Genesis (Part 89)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis: 22:4-12

On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 

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Let us continue reading this uncomfortable passage of Scripture.

From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(4) On the third day.—We may compare the patriarch’s feelings during these two weary days of travel with those of Hagar as she wandered in the wilderness, and each day felt the death of her child growing nearer and more certain. But hers were human sorrows only, while Abraham was giving up the son on whom his spiritual hopes depended.

Afar off.—The summit called the Mountain of the House, usually identified with Mount Moriah, cannot be seen by a traveller from Beer-sheba at a greater distance than three miles (Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 251). Hence it has been argued that some more widely conspicuous hill-top must be meant. But the phrase afar off is used very indefinitely, and three miles exactly agrees with what Abraham did. For he left the servants at the spot, and laid the wood on Isaac, and went the rest of the way on foot. It must have sorely taxed the strength of the lad to be compelled to carry the wood a distance of three miles; while to have carried it from the spot where Gerizim becomes visible would have been impossible.

In Isaac thus carrying the wood on which he was to be sacrificed, the Fathers discerned a type of Christ carrying his cross (John 19:17).

The note for verse four makes reference to verse six. Isaac is old enough to make this journey and he is also old enough to carry the burden of the wood for the sacrifice. Ellicott likens that with Christ carrying his cross before his crucifixion.

The Pulpit Commentaries draws our attention to the fact Abraham lifts up his eyes.

Then on the third day—Jerusalem, being distant from Beersheba about twenty and a half hours’ journey according to Robinson, could easily; be within sight on the third day—Abraham lifted up his eyes,—not implying that the object of vision was above him (cf. Genesis 13:10)—and saw the place (which Calvin conjectures he had previously beheld in vision) afar off. Though Mount Moriah cannot be seen by the traveler from Beersheba till within a distance of three miles, the place or region where it is can be detected (Kalisch).

lifted up = נָשָׂא nâsâʼ, naw-saw’; or נָסָה nâçâh; (Psalm 4:6 [7]), a primitive root; to lift, in a great variety of applications, literal and figurative, absolute and relative:—accept, advance, arise, (able to, (armor), suffer to) bear(-er, up), bring (forth), burn, carry (away), cast, contain, desire, ease, exact, exalt (self), extol, fetch, forgive, furnish, further, give, go on, help, high, hold up, honorable ( man), lade, lay, lift (self) up, lofty, marry, magnify, × needs, obtain, pardon, raise (up), receive, regard, respect, set (up), spare, stir up, swear, take (away, up), × utterly, wear, yield.

his eyes = עַיִןʻayin, ah’-yin; probably a primitive word; an eye (literally or figuratively); by analogy, a fountain (as the eye of the landscape):—affliction, outward appearance, before, think best, colour, conceit, be content, countenance, displease, eye((-brow), (-d), -sight), face, favour, fountain, furrow (from the margin), × him, humble, knowledge, look, (+ well), × me, open(-ly), + (not) please, presence, regard, resemblance, sight, × thee, × them, + think, × us, well, × you(-rselves).

Continuing on with verse 5 in Ellicott’s Commentary:

(5) I and the lad will . . . come again to you.—In these words Abraham gives utterance to the hope ascribed to him in Hebrews 11:19. The belief in the resurrection of the body was no new thing with Abraham, as it was part of the creed both of Chaldea and Egypt (Tomkins, Studies, p. 127).

God will provide himself a lamb.—Heb., the lamb. We learn from Hebrews 11:17-19, that Abraham expected that he was to consummate the sacrifice, but that Isaac would be restored to him from the dead, and the promise that his seed was to be born of him so fulfilled. The bestowal of Isaac had been so extraordinary, that Abraham would not feel staggered at what otherwise would have seemed incredible. Apparently, therefore, he meant Isaac by the lamb, thus showing that it was not he who chose the victim, but God. The few words that passed between father and son, the notice by the latter that amid such careful preparation no victim had been provided, the father’s answer that that matter was left to God, the resolute faith of the one, and the trusting submission of the other, as “they went both of them together,” form a picture full not merely of interest, but even of tragical pathos.

The note refers to Hebrews 11:17-19:

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back

We can infer from the text, written by early Christians to an audience Second Temple period Jews, that the common understanding of the command to sacrifice Isaac is that Abraham believed his son would be resurrected somehow. The note makes the point that Abraham has to this point in his life been given ample evidence that God can do the miraculous – up to and including Isaac’s own miraculous birth.

