and calls to the father Abraham! and when you know the voice of the Lord, thus answer: Here am I.—Upon Isaac. Almost entirely a feeble repetition of what has appeared in the life of Abraham. Genesis 22:9. But he lay upon the altar in full consciousness and in silence. There he lay himself, as a dumb sacrificial lamb, at the feet of God. This is sufficient for a lifetime of more than a century, and imparts to it, contents, and a character, which admit of no exchange for the better.—He gives Isaac to him in another way than that in which he had called him his own at first. The whole glory of a wonderful future surrounds the head of Isaac.—Taube: The obedience of faith, or how first in the yielding of that which is most precious faith is tested: 1. God brings us to this proof at the right time; place yourselves therefore in his hands, as Abraham; 2. these tests are very severe, and will ever grow more severe in their progress, for they demand the death of self; 3. these tests have a blessed end for the tried and approved believer; therefore let us follow the footsteps of Abraham.—Heuser: The way of Abraham to the sacrifice.—The offering up of Isaac: 1. In its historical detail; 2. in its inward typical meaning.
[Genesis 22:1.—נִסּהָ, to try, to prove, to put to the test. And, since men are tested only as they are placed in circumstances of temptation, to tempt.—A. G.]
[Genesis 22:2.—Or where Jehovah is seen, appears, is manifested.—A. G.]
[Genesis 22:2.—Heb., Make him ascend for a burnt offering.—A. G.]
[Genesis 22:8.—Will see for himself a lamb.—A. G.]
[Genesis 22:14.—Lit., Jehovah shall be seen—or appear—or be manifested. Most of the early versions render Jehovah in the nominative.—A. G.]
We congratulate ourselves upon securing Dr. Paulus Cassel to prepare the Bibelwerk upon the book of Judges, who has shown in his condensed article, “Jephthah,” in Herzog’s Real Encyclopedia, that he will not suffer himself to be imposed upon by the massive traditional misinterpretation of this passage (for whose exegetical restitution Hengstenberg has rendered important service), to the injury of a free and living interpretation of it.
[Comp. with this history the revelation of God in the mount, recorded in 2 Samuel 24:25; 2 Chronicles 7:1-3, and Luke 2:22-28.—A. G.]
[God will provide himself. “Another prophetic speech;” and how significant!—A. G.]
[All the commentators dwell upon the tenderness and beauty of the scene here described. But no words can make it more impressive.—A. G.]
[How it brings before us the Lamb who was led to the slaughter.—A. G.]
[Abraham offers the ram as a substitute for Isaac. He withholds not his only son in intent, and yet in fact he offers a substitute for his son. Murphy, p. 341.—A. G.]
[This is the only instance of God’s swearing by himself in his intercourse with the patriarchs—a proof of the unique importance of this event. Wordsworth, p. 101.—A. G.]
[This assumes what, to say the least, is a matter of doubt, and is against the general faith of the Church, that the conscience itself has not suffered in the ruins of the fall. There is ground for the distinction, but we cannot hold that the conscience is infallible.—A. G.]
[An oath with God is a solemn pledging of himself in all the unchangeableness of his faithfulness and truth to the fulfilment of the promise. Murphy, p. 341.—A. G.]
[The Mount of the Lord here means the very height of the trial into which he brings his saints. There he will certainly appear in due time for their deliverance. Murphy, p. 341.—A. G.]
[In this transcendent blessing, repeated on this momentous occasion, Abraham truly saw the day of the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the Son of man. Murphy, p. 342.—A. G.]
[Isaac’s deliverance was a parable or figure, viz., of Christ’s resurrection. Wordsworth, p. 101.—A. G.]
[What God required of Abraham was not the sacrifice of Isaac, but the sacrifice of himself. Wordsworth, p. 97.—A. G.]
The sorrows and joys of Abraham’s domestic life. The account and genealogy of those at home. Sarah’s death. Her burial-place at Hebron; the seed of the future inheritance of Canaan. The theocratic foundation of the consecrated burial
Genesis 22:20 to Genesis 23:20
20And it came to pass after these things that it was told Abraham, saying [what follows], 21Behold, Milcah, she hath also borne children unto thy brother Nahor; Huz [see Genesis 10:23; a light sandy land, in northern Arabia] his first born, and Buz [a people and region in western Arabia] 22his brother, and Kemuel [the congregation of God] the father of Aram. And Chesed [the name of a Chaldaic tribe], and Hazo [an Aramaic and Chaldaic tribe; Gesenius: perhaps for חָזוֹה, vision], and Pildash [Fürst: פֶּלֶד אָשׁ, flame of fire], and Jidlaph [Gesenius: tearful; Fürst: melting away, pining], and Bethuel [Gesenius: man of God. Fürst: dwelling-place or people of God]. 23And Bethuel begat Rebekah [Ribkah, captivating, ensnaring; Fürst: through beauty]: these eight Milcah did bear to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24And his concubine, whose name was Reumah [Gesenius: raised, elevated; Fürst: pearl or coral], she bare also Tebah [Fürst: extension, breadth; a locality in Mesopotamia], and Gaham [Gesenius: having flaming eyes; Fürst: the black; an Aramaic, dark-colored tribe], and Thahash [the name of an unknown animal: badger, marten, seal?], and Maachah [low-lands; a locality at the foot of Hermon; used besides as a female name].
