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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 22

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


THE OFFERING OF ISAAC, Genesis 22:1-19.

We now come to the seventh and great test of Abraham’s faith. See note on Genesis 18:1. Here the spiritual life of the honoured patriarch attains its climax . Native land and kindred have long ago been left behind; revelation after revelation has lifted him into a lofty friendship with God; he has sacrificed his natural yearning for Ishmael, who for years had seemed to him the heir of promise, and has submitted to send him and his mother away into the wilderness . Now all his hope for the after time hung on his only son, his Isaac, whom he loved, (Genesis 22:2,) and, as the utmost trial and test of his confidence in God’s word, he is commanded to go forth and sacrifice even that child of miracle . So must the will of the flesh be subjected to the word of God . And so must all Abraham’s spiritual seed, the true children of faith, attain to that lofty elevation . So also Abraham’s greater Son, who in the fulness of time gave his life a ransom for many, declares: “He that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;… and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it . ” Matthew 10:37; Matthew 10:39. Herein is shown the faith of Abraham .

A peculiar interpretation has been put upon this chapter by Hengstenberg and Lange, who maintain that Abraham misunderstood the divine command. They deem it absurd to suppose that God should forbid in one part of the transaction what he commands in another, or that he should at all command a human sacrifice, a thing declared so abominable in the law. They understand the command of Genesis 22:2 to mean that Abraham should offer his son in spiritual consecration to God; not slay him for a literal burnt offering. Thus God would teach his friend both the distinction and the connexion between sacrificing and killing. The principle and methods of this interpretation are like those by which it is attempted to show that Jephthah did not offer his daughter as a burnt offering, but devoted her to perpetual virginity. It explains away the natural meaning of the language, and foists in a spiritualizing process of thought, transcendental in nature and tendency, and calculated to confuse and mislead rather than help the student of the Scripture. “The Hebrew cultus,” says Lange, “distinguishes between the spiritual consecration of man as a sacrifice, and the visible slaughter of an animal. Thus, for example, according to 1 Samuel 1:24-25, the boy Samuel was brought by his parents to Eli the priest, and consecrated at the tabernacle, since the three bullocks were slain there as burnt offerings.” Com. on Genesis, p. 79. But will Lange maintain that the three bullocks were slain as a substitute for Samuel’s life? or that Samuel’s consecration at the tabernacle was equivalent to the act of Abraham in not withholding Isaac? or that Samuel’s parents, in that consecration, offered up their son in any proper sense as a burnt offering to the Lord? The cases are not parallel at all, and to put them thus together is to confound things that are different. Those passages in which the spiritual significance of offerings is presented (Psalms 40:6-9; Psalms 51:17; Psalms 119:108; Hosea 14:2) have no essential relevancy to this narrative of Abraham, and in the passage most frequently cited, (Psalms 51:16-17,) a contrite heart and a burnt offering so far from being synonymous, are put in direct opposition to one another. God’s command to Abraham was plain and positive. The patriarch’s mind was not confused with the metaphysical subtleties of German critics, and when God said: “Take Isaac and go to Moriah and offer him there for a burnt offering;” it was impossible for him to understand any thing else than to go and do exactly what God commanded. He probably knew of no law against human sacrifice, and to him, God’s word, spoken at sundry times and in divers manners, was the supreme law.

We must particularly observe, that this whole procedure was a testing, a temptation, ( נסה ,) of Abraham . For the purpose of such trial it was perfectly proper for God to command the offering up in sacrifice of the life which he had himself given, and had the right and the power to take again . It was equally proper for him to countermand the order when he saw its purpose was accomplished . Genesis 22:12. In all this there was no conflict, as some writers have supposed, between the revealed and the secret will of God, as if the Holy One had two wills acting in opposite directions at the same time . When God commanded Abraham to go and offer up Isaac, he meant exactly what he said; and when Abraham had shown implicit faith and obedience, God spoke again and commanded him to offer the ram for a burnt offering instead of his son . Genesis 22:13. Here is no conflict between a revealed and a secret will of God. It is simply and solely his revealed will countermanding, for stated reasons, what his revealed will had before commanded. And thus we are told, with a beauty and tenderness unsurpassed in literature, the process and the outcome of the trial of Abraham’s faith.

