Abraham (Genesis 22:9-19)

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Patriarchs

  • When Abraham and Isaac finally arrive on Mount Moriah, they need to construct an altar. 
  • When they finish it, it was time for Abraham to bind his son. 
  • The verb "to bind" occurs only here in the entire Old Testament.  It gives rise to the Jewish term for this entire story, the akedah, meaningthe binding of Isaac. 
  • Judaism calls this the greatest act of faith of its first ancestor.
  • But scholars have long pointed out that it was not typical to bind the victim before making a sacrifice.
  • The image evoked by this act implies consent on the part of Isaac. Scholars have long debated his age.  The text refers to him as a lad, suggesting that he was a teenager.  Given the events that follow, many argue that he was an adult.
  • Isaac was bound and was an unblemished sacrifice, and he was ready to obey his father regardless of the cost involved.
  • Abraham reached out his hand to take the knife to kill his son. The unthinkable was upon them. 
  • Precisely at the last moment, an angel of the Lord called out his name, twice, perhaps anxiously, worried that he might be too late. 
  • And for the third time in the space of one short story, Abraham answered, "Here I am." 
  • Whereas just moments before, Abraham put forth his hand to slay his son, the angel now said, "Do not put forth your hand against the young man, do not do anything to him." 
  • Isaac is safe; the promise is safe. 
  • The angel continued, "For now I know that you fear God and have not withheld your son, your only one from me." 
  • To fear God means to honor him in worship and to live an upright life.  It was a desired quality. 
  • It was not at all important that the act remained unfulfilled, because its value was determined as much by the intention of the heart as by its actual occurrence. 
  • Abraham was able to demonstrate without a shadow of a doubt that he was strong and obedient, which were qualities that were only assumed to describe him before this instance.
  • This message ended with another reference to the relationship between Abraham and Isaac - the son whom he loves, his only son.
  • At that moment, Abraham lifted his eyes and saw…
  • Having passed his test, he beheld an answer to Isaac's question, "Where is the lamb?" 
  • At that precise moment, a ram was caught in the thicket. 
  • Without any hesitation, he immediately sacrificed the ram instead of his son.
  • He then named the place, "The Lord will provide" which has led to the saying that on the mount of the Lord it will be seen.  And what will be seen is what the Lord provides. 
  • Abraham had concrete proof of this provision. 
  • The angel continued with a second summons from heaven.  And in so doing, he repeated the promises made so many years ago. 
  • God swears by himself, giving the occasion a special solemnity, and an unusual emphasis. 
  • Because Abraham had not withheld his son, because he had been willing to sacrifice his posterity, because he was obedient, a blessing is freshly pronounced upon him. 
  • First, there was a promise of blessing, followed by a promise to multiply his descendants. 
  • Two similes were used to express the unimaginable number -- the stars of the heaven and the sand on the seashore. 
  • The last blessing stated that his descendants would possess the gates of their enemies.  They would experience the joy and prosperity of victory. 
  • This was followed by a general blessing of the nations that will come from Abraham's descendants.
  • In a sense, the promises have been transformed.  Initially, they were dependent solely in the will and purpose of God; now Abraham's obedience has been added to that. 
  • Henceforth, Israel owes her future, both to God's will and purpose and to their father, Abraham.  The obedience of Abraham has been taken up and incorporated into the divine will. 
  • This whole event has become a powerful witness to the trustworthiness of God.  God will, indeed, provide whatever is needed to fulfill His promises.
  • As for our story, these will be the last words exchanged between Abraham and God.   
  • This adventure closes with Abraham returning alone to his young men and going to Beer-sheba where he stayed.  Commentators have long wondered what happened to Isaac.  We can't ever know for certain, but it seems apparent that he remained in the care and providence of God.  Obviously, this was no small child.

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