Genesis 23:1.And Sarah was an hundred and twenty and seven years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2And Sarah died in Kirjath-arba [city of Arba]; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
3And Abraham stood-up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, 4I am a stranger and a sojourner [not a citizen] with you: give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight. 5And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him, 6Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince [a prince of God] among us: in the choice [most excellent] of our sepulchres bury thy dead: none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead. 7And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth. 8And he communed with them, saying, If it be your mind [soul, soul-desire] that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and entreat for me to Ephron [Fürst: more powerful, stronger] the son of Zohar [splendor, noble]. 9That he may give me the cave of Machpelah [Gesenius: doubling; Fürst: winding, serpentine], which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth [full money] he shall give it me for a possession of a burying-place [hereditary sepulchre] among you. 10And Ephron dwelt [sat] among the children of Heth. And Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the audience [ears] of the children of Heth, even of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying, 11Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee: bury thy dead. 12And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land. 13And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, But if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me [give me hearing]: I will give thee money for the field; take it from me, and I will bury my dead there. 14And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him, 15My lord, hearken unto me: the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead. 16And Abraham hearkened [followed] unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.
17And the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees which were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure [stood] 18Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city. 19And after this Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan. 20And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a burying-place by the sons of Heth.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
1. Survey. The two sections which we have here placed together, with the following and the last sections of the life of Abraham, form a contrast with his previous history. The revelations from God, the wonderful events of his life, cease, for Abraham’s life of faith is completed with the sacrifice of Isaac. To the wonderful completion of the faith of Abraham there is now added the purely natural and human perfection of Abraham. Its history is certainly much shorter, but it is at the same time a proof that the miraculous in the Old Testament does not stand in any exclusive relation to the material and human. A mythology seeking to produce effect, would have closed the life of the father of the faithful with some splendid supernatural or heroic events. It is, on the other hand, a trait of the true historical character of the tradition here, that it closes the life of Abraham in the way already stated. But at the same time the true christological character of the Old Testament history, wherein it forms the introduction to the New Testament manifestation of the God-man, discovers itself therein, that the history of the life of Abraham does not close abruptly with his greatest act of faith, but that from and out of this act of faith there proceeds a natural and human progress of a consecrated and sanctified life, a course of life into which even the second marriage of Abraham does not enter as a disturbing element. A termination of this kind has already appeared in the life of Noah, appears later in the life of Jacob; and has its New Testament counterpart in the history of the forty days of the risen Christ. But as in the life of Jesus, so in the life of Abraham, the events after the great contests of faith are not without importance. The two sections which we have combined under this point of view, the family sorrows and family joys of Abraham point downwards to the history of Isaac and Israel. From the son of Abraham there must now be a family of Abraham, and to this the family genealogy of the house of Nahor serves as an introduction. This genealogical register first names Rebekah, and then lays the ground for the mission and the wooing of the bride by Eliezer (Genesis 24:0), a history in which also the wooing of his bride by Jacob is introduced through the mention of Laban. But as the history of the family of Abraham is introduced through the record of the house of Nahor, so also is the first possession of Abraham and his descendants in Canaan introduced by the narrative of the death of Sarah. The burial-place in the cave and field of Machpelah, are made a point of union for the later appropriation of Canaan by the people of God, just as in the new covenant, the grave of Christ has introduced for Christians the future possession of the earth; a method of conquest which unfolds itself through the graves of the martyrs and the crypts of Christian churches throughout the whole world. “The testing of the faith of Abraham is completed with the sacrifice of Isaac, the end of his divine calling is fulfilled, and henceforward the history of his life hastens to its conclusion. It is altogether fitting that there should follow now, after this event, a communication to him concerning the family of his brother Nahor (Genesis 11:27 ff.), which is joined with so much appropriateness to the sacrifice of Isaac, since it leads on to the history of the marriage of the heir of the promise. The גַּם הִיא (comp. Gen 2:29) also points to this actual connection. As Sarah had borne a son to Abraham, Milcah also bare sons to Nahor. גַּם הִיא of Gen 23:24 refers back to Genesis 23:20.” Keil.—Schröder: “This paragraph is merely a continuation of Genesis 11:27 ff. As Genesis 19:37-38, brought the side line of Haran to its goal and end, so here the side line of Nahor is continued still further, a testimony, moreover, that Moses never loses the genealogical thread of the history.”
