This verse by verse Bible study on Genesis is an inductive verse by verse study with extensive reflections, teaching points, cross-references, and applications. They are the personal study of notes of a very good doctor friend of mine. His native tongue is Mandarin, but his English is amazing as you will see below. It is refreshing to take a look at this important book of Genesis through the eyes of a believer from another culture. Without further adieu: The Scribblings According to David.
Genesis 22 Inductive Bible Study
An Unlikely Man of Faith (XI)
vv.1-8 The Ultimate Test of Faith – The Lord Has Requested
vv.9-14 The Ultimate Test of Faith – The Lord Has Provided
vv.15-19 The Ultimate Test of Faith – The Lord Has Blessed
vv.20-24 Addendum – The Genealogy of Rebekah
God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac as a burnt offering. Abraham promptly obeyed, and at the last possible moment before he slayed his son, God intervened, saved the child, and provided a ram in his stead. After vindicating Abraham’s faithfulness, God formally reaffirmed His Covenant with him. The chapter is then closed with the genealogy of Rebekah.
Why did God have to “test” (v.1) Abraham?
The phrase “God tested Abraham” (v.1) is a fitting summary of the Gen. XXII passage. According to the Enhanced Strong’s Dictionary, the Hebrew word for “test” (Strong#: h5254. נָסָה nâsâ) is a primitive root, meaning to test, or by implication, to attempt. It appears a total of 36 times in the Old Testament.
Although the same word may sometimes be used as “to tempt” (e.g. Ps. 78:18, Ps. 95:9, etc.), it must be clearly understood that God never “tempt” anyone to do evil, for as Jas. 1:13 puts it, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” Satan may tempt us to do evil (1 Cor. 7:5), but God never does; that’s a theological truth. Therefore, whenever God nâsâ His people, as He did in this chapter to Abraham or in similar (yet more profound) way to Job, He is testing in order to confirm the faith and faithfulness of the believer (Ex. 20:20, Deut. 8:2).
Why did God test His people? On the one hand, as Job 23:10 says, “But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold”, such a test in the end, if (or from the divine perspective, when) the believer perseveres triumphantly, shall bring out spiritual maturity and reward in him. In other words, it is for the benefit of the believer. That is why the apostle James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. … Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jas. 1:2-4, 13).
On the other hand, it is also for the honor of the Lord. Most certainly, God was not testing Abraham, as it were, to “find out” whether or not his faith is true, as if He did not know already, but, as the Quest Study Bible puts it, “… He received the honor demonstrated when Abraham valued God for who He was more than he valued the benefits of the Covenant (represented in Isaac).” In other words, when the believer perseveres triumphantly, God receives honor. As the apostle Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7)
By the grace of God, the father of faith had stood the ultimate test of faith. And his example shall always be remembered: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.’ He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type” (Heb. 11:17-19).
Human sacrifice was abhorrent to God, and explicitly prohibited in the Mosaic Law. How to reconcile His request for the sacrifice of Isaac then? Would God ever ask us to do evil?
The command to sacrifice Isaac perhaps greatly troubles the new and weak in faith, and no doubt infuriates the skeptics and critics of the Bible. How in the world can a loving God demand this?
In biblical times, human sacrifices were practiced by the Ammonites in the worship of their national deity Molech. Solomon in his later years went after all kinds of false gods of the Canaanites, and started to build altars for these foreign idols including Molech (1 Ki. 11:5, 7), which then lead Israel astray and apostate on a national level (2 Ki. 23:10; Isa. 57:5-7; Jer. 32:35), eventually incurring the wrath of God that devastated the whole nation for good. Hence, we see that the practice of human sacrifice is an abomination to God. And because of its extreme wickedness, it was explicitly prohibited in the Mosaic Law (Lev. 18:21, 20:1-5; Deut. 12:31).
Some have argued that when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, the Mosaic Law was yet to be given, and thus it remains unknown whether Abraham understood the gravity of its wretchedness. But I believe this is highly unlikely, for at this point Abraham must have come to know God well enough to know that it would not be consistent with God’s character and law. And if human sacrifice had been acceptable to God until the time of Moses, how can this ordeal of ultimate test be in any way dramatic?
Still, would God ever ask us to do evil? Far from it! God’s law is as holy as His character, and it is summed up in the two commandments: to love God with all we are and to love our neighbors as all we are. We do err, but just as our unbelief can never nullify the faithfulness of God (Rom 3:3), our evil can never nullify the goodness of God. How then can we reconcile the fact that God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his son, his only son, whom he loved?
