Akedah

Breaking the Bonds of Primitive Faith

An Exegesis of Genesis 22:1-19


Text
Introduction
Contextual Analysis
Formal Analysis
Detailed Analysis
Synthesis
Reflection


 

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 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 that I shall show you.”

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.

Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.

Genesis 22:1-19, NRSV

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 I. Introduction

The story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac is one of the most emotionally charged, and certainly among the more unusual, passages in the Old Testament. It is a story taught to children in Sunday school, but the questions it raises about the nature of God and the demands he places on those who follow him are hard to grasp, even for more biblically literate readers. Did Abraham earnestly believe the Lord would provide an alternative sacrifice, even as he was raising the knife to kill his son, or did he accept the call to sacrifice Isaac as simply and faithfully as he did the call to follow God to a foreign land? Why was a test necessary if God always knows the true hearts and minds of men and women? Why does the LORD refer to Isaac as Abraham’s only son, when Genesis 21 clearly acknowledges the love both Abraham and God share for Ishmael? Why does God need to reaffirm his promise of progeny and property to Abraham following the test, as if the validity of the promise was in doubt? Does God still test our faith like this today?

By carefully studying this unique passage of scripture and consulting the previous findings of contemporary scholars, I intend to answer these questions and more. The following analysis of the text reveals that God’s tests of Abraham and Isaac, like all tests of faith, are conducted not to satisfy divine curiosity, but are instead strictly for the benefit of the one being tested. By successfully carrying out God’s instructions, Abraham was able to stretch his faith to new heights and deepen his relationship with God in a way that would have been otherwise unattainable.

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 II. Contextual Analysis

“The Binding of Isaac,” or Akedah, fits perfectly within the patriarchal narrative of Genesis. In many ways, it provides the final capstone, or lasting seal, of Abraham’s covenant with God. The testing of Abraham and the resulting affirmation of the Lord’s promise of progeny and property to be recognized through Isaac is almost essential to maintaining the cohesive story arc of the Abraham narrative, considering it follows God’s promise in chapter 21 to make Ishmael into a great nation as well.

Despite the obvious fundamental placement of the passage at this point in the narrative, discerning the authorship and origins of the account as we read it today poses some serious difficulty. The story is typically associated with E, and several contemporary scholars, such as Terence Fretheim,1 accept this interpretation without dissent. The reasoning for this is rooted in the prolific use of the divine name Elohim (vv. 1, 3, 8, 9, 12).2

Additionally, vv. 15-18, concerning the reaffirmation and intensification of God’s promise to Abraham, is commonly acknowledged to be a secondary addition to the passage, typically attributed to J because of the exclusive use of the divine name Yahweh.

Identifying authorship of this text based on the editorial preference for the divine name is troublesome and inconclusive at best. While vv. 15-18 always refer to the deity as Yahweh, Yahweh and Elohim both appear in the primary narrative of the text (vv.1-14, 19). Regardless of which source originally recorded this narrative, this issue of names seems to present a conflict to Richard Friedman’s hypothesis that “Yahweh” does not appear in an E text until the introduction of Moses and “Elohim” never appears in a J text.3 With the exception of the possible secondary insertion of vv. 15-18, this narrative posses a unity of style and rhythm that precludes any possibility of a verse-by-verse blending of source material, such as is found in the flood account of Genesis 6-9, so clearly some other editorial issue is involved.

Simply reading the narrative without giving notice to the inconsistent naming of the deity reveals a style that is traditional, earthy and reminiscent of the other J accounts that precede it. The anthropomorphic nature of God that leads him to require a test in order to validate his relationship with his covenant partner is characteristic of J. E.A. Speiser points out “the style of the narrative is far more appropriate to J than to E, and the ability to paint a vivid scene in depth without spelling things out for the reader is elsewhere typical of J.”4 Traditionally, the author of J is proven to be both more concerned with narratives dealing with the patriarchal history than is E, as well as more concerned with events centered in the southern kingdom of Judah, which includes Beersheba, Abraham’s home at the time of this account.5