2.Genesis 22:20-24. Knobel holds the number twelve of the sons of Nahor, as also of the sons of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13 ff.) for an imitation of the twelve tribes of Israel. It is unjustifiable to infer from such accidental, or even important resemblances, without further grounds, that the record is fiction. It is certainly true also, that of the sons of Nahor, as also of the sons of Jacob, four are the sons of a concubine. Still, as Keil observes in the history of the sons of Jacob, there are two mothers as also two concubines. Keil also opposes, upon valid grounds, the view of Knobel, that the twelve sons of Nahor must signify twelve tribes of his descendants; thus, e.g., Bethuel does not appear as the founder of a tribe. “It is probably true only of some of the names, that those who bore them were ancestors of tribes of the same name.” Keil.—Huz his first-born.—He must be distinguished from the son of Aram (Genesis 10:23), and from the Edomite (Genesis 30:28). Knobel holds that he must be sought in the neighborhood of the Edomites.—Buz.—“Also, since this tribe is mentioned (Jeremiah 25:23) in connection with Dedan, and Thema, aud since Elihu, the fourth opponent of Job, belonged to it (Job 32:2).” Knobel.—Kemuel—“Is not the ancestor or founder of the Aramaic people, but an ancestor of the family of Ram, to which the Buzite, Elihu, also belonged, since אֲרָם stands for רָם.” Keil.—Chesed.—The chief tribe of the Chaldees appears to have been older than Chesed, but he seems to have been the founder of a younger branch of the Chaldees who plundered Job (Job 1:17).—Bethuel, the father of Rebekah (see Genesis 25:20).—Maacha.—Deuteronomy 3:14; Joshua 12:5, allude to the Maachathites. At the time of David the land Maacha was a small Aramaic kingdom (2 Samuel 10:6-8; 1 Chronicles 19:6). “The others never appear again.” Keil. For conjectures in regard to them, see Knobel, p. 194. For the difference in the names Aram, Uz, Chasdim, see Delitzsch, p. 422.
3. Gerlach: “The German word ‘Kebsweib’ signifies a woman taken out of the condition of service, or bondage, and this is the meaning of the Hebrew term. Besides one or more legal wives, a man might take, according to the custom of the ancients, one from the rank of slaves, whose children, not by Abraham, but by Jacob, were made sharers alike with the legally born (naturally, since, they were held for the adopted children of Rachel and Leah). It was a kind of lower marriage, as with us the marriage ‘on the left,’1 for the concubine was bound to remain faithful (Judges 19:2; 2 Samuel 3:7), and any other man who went in unto her, must bring his trespass offering (Leviticus 19:20); the father must treat the concubine of his son as his child, and the son also, after the contraction of a marriage with one of equal rank, must still treat her as his concubine (Exodus 21:9-10).”
4.Genesis 23:1-20. Sarah’s death and burial in the cave of Machpelah, purchased with the adjoining field, by Abraham, from the children of Heth as a possession of a burying-place. Knobel and Delitzsch find in the antique and detailed method of statement, and similar traits, the stamp of the characteristics of the fundamental Elohistic writing. The more truly the human side of the theocratic history comes into relief, this peculiar, pleasant, picturesque tone of the narrative appears, as, e.g., in the next so-called Jehovistic chapter. The division of this section into two parts, the one of which should embrace only the two first verses, Sarah’s death (Delitzsch) is not in accordance with the unique, pervading method of statement throughout the whole. Sarah’s grave was the cradle of the Abrahamic kingdom in Canaan. The scene of the narration is in Hebron (now El Chalil). When Isaac was born, and also at the time of his sacrifice, Abraham dwelt at Beersheba (Genesis 22:19). At Isaac’s birth Sarah was ninety years old (Genesis 17:17), now she has reached 127 years, and Isaac is thus in his 37th year (see Genesis 25:20). “Between the journey to Moriah, and Sarah’s death, there is thus an interval of at least 20 years.” Delitzsch. During this interval Abraham must have changed his dwelling place to Hebron again. The mention of this change of residence may have appeared, therefore, superfluous to the writer, and further, it may be that even during his abode at Beersheba, Hebron was his principal residence, as Knobel conjectures.—The years of the life of Sarah.—The age of Sarah was impressed on the memory of the Israelites through this repetition, as a number which should not be forgotten. Keil: “Sarah is the only woman whose age is recorded in the Bible, because, as the mother of the seed of promise, she became the mother of all believers (1 Peter 3:6).”—Kirjath-Arba, the same is Hebron (see Genesis 13:18).