The key to understand it lies in the phrase “God tested Abraham”, which indicates that the sacrifice of Isaac was never really intended to happen in the first place, or, somehow the sacrifice of Isaac will not be the negation of the great Abrahamic Covenant. The good patriarch, I believe, understood the seriousness of this request. But he also held steadfastly that the God who promised him a son was able to keep that promise despite the seemingly irational command to kill that son. Later in the chapter, when Abraham said to his servant, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you” (Gen.22:5), it is evident that he had faith that both him and his son would return. And fromHeb. 11:19 we had a glimpse of what the patriarch might be thinking back then, “He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead”. In other words, the father of faith exercised his faith to obey, in the hope that God will bring his son back to life. Figuratively speaking, the verse also says, he did receive him back, as it were, from death.
God will never ask us to do evil, but He might push us to the limit in order for us to trust Him with a whole new level of faith. Abraham’s experience is neither normative nor replicable. Today we may never have the same experience of God speaking to us directly and giving us specific commands as Abraham had, but the Word of God is full of “irrational” commands that we, when we consult our flesh and blood, would never in a million years want to obey, commands like loving our enemies, blessing those who mistreat us, and praying for those who persecute us. Will we entrust the outcome unreservedly to God in obedience to those commands?
Another footnote to be added. The Bible strictly prohibits child sacrifice, but still, in a sense, God has asked for another kind of human sacrifice: a living one. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Rom. 12:1)
Was Abraham lying when he said to his son, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering” (v.8)?
In fact, the wording in the original text is strong: “God Himself will provide”. Abraham chose not to reveal the whole truth of God’s command to Isaac, which from a human’s standpoint is completely understandable. Personally I would not consider this as lying. Nonetheless, it is unclear whether Abraham believed God would indeed provide a sacrificial lamb, or raise his son back from the dead. Either way, the statement per se is no doubt an astounding and outstanding declaration of faith.
Another footnote: many, if not most, commentators saw the sacrifice of Abraham’s one and only precious son and the provision of the lamb typifies God the Father sacrificing His One and Only Son Jesus Christ to be the Pascal Lamb for the elect. The discerning Bible student, however, must understand it as an allegorical approach to this portion of Scripture, not (necessarily) inspired by the Holy Spirit, unlike the allegory of Sarah and Hagar by the apostle Paul in Gal. 4:24-5:1, which, by all means, is. Most of these “allegories” were developed by good-willed, well-respected theologians or Bible scholars, yet it is still a safer practice to apply a more stringent criterion to evaluate its Scriptural legitimacy, before jumping to any conclusion too hastily. For the problem of allegorical approach to Scripture, please cf. Interpretative Challenge #5 from Gen. XVI.
Where was Sarah in this event? How was Isaac’s response to his father’s attempt to kill him?
Sarah’s absence in this event indicates that it is uniquely and completely meant as a test of Abraham’s faith. Sarah’s faith had already been well tested. As John MacArthur put it in Twelve Extraordinary Women, “She had long since demonstrated her absolute trust in God’s promise. And the stamp of God’s approval on her is contained in those New Testament passages that recognize her for her steadfast faithfulness.”
For Isaac, no mention is made in the Biblical narrative, either. Some scholars speculate that such a silence may indicate that he did not struggle at all. Jewish tradition says that Isaac threw himself on the altar in willing submission to be the sacrifice God had required of his father.
Who was “the angel of the Lord” (v.12, 15)?
The angel of the Lord spoke in first person yet refers to God in the third person, suggesting that He is the same as God in essence, yet different from YHWH in person. It is another incidence of Christophany, the preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.
For more on the angel of the Lord, Cf. Interpretative Challenge #4 of Gen. XVI, “What’s so special about ‘the angel of the Lord’?”
When Scripture says “now I know that you fear God” (v.12), does that indicate God didn’t have knowledge of Abraham’s faith?
When the angel of the Lord told Abraham “now I know that you fear God”, it definitely does not mean God had gained some knowledge about Abraham that was previously unknown to Him. The NKJV Study Bible comments, “Certainly God knew ahead of time how this event would end. But in these words, God stood beside His servant Abraham, experiencing each moment with him and applauding his complete trust.”
The God of the Bible is an all-knowing God. Omniscience is one of the most important incommunicable attributes of God. For more on the knowledge of God, Cf. Interpretative Challenge #6 of Gen. XVIII, “Does God really need to go on a fact-finding mission?”
When Scripture says, “because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you” (v.16), does that indicate God’s promise being conditional?
When Abraham passed the test, his faith is made complete by his actions, and God reaffirmed His promise to the patriarch one last time. And “By Myself I have sworn” (v.16) unmistakably speaks of the unilateral nature of God’s Covenant. The Quest Study Bible puts it this way, “A conditional promise depends on the actions of another. Some say Abraham’s sacrifice set God’s plan in motion. Others suggest Abraham’s faith was tested but God’s promises were not dependent on Abraham’s actions. The root of God’s promise was based on His own faithfulness, not Abraham’s.”
For more on both the unilateral and conditional nature of God’s Covenant, Cf. Interpretative Challenge #6 of Gen. XVII, “How can God’s Covenant be unilateral if there are responsibilities for the recipients attached to it?”