Speiser proposes that these contradictions of names can be reconciled by understanding our text as a definitively J source that suffered an error in transcription at some point in its history when a scribe, possibly even inadvertently, “miswrote Elohim for Yahweh in the few instances involved.”6 The fact that this story was an important and popular passage that was likely transcribed more frequently than the average text lends weight to the hypothesis, as frequent transcriptions would make it more likely to fall victim to error.7

Considering the inconsistent use of the divine name, the stylistic and subject issues of the text, I believe this passage is primarily from the J source, although Speiser’s hypothesis of transcription errors does leave something to be desired. Indications are that the bulk of J was written after the division of Israel following Solomon’s reign and before the exile of 722 B.C.E. Considering this story is a part of the early patriarchal history, however, it could have been penned considerably earlier than the rest of the text, possibly even during the reign of David in the 10th century B.C.E. The oral history of our passage could easily extend as far as 1900 B.C.E., however, to the beginnings of the patriarchal age.8

The issue of the possible insertion of vv. 15-18 is nearly as troublesome as the issue of primary authorship. Even in translation, the stylistic differences in this third divine proclamation are obvious from the primary narrative of our text. However, it must also be taken into consideration that the genre of the text is changing somewhat in this portion of the passage, and J, like all good authors, would understand and accommodate the need to change tones somewhat when shifting from the course retelling of a narrative to recording a divine proclamation.9 Further evidence of the original unity of this passage can be seen when comparing it to the parallel account of the expulsion of Ishmael in Genesis 21, which includes a reaffirmation of God’s desire to make Ishmael into a great nation. This reaffirmation and intensification (the first divine oath, v. 16; new expansive language “as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore,” v. 17) of God’s covenant with Abraham, and the execution of the covenant through Isaac, is essential to maintaining the parallelism of the accounts; Otherwise, the greater and final emphasis would fall on God’s promise to prosper Ishmael.10

The language of the proclamation (“the angel of the Lord called to Abraham,” v. 15) is also consistent with the primary narrative, which places an angel as messenger in verse 11 at the critical moment in the sacrificial act.

Recognizing this text as a complete, unified whole is critical to understanding its significance in the overarching narrative of the patriarchs. It provides a key link in the progressive revelation of God’s relationship with his creation. The expansion of God’s original promise in vv. 15-18 provides the necessary segue to understanding God’s continuing covenant with Abraham’s descendants, and establishes a precedent that the covenant is maintained primarily through the faith of the individual, not simply by genealogical succession.

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 III. Formal Analysis

“The Binding of Isaac” follows the literary pattern of narrative from beginning to end. It fits squarely in the middle of the broader patriarchal narrative and does not digress into informational lists, genealogies, excurses of law or any other form of writing. Within the narrative context, the passage contains three distinct elements: Event-driven narrative, dialogue (both human-to-human and God-to-human) and divine proclamation.

Following the introductory verse (v. 1a), the narrative begins with God’s address to Abraham, Abraham’s response and God’s command (vv. 1b-2) — the first dialogue of the text. The story then moves into event-driven narrative as Abraham prepares for the journey and departs for Moriah with his servants and son (vv. 3-4). Following a three-day journey, Abraham initiates dialogue with his servants (vv. 5-6), revealing something of his inner plight in the process. The next action, Abraham and Isaac traveling alone some distance in silence, is assumed as the text immediately moves into another course of dialogue, this time initiated by Isaac and concluded by Abraham (vv. 7-8). The pace of the story is slowed dramatically as the event-driven narrative of Abraham’s final preparation for the sacrifice unfolds, leading up to the climax of the passage (vv. 9-10). Finally, the fourth course of dialogue is initiated by an angel of the LORD. Abraham responds and the angel concludes with the longed-for intervention (vv. 11-12). Abraham sacrifices a ram in place of his son during the final significant segment of narrative (vv. 13-14), leading directly into the divine proclamation that gives the entire episode an element of timeless significance (vv. 15-18). The story concludes with a narrative description of Abraham’s return home (v. 19).