—The name Kirjath-Arba, i.e., city of Arba, is marked by Keil after Hengstenberg as the later name (coming after Hebron), since the Anakim had not dwelt there at the time of the patriarchs, but Delitzsch, on the contrary, according to Joshua 14:15, and Judges 1:10, views it as the earlier name. Since, however, Numbers 13:22, the city at the very blooming period of the Anakim, was called Hebron, and, indeed, with reference to its being founded seven years before Zoan (Tanis) in Egypt, it seems clear that while the time mentioned in the books of Joshua and Judges, was an earlier time, it was not the earliest, and the succession in the names is this: Hebron, Kirjath-Arba, Hebron, El Chalil (the friend of God, viz., Abraham). It is still, however, a question whether Hebron may not designate specially a valley city of this locality, which belonged to the Hittites (see Genesis 37:14, where Hebron is described as a valley), the name Kirjath-Arba, on the contrary, the mountain and mountain city, belonging to the Anakim. The locality seems to favor the supposition of two neighboring cities, of which one could now use the valley city as the abode of Abraham for the whole locality, and now the mountain city. We have confessedly to accept such a relation between Sichem and the neighboring town Sichar, in order to meet the difficulty in John 4:5. Delitzsch explains the change of names through a change of owners. Even now Hebron is a celebrated city, at the same time a hill and valley city, although no longer, great and populous, situated upon the way from Beersheba to Jerusalem, and about midway between them (7–8 hours from Jerusalem), surrounded by beautiful vineyards, olive trees and orchards; comp. the articles in Winer’s “Dictionary,” Von Raumer, and the various descriptions of travellers. [Robinson’s description (ii. 431–462) is full and accurate, and leaves little to be desired.—A. G.]—In the land of Canaan.—This circumstance appears here conspicuously in honor of Sarah, and from the importance of her burial-place.—And Abraham came.—The shepherd prince was busy in his calling in the field, or in the environs. It is not said that he was absent at the death of Sarah, but only that he now sat down by the corpse at Hebron, to complete the usages of mourning (to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her), and to provide for her burial.—From before his dead (corpse).—From before his dead.2 He had mourned in the presence of the dead; now he goes to the gate of the city, where the people assembled, where the business was transacted, and where he could thus purchase a grave.—To the sons of Heth.—The name, according to Knobel, appears only in the Elohistic writings. [This attempt to define and characterize particular points of the book by the use of special names, breaks down so often that it may be regarded as no longer of any serious importance.—A. G.]—A possession of a burying-place with you.—It is, as F. C. V. Moser remarks, a beautiful scene of politeness, simplicity, kindness, frankness, humility, modesty, not unmingled with some shades of avarice, and of a kind of expectation when one in effecting a sale, throws himself upon the generosity of the purchaser.” Delitzsch. The delicate affair is introduced by the modest request of Abraham. As a stranger and a sojourner3 he had no possession, thus even no burying-place among them. He therefore asks that they would sell him a piece of ground for the purpose of a burial-place.—Thou art a mighty prince (a prince of God).—That is, a man to whom God has given a princely aspect, in consequence of communion with him. [A man whom God has favored and made great.—A. G.] They offer him a sepulchre, among the most select of their sepulchres (upon the exchange of לוֹ for לוּ see Knobel and the opposing remarks by Keil). [לֵאמֹּר is generally used absolutely, but the peculiarity here is not without analogy (see Leviticus 11:1), and does not justify the change to לוֹ nor that adopted by the Sept. לֹא.—A. G.] But Abraham cannot consent thus to mingle himself with them. He has a separate burying-place in his eye.—And Abraham stood up.—The reverential bowing is an expression of his gratitude and of his declining the offer. In the oriental bowing the person touches the earth with his brow. Luther often translates the word in question by “to worship,” in relation to men, where it is obviously unsuited to the sense.—If it be your mind.—Abraham introduces, in a very courtly and prudent way, his purpose to secure the cave of Ephron. It marks Ephron as a man of prominence and rank, that he avails himself of their intercession; Keil infers from the words his city (Genesis 23:10), that he was then lord of the city. This is doubtful.—The cave of Machpelah.—“The name is rendered in the Septuagint: τὸ σπήλαιον τὸ διπλοῦν, according to the meaning of מַכְפֵּלָה. But it is a proper name, which is also true of the field (Genesis 49:30; Genesis 50:13), although it was originally derived from the form of the cave.” Keil. Caves were often used for sepulchres in Palestine (see Winer, sepulchres).—And Ephron, the Hittite, answered.—“When now Ephron offered to give the cave to Abraham—this is a mode of expression still in use in the East, by which, so far as it is seriously intended, leaving out of view any regard to a counterpresent, richly compensating the value of the present, for the most part it is designed to prevent any abatement from the price desired. [See ‘The Land and the Book,’ by Thompson, ii. 381–388.—A. G.] (Comp. Dieterici and descriptions of the Eastern lands, ii. p. 168 f.).” Keil. It is not certain that we should identify so directly the original utterance of true generosity with the like sounding form of a later custom. It must be observed, still, that Abraham modestly desired only to gain the cave, a place which was at the end of the field, and to this no one objected; on the contrary, Ephron offered him at the same time, the adjoining field. And this is in favor of the good intention of Ephron, since he could have sold to him the cave alone at a costly price.—And Abraham bowed down himself (again).