Verse 1

1. After these things After all that has been narrated of Abraham before .

God did tempt Abraham The Hebrew for God is here האלהים , the God; emphatic, the same “everlasting God,” who is called Jehovah in Gen 22:33 of the previous chapter. The tempting is a key-word to the whole chapter. The Hebrew word נסה means to try, to test, to prove . Thus Gesenius ( Lex. under נסה ) observes: “God is said to try or prove men, that is, their virtue, Psalms 26:2; piety, Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 8:16; their faith and obedience, Exodus 15:25; Exodus 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:31. This is done by wonderful works, Exodus 20:20; by commands difficult to be executed, Genesis 22:1; Exodus 16:4; and by the infliction of calamities, Deuteronomy 33:8; Judges 2:22; Judges 3:1; Judges 3:4. ” Lange remarks that the word “denotes not simply to prove, or to put to the test, but to prove under circumstances which have originated from sin, and which increase the severity of the proof and make it a temptation . ” And this is an important point to note. Man’s life of probation is in a world of trial; and while the world lies in wickedness, many trials come from evil sources; the god of this world solicits to evil, and seeks whom he may devour. 1 Peter 5:8. All such solicitations to evil are among the offences which Jesus deplored, (Matthew 18:7; Luke 17:1,) and when thus viewed it is manifest that God tempts no man . James 1:13. But even such temptations, when resisted and overcome, will issue in good, and the godly discipline they thus subserve is to be recognised as God’s chastising . Hence the apostle says, in the same chapter, (James 1:2,) “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations,” etc. God’s tempting Abraham was not a malicious solicitation to evil, but a testing commandment to prove the depth and strength of the patriarch’s faith. If now Abraham will, without questioning, obey a commandment that seems to subvert all the promises of the past, and even the words of prophecy touching Isaac, then will the evidence of his faith be perfected. And so it was, that he who before “against hope believed in hope,” (Romans 4:18,) now staggered not at this strange word, “accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.” Hebrews 11:19.

Verse 2

2. He said Doubtless in some open and positive way . There is no evidence that this word came by a vision of the night . Least of all should we give countenance to the strange fancy that Abraham was imposed upon by Satan, and tempted, by observing human sacrifices among the heathen, to suppose that the sacrifice of Isaac would be acceptable to God.

If such were the fact, the sacred writer fell into a most unfortunate style of recording the truth.

Take now thy son This command is peculiarly touching. Hebrews, Take now thy son, thy only one, whom thou lovest, even Isaac. Various conjectures have been held as to Isaac’s age at this time. Josephus says twenty-five, and other numbers have been mentioned ranging from ten to thirty-seven. But all is conjecture. He was a young lad, but old and large enough to carry the wood for the burnt offering. Genesis 22:6.

Land of Moriah On the origin of this name, see on Genesis 22:14. The Samaritans read land of Moreh, and so identify this Moriah with the Moreh of Genesis 12:6, and Stanley and others argue that the place of Abraham’s sacrifice was on the summit of Mount Gerizim, which, after a journey of two days from Beer-sheba by way of the Philistine plain, can be seen “afar off.” Genesis 22:4. But the Jewish tradition identifies this Moriah with the mountain on which the Temple was afterwards builded, (2 Chronicles 3:1,) and there seems no sufficient reason to abandon this view. Thomson says, “It is almost absurd to maintain that Abraham could come on his loaded ass from Beer-sheba to Nablus in the time specified. On the third day he arrived early enough to leave the servants afar off, and walk with Isaac bearing the sacrificial wood to the mountain, which God had shown him; there build the altar, arrange the wood, bind his son, and stretch forth his hand to slay him; and there was time, too, to take and offer up the ram in Isaac’s place. That all this could have been done at Nablus on the third day of their journey is incredible. It has always appeared to me, since I first traveled over the country myself, that even Jerusalem was too far off from Beer-sheba for the tenor of the narrative, but Nablus is two days farther north.” Land and Book, vol. ii, p. 212.

Offer him there for a burnt offering There is no possibility of mistaking the plain import of these words. It is not, consecrate or dedicate him there in connexion with a burnt offering, but offer him there. Though God’s command seems to be contrary to all hope and promise and prophecy, Abraham obeys.

One of the mountains which I will tell Was there not a divine plan and purpose, in selecting the spot for this most wonderful event, to make it identical with the place where afterwards Jehovah would record his name, and set forth his son to be a propitiation for the sins of the whole world?

Verse 3

3. Rose up early An early start on a journey is all-important in the East . Thus would the traveller avoid the heat of the day in the open sun, by travelling before the sun was up, and resting in the heat of the day .

Saddled his ass The modern saddle was not then known, but pieces of cloth and garments (Mark 11:7) were bound ( חבשׁ ) on the back of the animal . The saddling also implied the binding on of whatever baggage the traveller would take along . The Oriental ass is a nobler animal than that which we of the West associate with that name . (See the Bible Dictionaries on the word . )

Took two of his young men An incident which shows the naturalness and accuracy of the narrative. A chief like Abraham would not travel far unattended.

Verse 4

4. Third day Two days of journey and reflection did not cause the faith of Abraham to waver, but must have deeply intensified the trial going on within him .

Afar off These words do not necessarily imply a great distance . Moses’s sister stood afar off to watch the ark of bulrushes, (Exodus 2:4,) and Job’s three friends “lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not,” (Job 2:12,) but the distances in each case were obviously not great .

Verse 5

5. I and the lad will go yonder Abraham doubtless took the ass and his servants to the foot of the mountain, so as to carry the wood and the fire no unnecessary distance . From the junction of the valleys Hinnon and Kedron the heights of Moriah would seem afar off, and be properly spoken of as yonder.

And come again to you These words may have been designed to conceal from his servants the purpose of his heart; but according to Hebrews 11:17, he had confidence that God would raise up his son from the dead . By faith he spoke, in this verse and Genesis 22:8, more wisely than he knew, and his words were a true prophecy.

Verse 6

6. The wood… upon Isaac How does this suggest the only-begotten Son of God bearing his wooden cross to Calvary! John 19:17. Fire in his hand Either a stick of wood that would long endure as a burning ember, or coals in a firepot .

Verse 7

7. My father The narrative, in its life-like simplicity, evidences its own genuineness . It was probably often repeated by Isaac to his sons, and by them handed down, till it took this written form .

Where is the lamb A most searching question, painful to Abraham’s heart, and prompting the prophetic utterance recorded in the next verse, where Abraham again speaks more wisely than he knew . Comp . Genesis 22:5.

Verse 8

8. God will provide Hebrews, Elohim-jireh, God will see . See on Genesis 22:14.

Verse 9

9. The place which God had told How, when, and where God revealed to him the exact spot for his offering, we are nowhere informed . The rabbins have a tradition that on this same spot Adam, Abel, and Noah had offered sacrifice .

Built… laid… bound… laid The four different Hebrew words graphically describe the successive acts in the work of preparation . These are followed in the next verse by three words which paint the final tableau stretched forth… took… to slay . All the efforts of sculptors and painters to present this scene have never equalled this word-picture.

Verse 11

11. The Angel of the Lord called This climax of the faith of Abraham is worthy of the coming of the angel of Jehovah . On this name see note, chap . 16:7 . It is appropriate that the interruption and the countermand of the words of the Elohim of Genesis 22:1 (note) come from the angel of the covenant, who in the fulness of times will, on this same mountain, lay down his life a ransom for many .

Abraham, Abraham This repetition of Abraham’s name gives an intense liveliness to the scene, and shows the urgency of the new commandment now to be given .

Verse 12

12. Lay not thine hand upon the lad That is, for the purpose of slaying him . “God did not seek the slaying of Isaac in fact, but only the implicit surrender of the lad, in mind and heart . But if all mental reservation, every refuge of flesh and blood, all mere appearance and self-delusion were to be avoided, this surrender could only be accomplished in the shape in which it was actually required. If it was to be wholly an act of faith left to its own energies, without any other point of support, God could not merely ask a mental surrender, but must have demanded an actual sacrifice. On the part of any other than God such a quid pro quo would have been a dangerous game. Not so on the part of God, who held the issue entirely in his own hand. When Abraham had, in heart and mind, completely and without any reserve, offered up his son, God interposed and prevented the sacrifice in facto, which was no longer required for the purpose of trial” Kurtz.

Now I know The Covenant Angel speaks here after the manner of man, as when, in Genesis 18:21, he said: “I will go down now and see,” etc . The word, says Murphy, “denotes an eventual knowing, a discovering by actual experiment; and this observable probation of Abraham was necessary for the judicial eye of God, who is to govern the world, and for the conscience of man, who is to be instructed by practice as well as principle.”

Thou hast not withheld thy son This passage seems to have suggested to Paul the language of Romans 8:32: “He that spared not his own son, but delivered him up for us all.” But it is misleading to speak unqualifiedly of Isaac as a type of Christ. Isaac did not lay down his life at all, nor do we know that he was a willing victim. Not Isaac, but Abraham, is the great figure in this scene. See below, on the typical lessons of this chapter.

Verse 13

13. Lifted… looked… behold These verbs afford another vivid word-picture . The startled patriarch hears, stops short, looks up and all around to see and know all that Jehovah wills .

A ram The Samaritan, Sept . , Syriac, and many MSS . read one ram, which would result from the mere changing of ר into ד in the word אחר , translated behind. Such a reading would emphasize the ram as being single and separate from the flock, thus typifying, as some think, the Lamb of God as being “separate from sinners . ” Hebrews 7:26. The same thought, however, may be held with the common reading . God had truly provided a lamb for a burnt offering . Comp . Genesis 22:8.

Caught in a thicket by his horns “What, then, did he represent,” asks Augustine, “but Jesus . who before he was offered up, was crowned with thorns by the Jews?”

Offered him up… in the stead of his son Here comes out prominently the idea of substitution in sacrifice; the animal for the human life . But it is scarcely proper to hold up this incident as designed to teach or enhance the doctrine of vicarious atonement . That doctrine is, indeed, implied; but the prominent thought is not that either Isaac’s or Abraham’s life was now demanded in order to atone for sin . The typical lessons of the whole procedure are rather incidental, and to be presented as by accommodation and analogy, (see below,) not as the great thought, which is to show the perfection of Abraham’s faith in God .

Verse 14

14. Jehovah-jireh This name appears to have been given because of the marvellous fulfilling of the words of Abraham in Genesis 22:8 Elohim-jireh, “God will provide,” or God will see to it. Abraham had uttered an unconscious prophecy, and now in adoring confidence he gives that sacred spot a name which will forever endure as a memorial of Jehovah’s providence. In giving this name he prophecies again, and utters a proverb, which was common in the days of this writer, and has been immortalized in Christian hope and song.

In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen Or, in the mount Jehovah shall be seen. Thus the Sept. The Vulgate disregards the Masoretic pointing, and reads, in the mount, the Lord will see; on which Jerome thus comments: “This became a proverb among the Hebrews, that if any should be in trouble and should desire the help of the Lord, they should say in the mount the Lord will see; that is, as he had mercy on Abraham, so will he have mercy on us.” It is quite probable that the name of this mountain, Moriah, originated with this event, and is used proleptically in Genesis 22:2. It is compounded of the root ראה , to see, (the jireh of this verse,) in its Hophal participal form מראה , and the initial letters of the divine name Jehovah, יה , which in a contracted form may be read and pronounced מריה , Moriah, seen of Jehovah . The language of 2 Chronicles 3:1, where only the name Moriah elsewhere occurs, seems to hint at this same etymology: “Mount Moriah, in which Jehovah was seen ( נראה ) by David . ” In this holy mountain Jehovah was seen long after, in the symbolism of the temple and its offerings, and finally in the sacrifice of Him in whom God was seen reconciling the world to himself . 2 Corinthians 5:19.

Verse 15

15. The Angel… called… second time Once more will Jehovah speak to Abraham before he leaves this memorable spot, and by an oath confirm unto him all his previous promises .

Verse 16

16. By myself have I sworn “When God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself . ” Hebrews 6:13. Hanna observes, that this oath “was the last utterance that fell from the lips of God upon the ear of Abraham. He lived for fifty years and more thereafter, but that voice was never heard again. These late years rolled over him in peaceful, undisturbed repose.”

Because thou hast done this thing This last act of faith was the crowning point in Abraham’s spiritual life, and in view of this especially as summing up and representing in itself all other evidences of his faith Jehovah repeats his promise.

Verse 17

17. Bless… multiply Compare the promises that had gone before . Genesis 12:2; Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:14-17; Genesis 15:5; Genesis 15:7; Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:1-8; and Genesis 18:18.

Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies Fulfilled primarily in the conquest of Canaan, (comp . Genesis 15:18-21,) but pointing even now to Christ’s ultimate triumph over the gates of hell . Matthew 16:18. In the rapturous hour of this revelation and promise, Abraham, doubtless, saw Messiah’s day, and was glad. John 8:5-6.

