Abraham (Genesis 22:1-2)

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Patriarchs

  • This chapter is the climax of Abraham's story.
  • God called Abraham by name, and he immediately responded, "Here I am!" He was saying he was ready, willing, and able to do whatever was asked of him.
  • The demand now followed. It can be boiled down to three basic words. "Take, go and sacrifice." There was no doubt about the meaning of the request.
  • "Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac…" Each phrase is more touching, more tender, more personal than the preceding one. Isaac is the child of promise. And it was precisely this child, the one that Abraham loved, the one on whom all his hopes were riding, who was involved. 
  • Many translations say, "Please take," or "I pray you." This is derived from a little word—na—in the Hebrew text. God rarely uses this word. It tells us that God knows that what He is asking is difficult. 
  • Abraham was to take his son, his beloved son, and go by himself to the land of Moriah. This phrase "go by yourself" comes from the very same words that the Lord used when he first spoke to Abraham in Genesis 12:1. There, he was told to leave everything that he had ever known to go to a land that God would show him. 
  • It is the only two times that this phrase, lech lecha, is used in the Bible. 
  • When Abraham first heard this command, he was being asked to sacrifice his past, to give up present security for a promise about his future. Now he is being asked to sacrifice his future. 
  • He was instructed to go to the land of Moriah. People don't really know where this was. Some think that this might have been where the temple in Jerusalem was built, but no one knows for sure.
  • And once again, Abraham was asked to step outside his comfort zone.
  • God wanted Abraham to go there and offer Isaac as a burnt offering. A "burnt offering" means cutting up and burning a whole animal. It was a common type of sacrifice. The usual victim was a bird, and sometimes a sheep. If the person was very wealthy, they might use a bull, but never a child. 
  • It was an extraordinary test, both morally and theologically, because Isaac is the child of promise. The fulfillment of God's promise depends on him. 
  • Abraham says nothing. He surrenders in total silence. He does not question God, and that is quite striking, considering his lengthy conversation with God on behalf of the people of Sodom (see Genesis 18:20-33). 
  • Maybe he learned something from that conversation with God. Maybe he had grown in his understanding of God. If so, then this is not a case of blind obedience. 
  • Rather, it shows that he has reached a level of maturity and obedience that enables him to carry out God's commands, even though he may question them in his heart.
  • Though the incident is held up as a great test of Abraham's faith, it sends shivers down the spine of every modern listener. Such a demand is unthinkable; efforts to explain it away are unsatisfactory. How could God make such a request? How could a loving father agree to it, even if it did come from God? And how is it that one who argued for mercy regarding the people of Sodom is now silent when he agrees to this most difficult demand?
  • First of all, it is important to note that this story comes after chapter 21. At that point, the promises seemed to be fulfilled. Isaac was the heir apparent after Abraham sent Ishmael away. 
  • All was well in their world. Abraham and Sarah were at peace and had the respect of their neighbors. They had water, wealth, and the promised heir. 
  • Yet, it was precisely at this point that God tested Abraham. Moreover, this test was so outrageous that the author tells us right away that this was only a test. This information is for our ears only; but it affects how we hear this command.
  • But Abraham didn't know this. He thought it was the real thing. God had asked him to sacrifice the child of promise. And he set out to do just that. We are the ones who know it is just a test.
  • A test usually involves doing something difficult. But it does not have a sinister connotation. There is no desire to trick or to deceive the one who is being tested.
  • What does it mean for God to test someone? It means that God wants to know their hearts to see if they will obey and revere Him. Through the test, He finds out what the person is really like. 
  • But God doesn't need this information for Himself. Rather, tests are often used to show the one being tested the nature of his/her heart. So they are intended to strengthen and build up the person being tested, to prepare him or her for the difficult tasks that lie ahead, and ultimately to benefit from the experience.
  • In this situation, Abraham is tested "after these things." What things? Perhaps all the things that have come to pass so far - all his life experiences. It all comes down to this pivotal moment.

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