—An expression, again, of esteem, thankfulness, and at the same time, of a declinature, but, also, an introduction to what follows. He presses, repeatedly, for a definite purchase. The answer of Ephron: “The field, four hundred shekels,” etc., announces again the price in courtly terms. Knobel explains: “A piece of land of so little value could not be the matter of a large transaction between two rich men.” But it is the more distinct echo of the offer of the present, and with this utters an excuse or apology for the demand, because he (Abraham) would insist upon having it thus.—And Abraham weighed.—“At that time none of the states had stamped coins which could be reckoned, but pieces of the metals were introduced in the course of trade, and these pieces were of definite weight, and, indeed, also marked with designations of the weight, but it was necessary to weigh these pieces in order to guard against fraud” (see Winer, article Münzen). Knobel. The use of coins for the greater convenience of original barter, has been regarded as the invention of the Phœnicians, as also the invention of letters is ascribed to them.—Current money with the merchant.—The Hebrew term is עֹבֵר לַסֹּחֵר, passing over, transitive; i.e., current, fitted for exchange in merchandise. The idea of the distinction between light pieces, and those of full weight, existed already. Keil: ‘The shekel of silver used in trade was about 274 Parisian grains, and the price of the land, therefore, about 250 dollars, a very considerable sum for the time.” The Rabbins ascribe the high price to the covetousness of Ephron. Delitzsch, however, reminds us, that Jacob purchased a piece of ground for 100 קְשִׂיטָה (Genesis 33:19), and the ground and limits upon which Samaria was built, cost two talents, i.e., 6,000 heavy shekels of silver (1 Kings 16:24). For the shekel see Delitzsch, p. 426. [Also article in Kitto on “Weights and Measures,” and in Smith’s “Dictionary.”—A. G.] It must be observed, too, that we cannot judge of the relation between the price and the field, since we do not know its bounds.—Machpelah, which was before Mamre.—For these local relations compare Delitzsch and Keil, and also 5. Raumer, p. 202. [Compare also Robinson: “Researches,” vol. ii. pp. 431–462; Stanley: “History of the Jew. Church.” This cave, so jealously guarded by the Mohammedans, has recently been entered by the Prince of Wales with his suite. Dean Stanley, who was permitted to enter the cave, says that the shrines “are what the Biblical narrative would lead us to expect, and there is evidence that the Mohammedans have carefully guarded these sacred spots, and they stand as the confirmation of our Christian faith.”—A. G.] The cave lay לִפְנֵי (Genesis 23:17; comp. Genesis 23:19) before Mamre, i.e., over against the oak grove of Mamre; Keil and Knobel think eastward, Delitzsch southerly. But the expression here does not appear to refer to any quarter of the heavens. The valley of Hebron runs from north to south, in a southeasterly direction. Mamre and Machpelah must have been situated over against each other in the two sides, or the two ends, of this valley. Since the structure Haram, which the Mohammedan tradition (without doubt, a continuation of the earlier Christian tradition,) designates as the cave of Machpelah, or as Abraham’s grave, and which the Mohammedan power jealously guards against the entrance of Jews or Christians, lies upon the mountain-slope towards the east, it is clear that Mamre must be sought upon the end of the valley, or mountain-slope toward the west (which forms its eastern side). Here lies the height Numeidi, which Rosenmüller says is the land of Mamre. We must then hold that the grove of Mamre descended into the valley, and that Abraham dwelt here in the valley at the edge of the grove. Still the opposition in locality (the vis-à-vis) may be defined from the high ground which lies northerly from Hebron, and is called Nimre or Nemreh (= Mamre?), but even then also Abraham must have dwelt at the foot of this eminence. However, according to the old Christian tradition (Schubert, Robinson, Seetzen, Ritter and others), this Hebron of Abraham (Wady el Rame or Ramet el Chalil, with its ruins of old walls and foundations) lay about an hour northward from the present city. This view is abandoned by the most recent commentators, since this would require too great a distance between Mamre and Hebron. So much seems at least to be established, viz., that the tradition in regard to Machpelah is confirmed, then that the tradition concerning Mamre and the location of Mamre, must be determined by the situation of Machpelah. [In regard to the words of St. Stephen, Acts 7:16, Wordsworth holds that Abraham purchased two burial-places, the first, the cave of Machpelah, the second at Sichar or Shechem; and that it is by design that the one should be communicated to us by the Holy Spirit, speaking by Moses, the Hebrew legislator, and the other by the Hellenist Stephen, when he pleaded before the Jewish Sanhedrim the cause of the faithfulness of all nations, p. 103. See also Alexander “on the Acts.”—A. G.]—And the field of Ephron was made sure.—The record of the transaction is very minute; first, in regard to the purchase price and the witnesses (Genesis 23:16), then in regard to the piece of ground (the cave, the field and all the trees) (Genesis 23:17), finally, in reference to the right of possession (again with the mention of witnesses) (Genesis 23:18); as if a legal contract was made and executed. Even the burial of Sarah belongs to the confirmation of the possession, as is apparent from the forms of Genesis 23:19, and from the conclusion of the account in Genesis 23:20.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
(Upon Genesis 22:20-24.)