Ellicott’s Commentary draws our attention to the likely perspective of Isaac in this episode:

Genesis 22:6

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son;—instinctively the mind reverts to the cross-bearing of Abraham’s greater Son (John 19:17)—and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife (to him terribly suggestive weapons); and they went both of them together. Doubtless in silence on Abraham’s part and wonder on Isaac’s, since as yet no declaration had been made of the true purpose of their journey.

Genesis 22:7

And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father,—during the progress of the journey, after leaving the young men, solitude inviting him to give expression to thoughts which had been rising in his bosom, but which the presence of companions had constrained him to suppress—and said, My father:—a term of filial reverence and endearment that must have lacerated Abraham’s heart. As used by Isaac it signified a desire to interrogate his parent—and he said, Here am I, my son (literally, Behold me, my son—Well, my son, what is it? in colloquial English). And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering. Another hint that the sacrificial system did not originate with Moses.

At this point, does Isaac have an inkling that he is himself the intended sacrifice? Not yet. We’ll get there soon, though. In the next verse:

Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

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.

will provide = רָאָה râʼâh, raw-aw’; a primitive root; to see, literally or figuratively (in numerous applications, direct and implied, transitive, intransitive and causative):—advise self, appear, approve, behold, × certainly, consider, discern, (make to) enjoy, have experience, gaze, take heed, × indeed, × joyfully, lo, look (on, one another, one on another, one upon another, out, up, upon), mark, meet, × be near, perceive, present, provide, regard, (have) respect, (fore-, cause to, let) see(-r, -m, one another), shew (self), × sight of others, (e-) spy, stare, × surely, × think, view, visions.

himself a lamb = שֶׂה seh, seh; or שֵׂי sêy; probably from H7582 through the idea of pushing out to graze; a member of a flock, i.e. a sheep or goat:—(lesser, small) cattle, ewe, goat, lamb, sheep. Compare H2089.

From The Pulpit Commentaries on verse 8:

Genesis 22:8

And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering:—the utterance of heroic faith rather than the language of pious dissimulation (vide on Genesis 22:5)—so they went both of them together. To see in this twice-repeated expression a type of the concurrence of the Father and the Son in the work of redemption (Wordsworth) is not exegesis.

Then a lot happens in verse 9:

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 

From Ellicott:

(9) Abraham . . . bound Isaac.—Jewish commentators agree that this was done with Isaac’s consent, nor could it well have been otherwise. Thus his youthful faith was tried equally with that of his father, his future life sanctified, and himself ennobled by being made a type of Christ (1 Peter 2:23).

bound = עָקַד ʻâqad, aw-kad’; a primitive root; to tie with thongs:—bind.

The text does not tell us that Isaac resisted once this became clear. It does not tell us that he did not resist, either. In any case, the end result is that Isaac is bound. That said, it makes more sense to me that Isaac went willingly, inasmuch as he was young, strong, and the whole thing might not have been possible without his cooperation.

Even if Abraham completely believed that Isaac would be restored to life, his feelings in this moment are hard to fathom. Further, the feelings of Isaac are also hard to fathom. It is thus no surprise that Christians – who believe that God did sacrifice His only son – draw so much inspiration from the story of Abraham and Isaac.

Abraham draws forth his knife, prepared to do what is asked of him. Neither he nor Isaac are reported to have resisted. Then… verse 11:

From Ellicott:

(11) The angel of the Lord.—Up to this point, the narrative had been Elohistic, but it is the angel of Jehovah who interferes to stop the sacrifice (see on Genesis 16:7).

From The Pulpit Commentaries:

And the angel of the Lord—Maleach Jehovah (vide Genesis 16:7); introduced into the narrative at this point not as a Jehovistic alteration (Bleek, Kalisch, et alii)but because the God of redemption now interposes for the deliverance of both Isaac and Abraham (Hengetenberg)—called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham (the repetition denotes urgency, as contrasted with Genesis 22:1): and he said, Here am I.

At the last moment, the mysterious Angel of the Lord calls out and stops this sacrifice from happening.

unto him out of heaven = שָׁמַיִם shâmayim, shaw-mah’-yim; dual of an unused singular שָׁמֶה shâmeh; from an unused root meaning to be lofty; the sky (as aloft; the dual perhaps alluding to the visible arch in which the clouds move, as well as to the higher ether where the celestial bodies revolve):—air, × astrologer, heaven(-s).