Why is the genealogy of Nahor suddenly inserted in the narrative?
The MacArthur Study Bible comments, “This is clear indication that, despite geographical separation, information about family genealogies flowed back and forth in the Fertile Crescent region. This update advised most notably of a daughter, Rebekah, born to Isaac’s cousin, Bethuel. It also reminds the readers that Abraham and Sarah had not lost all ties with their original home. Abraham’s brother, Nahor, still lived back in Mesopotamia, though he had not seen him for about 60 years.”
Rebekah was from the line of Nahor, Abraham’s brother. And we know from the following chapters that she would become Isaac’s wife and play a major role in the life of the 2nd and 3rd generation of patriarchs after Abraham. Therefore, it becomes necessary to include this minor genealogy here as a historical footnote in anticipation of what was going to happen in the following chapters.
Lessons and Reflections
Abraham is the paragon of faith and faithfulness.
The test of Abraham, as mentioned before, was a test of faith and faithfulness. Through this incredible ordeal, God was testing Abraham whether he trusted God not for what he could receive from God, but solely for who God is. When Araunah wanted to present to David his threshing sledges for free, the king declined from that offer, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24). But Isaac to Abraham was more than something to be sacrificed; it was virtually everything to him. The long-awaited son of the promise, only to be killed as a burnt offering? Yet God was using this test to confirm, rather than to revoke, that Abraham believed in Him truly and committed to Him fully. The patriarch, whose faith was as frail and feeble as any new believer two chapters ago, now responded in an exemplary readiness to obey, without challenge, without reserve, and without delay. He was the personification of Ps. 119:60: “I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments”. That, truly, made him an unlikely man of faith.
The puritan writer Matthew Henry, in his classic commentary, made quite many astute observations and inspiring meditations of this passage, although he also saw Isaac as a type of Christ. The excerpt is enclosed in the appendix. For more on the example of Abraham’s obedience, Cf. Lessons and Reflections #3 of Gen. XVII, “Abraham showed us an outstanding example of obedience.”
Follow the example of Abraham in terms of faith and obedience, especially for the “tough” commands of the Bible.
Be willing to sacrifice everything I hold dear if the Lord calls.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on Gen. 22:1-10
Vs. 1-2. We never are secure from trials. In Hebrew, to tempt, and to try, or to prove, are expressed by the same word. Every trial is indeed a temptation, and tends to show the dispositions of the heart, whether holy or unholy. But God proved Abraham, not to draw him to sin, as Satan tempts. Strong faith is often exercised with strong trials, and put upon hard services. The command to offer up his son, is given in such language as makes the trial more grievous; every word here is a sword. Observe,
1. The person to be offered: Take thy son; not thy bullocks and thy lambs. How willingly would Abraham have parted with them all to redeem Isaac! Thy son; not thy servant. Thine only son; thine only son by Sarah. Take Isaac, that son whom thou lovest.
2. The place: three days’ journey off; so that Abraham might have time to consider, and might deliberately obey.
3. The manner: Offer him for a burnt- offering; not only kill his son, his Isaac, but kill him as a sacrifice; kill him with all that solemn pomp and ceremony, with which he used to offer his burnt-offerings.
Vs. 3-10. Never was any gold tried in so hot a fire. Who but Abraham would not have argued with God? Such would have been the thought of a weak heart; but Abraham knew that he had to do with a God, even Jehovah. Faith had taught him not to argue, but to obey. He is sure that what God commands is good; that what he promises cannot be broken. In matters of God, whoever consults with flesh and blood, will never offer up his Isaac to God. The good patriarch rises early, and begins his sad journey. And now he travels three days, and Isaac still is in his sight! Misery is made worse when long continued. The expression, ‘We will come again to you’, shows that Abraham expected that Isaac, being raised from the dead, would return with him. It was a very affecting question that Isaac asked him, as they were going together: “My father,” said Isaac; it was a melting word, which, one would think, should strike deeper in the heart of Abraham, than his knife could in the heart of Isaac. Yet he waits for his son’s question. Then Abraham, where he meant not, prophesies: “My son, God will provide a lamb for a burnt-offering.” The Holy Spirit, by his mouth, seems to predict the Lamb of God, which he has provided, and which taketh away the sin of the world. Abraham lays the wood in order for his Isaac’s funeral pile, and now tells him the amazing news: Isaac, thou art the lamb which God has provided! Abraham, no doubt, comforting him with the same hopes with which he himself by faith was comforted. Yet it is necessary that the sacrifice be bound. The great Sacrifice, which, in the fullness of time, was to be offered up, must be bound, and so must Isaac. This being done, Abraham takes the knife, and stretches out his hand to give the fatal blow. Here is an act of faith and obedience, which deserves to be a spectacle to God, angels, and men. God, by his providence, calls us to part with an Isaac sometimes, and we must do it with cheerful submission to his holy will, 1 Samuel 3:18.