1. See the Exegetical and Critical remarks.
2. Joy follows upon sorrow, comfort succeeds the conflict. The message which Abraham received was very providential, and comes at the right moment. Isaac was saved, Soon Abraham must think of his marriage, and of the establishment of his family through him. The opportune account from Mesopotamia of the children of his brother Nahor laid the foundation for the hope in him. that he might find in his family a suitable bride for Isaac. Rebekah also is mentioned in the report. Rebekah appears as the youngest branch of the children of Nahor, his grandchild through Bethuel. She is in so far a late-birth, as Isaac was. Her brother Laban, who, in some respects, forms a parallel to Ishmael, the brother of Isaac, first appears later in the history.
3. It avails not for the race to be hasty, the race is not always to the swift. Nahor precedes Abraham with his twelve sons, as Ishmael does Isaac. In the line of Abraham, the twelve sons appear first in the third generation.
4. The message from Nahor’s house, the sign of a relationship and love, sanctified through a reference to higher ends.
5. Love excites the thoughts of the loved ones in the distance, forms the greeting, and devises also the messages in primitive times. Between the earliest messengers, the angels of God, and the latest form of human communication, the telegraph, there is every possible form of communication and kind of messengers; but they all ought to serve, and all shall, in accordance with their idea, serve the purposes of love and the kingdom of God.—The importance of the newspaper.—A pious man remarks: I have only two moulding books, the one is the Bible, the other the newspaper.—We should view all the events of the times in the light of God.
6. Nahor, the brother of Abraham, stands still in a spiritual relationship with him; both his message, and the piety and nobleness of his grandchild Rebekah, prove this. But he is clearly less refined than Abraham. Abraham suffers the espousal of Hagar to be pressed upon him, because he had no children; but Nahor, who had already eight children by Milcah, took in addition to her a concubine, Reumah.—Contrasts of this kind teach us to estimate the higher direction of the partriarchal life, as e.g. also the history of Lot, will be estimated in the mirror of the history of Sodom.
(Upon Genesis 23:0.)
1. See the Exegetical and Critical remarks.
2. Sarah. “It was in the land of promise that Sarah, the ancestress of Israel, died. The Old Testament relates the end of no woman’s life so particularly as the end of the life of Sarah—for she is historically the most important woman of the old covenant. She is the mother of the seed of promise, and in him of all believers (1 Peter 3:6). She is the Mary of the old Testament. In her unshaken faith Mary rises still higher than Sarah, but the Scriptures neither record the length of her life, nor her death. This occurs because the son whom Sarah bare was not greater than herself, but Mary bore a son before whose glory all her own personality fades and vanishes away,” etc. Delitzsch.
3. Abraham, the father of believers, also a model of the customary courtliness, and a proof how this courtliness is, at the same time, an expression of regard, of human love and gratitude, a polished form of human friendship, and a protection of personality and truth. [Religion does not consist entirely in acts of worship, in great self-denials or heroic virtues, but in all the daily concerns and acts of our lives. It moulds and regulates our joys and sorrows; it affects our relations; it enters into our business. Thus we have the faith and piety of Abraham, presented in the ordinary changes, the joys, the sorrows, and the business transactions of his life.—A. G.]
4. Our history is a living portraiture of the courtliness and urbanity general in the remote antiquity and in the East.
5. The traffic and purchase of Abraham, throughout, a testimony of Israelitish prudence and foresight, but free from all Jewish meanness and covetousness.