With this account of the attempted offering of Isaac it has been common to compare the Grecian legends of Phrixus, Idomeneus, and Iphigenia; and also the Phoenician tradition of Chronos, who in a time of war and impending perils took his only son Jehoud, clothed him in royal apparel, and offered him in sacrifice upon an altar which he had built. But these tales have no more connexion with Abraham and Isaac than have the narratives of Jephthah’s vow (Judges 11:0) or the sacrifice of the king of Moab’s son. 2 Kings 3:27.

The bearing of this act of Abraham on human sacrifices is worthy of notice. We need not go to the extent of Kurtz, who imagines that Abraham might have descried, on all the heights around him, altars smoking with human sacrifices; but we may believe that the idea of human sacrifice sprung from deep religious promptings; the consciousness of guilt, and the felt necessity of offering up the dearest and most precious gift as an atonement. Abraham’s act, adapted to be monumental in the history of the chosen race, recognised at once the necessity of sacrifice, and that our life is not our own; but it also revealed the authority from heaven to substitute animal life instead. In this revelation human sacrifices stand condemned, and animal sacrifices sanctioned and established as meeting the divine requirement.

The typical significance of the offering of Isaac has been recognised by nearly all Christian divines, but the pressing of all analogies and correspondencies as types may well be condemned. We have noted above (on Genesis 22:12) how Isaac is no proper type of Christ; but as the apostle speaks of Abraham’s receiving his son from the dead “in a figure,” (Hebrews 11:19,) we may, by a legitimate accommodation, speak of the points in the narrative which in any way prefigure or suggest great Gospel facts . Thus 1) Abraham’s not withholding his only son suggests that greater act of Him “who spared not his own Son, but freely gave him up for us all . ” Romans 8:32. Romans 8:2) Isaac bearing the wood for the sacrifice suggests Christ bearing his own cross . 3) The ram caught in the thicket of thorns reminds us of Jesus with the thorn-wreath on his brow. 4) Isaac and the ram together have been taken as a double type, Isaac representing the divinity of our Lord, and the ram the humanity which Christ assumed (“a body hast thou prepared me,” Hebrews 10:5,) that he might taste death for Man 1:5 ) The three days from the command to sacrifice his son to the time of the deliverance of Isaac, his son was as one already dead to Abraham; and so, “in a figure,” his release was a resurrection from the dead. Hebrews 11:19. All these analogies may be truthfully presented as parabolic, ( εν παραβολη ,) but not as proper types .

Other lessons of this chapter are abundant. 1) Here is the notable instance in which to see how faith wrought with works and was thus made perfect. James 2:22. James 2:2) The moral sublimity of ready obedience and submission when God demands our beloved . 3) The moral value of temptation and stern discipline . 4) The word of God the highest law . 5) Two immutable things, the oath and promise of God, a permanent source of consolation to the Christian believer . Hebrews 6:17-18. NAHOR’S CHILDREN, 20-24.

Verse 20

20. It was told Abraham How few and far between the visits and messages of those days! Fifty or more years had passed since Abraham left his kindred in Haran, and now he hears from them . The news may have come by a passing traveller from Haran, or a company of merchants, passing down into Egypt; or possibly some special messenger from Nahor sent to inquire after Abraham.

Verse 21

21. Huz… Buz… Aram Uz, a son of Aram, is mentioned Genesis 10:23, among the descendants of Shem, and the names Uz and Aran occur also among the Edomites, Genesis 36:28. Buz is also mentioned in Jeremiah 25:23. And it is noticeable that Job was of the land of Uz, (Job 1:1,) and Elihu was a Buzite of the kindred of Ram . Job 32:2. Nothing certain, however, can now be made out of these correspondencies, and it is well-known that names were often repeated in different lines of the same original family.

Verse 22

22. Chesed Supposed by some to have been the father of one branch of the Chasdim, or Chaldeans . But the Chaldees of chap . 11:28, appear to have been older than Abraham .

Verse 23

23. Bethuel begat Rebekah Compare Genesis 24:15. The purpose of inserting this genealogy here seems to have been to prepare the way for the narrative of Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah . The only other name in the list of which we have any other trace, is Maachah, (Genesis 22:24,) who was, perhaps, the father of the Maachathites mentioned Deuteronomy 3:14, and Joshua 12:5. Observe that Nahor has twelve sons, like Ishmael (Genesis 25:16) and Jacob .

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 22". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-22.html. 1874-1909.
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