12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 

The Pulpit Commentaries has an interesting note regarding the translation here:

Genesis 22:12

And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him. Abraham’s surrender of the son of his affections having been complete, there was no need to push the trial further. The voice from heaven has been accepted as evidence of God’s rejection of human sacrifices (Lange, Murphy), only that is not assigned as the reason for Isaac’s deliverance. For now I knew—literally, have known; not caused thee to know, but caused others to know (Lange); or the words are used anthropomorphically (Calvin)—that thou fearest God,Elohim; the Divine intention being to characterize the patriarch as a God-fearing man, and not simply as a worshipper of Jehovah—seeing—literally, and (sc. in proof thereof)—thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. Καὶ οὐκ ἐφείσω τοῦ ὑιοῦ σοῦ ἁγαπητοῦ δε ἐμέ (LXX.). Cf. ὅς γε τοῦ ἰδιοῦ ὑιοῦ οὐκ ἐφείσατο (Romans 8:32), as applied to the sacrifice of Christ. In this verse the angel of Jehovah identifies himself with Elohim.

The note states that one possible interpretation here is “For now I have caused others to know.” This would fit with the notion that this cruel test was set up by Satan – as the Talmud implies (discussed in the previous post.)

Interestingly, also, the Angel of Jehovah/Yahweh says that he knows that Abraham fears God (Elohim.) You might have expected the angel to say that now he knows Abraham fears Yahweh. The note above explains this: “the Divine intention being to characterize the patriarch as a God-fearing man, and not simply as a worshipper of Jehovah”

I am not entirely convinced of this interpretation, inasmuch as it feels there is missing significance at play with the names of God, their interpretation, when they are used, and why.

How should we react to this story? Let me direct you to a teaching at chabad.org (it’s a video.)

There is an article at thetorah.com titled “Akedah: How Jews and Christians Explained Abraham’s Faith.” Therein, it provides a number of examples and explanations for the events of Chapter 22. This covers the spectrum of how scholars and theologians have tried to reconcile this story. One of the explanations from the article that strikes me as compelling is this section below:

Another prominent peshat commentator, Rashbam (Samuel ben Meir, c. 1085–c. 1158), explained the text as follows:

Rashbam reads “And it came to pass at this time” (‏אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, Gen 22:1), which might be seen as a simple transition between units,[1] as indicating a causal relationship between the story of the binding of Isaac and the narrative that preceded it, which described a treaty that Abraham made with Avimelech. In making this treaty, Abraham was arrogant to think that he could make a covenant with Avimelech’s people on behalf of his descendants, when God actually plans to have Abraham’s descendants annihilate them in the future. Thus, Abraham here is punished for misreading God’s intention in granting him land and progeny.

To Rashbam, then, the work of being a faithful reader of divine command is difficult and challenging — so challenging that even Abraham can get it wrong. 

This explanation has the benefit of flowing directly from the end of Chapter 21. Does that preclude the event from also being a symbolic precursor to the life of Jesus, as Christians se this? No. It can of course be both.

The article also quotes from Christian scholars including Martin Luther who has this to say on this event:

Even though there is a clear contradiction here – for there is nothing between death and life – Abraham nevertheless does not turn away from the promise but believes that his son will have descendants even if he dies… Thus Abraham relies on the promise and attributes to the Divine Majesty this power, that He will restore his dead son to life; for just as he saw that Isaac was born of a worn-out womb and of a sterile mother, so he also believed that he was to be raised after having been buried and reduced to ashes, in order that he might have descendants, as the Epistle to the Hebrews (11:19) states: “God is able to give life even to the dead.[11]

Ultimately, as we get to the end of this section of verses, it is difficult to decide how to feel about this. Whatever explanation for this that one might land on, I am reminded of a couple other places in the Bible that seem applicable.

Job 38:4-7

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

and also

Isaiah 55:8-9

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We are not always going to understand the *why* of God in Scripture. People have been musing over these verses for thousands of years. Here in Chapter 22, perhaps Abraham was being tested, perhaps he was being punished for an unauthorized treaty, perhaps Satan was allowed to test him for some unknown reason, or perhaps this was all allowed to serve as a precursor to Christ.

In any event, God prevented this sacrifice from occurring. Abraham demonstrated his faithfulness.

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