6. The gradual development of money, or of the measures in value of earthly things, proceeding from the rating of the nobler metals, especially of silver, according to its weight. The importance of the Phœnicians in this respect.
7. A precious gain, the gain of a burial possession for her descendants, is connected with the death of Sarah. “The first real-estate property of the patriarchs was a grave. This is the only good which they buy from the world, the only enduring thing they find here below, etc. In that sepulchre Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, were laid, there Jacob laid Leah, and there Jacob himself would rest after his death, even in death itself a confessor of his faith in the promise. This place of the dead becomes the punctum saliens of the possession of the promised land. It was designedly thus minutely described, as the glorious acquisition of the ancestors of Israel. It was indeed the bond which ever bound the descendants of Abraham in Egypt to the land of promise, drew with magnetic power their desires thither, and, collected in Canaan, they should know where the ashes of their fathers rested, and that they are called to inherit the promise, for which their fathers were here laid in the grave.” Delitzsch.—The cave Machpelah became for the Israelites the sacred grave of the old covenant, which they won again with the conquest of Canaan, just as the Christians in the crusades reconquered the sacred grave of the new covenant, and with it Palestine. And the Christians also, like the Jews, have lost again their sacred grave and their holy land, because they have not inwardly adhered sufficiently to the faith of the fathers, who beyond the sacred grave looked for the eternal city of God: because they have sought too much “the living among the dead.” Even now the last desire of the orthodox Jews is for a grave at Jerusalem, in Canaan. [The transaction in securing this burial-place was, not as some have thought, to secure a title to the land of promise, that was perfect and secure in the sovereign promise of God: but it was: 1. A declaration of the faith of Abraham in the promise; 2. a pledge and memorial to his descendants, when in captivity, of their interest in the land.—A. G.]
8. Notwithstanding the ancients did not easily receive a stranger into their families (among the Greeks and Romans usage forbade it), the Hittites are ready to receive Sarah into their best family sepulchres, as Joseph of Arimathea took the body of our Lord into his own tomb. This is a strong testimony to the impression which Abraham, and Sarah also, had made upon them, to their reverence and attachment for the patriarchal couple. They appear also, like Abimelech at Gerar, to have had their original monotheism awakened and strengthened by their intercourse with Abraham, whom they honor as a “Prince of God.”
9. Hebron, the first royal city of David, is situated five hours southerly from Bethlehem, his native city. How deeply the present spiritual relations of Hebron lie under the splendor of the royal city of David! Its inhabitants cultivate the vine, cotton, have glassworks, and live “in constant feuds with the Bethlehemites.” V. Raumer.
10. The custom of burial and the sanctification of the grave, after the intimation, Genesis 15:15, appears here in a striking and impressive manner.
11. In order to preserve his hope for Canaan pure, Abraham could not entangle, himself with the Caananites, thus: 1. He could not use, in common with the heathen, their sepulchre; 2. he could not receive as a present a possession in the land. [This chapter is interesting as containing the first record of mourning for the dead, of burial, of property in land, of purchase of land, of silver as a medium of purchase, and of a standard of weight. Murphy, p. 347.—A. G.]
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
(Upon Genesis 22:20-24.)
Human consolation follows the great conflict and victory of faith.—The joyful message which Abraham received: a. From his home; b. from his blood relations; c. from his spiritual kindred.—The destination and the blessing of the ties of relationship, in the widest sense.—The end and the blessing of all communication in the world.—All human messengers should be messengers of love, in joy and sorrow.—Salutations, messages, letters, journals, are all also under the conduct of divine providence. Human missions are accompanied by divine missions.—A people spring from children, or how significantly Rebekah here comes forward from her concealment.—The joy of a loving participation in the happiness of companions—neighbors. Starke: (A picture of Syria and Babylon.) Psalms 112:2; Psalms 127:3,—Osiander: God usually refreshes and quickens his people again, after temptation.—Calwer, Handbuch: When Isaac was about to be offered, God allows him to hear that his future wife was born and educated.
(Upon Genesis 23:0.)