It is important to note this passage parallels, almost exactly, the expulsion and salvation of Ishmael found in Genesis 21:12-21.11 Both stories begin with a divine command (21:12-13 and 22:2). Abraham rises early in the morning to gather supplies (21:14 and 22:3). A journey is taken into a wilderness (21:14 and 22:4-8). Abraham’s sons find themselves at a point of impending death (21:15-16 and 22:9-10). An angel of the LORD intercedes on behalf of the boys at the critical moment (21:17a and 22:11), comforts them with a reminder that God is in control (21:17b and 22:12), divine provision is made in order to spare the boys (21:19 and 22:13-14) and earlier promises of progeny are expanded and intensified (21:18 and 22:17). Both passages conclude with Hagar/Abraham and Ishmael/Isaac returning home (21:20-21 and 22:19).

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 IV. Detailed Analysis

1After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2He 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 that I shall show you.”

These opening verses set this passage apart from the rest of the patriarchal narrative, letting the reader know that what is to come is to be considered strictly as a test for Abraham. Speiser claims the introduction allows the reader to put his mind at ease when the startling command is later given, assured by the understanding that the command is only a test.12 In reality, this does little to relieve the tension in the story. Just as Abraham does not know he is being tested, readers do not know to what extent God plans to carry out the test. The need for a test also introduces the first hint of a problem with God’s divine knowledge.

The second major issue raised by these critical introductory verses is the description of Isaac. The son to be sacrificed is mentioned four times, in four different ways, leaving Abraham no room for any possible miscommunication. Zoltan Fischer says the description of Isaac is meant to grab Abraham’s full attention, calling him to think very carefully about this command before making another move. “God is cautioning him, saying, ‘Be careful how you handle this,’” according to Fischer. “All throughout history parents who have sacrificed children to any cause suffered greatly, but Abraham’s loss of Isaac would be uniquely painful considering all that has come before.”13 Naming Isaac as Abraham’s only son presents a problem for the reader, though, who just learned of the plight of Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn, in the previous chapter. This apparent contradiction, considered alongside the opening statement of “After these things…” leads the reader to assume that a significant amount of time has passed since the close of chapter 21, when Isaac was born and Ishmael sent away. Although God has promised to provide for Ishmael, Abraham has completely lost his eldest son, thus Isaac has become an “only son.” Isaac is now likely a teenager, as was Ishmael at the time of his expulsion,14 and Abraham is faced with the real danger of losing him too.


3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him.

Abraham apparently takes God’s command as delivered, keeping the details of the mission to himself. After processing the assignment in his mind over night, Abraham rises early in the morning and makes preparations for the journey, handling the physical aspects of the task — preparing the animals and chopping the wood — himself. This desire to indulge in manual labor, as opposed to delegating the work to a servant, could indicate the seriousness with which Abraham views God’s command, as well as Abraham’s need to relieve the tension brought on by the command through physical exertion. Gordon Wenhem points out that, according to the text, Abraham saddled the donkey, called his servants and son and only then cut the wood for the offering. Cutting the wood would logically be one of the first things to do; the illogical sequence Abraham follows hints at his frazzled state-of-mind15 or possibly indicates that, while Abraham is perfectly willing to see this command to the end, he is purposefully postponing any tasks directly related to the planned sacrifice.


4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away.

Three days is a common preparation time for important events, but the three days’ journey for Abraham, who apparently kept the ultimate purpose of the mission to himself, would have surely been agonizing. Fischer suggest that these three days would have been incredibly important for Abraham, who would have been constantly mulling over God’s command to sacrifice his son and re-evaluating it with regard to the earlier promise of progeny through Isaac.16 With that in mind, the three days of traveling could be seen as a turning point for Abraham: one where he moves from blind obedience to the original command he received to recognizing that God must not truly want what Abraham had understood him to want — perhaps the sacrifice God commanded was Isaac’s life-long service, or some new form of offering which hadn’t yet been revealed. Still, continuing on in faith is the only viable option until additional clarity is offered.


5Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 6Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.

Abraham’s command to his servants poses a problem to cursory readers. It appears that Abraham is either explicitly lying to his servants — and for good reason if he intends to carry out the sacrifice of his son — or that he has made up his mind to disobey God’s command and now intends to continue on to the mountaintop for some new reason, but definitely return with Isaac unharmed. I will address this issue later, but for this reading, the most important detail of this section of text is the partnership — the father-son bond — exhibited through Abraham and Isaac. The language of partnership saturates the text: “the boy and I,” “we will worship,” “we will come back,” the sharing of the supplies for the sacrifice, all tied together with the final beautiful line: “So the two of them walked on together.” Whatever is going to happen at Moriah, it is clear that it can only be accomplished with Abraham and Isaac working together.


7Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

For the reader with prior knowledge, this brief exchange of dialogue between father and son is undoubtedly the most heart-wrenching conversation in all of scripture. Isaac’s question makes it explicitly clear that up until this point in the journey, Abraham has not shared the details of the divine command issued in verse 2, nor has he divulged the ultimate purpose of the journey, or his own limited understanding of what will come.

Abraham’s response could be considered both an attempt to conceal his mission from his son and acknowledgement that Isaac — the miraculous child of promise — is himself a gift from God. However, both of these conclusions are the result of an overly simplistic reading of the text.

For Abraham, this final walk to the sacrificial site must be the most difficult leg of the journey to endure. The moment is quickly approaching when he will have to decide whether or not to act as God commanded. Perhaps he had hoped a new message, or at least some inspired clarification, would have come to him by this point. Abraham’s response should be read as a sign of his continued trust in God — not an absolute prophecy that God will deliver an alternate sacrifice, but an admission from Abraham that, however troubling present circumstances may be, God will ultimately intercede for the good of his creation. Whatever may happen, Abraham keeps this trust in God and does his best to share it with his son.


9When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.

Verse 9 begins by reminding the readers, in no uncertain terms, “that Abraham is obeying God, not acting out his own will,” according to Wenhem.17 As at the onset of the journey, Abraham takes on the physical tasks himself. Having arrived at the sacrificial site with no other interceding command, Abraham must continue on with his assignment. As the one to be sacrificed, it would be inappropriate for Isaac to contribute directly in the construction of the altar. Again, Abraham postpones the tasks directly related to the sacrifice as long as possible, building the altar and arranging the wood before binding Isaac. At this point, Isaac must know what his father’s intent has been. As stated earlier, it can be assumed that Isaac is a teenager at this time, likely capable of overpowering his elderly father in a confrontation. Isaac has amble opportunity to escape while Abraham is preparing the altar, but he waits, and eventually submits to binding. This is the only account of a sacrificial binding in the Old Testament.18 Had Isaac resisted the binding, Abraham could have simply slit his throat, as was the standard procedure for preparing an animal for a traditional burnt offering. Isaac’s submission to the binding indicates both his own faith in God’s ability to ultimately intercede for the good of the creation, and his trust in his father to properly discern God’s command. As Fretheim explains it, “Abraham’s trust in God has become Isaac’s trust.”19 Abraham’s deliberate choice to bind his son can be seen as one final effort to postpone the act of sacrifice without simply bringing his mission to a halt, which would be inappropriate and indicative of a lapse in faith.


10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.

The moment that Abraham raises the knife, regardless of what happens next, is the ultimate climax of the story. This is the moment, hinted at days earlier, when his faith will finally be tested. This act stretches Abraham’s trust in God to a level unimaginable in the early stages of his relationship with the Lord. Simply put, this is the moment of paradox. Abraham’s faith assures him that God is working for the ultimate good of creation, and as such, God would not will Isaac, the child of the promise, to be killed in such a horrendous way. At the same time, Abraham’s faith demands that he be completely willing to carry out this act of sacrifice, as it is God’s command. God’s desire for Abraham is that he be completely opposed and completely willing to kill his son at this moment. Abraham fulfills these obligations.


11But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

As in verse 9, this passage begins by making it clear that what is coming is of a divine nature, not simply a product of Abraham’s own imagination; therefore it is of extreme significance.20 The repetitive “Abraham, Abraham!” is clearly different from the singular use of the name in the first divine message (v. 1). This can be understood in light of the urgent intervention the angel is seeking to accomplish. The threat to Isaac, and God’s promise to Abraham, is very real.21 Abraham’s faith dictates that he not hold his ready knife above his son in contemplation, so the angel must act decisively and immediately if the current course of events is to be changed. As before, Abraham responds to God’s call without hesitation, as if he had been expectantly listening for it all along.


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

Abraham is released from his original order to sacrifice his son. He is let in on what the readers have known since the beginning: God’s command was simply a test, albeit a test of excruciating proportions.

From a theological perspective, this is one of the most significant verses in the Old Testament. The phrase “for now I know” clearly implies that new divine knowledge has been created where previously there was a gap in God’s understanding. Walter Brueggemann writes: “It is not a game with God. God genuinely does not know. And that is settled in verse 12, ‘Now I know.’22 This apparent gap in God’s understanding of Abraham’s faith seems at odds with later scripture that repeatedly emphasizes the fact that God knows the hearts and minds of all men and women. Considered within the context of this episode, however, the acquiring of new knowledge is absolutely necessary; otherwise there would be no purpose to implementing the test. This example of God’s comprehension is best understood not as a definitive description of how God operates, but rather as the way God chose to reveal himself to this particular man in this particular situation. In the context of this episode, God’s knowledge can be described as self-limiting. Robert Chisholm argues that God chose to reveal himself to Abraham as less than omniscient in order to give Abraham “the dignity of causality.”23 God’s apparent lack of knowledge creates a gap that can only be filled by responsible actions on the part of his human covenant partner. This self-imposed lack of knowledge on God’s part allows for Abraham and Isaac to become more fully-vested partners in the covenant process, as opposed to helpless vassals on whom undeserved power and blessings are bestowed.


13And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called that place “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

Abraham looking up and seeing the lamb is a direct parallel to verse 4, which describes Abraham as looking up to see the mountain that God had shown him. This parallel affirms the standard interpretation that God himself, did in fact provide the ram, just as Abraham, perhaps unknowingly, predicted in verse 8. Abraham offers the ram as a burnt offering to God purely from his own desire to praise the Lord. He has already been released from God’s command to sacrifice his son on Moriah, and no alternative command for a generic sacrifice was given or implied.


15The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

The third and final divine proclamation clarifies the role this passage plays in the patriarchal narrative; Abraham’s (and Isaac’s) successful completion of the test results in an expansion and intensification of God’s original promise of progeny and property for Abraham. As Wenhem points out, as far as Abraham is concerned, without this final proclamation there would have been no benefit to submitting to the test in the first place. “It would have been purposeless suffering with nothing to show for his willingness to sacrifice his son. Had Abraham flatly refused to obey, Isaac would have remained alive.”24

New language — “stars of heaven” and “sand that is on the seashore” — is used to describe the extent of the blessing bestowed on Abraham and his descendants. The blessing is not limited to Abraham’s descendents alone, but expanded to include “all the nations of the earth.” This can certainly be seen as an indication of the universal offering of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, himself a descendant of Abraham. Prior to Jesus, the extended blessing could refer to the shared reporting of God’s unique revelation to Abraham, and the socially-advanced ethical code Abraham’s descendants introduced to the ancient world. Most importantly, the final line of the proclamation sets a precedent for continued renewal of the progressive covenant based on constant faith and obedience, not simply genealogical succession.


19So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.

Abraham and Isaac return to the servants they had left behind earlier, just as Abraham had said they would. This is one more affirmation that Abraham’s trust in God had been properly placed throughout the entire ordeal, even during the times when God’s will and Abraham’s interpretation of God’s commands didn’t seem to mesh up. Sending the group back home, to the place the episode began, suitably concludes the passage.

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 V. Synthesis

God’s test of Abraham demanded an almost unfathomable level of faith and trust, but ultimately, Abraham’s faithful obedience proved beneficial to all involved through the renewal and expansion of the blessing. At the outset, the test seemed contradictory to the plan God had revealed to Abraham in the original promise, but by patiently, faithfully following God’s instructions, all of the events in question ended up supporting the overarching goal of the covenant.

God’s need to test Abraham can be seen as an artificial situation deliberately created by God for the ultimate benefit of Abraham and Isaac. Once the test is introduced, the full responsibility for the future falls jointly upon Abraham and Isaac — one cannot complete this task without the full support of the other. Once God’s lack of knowledge is created, the test becomes completely real. The possibility of failure, and the resulting annihilation of God’s covenant and promise, was a very real possibility had Abraham or Isaac not been prepared for the tasks set before them. Successful completion of the test — the disciplined use of free will — allows Abraham and Isaac to reach a new level of faith and freedom that would have been otherwise unattainable.

The dual roles played by Abraham and Isaac in the ordeal emphasize the progressive nature of the covenant God made with Abraham and Abraham’s descendants, and sets a precedent for understanding the covenant is not fulfilled automatically as a matter of genealogical succession, but through continued acts of faithful obedience.

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 VI. Reflection

The story emphasizes Abraham’s faithful obedience to God’s clear instructions, even when those instructions seemed to be in contradiction with his own goals and plans for the future. In the end, God remained faithful to his original commitment and used the test to strengthen his relationships with Abraham and Isaac, moving them closer to God’s vision for their lives while meeting their own immediate needs. The faith Abraham exhibits in this passage is not to be seen as blind obedience, but as a loving, unconditional trust in God. This trust is based on Abraham’s past encounters with God. Although God’s staggering command to sacrifice his son makes no sense at the time of its delivery, Abraham remembers the God who makes the command is the same God who guided him safely to a new land, cared for his household in times of trouble and promised to provide for his future. Abraham’s faith allows him to rest easy in the knowledge that God’s ultimate purpose is the redemption of his creation, even when the path to redemption seems skewed and vague from a human point of view. Throughout his test, Abraham lives in a heightened state of expectant listening, always striving to grasp the next piece of information necessary to carry out the true task God has called him to. The particular test endured by Abraham is incomprehensible to the mind, and apparently in direct contradiction to the broader will of God. Regardless of the details involved in God’s tests, faith is the only means of reconciling this paradox of God. Are members of today’s community of faith willing to trust God in the same way, even in times of distress?

By leaving the possibility of disobedience or failure open to Abraham and Isaac, God’s test provided an opportunity for his human covenant partners to become more fully-vested partners in the progressive revelation of God initiated years earlier. This fuller investment, or deepening of the bond between Abraham, Isaac and God, undoubtedly resulted in a period of great anguish and emotional turmoil. Abraham’s experience teaches us the wonderful benefits of staying the course and wrestling with God through periods when our faith seems to be tested to its limits; Perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to look for a God who will always lead us down the path of least resistance, often at the expense of our own spiritual and emotional maturity.

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Works Consulted

[1] Terence E. Fretheim, “The Book of Genesis,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 1. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 494.

[2] E. A. Speiser, Genesis, The Anchor Bible. (New York: Doubleday, 1964), 28.

[3] Richard E. Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (New York: HarperCollins, 1989), 81.

[4] Speiser, 28.

[5] Friedman, 62, 83.

[6] Speiser, 28.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Friedman, 85-87.

[9] Gordon J. Wenhem, Genesis 16-50, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 2. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 102.

[10] Wenhem, 102.

[11] Ibid., 100.

[12] Speiser, 28.

[13] Zoltan Fischer, “Sacrificing Isaac: A New Interpretation.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 35, no. 3 (July 1, 2007): 173-178.

[14] Wenhem, 103.

[15] Ibid., 106.

[16] Fischer, 176

[17] Wenhem, 109.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Fretheim, 496.

[20] Wenhem, 110.

[21] Konrad Schmid. “Abraham’s Sacrifice: Gerhard von Rad’s Interpretation of Genesis 22.” Interpretation 62, no. 3 (July 1, 2008), 275.

[22] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), 187.

[23] Robert B. Chisholm, Jr. “Anatomy of an Anthropomorphism: Does God Discover Facts?” Bibliotheca Sacra 164, no. 653 (January 1, 2007), 5.

[24] Wenhem, 111.

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