Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him
And so begins one of the most controversial sections of text in the Bible.
Let’s jump right into it with The Pulpit Commentaries:
And it cams to pass—the alleged mythical character of the present narrative (De Wette, Bohlen) is discredited not more by express Scripture statement (Hebrews 11:17-19) than by its own inherent difficulties—after—how long after may be conjectured from the circumstance that Isaac was now a grown lad, capable of undertaking a three days journey of upwards of sixty miles—these things (literally, words, of benediction, promise, trial that had gone before—that God—literally, the Elohim, i.e. neither Satan, as in 1 Chronicles 21:1, compared with 2 Samuel 24:1 (Schelling, Stanley), nor Abraham himself, in the sense that a subjective impulse on the part of the patriarch supplied the formal basis of the subsequent transaction (Kurtz, Oehler); but the El-Olam of Genesis 21:32, the term Elohim being employed by the historian not because Genesis 21:1-13 are Elohistic (Tuch, Bleek, Davidson,)—a hypothesis inconsistent with the internal unity of the chapter, “which is joined together like cast-iron” (Oehler), and in particular with the use of Moriah in Genesis 21:2 (Hengstenberg),—but to indicate the true origin of the after-mentioned trial, which proceeded neither from Satanic instigation nor from subjective impulse, but from God (Keil)—did tempt—not solicit to sin (James 1:13), but test or prove (Exodus 16:4; Deuteronomy 8:2; Deu 13:3; 2 Chronicles 32:31; Psalms 26:2)—Abraham, and said unto him,—in a dream-vision of the night (Eichhorn, Lunge), but certainly in an audible voice which previous experience enabled him to recognize—Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. “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” (Lange).
And it came to pass = אַחַר ʼachar, akh-ar’; from H309; properly, the hind part; generally used as an adverb or conjunction, after (in various senses):—after (that, -ward), again, at, away from, back (from, -side), behind, beside, by, follow (after, -ing), forasmuch, from, hereafter, hinder end, + out (over) live, + persecute, posterity, pursuing, remnant, seeing, since, thence(-forth), when, with.
God = אֱלֹהִים ʼĕlôhîym, el-o-heem’; plural of H433; gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative:—angels, × exceeding, God (gods) (-dess, -ly), × (very) great, judges, × mighty.
tested / did tempt = נָסָה nâçâh, naw-saw’; a primitive root; to test; by implication, to attempt:—adventure, assay, prove, tempt, try.
You get a sense of the unease felt by commentators sometimes based on how long their comments become. Ellicott’s Bible Commentary shows us that here:
(1) God did tempt Abraham.—Heb., proved him, put his faith and obedience to the proof. For twenty-five years the patriarch had wandered in Palestine, and seen the fulfilment of the promise perpetually deferred, and yet his faith failed not. At length the long wished for heir is born, and, excepting the grievous pain of parting with Ishmael, all went well with him, and seemed to presage a calm and happy old age. He was at peace with his neighbours, had quiet possession of ample pasture for his cattle, knew that Ishmael was prosperous, and saw Isaac fast approaching man’s estate (Genesis 22:12). In the midst, nevertheless, of this tranquil evening of his days came the severest trial of all; for he was commanded to slay his son. The trial was twofold. For, first, human sacrifice was abhorrent to the nature of Jehovah, and Abraham’s clear duty would be to prove the command. Could such a deed really be enjoined upon him by God? Now no subjective proof would be sufficient. In after times many an Israelite was moved by deep religious fanaticism to give his firstborn in the hope of appeasing the anger of God at his sin (Micah 6:7); but instead of peace it brought only a deeper condemnation upon his soul. Had Abraham been moved only by an internal and subjective impulse, his conduct would have deserved and met with similar condemnation But when, upon examination, he became convinced that the command came from outside himself, and from the same God with whom on former occasions he had so often held converse, then the antecedents of his own life required of him obedience. But even when satisfied of this, there was, secondly, the trial of his faith. A command which he had tested, not only subjectively by prayer, but objectively by comparison with the manner of previous revelations, bade him with his own hand destroy the son in whom “his seed was to be called.” His love for his child, his previous faith in the promise, the religious value and worth of Isaac as the appointed means for the blessing of all mankind—this, and more besides, stood arrayed against the command. But Abraham, in spite of all, obeyed, and in proportion to the greatness of the trial was the greatness of the reward. Up to this time his faith had been proved by patience and endurance, but now he was bidden himself to destroy the fruit of so many years of patient waiting (Hebrews 11:17-19), and, assured that the command came from God, he wavered not. Thus by trial was his own faith made perfect, and for Isaac too there was blessing. Meekly, as befitted the type of Christ, he submitted to his father’s will, and the life restored to him was henceforth dedicated to God. But there was a higher purpose in the command than the spiritual good of these ‘two saints. The sacrifice had for its object the instruction of the whole Church of God. If the act had possessed no typical value, it would have been difficult for us to reconcile to our consciences a command which might have seemed, indirectly at least, to have authorised human sacrifices. But there was in it the setting forth of the mystery of the Father giving the Son to die for the sins of the world; and therein lies both the value and the justification of Abraham’s conduct and of the Divine command.
Ellicott reconciles his discomfort through the association of the sacrifice of Isaac to the sacrifice of Jesus. Jews approach the problem a little differently.
For Jews, this story is referred to as the Akedah (i.e. the binding.) There are *numerous* articles written on this, but I will provide an excerpted explanation from one source – thetorah.com – here below. I further suggest that you read the entire article.
The biblical story contains what seems to be a mitigating factor; it is the only episode among the biblical stories of Abraham that opens with the words: “God tested Abraham (וְהָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים נִסָּ֖ה אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֑ם)” (Gen 22:1). This opening softens readers’ criticism towards the cruelty of God,since it communicates to the reader that God did not really wish for a human sacrifice of an only son from his aged servant, rather God merely wished for a demonstration of Abraham’s unconditional belief. To be sure, the end of the story proves its original intention (Gen 22:11-12).
In the Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 4a, the Rabbis pick up on the concept of testing and take the next step. They assume that God never intended Isaac to be a burnt offering, and attempt to prove this through a midrashic reading of Jeremiah 7:31, in which the prophet states that God never wished for child sacrifice.
In the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 89b, Rabbi Yossi ben Zimra interprets this phrase as “after the words of Satan.”
[To what does “after” refer?] Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Yossi ben Zimra: “After the words of Satan.” For it says (Gen 21:8), “And the child grew up and was weaned.” Satan said to the Almighty: “Sovereign of the universe! To this old man You graciously granted the fruit of the womb at the age of a hundred, yet of all that banquet which he prepared, he did not have one turtle-dove or pigeon to sacrifice before you!” God replied, “Yet were I to say to him, ‘Sacrifice your son before me,’ he would do so without hesitation.” Straightway, “God did test Abraham… And he said, ‘Take, I pray [נא], your son’ [Gen 22:1].”
In the explanation provided here, the culprit for the “cruel” test is Satan. That will be familiar to you if you are also familiar with the Book of Job. The passage below sets the stage for the other famously “cruel” test by God on an individual.
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Note above that “the sons of God” in Job is translated from “ben Elohim.” You might remember that term from Genesis 6. The Lord is the tetragrammaton, Yahweh. The picture evokes a notion of Yahweh holding court with divine celestial beings. That picture fits well with Psalm 82.
82 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Satan = שָׂטָן sâṭân, saw-tawn’; from H7853; an opponent; especially (with the article prefixed) Satan, the arch-enemy of good:—adversary, Satan, withstand.
שָׂטַן sâṭan, saw-tan’; a primitive root; to attack, (figuratively) accuse:—(be an) adversary, resist.
The story in Job, as well as the meaning of Satan’s name itself, seems to imply that Satan is permitted to accuse humanity and that God will allow humanity to be tested – but within agreed upon limits.
So… is it possible that God is testing Abraham in Genesis due to Satan’s work in the Divine Council? I guess it’s possible. Would the test therefore fit with known history provided elsewhere in the Bible? Yes. Does that mean that the interpretation provided in the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 89b, by Rabbi Yossi ben Zimra, makes sense? Yes.
Perhaps that is something to consider for people of faith today, also.
HOWEVER…we should remember that this potential interpretation of events is not in the text.
Let’s return now to verse 2 and Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(2) Take now.—Now is not an adverb of time, but an interjection of entreaty, usually coupled with requests, and intended to soften them. It thus makes the words more an exhortation than a command.
Thine only son Isaac.—The words in the original are more emphatic, being, “Take, I pray, thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac.” If childlessness was so unendurable in old time to Abraham (Genesis 15:2), what would it be now, after so many years of enjoyment of a son, and after giving up Ishmael for his sake (Genesis 17:18)?
The land of Moriah.—Moriah may either mean Jah is teacher (see Note on Genesis 12:6), or Jah is provider. The first is supported by Isaiah 2:3, where the verb is rendered will teach; but the second agrees best with Genesis 22:8; Genesis 22:14. If this be the meaning, the name would be derived from this event, and would signify the place where “Jehovah will Himself provide the sacrifice.” It has been suggested by many able commentators, that the place meant was Moreh in Sichem, and that the site of the sacrifice was, as the Samaritans affirmed, the natural altar upon the summit of Mount Gerizim. But as Abraham and Isaac reached the spot on the third day, and evidently at an early hour, Gerizim is too remote from Beer-sheba for this to be possible Even Jerusalem is distant enough, as the journey from Beer-sheba takes twenty and a half hours; and travellers in those days had to cook their own food, and prepare their own sleeping accommodation. We may notice also, that Moriah is described as “a land,” in some part of which Abraham was to be shown the special mountain intended for the sacrifice; Moreh, on the contrary, was a place where Abraham had lived, and which was therefore well known to him.
Offer him there for a burnt offering.—Hengstenberg and others have argued that Abraham was not to kill Isaac, but to surrender him spiritually to God, and sanctify him by a burnt offering. But this is contradicted by the narrative itself (Genesis 22:10), and by the passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews referred to above, where the victory of Abraham’s faith is described as consisting in the belief, that even though Isaac were killed, nevertheless the promise would still in some Divine manner be fulfilled in him.
only = יָחִיד yâchîyd, yaw-kheed’; from H3161; properly, united, i.e. sole; by implication, beloved; also lonely; (feminine) the life (as not to be replaced):—darling, desolate, only (child, son), solitary.
A careful reader might note that Isaac is not Abraham’s only son. However, the use of “only” here may refer to Isaac’s position as the only son of Sarah, the only son of God’s promise, or alternatively, it may refer to the fact that Ishmael was cast out in Chapter 21.
The note on Moriah provides the details regarding the debate about where the sacrifice was to take place.
The Pulpit Commentary’s notes on verse 2:
And he said, Take now—”the נַא modifies the command, and seems to express that Elohim wished to receive the sacrifice as a free-will offering” (Lange)—thy son (not a lamb, but thy child), thine only son—not ἁγαπητὸν (LXX.), but unigenitum (Vulgate), meaning the only son of Sarah, the only legitimate offspring he possessed, the only heir of the promise, the only child that remained to him after Ishmael’s departure (cf. ὁ μονογενὴς, John 1:18)—Isaac, whom thou lovest,—or, whom thou lovest, Isaac; the order and accumulation of the terms being calculated to excite the parental affection of the patriarch to the highest pitch, and to render compliance with the Divine demand a trial of the utmost severity—and get thee—literally, go for thyself (cf. Genesis 12:1; Genesis 21:16)—into the land of Moriah. Moriah—vision (Vulgate, Symmachus, Samaritan), worship (Onkelos, Jonathan), high (LXX.), rebellious (Murphy); but rather a compound of יה and מֹרִי, meaning God is my instructor, alluding to the temple from which the law should afterwards proceed (Kalisch), or, better, of יה and ראה, and signifying “the shown of Jehovah,” i.e. the revelation or manifestation of Jehovah (Hengstenberg, Kurtz, Keil, &c.); or “the chosen, i.e. “pointed out of God,” with reference to its selection as the site of the Divine sanctuary (Gesenius), or rather because there God provided and pointed out the sacrifice which he elected to accept (Lange). And offer him there for a burnt offering—not make a spiritual surrender of him in and through a burnt offering (Hengstenberg, Lange), but actually present him as a holocaust. That Abraham did not stagger on receiving this astounding injunction may be accounted for by remembering that the practice of offering human sacrifices prevailed among the early Chaldaeans and Canaanites, and that as yet no formal prohibition, like that of the Mosaic code, had been issued against them—upon one of the mountains—not Moreh in Sicbem (Tuch, Michaelis, Stanley, Grove, et alii), which was too distant, but Moriah at Jerusalem (Hengstenberg, Kurtz, Keil, Kalisch), where subsequently God appeared to David (2 Samuel 24:16), and the temple of Solomon was built (2 Chronicles 3:1)—which I will tell thee of—i.e. point out (probably by secret inspiration) as thou proceedest.
A note on the location of Moriah from wikipedia:
Moriah /mɒˈraɪə/ (Hebrew: מוֹרִיָּה, Modern: Mōrīyya, Tiberian: Mōrīyyā, Arabic: ﻣﺮﻭﻩ, romanized: Marwah) is the name given to a mountainous region by the Book of Genesis, in which context it is the location of the sacrifice of Isaac. Through association with the biblical Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount), Mount Moriah has been interpreted as the name of the specific mountain at which this occurred.
Muslims believe the historical mount is Marwah in Arabic, as mentioned in the Quran, located close to the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia; or Petra, Jordan. There has been a historical account of rams’ horns preserved in the Kaaba until the year 683, which are believed to be the remains of the sacrifice of Ishmael.
As the Wiki note mentions Ishmael, it is interesting to consider that the patriarch is tested regarding both of his sons in back to back chapters. He sends Ishmael out into the desert with only a skin of water. His first son nearly dies of thirst before God saves him and Hagar. In the next chapter, a second son of Abraham is placed in peril. This peril is more personal inasmuch as Abraham is asked to kill Isaac directly. However, it is likely that Abraham had his faith strengthened to a greater degree when God saved Ishmael and Hagar. Perhaps that is why he does as asked without question.
From The Pulpit Commentaries in verse 3.
And Abraham rose up early in the morning,—a habit of the patriarch’s after receiving a Divine communication (cf. Genesis 19:27; Genesis 20:8; Genesis 21:14)—and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him (the ass for the wood, and the young men for the ass), and Isaac his son (explaining to him as yet only his intention to offer sacrifice upon a distant mountain), and clave the wood for the burnt offering (obviously with his own bands), and rose up (expressive of resolute determination), and went unto (or towards) the place of which God had told him—literally, the Elohim had spoken to him. The accumulation of brief, sententious clauses in this verse admirably represents the calm deliberation and unflinching heroism with which the patriarch proceeded to execute the Divine command.
We do not get a negotiation from Abraham (as we saw with the events in Sodom) or a plea for a different course of action. Abraham deliberately follows instructions as given.