The richly blessed end of Sarah as it appears: 1. In the quenchless memory of her age by Israel; 2. in the mourning of Abraham; 3. in his care for her grave; 4. in the esteem of the Hittites (every one is ready to admit her into his sepulchre); 5. in the opportunity for the securing of the sepulchre as a possession by Abraham.—The whole chapter instructive on the grave, as is chapter fifth on death, the eleventh chapter of John on the resurrection from the grave: 1. Of death;4 2. of mourning; 3. of the acquisition of sepulchres; 4. of the burial itself; 5. of hope over the grave.—The true mourning a sanctified feeling of death: 1. A fellow-feeling of death, with the dead; 2. an anticipation of death, or a living preparation for one’s own death; 3. a believing sense of the end or destination of death, to be made useful to the life.—Sarah’s grave a sign of life: 1. A monument of faith, a token of hope; 2. an image of the state of rest for the patriarchs; 3. a sign of the home and of the longing of Israel; 4. a sign or prognostic of the New-Testament graves.—The solemn burial of the corpse: 1. An expression of the esteem of personality even in its dead image; 2. an expression of the hope of a new life.5—The sanctification of the grave for a family sepulchre, foreshadowing the sanctification of the church-yards or God’s-acres.—Abraham the father of believers, also the founder of a believing consecration of the grave—offers themes for funeral discourses, dedication of church-yards, and at mourning solemnities.—The first possession which Abraham bought was a grave for Sarah, for his household, for himself even.—The choice of the grave: 1. Significantly situated (a double cave); 2. still more suitably (at the end of the field).—Israel’s first possession of the soil: the grave of Sarah; the first earthly house of the Christian; the grave of Christ and the graves of the martyrs.
Genesis 23:2. The mourning of Abraham: 1. Its sincerity (as he left his pursuits and sat or lay before the corpse); 2. its limit, and the preservation of his piety (as he rose up from before the corpse, and purchased the grave).—Abraham himself must have had his own mortality brought to his mind by the death of Sarah, since he cared for a common grave.
Genesis 23:9; Genesis 23:13. Abraham’s traffic; 1. In his transparency; 2. his purity; 3. his carefulness and security.—Abraham and the Hittites a lively image of the Eastern courtliness in the early times.—The true politeness of spirit as a cultivation of hearty human friendliness, in its meaning: 1. Upon what it rests (respect for our fellows and self-respect); 2. what it effects (the true position toward our neighbors, as an olive-branch of peace and a protection of personal honor).—The mysterious sepulchre at Hebron.—The Mohammedans as the intelligent protectors of the graves of the East until the time of its restitution.—Starke: (There is no ground for the saying of the Rabbins, that Sarah died from sorrow when she learned of the sacrifice of Isaac).—The fear of God makes no one insensible to feeling, as the Stoics have asserted (Job 14:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; Psalms 39:5-6).
Genesis 23:13. There is a reference here to the first money transaction, for the land was not to be received as a present, or be held without price, by Abraham, but by his successors, hence he must pay for what he obtains (Acts 7:5). This was, however, plainly the ordering of God, that Abraham, through a purchase of a burial-place with money, should have a foothold, and some possession of property, as a pledge of the future possession.—God also shows that he takes the dead into his care and protection, and he would never do this had he not a purpose to reawaken the dead.—Cramer: We should proceed with gentleness and modesty in our dealings with any one.—Bibl. Tub.: Purchases should be made with prudence, that we may not give cause for controversy (1 Corinthians 6:7).—We should veil in a seemly way the bodies of the dead, and bear them reverently to the grave.—Lisco: Thus Abraham gained the first possession in the land of promise; here he would bury Sarah, here he himself would be buried; thus he testifies to his faith in the certainty of the divine promise made to him, as in a later case the prophet Jeremiah, just before the exile, testified his faith in the return of Israel from its banishment, by the purchase of the field of Hanameel at Anathoth (Jeremiah 32:0.).—Calwer, Handbuch: The possession of a burying-place as his own, satisfied the pious pilgrim, and is for him a pledge of the full possession of the land by his successors.—Schröder: Genesis 23:1. Then also the believer may recollect how God has written all his days in his book. Psalms 139:16 (Berleb. Bibl.).
Genesis 23:2. The tear of sorsow has its right in the heart, because it is a human heart: but there is a despair concerning death, as concerning sin.—It is thoughtfully tender to lay the children of the mother earth again in her bosom (Sir 40:1).—The money with which he secures the cave is the blessing of God; thus God procures for him peculiarly a possession in the land of promise.
 [The allusion is to a German law or custom, in regard to marriage between persons of unequal rank, and the offspring of such a marriage.—A. G.]
[The concubine was a secondary or half-wife, and among the Hebrews her position was well defined, and was not regarded as illegitimate. Her position was not that of a mistress, as we use the term concubine.—A. G.]
[Sarah, though dead, was still his. Wordsworth.—A.G.]
[Wordsworth here calls attention to the fact that the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:11) quotes these words as found in the Septuagint, when he addresses believers as “strangers and pilgrims.” They were, like Abraham, the father of the faithful.—A. G.]
[The patriarch had encountered other trials, but he had hitherto been spared this of death. But now death enters. No health, relations, affections, can resist the march and power of death. Abraham has in heart parted with his children, now he must part actually from her who had shared all his trials and hopes.—A. G.]
[In that grave was implied the hope of Resurrection. Wordsworth, p. 104.—A. G.]
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 22". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany